If You Want Something Done Right

Why the hell do people pick up crafts if they’re not even going to try to do them well?

The reason this has been on my mind lately is the current popularity of knitting, which is plagued by a person I call the Perpetual Beginner. The PB annouces, breathlessly and (usually) with a lack of spelling, puncutation, or grammar, that she (it’s almost always she) has finished her 50th Fun Fur scarf, and was thinking of moving into something a little more challenging–does anyone have an easy pattern for a washcloth? No lace or anything, she’s still not too sure of her tension and doesn’t want to mess it up with yarnovers.

I want to make it clear that I’m not bashing people who knit simple things competently–my mom, for example, who’s done a lot of scaves lately as presents for her friends. Or the woman on the SCA tabletweaving list, who does yardage trim for sale: in her case, she’s using nonperiod techniques because that’s the only way she can weave fast enough to make it cost effective (and since only extreme geeks like me know the difference, and any tabletweaving is better than no tabletweaving, it’s not a big deal :)). Or those who use craftwork as essentially a meditation aid; simple is clearly better there.

The people I’m annoyed by are those who have done the garter-stitch scarf. 10,000 repetitions of the same simple movements later, they still don’t have–or claim to not have–enough control to maintain an even tension, enough skill to follow a simple cable pattern, enough savvy to realize there’s more than one way to do a decrease. They get on bulletin boards and ask ingenuously why their stockinette stitch is curling to the knit side; they want to have their hands held through the process of converting an in-the-round pattern into a flat one, because they know knitting in the round is just too hard (despite the fact that they’ve never actually tried it). OK, I respond, you are clearly too stupid to be allowed to breed. I realize I am a mutant, but I taught myself to knit lace at the age of approximately 10–surely a grown woman can handle knit three together?

It annoys me because these people are using their perpetual beginnerhood as a reason not to challenge themselves, while simultaneously burbling about how creative they are. Creativity does not lie in making endless permutations of the same thing; creativity is in stretching the boundaries of what you know and can do. It’s fine to feel a great sense of accomplishment upon finishing your first garter stitch scarf…but not your hundredth. On your hundredth, you should say, “Thank heaven that’s done, my niece’ll love it, time to do something interesting”. Or perhaps “That was a great movie; too bad the subtitling was out of synch.”

“Whatever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might.” In other words, if you’re going to invest your precious time into a thing, do it right. Swatch. Use a second needle to make the satin stitches lie flat. Get the best quality materials you can afford. Make sure your letters slant at the proper angle for the hand you’re using. Try substituting ginger, practice your scales, check that the hem is even, cut a piece that fits, rip it out and do it again.

It’s all right to not be good at a given thing. It’s OK to mess up because you’re still learning. What’s not all right is to be bad at it, and not care that you’re bad at it. If it’s something you just can’t learn, fine. Go do something else you can learn. Chirping mock-ruefully about how hapless and incompetent you are doesn’t cut any ice. Improvement does.

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