Once, several years ago, I decided that it was time to learn to knit socks. I couldn’t tell you why, now, except that I’d already knitted blankets and handpuppets and doll clothes and stuffed animals and diaper covers and an instrument case, but never socks, and all of my knit-witted friends seemed to like making them. Peer pressure never ends – it just changes forms.
So, I bought sock yarn and a set of five spaghetti-strand sized double-pointed needles, and got to work. Oh, was it tedious. I had no patience for the pattern. It required way too much counting. The stitches were tiny. The yarn, which I first thought would work itself into a watercolor blending of blues and greys, turned into ugly black and blue stripes. Even my mother, usually my biggest fan, said, “Tell me you aren’t making those for me.” And the worst part? I lost count of how many people saw my work in my hands and said, “Socks? You know you can buy those in a six pack at K-Mart these days, right?”
But, perseverance being my middle name, I did it. Though it took about forty hours over the course of months, I finished one sock. I felt accomplished for all of about ten seconds. Know what I discovered? There is no joy, none at all, in knitting one sock. Finishing one sock only means that it’s time to start the second sock, and do the whole thing over again. The whole thing. Every single tedious stitch, just like the first one. So, tenacity being what it is, I started the second sock, and developed a terrible case of Second Sock Syndrome. I didn’t like the yarn. I didn’t like the pattern. I didn’t even like the first sock, already finished, sitting in the bottom of my knitting bag. Knitting was now a drudgery instead of something to enjoy. I resented every stupid “knit two purl two” in every single stupid row.
I went to a wool festival with my mother. I love the annual wool festival. (I realize that I have lost all hope of ever being cool when I could say “I went to the wool festival and I had a great time!”) It’s where I stock up on enough yarn and enough patterns to last me through the year. While there, browsing through the hundreds of vendor booths, a little grey-haired granny walked past me. On her canvas knitting bag were the words, “Life is too short to knit with ugly yarn.” I paused. I thought of the horrid black and blue wool sitting in the bottom of my own bag, with half a sock left to go. Then, something clicked.
“I DON’T HAVE TO DO THIS!”
Yes, I said I would. Yes, my friends all had cute handmade socks that they loved. Yes, I had shown fierce determination, even in the middle of my resistance. Yes, I had invested in the yarn, and the needles, and endured the teasing, all in the name of starting what I finished. And guess what? I could change my mind! So I did. I stuck the whole project in a handpainted bowl and called it art. Done. Looking at it now makes me happy in a way that horrible handmade socks never would have. It’s a completed thing, and I can let it go, and move on to making things that I actually like. The outcome didn’t match the original vision, but I like it so much more!
What do my ugly unfinished socks have to do with being a doula? It’s pretty simple, really. “Knitting with Ugly Yarn” is a life lesson that stays with me. It’s true of leaving behind things you do because your peers say you should, and deciding what’s right for yourself. It’s true of a birthing person changing the plan, and deciding to make the best choice in the moment. “Don’t knit with ugly yarn” is all about knowing when to look at something from a different perspective, and listen to your gut.
Sometimes, you’ve just gotta stick it in a bowl and call it art!
What’s your “ugly yarn” story? Where have you let go of one idea, to have a much better one take its place?