On Perfectionism

Written by Sarah on November 4th, 2013 Posted in DIY, life, long reads


I’m afraid to talk about perfectionism and knitting. Because it involves me admitting that I’m not a perfectionist in other aspects of my life. I feel like it’s not good to go around telling people that you don’t care about getting things absolutely right, it makes you sound lazy. But perfectionists can be insufferable micromanagers. So maybe it’s ok to not be one. Either way, I suppose it’s time that I come clean. I am not a perfectionist.

When it comes to crafting, though, I’ve had a tough time deciding whether or not I’m a perfectionist. I always used to think that I was one. I mean, making is my raison d’être. I’ve ripped out days and days of work on sweaters and agonized over finding the perfect shade of yellow merino. But then again, how many times have I picked up however many neckline stitches that I wanted or allowed my stripes to jog in the round? How often have I said, “It has some ease so it’ll be fine” or “Blocking will fix that weird part” or “I’m just going to do it this way and I’m sure no one will notice”?

Despite these things that I let slide, I don’t think that the quality of work is lacking. While I believe that hand-made garments turn out as good if not better than their store bought counterparts, I don’t expect my work to be spot on all of the time. And I’m ok with that. I’m not a machine so there are bound to be little things here and there that are not right. So maybe I’m not a perfectionist?

I realized after I tried to teach Jon to knit (a fun experiment when we first started going out) that perfectionists don’t make good knitters. He’s a true perfectionist in all aspects of his life. (“Putting something away doesn’t just mean shoving it under the sink,” he said to me just yesterday.) He worked at a snail’s pace on his scarf, struggling to make every stitch just right. And while it’s nice to make something that looks good, if you got upset every time you dropped a stitch or had the wrong gauge or missed a stitch of colorwork, all of your hair would fall out and you’d burn your yarn while it’s still on the needles. If I went back and fixed every mistake I ever made, I’d never finish everything and I’d hate knitting.

I used to think that getting things absolutely right would be more important to me as I got better at knitting (we all tell beginners not to worry about making something gorgeous) but I haven’t found that to be true. For me, knitting is a balance of doing things well and letting things slide. I’ve definitely been working on precision when it comes designing (thank goodness for tech editors) but at the same time, sometimes you have to just move forward and trust that everything will come together in the end.

Do perfectionists make better knitters because they are exacting? Or does perfectionism make knitting harder because, well, we’re only human? Can you be detail-oriented without being a perfectionist? Are you a perfectionist?

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Comments (7)

  • November 4, 2013 at 11:41 am |

    This is such an interesting post and something I think most people struggle with in their work. Or maybe they don’t, and I just assume they do because I struggle with it. I consider myself an imperfect perfectionist. I CAN get incredibly upset and re-do something more times than I care to admit because it isn’t perfect, but on the flip side of that, if it’s something that I know I can’t perfectly fix, I’ll just walk away and never even attempt it.

    Crafting, knitting, and sewing have been incredibly frustrating for me (as I took up these “fun” hobbies only two years ago) and yet also therapeutic because I have learned that not everything has to be perfect, that most people won’t notice my mistakes, and that really I’m not doing this because I’m trying to be perfect but rather because it’s fun. I’ve had my fair share of panic attacks when I spot a twisted stitch that’s several rows back and then I have to breath deeply for several minutes while telling myself it’s okay. I’m learning to let go and move on with life’s imperfections through these activities. Besides, I’m still way too much of a beginner to get anything exactly right.

    I always tell myself that the vast majority of people will either be too polite to point out my mistakes, no one will care, and that (most importantly) I can hide it during the photoshoot. 😉

    • November 4, 2013 at 9:39 pm |

      I always think that about the photoshoot! But I totally agree with what you’re saying. It’s fun so there’s no need to stress!

  • November 4, 2013 at 1:55 pm |

    I’m 80% not a perfectionist when it comes to knitting, or life. I do choose to obsess about some things and re-do them, but I am also of the let-things-slide school of thought when it won’t affect the quality of the finished garment, and I will probably forget even forget the mistake later. I try to impart this attitude to any new knitting zombies that I make. Sometimes it works, sometimes they screech with panic anything goes wrong and refuse to go on unless it’s fixed perfectly. Guess which ones get more happy knitting done?

    • November 4, 2013 at 9:42 pm |

      Yes. I’m glad that the results of my little poll are similar to what I’ve found. I think the happiest knitters are the least panicky!

  • November 5, 2013 at 4:00 am |

    I think I am more of a perfectionist as I was before as far as crafts is concerned – especially if it is for someone else or on display in my home. But there are times when I know that it is ok to let go so that I can actually finish the project, because I cannot stand looking at a pile of WIPs either..

  • Heather Burris
    November 5, 2013 at 11:02 am |

    I used to think I was a perfectionist, because I like to duplicate crafts and I like them to look good. If friends and I were making something and their project was a little off, I’d volunteer to help them, etc. But, as I get older, I’m getting more and more able to let stuff like that roll off my back, and with knitting that impulse is most often shushed by a remembrance of how long it would take to go back and fix and how little it will impact fit, or that no one who isn’t me or a super professional knitter will even notice. I also allow my non-perfectionism to extend to really long, run-on sentences, just to be clear <3

  • November 7, 2013 at 2:11 pm |

    This is a really interesting post. I would say that we are really similar. I let some things slide, but the finished product has to look perfect. I’m not a perfectionist in any other aspect of life, but when it comes to creating I want to make something that will last and is worthy of my time. The downside is that I’m slow. Especially with sewing.

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