In early October, when Christmas seemed so far away and it felt like I had all the time in the world to prepare for its arrival, I found a knitting pattern for a beautiful sweater. I thought it would look great on our daughter, Kaitlyn. I showed her the pattern, and together we visited a local yarn shop to choose a colour she’d like.
A person should really read a pattern carefully before committing to it. I knew I would have my hands full as soon as I sat down to ‘relax’ and knit. Partly, it was that the pattern isn’t written in the most user-friendly way. Partly, it was that the darker colour wool we had chosen makes the stitches a bit more difficult to see. But mostly it is the front and back are each made up of five panels. Each panel has its own design, and each has a pattern that repeats after certain number of rows – each of these is different of course! The sleeves, I’m discovering this week, have these same challenges.
I’d love to report that once I was able to make some sense of it and write out the panel instructions in a way I could follow, it was smooth sailing. But it’s not nice to lie, and especially not at Christmas. Let’s just say I’ve become pretty good friends with the lady at the shop where I bought the wool. I’ve had to stop in twice for her to help me take out hours, days really, of work. I know how to knit backward to fix a mistake, but in these two instances on this sweater, I didn’t notice the mistake for several evenings. In a pattern with so many cable stitches, the taking out takes longer than the putting in, so I opted to ask for some help. Otherwise, in the one instance, it would have taken me about ten evenings of knitting to knit backward, then another ten to get back to where I was.
Even I wondered how I had missed my mistake to begin with. How didn’t I catch it as I was going?
It wasn’t until I held the work in front of me, spreading the stitches out on the needle as best I could, that my eye caught the problem. I had mistakenly knit two stitches normally, instead of putting them on a cable needle and carrying them behind the other stitches. There are 144 stitches on one row. I had done about thirty rows before seeing my mistake. There were only two stitches out of place. TWO.
So, I did what I think any self-respecting knitter would do. I tried to convince myself no one would notice. Then I asked Jim his opinion. What could he say? Then I knit a couple more rows to see if the mistake would become even less obvious with more distance between me and it. Then I set my work aside for a couple of days and started on one of the sleeves. Maybe I was hoping the knitting elves would come in the night and repair my mistake. Finally, I knew. Even if no one else would see the mistake, I would know it was there.
There is something about our eyes and our brains that love order. A pattern relaxes our brain. When there is something off in a pattern, our brain whirls and whirls until it can sort it out.
As I’ve now finished the front and back, and just begun on one of the sleeves (which I’ve already discovered are not going to be simple) I’ve been thinking about how this sweater relates to Christmas.
We’re all going to be ‘knitting a Christmas sweater’ this week. We’ll be weaving together family and traditions in hopes of creating warm, comfortable, meaningful, beautiful memories to wrap around those we celebrate with. I have no doubt we’ll be following a pattern to the best of our ability. We’ll do things we’ve done in the past; we’ll make familiar foods and play familiar games. And yet, without doubt, we’re going to miss a stitch or two. There will be moments when things don’t turn out exactly as we want or expect or even plan.
The best we can hope to do is what any good knitter would do.
They would notice the mistake and decide if anyone else will notice or care. If the answer is no, getting on with celebrating will be in order. If, however, these little out-of-place stitches are going to be noticed and remembered every time the sweater is brought out and worn, it might be a great new tradition to go back and fix them. It could happen though, that the mistake becomes something worth weaving into the story of our Christmas, something everyone can laugh about or have fun with. Sometimes these little mistakes are the beginnings of wonderful new memories. Sometimes we should even dye them a wild colour and really bring them to life.
I doubt I’ll finish Kaitlyn’s sweater by Christmas. It’s ok. I have the front and back done. Maybe she wants a Christmas vest. No matter what, this won’t be what we remember most about this Christmas. We’re going to treasure just being together. Last year, this wasn’t possible. So, this year, I’m going to cherish our time with Kaitlyn and her family. I want to lock in memories of the magic of the day as seen through three-year-old Ben’s eyes. And to treasure the sight of little Andy doing his half-creep, half army crawl, over to the tree to see the bright lights. How lucky are we to be able to be part of Kaitlyn and Matt’s young family and to watch them knitting their own beautiful Christmas traditions, while at the same time wearing the cozy sweaters of our past, mistakes and all, knitted in for extra warmth.
Have a most wonderful Christmas. You’ll be too busy knitting next weekend to read, so I’ll see you in the New Year.
My inquiry for you this week is, ‘What pattern am I knitting?’
Elizabeth is a certified professional Leadership Coach, and the owner of Critchley Coaching. She is the founder and president of the Canadian charity, RDL Building Hope Society. She works with corporations, non-profits and the public sector, providing leadership coaching. She creates and facilitates custom workshops for all sizes of groups. She has expertise in facilitating Strategic Plans for organizations and for conducting leadership reviews. Contact Elizabeth to learn how to focus more on the warmth and memories, and less on the details and missed stitches.