Sunday, 6 September 2015

Unravelling Old Projects: Musings on Reckless Beginner Knitting and Body Image

In the interest of frugality, I will be unravelling a project from the very early stages of my 'knitting career'. This was a time when knitting a gauge swatch was such a bore, adequate measuring (of myself and the swatch) appeared mysterious and incredibly complicated, blocking didn't exist and, due to a lack of familiarity with materials, I habitually chose the most unsuitable yarns for my projects. 

Hopelessly Oversized Asymmetrical Cardigan (completed circa 2010 / 2011)

I'm sure many other beginner knitters will be familiar with this cavalier attitude: You feel excited by the very fact that you mastered the basics of knitting and you just want to get on with it. Every project therefore turns into a test, attempting new techniques and more challenging pieces, rather than paying attention to the necessary groundwork, i.e. jumping through the hoops of all the preparatory steps before casting-on in earnest.  

I adopted this rather nonchalant attitude in two of my earliest projects: a jumper and an asymmetrical cardigan. And even though every seasoned knitter drew my attention to the importance of gauge, selecting suitable materials or the necessity of blocking, I chose to ignore all of this well-intentioned advice, knowing in the back of my mind that I was en route to Disappointment Central.

Sleeveless Jumper, completed circa 2010 / 2011, which found a new lease of life as Mietze's cat bed. (Photos to follow.)

On reflection, this mindset is, of course, entirely irrational, yet consistent with the experiences of many other beginners. What's more, it can only be excused with the insatiable enthusiasm for the act of knitting, which can so often be observed amongst passionate beginner knitters, especially those amongst us who enjoy the process more than anything else. Deep down I was fully aware that I was committing a knitting crime, but consciously chose to ignore all the good advice, because I had to learn the hard way. For the two projects in question, which I completed roughly four to five years ago, I didn't even follow a pattern or some sort of structured plan, I just made it up as I went along. Wild times indeed. (And a reminder how not to approach freestyle knitting.)

Unearthing both pieces this morning, I had a long and very hard laugh, when inspecting them a little more closely, especially when analysing the grey cardigan pinned to the dressmaker's dummy, which is a UK size 8-10. This makes the dummy approximately one dress size larger than my current, actual measurements, which I estimate to be  somewhere between size 8 and size 6. Needless to say, neither of the two pieces would actually voluntarily stay fixed to me and I had to resort to pin them to the dummy, and even this was a little tricky:

Sleeveless Jumper vs UK size 12 Top

Falling into the category of females whose body weight has a propensity to fluctuate, I was considerably bigger five years ago - somewhere between a UK size 14 to 16. And as much as I took to comfort-eating at the time, due to changes in lifestyle I now seem to have fallen into the habit of comfort-starving. I'm sure many are familiar with the dynamics. Yet, what I consider most revealing about my knitted pieces from five years ago is my total and utter over-estimation when judging my actual size. This is somewhat reassuring and disconcerting at the same time.

Draped around the dummy today and without having taken exact measurements of the piece, I assume that the grey cardigan  measures somewhere between a UK size 18 to 20, if not larger. The piece is therefore approximately four to six dress sizes larger than the size of my actual younger self. It might possibly have provided a snug fit to a sumo wrestler, but was way, way too big for a moderately obese female of short height. An overestimation of gigantic proportions, which can to some degree be attributed to a lack of skill and judgement on my part, but is also testimony to the hopelessly misguided image I had (and continue to have) of myself.  

The most striking aspect about all of this freestyle knitting frenzy is the fact that I didn't hopelessly overestimate my size just once: I am ashamed to admit, that I got it wrong in two successive projects! Even though I had the physical proof that I was not as large as I imagined after the completion of the first jumper, I kept on disbelieving the evidence and continued to imagine myself bigger than I actually was - against all better knowledge. This resulted (surprise! surprise!) in a second, completely oversized jumper. As mentioned earlier, I was knitting both pieces freestyle and I clearly recall that I kept thinking they would be too small, thus generously adding stitches to ensure my imagined 'size-20-self' would fit into them comfortably. In actual fact, I might have been able to accommodate my twin as well.

Even though I may represent the extreme end of the self-critical scale, to me this little episode encapsulates the underlying dynamics frequently encountered when it comes to judging our own bodies and ourselves: a rational view and realistic estimation of our proportions is so often replaced by a hyper-critical, negative 'fantasy / nightmare' image, which is far removed from reality, yet has such an immense hold over the way in which we view and judge ourselves. At times it appears that this image stubbornly prevails - even when confronted with physical evidence that suggests otherwise and should serve to dispel the myth.

It is for exactly these reasons that I thoroughly enjoyed this early morning trip down memory lane. Inspecting these over-sized pieces created by my younger knitting-self, who seemed to have existed in a parallel reality, not only ensured a certain degree of amusement over my apparent lack of skill at the time. I also had to quietly admit to myself that things were not as bad as I imagined. And even though I completely misjudged myself twice in a row, knitting has clearly played its part in guiding me to construct a more realistic self-image. Perhaps more of us should knit a freestyle piece and estimate our sizes. I predict the vast majority would take the self-critical route and overestimate their actual proportions, resulting in a healthy reassessment of the way we look at ourselves when faced with the finished object.

Oh yes! I forgot to mention, the grey cardigan, was my first exposure to working Raglan increases, which on closer inspection look ok, if not great. And I certainly got a lot of exposure to endless knitting and purling with thin yarn (machine knitting) on 4mm needles. 

Raglan Increase

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