Reaching the Finish Line (or Mastering the Mattress Stitch)

"Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience."
-Ralph Waldo Emerson


When I was in high school, I sewed a calico sundress using a Gunne Sax by Jessica McClintock pattern.  McClintock’s dresses were popular at the time and, at around $100 (if I recall this amount correctly), were relatively expensive purchases.  The dress I made turned out well, and I received lots of compliments at school.  I can remember that when applying eyelet lace to the bodice, I made certain that the turned corners were even and neat.  I also recall, though, that with the typical impatience of a teen, I did not finish the raw edges inside the dress.  Taking time to work on details that no one would see required a kind of punctilious attention that was overshadowed by my eagerness to put my new creation on my back as soon as possible. 
The pattern for this sweater is in Debbie Bliss's Essential
Baby Knits. (I didn't use the mattress stitch on the
shoulders, so they're still not perfect, but the sides look great.)

Older--and having amazingly morphed into a bit of a perfectionistic seamstress who always spends time putting finishing details on sewing projects--I nevertheless still have some problems with a lack of patience.  I started knitting three years ago but until this past weekend often still found myself eager to sew up pieces of knitwear quickly, so that I could clap finished garments on my back mere hours after they'd come off of the needles and had been blocked.  When I was packing to go to Vogue Knitting Live, though, I looked at a sweater I had made, contemplating whether or not I should bring it to the event, but, ultimately, left it at home because the back-stitched sides seemed bulky and not neat enough to subject them to the scrutiny of experienced knitters (let alone knitting teachers and designers).   I had attempted many times, using instructions in at least five different books, to teach myself the mattress stitch, a seaming technique that makes a virtually invisible seam.  But, oddly enough, I must be riddled with some kind of learning disability related to spacial  understanding (or reading instructions), because I could not teach myself using the illustrations and photos. 
This past weekend, however, I decided to take action.  Once again, I picked up Knitting for Dummies and a few other books to study the sections on seaming.  But, still, I could not make an invisible seam.  I ended up with a baby sweater with a lumpy side seam with visible horizontal joining stitches.  I managed to remove the seam, though, and hunted down my laptop under the piles of food wrappers, hoodies, shorts, and towels in my older son’s room.  

I then found an instructional video on Youtube. (Click here to see it).  And, lo and behold, I was able to create a beautiful invisible seam!  The moment of seeing my two pieces meld into one was satisfying; I had learned something new that could vastly improve my work.  Now, I can look forward to finishing pieces, rather than dreading how I might mar them with sloppy needlework. 

Here are some things I learned from this experience:
No knitter is an island.
Sometimes, even able students armed with the best textbooks, need to observe a teacher modeling a process in order to learn a new skill.
The process of knitting requires diligence, focus, practice, and patience, but, amazingly, those characteristics can be an intrinsic part of something that is entertaining and fun! (If I examine this statement, I can also surmise that I am getting really old.)
The sense of accomplishment that comes from learning something new never pales.
We have to risk failure in order to learn (the gnarled remnants of a piece of a vintage baby sweater stuffed in a bag in my closet are a perfect illustration of this maxim).
When we learn a new skill, we are like Lucy stumbling on an antique wardrobe in C.S. Lewis's novel--we have no clue where we might go next, but we can be certain our experience will be enriched in myriad, unanticipated ways. (Who knows? I might just be a middle-aged knitter now, but if I continue to expand my knowledge and skill set, I might be on the path to an exciting future career.)
Unlike Lucy's experience, we must recognize that, as Abigail Adams wrote, “Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.”


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