The title of this post sums me up in many ways, besides explaining why there have been a few weeks between this and my previous post! For as long as I can remember, I have been keen on shovelling as much food into my mouth as possible, making my cheeks bulge like a squirrel or chipmunk. Food is delicious! Why not eat it all at once? I never gagged, never choked: just marvelled at how good I was at stuffing my mouth. The main thing was that I could chew, and so long as that was possible, the food would be swallowed…eventually. Bite-sized portions are for the fainthearted.
I think my hair will be completely grey before I understand the merit of breaking things down into manageable portions. Digesting food is one thing; digesting work is another. My latest commission has not been a manageable portion. I decided I would set myself a challenge and design something large with relatively unusual features. As I write, the final piece of the body has been cast off and the finishing touches await. It has not been easy. On the plus side, it’s lovely to see the garment so far bears a resemblance to the idea in my imagination. But I am SO glad to have a break from it whilst the pieces block. It has been a very intense process, and one of my most challenging knits to date. We’re talking fairisle on a large scale – specifically, over 350 stitches on my needle at one point!
I’ve gained two things from this: one, a new appreciation of what it means to “break the back” of something; and two, attained a new level of stamina, fortitude and perseverance insofar as the design process. Climbed a bigger mountain than ever before, scaled new heights – or plumbed new depths. The kind of experience that gives you perspective when it’s over and makes previous challenges look easy, or at least make you think “maybe they weren’t so bad after all”. And, of course, reaffirm your inherent creative madness!
Did I mention there was a deadline involved? Not that I had to, I suppose 😉
Then, just to ram the point home, a little top I was sewing – the Sorbetto freebie from Colette patterns – went wrong. It was only meant to be a quick fix, a little side project. Ha! It now lies embarrassed, unpicked and forlorn, waiting for my attention. I hate unpicking. I hate it with a passion. Especially when the mistake is of my own making and seemingly avoidable. In this case, it was a rookie error of not checking the measurements properly.
This irritation at unpicking is – at least partly – yet another symptom of perfectionism. Creativity is its inherent fallibility and imperfection, the constant striving and perseverance to ensure that each project matches the imagined prototype and contains fewer flaws than the last; for that is a perceived indication or measurement of progress. But is a flawless project a perfect project? Perfection is a harsh, unyielding yardstick with which creative folk regularly beat themselves. And yet, as you unpick and try to keep yourself from coming undone, it is impossible not to absorb the dedication, diligence and care that goes into garment construction. It brings a new respect for and appreciation of how things are put together and the constituent steps and techniques that comprise the whole: the crisply pressed seams, the neat uniform stitching perfected over years of practice…out it all comes to be put back together. Hopefully for Sorbetto, it will be a better fit than before, and my chest won’t be crushed.
There is something about undoing or unpicking that forces you to confront something chaotic about yourself, in a different way than you do when you create something for the first time, confronting the chaos within yourself and giving it form. Undoing is often a revelation, retracing or retaking steps. Is it irritation at not having got things right first time? Is it frustration at having to go backwards, further away from the light at the end of the tunnel? Is it a revision of old lessons learnt, little habits or niggles that you thought you’d mastered or tamed years ago? A loss of or lapse in concentration due to tiredness, overload or interruption? Something that you didn’t see in the moment, but now looks obvious now that a break or key juncture has passed? Would I have messed up Sorbetto if I hadn’t already been chewing frantically – like hell? I knew my mouth was already full, and I stuffed more in anyway.
In theory, these errors are preventable, but are they truly avoidable? Can they ever be eliminated from all possibility? I think not, but they don’t have to be one’s undoing. I will always need to keep an eye on the portions I intend to bite off my fork; it is a personal chaoskampf of mine, a place where I walk the line between order and chaos. I eagerly overstuff when I’m enthusiastic and the clock is ticking, but when I am relaxed, I eat slowly, savour every mouthful, and am last to finish. Sometimes, there are rare singing moments when I get it right and am able to chew comfortably like others can. It’s my plate, it’s not going anywhere, and there is enough time. I just have to remember not to put too much on it.