Unpicking The Knitting

I’ve had a bit of a trying time lately. Two projects, one knitting and one writing, both of which I hoped I’d finished, hit major snags and had to be rethought and redone. And I learned some valuable lessons from the knitting that I was able to apply to the writing.

The first, non-writerly, project was a jumper I am knitting. I used to be a prolific knitter as a teenager and as a young woman, but when I started travelling for work, I no longer had the time to do it and it’s only now, thirty years later. that I’ve taken it up again; primarily, I admit, to stop me falling asleep in the chair when I’m supposed to be watching TV or a film. And for the first time in forty years of marriage, Michael asked me to knit something for him. This was something I needed to get right.

So we picked the pattern and the wool; then got Joyce, the owner of our magnificent wool shop, Spin A Yarn in Bovey Tracey, to measure him. But when we got home, I had second thoughts. A jumper that’s too big can be worn with casual ease, even panache! A jumper that’s too small just looks silly. So I decided to do the next size up.

The wool is super-chunky, the inches grow very quickly; it took me little more than two weeks to knit the whole thing; but quite a bit longer to sew it up: any knitters reading this will know how horrible a job that is. But finally it was finished. And I watched, my pride turning to dismay, as he put it on, and his arms and hands disappeared into sleeves at least six inches too long!

The idea of unpicking the seams to redo the sleeves didn’t bear thinking about. I sought around for other solutions. The suggestion that he simply rolled them up was treated with the disdain it deserved. I considered, rashly,  cutting the arms off and sewing cuffs on. I considered, more sensibly, attending a local knitting class and learning to unpick from the cuffs and work backwards.

But finally, I got him to try it on again and admitted what I’d known all along: it wasn’t just the sleeves. The dropped shoulders were down to his elbows and there was several inches of excess fabric around his body. Basically, I’d made it the wrong size. One size too big in fact!

So, taking a deep breath, I unpicked all the seams, undid all the knitting, and began again. The picture shows how much progress I’ve made in just four nights. Pretty soon I’ll be at the sewing up stage once more.

And what lessons did I learn from this experience?

  • If you ask for an expert’s opinion, then it’s usually best to follow their advice. They are called experts for a reason.
  • If you know something is wrong, then hoping time will cure it is rarely a sensible approach.
  • Make-do-and-mend works in some cases, but often the best thing to do is go back to the beginning and sort it out properly.

And what about the other, writerly, project? Well, I sent the manuscript for Deception! out to a small group of beta readers recently. I knew it wasn’t completely right, but I’d got to the stage where I was too close to the detail to work out what was wrong. So I asked some experts: after all, readers are experts in what they like and know why they like it. And instead of telling me everything was fine (as I’d secretly hoped they would) they confirmed my suspicion that there were some structural problems that needed fixing.

Now, I didn’t agree with all the comment that came back – and as the writer, it’s my prerogative to have the final say – but most of the feedback was perfectly fair. So I knew I had to take the advice I was being given. And I also knew that fiddling around at the margins wasn’t going to cut it. So I took a deep breathe, grabbed my index cards, unpicked everything and started again. Not back at first draft stage, obviously, but ditching one main character and two sub-plots, adding new chapters and strengthening one of the two main story arcs, plus re-ordering quite a lot of the rest of the text.

Hopefully, having applied my knitting lessons to my writing, the end result will be much better. Who knows, I may even persuade Michael to wear his jumper to the book launch – if I’ve finished sewing it up by then, that is.

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4 Comments

  • Veronica Bright Reply

    Wow, all that took courage! You deserve to succeed.

    • Elizabeth Ducie Reply

      Thanks, Veronica. Only one and a half sleeves left to re-do! And a novel to rewrite – but who’s counting?

  • David Reply

    “I’d made it the wrong size. One size too big in fact!”

    As a newlywed in 1965, my wife was keen to practise domestic skills. By 1970, a Degree in Sociology had – to my relief – reversed her role-play. But in the interval she laboriously created, and proudly presented, a heavy woollen sweater.

    Like yours, it was far too big. What to do? With her despairing permission, we boiled it. Giant pan, towels, wooden laundry tongs. Start with one arm. Dip, wiggle, drop, measure. Repeat as necessary. Other arm … etc. Leave on lawn to dry.

    Perfik! Thousands of days of use.

    In case this success – in the light of your lack – seems smug, here’s a counter-balance. Later that year, as I followed the instructions of a local whisky distillery, the giant pan was full of soaking barley. When the grains produced sproutings, the brewing process could begin. Week after week, no sproutings. So I chucked the lot across the lawn as fertiliser. That autumn, our garden had a 10-yard swathe of barley across it. And the next. And …

    • Elizabeth Ducie Reply

      Yes, David, someone else suggested I should just have boiled it; but I would have been scared it ended up way to small. Luckily it’s really thick wool, so it grows VERY quickly! And as for your barley, there are some things I would never try – and brewing whisky is one of them! Did you harvest the barley?

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