Making the Best of It: Lessons from a Tangled Mess

Over break I started on something years in the making: “The Icarus Shawl.”When completed, I will have my own pair of golden, lacy wings connected by a feathered back and tail. From the moment I found the pattern and accompanying photos I knew I had to make it. At the time, however, I was an awkward middle schooler still mastering pattern reading, so I tucked the magazine that I found it in safely on a bookshelf. Over winter break, though, I found the perfect golden mohair, a soft, light kind of wool, on sale at Fancy Tiger Crafts in Denver, so I knew it must be time to finally make my wings. I figured time has passed, and I can now read patterns and follow diagrams, so there was no way this would be a problem. Or so I thought. While there is a written pattern for the shaw,  it was apparently published with lots of errors so I have to cross reference it with a sheet of revisions. On top of that, the diagrams are in three colors, worked continuously but not in full rows, and have overlapping stitches due to the stitch type.Which just so happens to be the crocodile stitch, one that I’ve tried before for a purse that ended up in lots of tangled yarn and swearing. In short, my dream project has turned into a monster since I have to follow a diagram that looks like a small child’s scribbles, a set of instructions with as many small errors as a paper written in a frantic all-nighter, and uses one of my least favorite stitches. Great.
So, brandishing my hook and surrounded by papers, I took a deep breath and started. While projects that are a breeze are nice on occasion, the ones that start out horribly are also the ones that I end up most attached to. There’s a “simple” cylindrical pillow that took four tries to make round, a pink sweater that is a hairy mess, and an afghan that took over a year to make, just to name a few. You could say the only reason I like these is that I’m justifying all the effort that went into making them, but that would be oversimplifying things. I love these projects because of what they have taught me.
These monster projects have taught me some important crochet techniques that have opened up the possibilities of what I can make. On my own, I never would have considered trying to figure out things like colorwork and shaping sleeves, but the context of a beautiful project proves why they are worth the effort. In addition, I’ve learned the gist of what kind of math and ratios goes into various shapes so that I can use them as the base for whatever I want to make without a pattern later on. This is extremely important, as it opens up the possibility of making something that is tailored to my vision.
These projects have also taught me about myself — about my own strengths and weaknesses. I’ve learned exactly how stubborn I can be and that stubbornness will literally drive me to focus on something for hours on end, skipping meals and ignoring everything around me. While this tenacity does come in handy, as it insures that I will finish what I start, I am also now aware that it can be a huge weakness. It leads to forgetting to take care of myself and going in circles as I repeatedly try the same thing and grow more frustrated. Neither of those things helps complete my goals, and they are actually a form of self-destruction that I can justify in the name of getting things done. This lesson is invaluable here at Swat because there are so many assignments and tests that could easily destroy me if I let them become my primary focus.
One of the most important strengths I have learned is that I have the magical power to create. Creation adds a sense of fulfillment and a way to make my mark on the world. It allows me to express who I am through color and textures and patterns. It is a way to show my loved ones how much they mean to me while also giving them something that serves a purpose. Creation also opens up a door to healing from the pains of everyday life. It can distract, or be a productive way to fidget while thinking, or even be a vessel to hold whatever anxiety there is while wiping it away with soft fibers.
In the end, taking on something difficult is worth it. And attempting something hard within my comfort zone in small doses every day helps give me the strength to take on other challenges. So bring on the yarn tangles.

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