Throwing Out the Old . . .

In 1994, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver published a seminal guide to writing called A Poetry Handbook. It’s a perfectly slender volume, and one of the best collections of advice for poets, aspiring or otherwise. The chapter on revision ends with this paragraph:

It is good also to remember that, now and again, it is simply best to throw a poem away. Some things are unfixable.

I’ve spent some time in this space talking about how the respective processes for writing and knitting are different, but the quote above illuminates one space they have in common. Observe:

This baby sweater was intended as a stash buster. Those two shades of blue looked fine together when I put the skeins side by side, and the beige didn’t disagree with them. Neither did the fourth color, which is happily absent from the above picture (I won’t even tell you what it was, to spare any possibility of torturing you). Even Z, whose color sensibilities are much more finely-grained than mine, thought they’d make a nice set.

Well, everyone was wrong. As soon as that sleeve seam was joined, I knew this sweater was an affront to all things knitted. There’s a fine line between “over the top” and “over the edge, ” and once I realized which side of the line this sweater was on, I stopped seaming. The remaining sleeve (light-blue and dark-blue, striped) and the other half of the front (beige, solid) have rejoined my yarn stash.  If knitting was a small western outpost, this sweater would be hung on a spike at the gate as a warning to all yarn criminals.

Not all is lost, though. Mary Oliver’s advice might seem harsh, but that’s only because she leaves it up to us to discover what happens when we have the fortitude to throw out the things that aren’t working: we make room for the things that do.


  • anne says:

    Huh, in the photo the light blue kinda makes the beige look dirty.

    I learn something every time I visit your site. Thank you for having the courage to show your mistakes as well as your triumphs.

  • anne sheridan says:

    oh my, i’ve made some ‘eclectic’ choices before and laughed hard at your attempt! if i blogged we’d all laugh at mine but instead we share yours. what a lovely little ending though….reminds me of a new favorite saying, “EVERYTHING IS ALWAYS OK IN THE END…IF NOT…IT’S NOT THE END” befitting your little beauties above.

  • TheAmpuT says:

    Hmmm. You know, I went to a workshop by Sally Melville, and she showed us a swatch she had knit up of some really garish and unpleasantly matched colors. Even though it was ugly, she knit up a kids sweater out of those some colors anyhow, then overdyed the finished sweater in a forest green, which totally pulled it all together. It was gorgeous.
    But if it ends up on a post somewhere, I’ll keep my eye out for it and heed the warning 😉

  • Lee Ann says:

    Thanks for the reminder about Mary Oliver’s book…it’s been a long time since I’ve read it, and I could use the boost.

    I have a manuscript drawer full of “baby sweaters.” My friend Maxianne Berger refers to them as “dead darlings,” and regularly encourages me to scavenge one word from each one to start something new. But man, there are some days when only the shredder and a trip to the dictionary will do.

    Also, a resolution to not make my daughter wear my mistakes. 😉

  • Sean says:

    Is it wrong to find some comfort in the knowledge that not EVERYTHING that comes off your needles is stunningly gorgeous?

    Still, even this failed attempt of yours looks better than the sweater worn by the cashier in the cafeteria at my work.

  • Sandhya says:

    I have to follow this advice. I cast on a grey sweater for my daughter as a stash buster. Now the contrasting yellow sleeves make me cringe a little but I am still plugging away hoping it won’t weigh on my conscience for long.

  • marty says:

    I love your blog – i’m new to knitting but hope to see more cool stuff here in the future

  • Cassandra says:

    Those buttons really look nice with that color yarn! Awesome, awesome. Way to go!

  • mc78 says:

    Why not salvage the piece by making a cute little vest? No one will ever have to know that ice blue sleeves were once envisioned.

  • Mary McK- says:

    I felted the crane in my sink and it only took about 5 minutes to get as far as I did. It helps that they are flat so their easier to squish and roll up in your hands. And it took about 24 hours for it to fully dry. Good luck!!

  • dickie says:

    all the ends to weave in look daunting. o_O it looks like you won’t have to do it though. i really enjoy your blog!

  • LHWB Knits says:

    NOOOOO! Don’t throw it away. There are kids who are desperate to learn to knit but can’t afford yarn. Find an organization who teaches kids to knit and donate your “dogs” to them. They will happily rip out your disasters and pass the yarn onto kids who NEED it. Or donate it to an organization that knits for babies freezing to death in developing countries. But, please (do you hear the begging in my voice) please, don’t throw it away.
    Oops! Unless it is Red Heart of some scarry s#*% like that. Then -do the world a favor and trash it.

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