Thursday, October 7, 2010

Picking At The Rough Ends . . .

I know that when Roland Barthes wrote of the punctum, the tiny point or wound that punctures a photo's studium or field, that draws and disturbs the eye, he had much weighter poignancies in mind than disruptions to a fashion image. Although his semiotician's interest was certainly directed to the commercial advertising, and he may well have perused a Vogue or two as part of his cultural study.

But I doubt he'd have been as fascinated as I was by a particular tiny element of this photo from The Sartorialist last week. Perhaps only a knitter would notice that in an otherwise flawless outfit -- a gorgeous, youthful yet so adaptable, interpretation of Minimalism -- that handknit garter-stitched scarf has had its end unceremoniously lopped off rather than carefully woven in.*

Far from a perfectionist myself -- Oh, So FAR! -- I nonetheless take care with ends that are likely to show, and I have to admit that I'm surprised that someone as obviously concerned with Finish as this young woman (who apparently works at Teen Vogue) could ignore such a grievance, however tiny. I'm even more surprised that the offending stub of yarn caught my eye, that it bothered me -- am I turning into my mother? my old Home Ec teacher? an old grump?

To justify my response, I'd say that it takes so little time to do this right, and that if you can knit a whole scarf, you should take enough pride in your work to finish it properly. I deal with so much of this lack of care in writing -- apostrophes sprinkled near "s"s with no care for whether the noun is plural or possessive, approximate spelling despite the ubiquity of dictionary-equipped Blackberries, incorrectly-formatted documents -- my rant could go on.

They knew something, those generations who chanted down the line, "A job worth doing is worth doing well." Mind you, I also believe that a job worth doing is worth doing poorly, with tolerance, on the way to that improved eventual performance. Someone will show the inexperienced knitter, who will look with fond amusement someday on the crudity of her earlier technique. I know I certainly have . . .

Other knitters, chime in -- am I being way too picky? Or would you have spotted this as well? And the rest of you, want some rant space? Any favourite peeves around lack of care in simple tasks?

*As I've captured and re-posted, the photo is smaller and the bit of yarn even less noticeable than on Sart's blog -- but it's at the wearer's left thigh, at the scarf's lowest left edge.


  1. I assume it's what one of my young friends calls the "low-fi" approach. That in this day of digital perfection, the young like to see evidence that "Human Was Here."

  2. Actually, the one that caught my eye first was the tag of yarn hanging in the middle of the scarf between her chin and where are right hand is tucked under left arm. Obviously there was a yarn join here, with the same failure to weave in the ends. I noticed the bottom only afterwards.

    Maybe she was so excited to have finished she just threw it on? That is what I would think were I to see her on the street. I like a bit of imperfection in presentation, but I also like pride in work well done, so the ends should be woven. And truthfully at some point in my life I might have just thrown it on right away before I finished the ends, so thrilled just to have finished it at all.

    But then, I probably already am an old grump.

  3. Good eye, Mater. I really didn't look that closely when I saw this one. I'm wondering if maybe a friend or family member, a beginning knitter made this as a gift for her. But yes, it would bug me.

    I wish I could remember exactly this quote from Doris Lessing's "The Golden Notebook," but to paraphrase, the worst thing isn't accepting the second-rate. It's pretending to ourselves that the second-rate is first-rate. (In a different context, but I think it sums up well an attitude toward being new at something, and allowing ourselves some leeway in that learning curve while at the same time ultimately striving for excellence.)

  4. I wouldn't have noticed the edge at all. Thanks for looking for me!

  5. I'm pretty sure I would have picked that up - and I can't work out why you wouldn't take the time (what, two minutes?) to weave in the end. Someone (Duchesse?) was talking about perfectionism and the concept of 'good enough' - this just isn't ...

  6. Piggybacking on Tiffany, this is not pleasing to me. Do we know she is the knitter, or perhaps she bought it in one of those strenuously indie boutiques with badly-finished, earnest clothes?

    I get 'wabi-sabi' and adore the patina of wear. I love imperfect pearls, for example. But this just looks ill-finished to me. And only the young and beautiful can wear it with elan. That smile makes many lapses melt away.

  7. Duchesse, she does have a lovely smile that distracts the eye away from the scarf.

    Mater, had to comment on apostrophes. The random sprinkling of them drives me around the bend!

  8. Oh lordy! I just tried on a handknit vest that I made three years ago, and I've still not fully woven in the ends. They are started, but there are still long strands - all inside of the garment, but there still.

    I suppose I should take more pride in my hand work, but I think there are times when I'm so eager to wear something -- or to just be finished with knitting it -- that the seaming and the weaving in of ends is a monumental bother.

  9. These young people and their shoddy wares! :-) I did notice it, for what it's worth...

  10. LPC: Yes, and this has often been my own preference, but I'm seeing so much evidence of humanity these days . . . ;-)
    Mardel: Ah, so I'm not the only one! And I was back and forth, just like you, and yes, I probably would have worn it like this at one point as well.
    Part of what bothers me, I'm realizing, is that there's every evidence this young woman is a details person -- and using the handcrafted as a way to introduce imperfection -- through sloppiness -- seems to me to do a disservice to that craft. We can say "The Human Was Here" (as LPC suggests) through beautifully crafted, well finished, handmade garments -- handknit needn't mean roughspun hokiness which then is nicely juxtaposed with the machine-knit finer sweater. . . . Hmmmmph!
    Pseu: This is such an apt quotation and goes a long way toward helping me see what bothers me here -- and what doesn't. Thank you!

  11. Susan T: You're welcome, altho' I'm still trying to puzzle out what it means about my eye that I'd notice such a detail.
    Tiffany: That's what bothers me -- that it's an easy, quick matter to remedy -- as well, there's the functional demand of finishing -- to resist that end working loose and unravelling! It's not just cosmetic -- in this craft as it evolved over centuries, millennia even, garments needed to be properly finished if they were to serve rather than simply decorate.
    Duchesse: I feel so relieved that you get what I mean. I'm happy with worn leather, I love imperfection and rough against fine, etc., This insouciant sloppiness challenges me somehow -- although the smile indeed melts!
    Nancy: As much as I acknowledge that they're probably on the way out, those apostrophes, I keep reminding my students that a bunch of us fussy, cranky old farts are still in charge of a few things, and we still like to see a resume where apostrophes know their place.
    Gina: Me too! It's a bother. But I do tend to do it because I've learned that it does make a difference. And, well, you know, "A job worth doing" . . . and all that.
    K: Yes, well, that doesn't surprise me at all -- I mean, you are an unabashed perfectionist! And you have a serious respect for learning a craft from the inside out.

    Thanks to all of you! I felt foolish as soon as I'd posted this -- I'm not a perfectionist and I'm sure you'll find much evidence of that in all my photos (which I'll now cringe doubly at posting). But your responses have really helped me sort out some of what my response is about. I knew I could count on you!

  12. I see it !
    I saw it right away !
    I am focused on the elegant look of the simple garter stitch scarf...
    as a knitter I would not even consider knitting a garter stitch scarf thinking it too pedestrian...
    what a snob I must be...

  13. Hostess: Garter stitch can be a great way to put the focus on a fabulous yarn, and of course it's the stitch to get started with. But I'd never choose it now for a scarf simply because of its properties. Plus I'd get so very bored! In a yummy aran-to-chunky cashmere though (although I'd probably work that in lace, just to get better yardage)

  14. Ack, I'm an old grump too...I noticed it immediately after my eyes left her pretty face.

    I sometimes reflect on knitting projects I did when I was less skilled and shudder, but I always weaved my ends in. That way, I felt, at least the garment was neat if not perfect.


  15. OK, first of all I saw this picture and loved the colours and then I loved the slub and loose ends and the enthusiasm this scarf represented... I am that person who cuts and never hems or even frays, preferring to let nature run its course. But then I cut both my and the girls hair with sewing scissors! I just seem to LOVE raw edges and a raw finish.
    I was watching a programme about a couple doing up an old barn and their attention to restorative detail was alarming. Emin laughed and said I would probably just have given it a lick of paint!
    That you noticed such a cavalier attention to detail reflects your love of a job well done, not something I have ever suffered from. I do however whole heartedly salute your rant about grammar, I am a product of a poor and feeble English education and the more I write the more I wish it came more easily. I have improved, but still have a long way to go. In this weeks Grazia a woman used the word 'slither' instead of 'sliver' now that is annoying when you think how much people on that magazine must get paid.

  16. As a fellow knitter, I noticed too. I've made the same mistake myself.
    Yes, maybe we are turning into old grumps - lol. I wrote about that topic yesterday.

  17. It bothers me too. It makes it appear cheaply made, not hand made. Like the difference between couture and H & M. As Duchesse said something of good quality that is irregular or has a patina of wear is not the same as a cheap product falling apart.

    Probably doesn't matter to her if it starts to unravel in a few months though, she'll be tired of wearing it and on to something new.

  18. Alison: There are many areas where I'm quite happy to tolerate imperfections -- my garden is an immediate example, never mind my housekeeping! And I have, myself, worn garments with less-than-perfect seams when I was a less experienced and less fussy (read: younger!) knitter.
    I suspect that you would notice sloppy technique in paintings, and I also suspect you exercise some pretty high standards in your classroom.
    As for your grammar, as I've said before, it's actually got very solid bones. And your fab writing and interesting topics are more than ample compensation!
    'Slither' for 'sliver' -- hah!
    Genuine Lustre: Welcome! So glad to have you visiting here, and commenting. I took a quick peep at your own grumpy post and will spend more time at your blog when I get a minute -- meanwhile, let's just say that Thank You notes, done well, are a sign of grace!
    Northmoon: Yes! Yet I suspect that she takes considerable care with the rest of her wardrobe -- she's otherwise very polished. I think I'm objecting to handknits being a shorthand note for the rough-and-ready balance to more upscale polish. We knitters can do much better than that!


I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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