Penelope work

So I frogged a sweater last weekend.

For those of you who aren't knitters, "frogging" means unraveling a knitting project. (It's a pun, because when you're unknitting something, you rip it, rip it, rip it…get it? Ribbit?) This was no partial unraveling to get to a mistake I'd discovered too late; this was a complete dismantling of the whole project. I'd been meaning to do it for some time. I'd started this particular project way back in 2007, going on four years ago, and for most of those years, it's been sitting unfinished in a basket with other projects awaiting completion. I finished all the pieces and then realized that a) I'd gotten the proportions kind of off, and b) I lacked the patience to seam the whole thing together. Here it is, in its unseamed, too-long-waisted, too-short-sleeved glory:

Kepler sweater in progress

I'd felt bad about not finishing it for the longest time, because an unfinished concerto or poem might be performed or read, but an unfinished sweater will never be worn. And I was attached enough to the beautiful cable around the hem and the bottoms of the sleeves (my first foray into extended cabling, if I recall correctly) that I kept thinking I could fix it somehow, or magically become the kind of person who enjoys sewing.

But finally I recognized that that just wasn't going to happen. So on Sunday I sat down, picked apart the bound-off edges, and ripped the whole thing out, piece by piece. I'd expected to feel regret for all the wasted effort, but instead a sort of demented glee took over as the yarn went zip-zip over my elbow and thumb. Somehow, though I dread dropping a few stitches when I'm working on a project, it becomes fun when done on purpose and on a grand scale. Now I have a dozen or so skeins of yarn which, as soon as I've finished straightening them out, I'm going to reuse to make the O w l s sweater (clever, charming, and blessedly, mercifully seamless).

I might attempt the Kepler pattern again, but if I do, I'm going to modify it so I can make the whole thing as close to seamlessly as is humanly possible. When I started the now-frogged sweater, that wasn't something I'd have dared to attempt; now the prospect of modding a pattern is about as daunting as taking a slightly different route downtown.

There's a rather obvious parallel to be drawn with certain of my previous life experiences and the lessons learned therefrom (cough*grad school*cough): that sometimes the best possible decision is to abandon something and start over; that doing that might unleash energies that one hadn't even realized had been bound up in maintaining an unhappy status quo. I thought I'd learned that already after the great career reboot of 2003-04; but sometimes you need a metapor to make an idea stick.

(The title of this post, by the way, is from Walter Benjamin's essay "The Image of Proust," because, after all, I do reuse the yarn of my education in all sorts of ongoing work-in-progress:

For the important thing for the remembering author is not what he experienced, but the weaving of his memory, the Penelope work of recollection. Or should one call it, rather, a Penelope work of forgetting? Is not the involuntary recollection, Proust's mémoire involontaire, much closer to forgetting than what is usually called memory? And is not theis work of spontaneous recollection, of which remembrance is the woof and forgetting the warp, a counterpart to Penelope's work rather than its likeness? For here the day unravels what the night has woven. When we awake each morning, we hold in our hands, usually weakly and loosely, but a few fringes of the tapestry of lived life, as loomed for us by forgetting. However, with our purposeful activity and, even more, our purposive remembering each day unravels the web and the ornaments of forgetting.

—Walter Benjamin, "The Image of Proust," in Illuminations, trans. Harry Zohn)

3 Responses to “Penelope work”

  1. Jill Smith says:

    On a related note, a friend and I once frogged a garment she had made using two yarns – she wound one onto a ball-winder, I wound the other onto the swift. The trust that came from her knowing that I was someone who could handle fiber (she taught me to knit) and the slow, deliberate course of the work enabled a really difficult, and air-clearing conversation. Kind of interesting.

  2. Jan O'Connell says:

    Sorry to hear you frogged your Kepler. I, too, hate seaming; I knit the bottom border in one piece (44″ I believe), joined it, and then began knitting the body in the round. So far, so good. Not sure how I will approach the sleeves yet. Mine is done in a blueberry/purple heather color. It should be great for the fall. I think it takes courage to frog something you put so much time into, but then you have a good amount of yarn to start on something wonderful!