Friday, December 12, 2008


As an avid knitter and a less avid all-round crafter, I am a huge fan of embellishment.

Mistakes and flaws are going to exist in handmade work.

I was made aware, a few years ago, of an old Amish custom whereby the women would make elaborate quilts with very small pieces and would quite purposely place one patch with the wrong orientation. The reason for this was that “Only God can create perfection.” They referred to this as a humility block*.

I liked that concept, and adopted it immediately.

I know some knitters who will frog** rows and rows – sometimes entire pieces – because of one incorrect stitch. I am not one of those knitters. As long as the integrity of the piece will not be compromised, I leave the error. If it is small and difficult to notice, it becomes my version of the humility block. If I fear that it will be noticeable to the average observer? Then it gets fun. Let the wild rumpus begin! I will sometimes spend more time embellishing a piece than I actually spent making it. Embroidery, beading, I-cord trim, appliqué – all of these are methods by which errors both small and large can be camouflaged.

Sometimes when I really get on a roll with the embellishments I understand the appeal of those garish sweaters women of a certain age roll out around the holidays. (I understand the appeal as a crafter of garments, not as a wearer of garments. Because that stuff is really never ok. But it sure looks like fun to make!)

The best part of choosing to cover up my mistakes rather than correct them is that the embellishment is usually what garners the most attention. “Oh! Look at that delicate beadwork around the border. The detail in your work is amazing!” Or “The crocheted appliqués add such an unexpected touch of whimsy to your work!” I smile and say thank you. No one needs to know that that appliqué serves the purpose of covering up a missed stitch or an unsightly bump or some other form of imperfection. They just need to see the whimsy.

Another advantage is that I feel like the embellishments I choose make someone else’s pattern my own. I have volumes and volumes of patterns (as well as intermittent subscriptions to various magazines and other publications and, you know, internet access…) but I have a few very simple patterns that I return to time and again, because the simpler the pattern is, the more embellishment it can handle before it starts to look overwhelmed.

I was thinking, recently, about how we do the same thing with our memories. When we tell the stories of our glory days, often a few embellishments sneak in. Sometimes that's purposeful deception, but I think more often it's just that we remember things sweeter (or uglier, or more beautiful, or kinder, or meaner...) than they actually were. The story becomes the story of our memory, not a factual recounting of an incident. And I think that's ok.

* That this was actually a custom has never been proven, so it remains theoretical (and, some feel, unlikely).

** frogging is a term commonly used among knitters to signify the process of ripping out work. “Rip it – rip it”. Oh, we’re a wild, witty bunch.

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