Lessons from the Unspellable Stole

In the last few days I’ve started a knitting pattern that I’ve wanted to make for a long time.  It’s called the Scheherazade Stole, and I think it’s beautiful.  I think the name is also beautiful, there’s wonderful music in “Scheherazade,” but I practically never spell it correctly on the first try.  There’s usually an H missing, or some vowels flipped.  I’ve nicknamed it the “Unspellable Stole.”

While working on the new stole (a stole is simply a type of shawl), I’ve been thinking about how this pattern is challenging for me in different ways than any knitting pattern I’ve tackled so far.  It’s a charted pattern, which is no problem (for the unfamiliar, this page has an example of a knitting chart — scroll down to the grid with symbols on it.  Learn to knit and read the chart, and you can make that scarf.)  The charts for Scheherazade aren’t complicated, but they are massive.  They go on for pages and pages, and include long stretches of stitches to count, which tends to make me cross-eyed and mistake-prone.  There are a few stitches I’m not familiar with.

I’ve been employing a lot of tricks to make the process easier, though, some of which are old and familiar and some of which I’ve made up to cope with this specific pattern.  I’ve got the charts printed out and taped together so I can see everything I need to at once.  I’m pre-counting long rows of stitches, which helps me make less mistakes when it comes to the actual knitting.  I’ve written all kinds of helpful notes across my charts to help me stay on track.  I scribble out rows after I knit them so I don’t get lost.  I’ve gone so far as to print a whole second set of charts, because this pattern is symmetrical from the center out — you start at the middle, knit to one end, then go back to the middle, use the same pattern and knit to the other end.  I’m scribbling up my first pattern too much to use it again, so I’ve got a second copy ready to go, and as I make useful notes on the first copy I transfer them immediately to the second, so I don’t have to duplicate any work later.  And so on.

In a knitting pattern, it comes totally naturally to me to make the process as easy as possible for myself, primarily by breaking down any complications into simpler steps, to make the actual knitting more enjoyable and make it less likely that I’ll mess up.  Right now I’m kind of boggled by realizing that this thing which happens automatically in one area totally escapes me in others, and especially in all the things that I’ve been wanting and trying to change, mostly without huge piles of success.  Cleaning up and decorating my house.  Shifting my eating habits to be a little healthier.  Developing my taiji skills.  Writing and posting consistently.  Finding paid writing jobs, or some other form of paid work while I keep working on writing (there’s the big one right now).

In all of these things, I’m realizing that my progress has been limited because they’re complex things that I try to deal with as complex things, without examining what’s really involved and disassembling them into component parts, breaking them into simpler pieces that I can actually do something about.  I don’t treat them like I treat a knitting pattern.  I treat them like big, hard things that I don’t know how to handle and get flustered by.  No wonder I’m not making progress.

I’ve been keeping this in mind, then, as I work on my Unspellable Stole, and as I make plans to pursue my next goals.  If I can turn my big, complicated intentions into bite-sized chunks, I’ll have a much better chance of accomplishing them.  If it doesn’t come as naturally for those things as it does in my knitting, I’ll have to make a deliberate point of it.  But the principle is there, and I know it works.  Time to put it to use.

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