A couple of weeks ago my Tuesday knitting class had a conversation about the idea that perfection (especially in our knitting) is overrated. One of our more confident knitters chimed in, saying “it’s like that wabi sabi thing – the Japanese art of imperfection.” Linda (my confident knitter) went on to explain that this Japanese view of the world was especially present in Japanese ceramics and such. The imperfections were part of the beauty.
I did a little reading about wabi sabi. I talked to my kids about it. Wabi Sabi is a new thing in our family. When another awesome knitter brought it up the other day as we stitched up some gaps in her nearly-finished sweater, I figured I needed to trust my gut and talk wabi sabi on the Wool & Grace blog. Kathleen and I were weaving in some ends. There was no right way to get it done, just a bit of intuition and then some trial and error and she plainly stated that it was “wabi sabi knitting.” She was right – and I feel like all knitting should be wabi sabi knitting.
A Wikipedia explanation of wabi sabi is that it’s a world view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. There’s an aesthetic that is described as imperfect, impermanent and incomplete. Especially in Japanese ceramics, we see it in the non-uniform glazes of Hagi ware, or the gorgeous application of gold lacquer to mend broken ceramic pieces in Kintsugi. Kathleen, who spent time living in Japan with her family, recounted shopping for Japanese ceramics. There was no point in haggling with an artisan due to a perceived imperfection. It was wabi sabi.
Especially with our newer knitters, I try to encourage this wabi sabi approach. When they bring their knitting mistakes into Wool & Grace, I often ask them if this is one they can live with. So often someone wants something to be perfect for one reason or another. It’s a relief when someone can move on from that mistake without needing to fix it – not because I don’t want to fix it (I don’t mind ripping out your work, as many of you know) – but I feel like it’s a mental and emotional leap for people to make to just live with the imperfection. Now, let’s think of these imperfections through a wabi sabi lens. It’s imperfect because it was made by hand. It’s imperfect because someone decided to try something totally new, something they aren’t automatically going to be good at, and create something. Someone let their creative drive overpower their fear of imperfection. I think that’s pretty awesome.
I’ve been knitting a long time, and I’m a pretty good knitter. I also have my share of wabi sabi knitting. There’s that Visser sweater I made a couple years ago – it’s a striped master piece that is practically perfect – except for the one stripe that is missing a stitch front and center. I remember wearing it in after it was newly completed and one of our knitters pointed out within minutes “I see a mistake.” I shrugged my shoulders. Wabi sabi knitting!
Then there’s that Shibui sweater I knit up last year in a combo of Dune and Silk Cloud. It’s bold and red and the yarn was extremely expensive. I didn’t read the pattern correctly and did the ribbing around the hem incorrectly – so it doesn’t match the ribbing at the neckline and sleeve hems. The sweater is still totally awesome. Wabi sabi knitting!
I could go on – and I could give you dozens of examples from the Wool & Grace staff alone of their own wabi sabi knitting. Then there’s this: both Linda and Kathleen are really awesome knitters. I love that their knitting-world view includes an acceptance of this wabi sabi concept, and I also wonder if they are awesome knitters because they have that a bit of that wabi sabi world view. They’ve taken risks and had knitting “missteps” and they’ve been able to grow more as knitters because of it.
Your scarf may have some incorrect stitches, or your sleeves may be different lengths. As a knitter, you took two sticks and a piece of string and you made something out of it. That is incredible. It’s not going to last forever, and it’s not going to be perfect, but it’s beautiful nonetheless.