Salute to Crappy Knitting

I started working on a pair of socks a few weekends ago. I wasn’t very invested in the project. There was a splitty linen-nylon yarn I wanted to get rid of, a pattern stitch I wanted to swatch, and a comparison of short-row heel techniques I’ve been too lazy to make, so I combined the three in a pair of socks that weren’t especially attractive.

The stitch I was swatching is definitely worth repeating (twist-stitch Diamond from Barbara Walker’s Second Treasury)—a reverse stockinet background, the outlines of large diamonds in stockinet with the outlines of smaller diamonds inside—but the moss stitch I added didn’t grow on me any more than it ever does, and neither did some of the tweaks I’m doing to the main pattern stitch. (Admitting I’ve never really liked moss stitch feels wildly rebellious.)

At first, I was continuously fighting the impulse to frog and try again after swatching for real and rethinking the moss stitch, but I knitted on, fearing I would get myself caught up in one of those endless knitting-frogging-knitting-frogging-knitting cycles that would give Penelope a run for her money.

Once I suppressed all good knitterly habits, however, the experience of knitting crappy socks became fabulously liberating. I could try twisting the stitches that are where the diamonds flare the most, what I think of as the elbows, or I could try starting or ending the inner diamonds with knits or twists as the spirit moved me, or I could stretch or smash the diamonds by adding or subtracting the nonpattern rounds, or I could work popcorns into the corners or centers, and I didn’t have to worry about all the time wasted, the potential stitches lost, or the resultant yucky yarn if I had to frog back. I could freely knit away as I thought about the new computer system I had to set up, the new class I had to design lesson plans for, the diet and exercise regimen I’m forever putting off, and the pile of papers and other miscellanea, dubbed Desk, which I always put off cleaning.

It was wonderfully satisfying, more so than a plain old swatch, since I could imagine, when I wasn’t planning dinner or having wicked thoughts along the lines of my last trashy read, that the thing in my hands really could be a sock I’d wear: by the time I worked my way up from the toe to the cuff, I’d have worked out the stitch, and no one would be the wiser, right? That kind of thinking, of course, put me in mind of the generations of knitters who had to crank the socks and sweaters out by winter, some pieces receiving their full attention and skill while others, only the scraps of time allowed by the stove, the crying baby, the next chore on the list, and I thought that sloppy knitting, the kind of knitting that turns mental chaos into order, certainly deserves its own tribute.

Eventually, when I was less than half a pattern repeat from binding off, I pulled the needles out and ripped away at the work, starting immediately on a sock I liked in a variation of the stitch that was just exactly what I had in mind. The experiment worked right the first time, and my hands new the stitch so well that I could do a round or two while the computer booted up or while I sat on hold, and I could get a whole pattern repeat in while in the throes of a good book. Perfection is a goal, but so is crappy knitting, and knowing when to do which is one of the greatest gifts from the fiber gods.

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