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An exercise of will, part 2

Today I'm knitting. Knitting is part of my Big Plan For Self-Improvement In 2012.

It's taken years, but I've finally accepted that "self-improvement" doesn't mean changing what I am. It means being better at what I am.

Well, what I am, among other things, is a craftswoman, and I like knitting. So I've decided that 2012 is the year I become as good a knitter in reality as I am in my imagination

I've defined four knitting skills* I want to master, and four big projects** that those skills will help me achieve this year.

A detail of the cable pattern in a gray Aran style sweater

My first proving ground is an Aran-style cardigan, which I started in November. Last night I finished the second sleeve, and this morning I looked at those sleeves in the proverbial cold light of day.

It wasn't a happy moment.

I told myself some stories about how I could make them work. Tight forearms could be a style statement...yeah! Nobody will notice the weird leg-o'mutton line of the shoulder...right?

I argued with myself for fifteen minutes before I finally admitted that the sleeves were simply wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. A month's worth of knitting, wasted.

Partially-knitted Aran style cardigan showing a misshapen sleeve

In The Practicing Mind, Thomas Sterner proposes a simple model for any practice, drawn from Buddhist tradition: Do, Observe, Correct.

Well, I'd Done, and, like most hurried Westerners, I was about to Re-Do. I always just Re-Do. It is the slowest, most inefficient way to improve at anything, but it's the way our entire society seems to favor. "Again! Repeat! Go-go-go!" We hurry to do it wrong one more time. Only the naturally gifted move ahead, while we sacrifice loads of potential talent on the altar of haste.

Just as I was about to start ripping those sleeves out, something went *ping*. It said, "Slow down. You're about to make the same mistakes again."

So before I raveled a single stitch, I Observed. I checked my math and found my error. I measured everything again. I acknowledged a second problem with the sleeves that I'd been ignoring. I photographed, annotated, and Evernoted. I updated my written pattern.

Then I ripped the sleeves back to the shoulders and started them all over again.

This time, all the uncertainty and wild-ass guesswork of the careless first Doing are gone. This is Correction, and I know it, and so the work is calmer, more confident, more regular. Faster, even. It's better.

I think I'm beginning to understand these magical people who consistently produce high-quality work without angst. I think I might be able to become one of them.

It's about time.

*matching increases and decreases, Kitchener grafting and bind-off, short-row shaping, top-down raglan shoulders

**Two cardigans, a jacket, and possibly a pullover.

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