I feel like the more experience I have knitting, the more I feel comfortable tinkering with a pattern. There are so many past projects that if I had to do them over again, I would change things. The length. The way the sleeves are attached. What the button band looks like. How many repeats to do. Back when I was a new knitter, I followed every pattern blindly. If I had achieved gauge, that was all that mattered, right? (My sister and mother both educated me on the importance of gauge and measuring and how too many or too few stitches can lead to a garment that doesn’t come remotely close to fitting you.) It was because of this believe that mistakes happened…mistakes like believing cotton would have the same draping properties as silk for a cute, flirty tank top I was making. (It wound up having a collar that would have rivaled a Shakespearian ruff.) Mistakes like believing that acrylic yarn would be the same as mohair and be breezy. (This created a balloon skirt effect in place of a drapey cowl neckline.) Each mistake I made taught me more and more, but it also made me cling more to the pattern. After all, the pattern would be my guide. The pattern would tell me what to do and if I just followed it, I was less likely to need to rip back.
Beginning to knit shawls was when the little lightbulb turned on that patterns are all well and good but might not actually create the result you were hoping for. The first thing I was discovered was that the suggested yardage was just that – a suggestion. I already knew that it might not be 100% accurate, based on your own personal tension, yarn weights, even what needles you chose to use. But I always thought that the suggestion would be close to the end result of how much yarn you used – at least within 10 yards. So it was that I was confuddled when, after several shawls were created, that I always seemed to have leftover yarn…a LOT of leftover yarn. To have an extra 100 yards always seemed like a burden. I mean, what was I going to do with that little amount…particularly if it was lace weight? It was too small to do another shawl, to much to count as a “scrap” to just be used up in one of my scrappy projects. This frequently made me wish that I had known that I could tinker with the pattern, that I could add in extra repeats. I would certainly have made my Laminaria shawl bigger, and I definitely would have added another repeat to my Swallowtail shawl. Even though I had these little leftover puddles of yarn, I still struggled with the idea of free will when it came to knitting patterns, of doing what *I* thought would be best, of making something longer or wider or just plain bigger when the pattern gave me the clear directive to stop.
These days, I’m likely to go the opposite direction. I kept going and going and going on my Earth Stripe Wrap until I had used up all of the yarn. ALL of it. And the result was definitely one massive wrap…which is just how I love it. It can completely enfold me in amazingly soft warmth, and still be long enough to look showy.
Tonight, I swore I was going to finish my Revontuli shawl. I had hit the point on the pattern where I was told to bind off on Friday. But the thing is, I’m working with this amazing rainbow yarn, just gorgeous…and I hadn’t gotten through two full repeats of the rainbow striping. In fact, I was falling just short of the second repeat, about to bind off on orange when I really really needed to get to yellow to feel I could bind off in sound mind. After about 10 seconds of deliberation, I kept right on knitting. I would just do one more full pattern repeat, then bind off…just to get to the yellow.
I kept going tonight and when I hit the point where I was considering binding off, I stopped and really looked at what the colours were doing. I had passed yellow and gotten to green, which is the colour the shawl started with when I cast on. I didn’t mind getting back to the green…but I did mind getting into the next colour, blue. The anal retentive part of me saw the beginning of that blue, did the math for how many more stitches the last few rows and a nice stretchy bind-off would use up, and realized that this would most likely use up all of the blue…which would mean that the rainbow still wouldn’t be “balanced”, in my mind.
So, crazy person that I appear to be, I ripped back again, this time to the point where the yellow began the slow shift into green. I knew I’d have to just ignore the pattern instructions and cut off the repeat a little early…but I didn’t care. After all, it’s not just about the way the pattern is written, is it? It’s about the visual appeal, the total look of the finished product.
It’s worth it. I know it’s worth it. In my world, you always make the changes you need to make. If you really feel that strongly about rainbows, then by all means, dive right into where you think the rainbow should begin and end. Made a whole sweater just to realize that you really can’t live with the sleeves? Change them. Figured out a whole new way to make that tank top fit more comfortably on your frame? Rip back and start over. Mistakes are fine, changes to the pattern are fine – but only if you can live with them. As soon as you start obsessing over the mistake or the one “little” detail you would change, you’re ONLY going to see that the next time you consider wearing that garment. It will become all about the slightly too short sleeves, the bulky seaming, that dropped stitch. And if everyone else claims you’re crazy and they can’t see what’s wrong with it at all? Well, in that case, go find a knitter to ask. Even if they don’t see the mistake, they’ll understand exactly what you’re talking about.