I've been a knitter since my teens. I think about the sweaters I've made like some women think about their old boyfriends: the pearl-gray Mongolian cashmere turtleneck; the intricately patterned fisherman-knit cardigan the color of faded jeans; the navy, white and pink crewneck I made for my daughter when she was a gap-toothed 7-year old; the entire universe knitted into a pullover for my son—complete with solar system and a few galaxies far, far away. I've made sweaters for myself, my husband, my three children and an assortment of grandbabies. I'm not bragging, I'm just experienced.
And I've never regretted a single stitch, but there was one time when I called it quits.
I had been working on the same pullover—the Green Monster, as I came to think of it—off and on for about seven years. Three-quarters of the way through, after more ripped-out rows than I care to remember, I broke up with my sweater.
And just to be clear: I'm a knitter, not a quitter. But this relationship was difficult from the start. The pattern was hard and required the utmost concentration. I had to count every stitch and keep track of every row. If I made one slip up, the whole pattern got thrown off. I couldn't watch movies with subtitles and knit on this sweater. And yet, the cables drifted, the seed stitches were scattered and obviously my mind had wandered mid-row from time to time.
In life, you can sometimes cover up your mistakes: You can overlook the smaller ones and keep on going. With the big ones, you can spill your guts in therapy or on social media. In knitting, you often have to go back and rip it all out.
My passion for the Green Monster began to wane. I made excuses for not picking it up and working on it. I started to sneak looks at other people's sweaters, other yarn, and imagined what it might be like to knit something else. And yet, I remained faithful.
For years, I would not allow myself to start something new. Oh sure, I'd go into a yarn store and squeeze a few skeins of silk and mohair in tantalizing colors, but I would always put them back. And I didn't really count the casual, no-brainer scarves I made just for something to do. I couldn't help looking at what other knitters were working on. I was curious, but didn't want to sound desperate or weird.
Finally, I began to feel an undeniable disconnect with my unfinished sweater. Its ocean-green color no longer appealed to me; it was bulky and unwieldy. I live in California where it doesn't even really get cold. The truth is, that sweater just couldn't do anything right. Whose fault was it? I picked the pattern, I picked the yarn. I made the commitment. But that was years ago and, well, I'd changed. I needed to talk to someone.
I went to a yarn store and confided in one of the saleswomen.
"I think I hate my sweater," I said. "What should I do?"
She asked me a few questions about how much time I'd devoted to it and whether I still felt committed. "No," I said. "I haven't touched it for months."
"You don't need to ask for my permission to bail," she said. "Do what's best for you."
I leaned on the counter, waiting for further advice.
"Life's too short to stick with something you don't love anymore," she said and paused for a moment to look at me over her glasses. "I think you should move on."
"Should I ... unravel it? Give it away?"
She shrugged. "Someone will take it and finish it, don't worry. I've seen some of the things people go through before they give up on a project. Stop beating yourself up. Believe me, you're better off without it."
I walked out of the store with a new sense of lightness. I felt absolved and liberated. The time had come to move on—but I had to act while I still had the nerve.
With an apology to all the men who went down to the sea in ships wearing sweaters like mine, I deep-sixed the whole thing: unraveled it row by row until it was just a big ball of sea-green yarn.
Right after that, I started looking online at sweater patterns. After hours of searching, I found a picture of a cute sweater I wanted to make. It looked fun and sporty and not too complicated. I thought I could be happy with it.
I felt ready to take the plunge, get back in the game. So I went into a yarn store—a different one where they didn't know me. I cruised the aisles, touching the yarn, feeling that old familiar tingle, sighing quietly to myself. I found some soft and dreamy wool for my new sweater that looked like a cloud and felt like a kitten. It was love at first sight.