How Knitting Helps Me Overcome Perfectionism

A top-down shot of a blue and white teacup and saucer sitting on the edge of an oak table with a white doily and some white knitting on steel needles. Knitting helps me overcome perfectionism by giving me a safe place to make mistakes.
A top-down shot of a blue and white teacup and saucer sitting on the edge of an oak table with a white doily and some white knitting on steel needles. Knitting helps me overcome perfectionism by giving me a safe place to make mistakes.

When I took up knitting over a decade ago, I never expected that it would help me overcome perfectionism. I knew it would help me relax and keep my hands busy, but I worried that I’d feel about knitting the way I felt about so many other things: that if I didn’t do it perfectly, there was no point in doing it.

And I’m willing to bet, if you’re reading this post, you know that feeling, too.

Because I sure do. The perfectionism is everywhere. I see the unevenly planted flowers in my yard, the misfolded shirt in the otherwise perfect stack of laundry, the twisted stitch in the sweater that took me 40 hours to knit. I see all of it, and until a few years ago, I judged myself for it. Harshly.

Living with perfectionism like that can be debilitating. Usually, I end up procrastinating on something that I’m afraid to do badly, with the end result that I don’t leave enough time to do it well and virtually guarantee that I will, in fact, do a subpar job. There have even been times when I’m so afraid to do something imperfectly that I just don’t do it at all.

To Fight Perfectionism, Ask A Couple Key Questions

When things finally got so out of hand that I couldn’t manage them anymore, I got myself into therapy. I started seeing a therapist who specialized in working with people like me, whose anxiety and perfectionism were getting in the way of just living life.

She taught me to stop and ask myself two important questions: who are you trying to be perfect for? And what would happen to that relationship if you weren’t perfect?

It turns out that nobody who really matters to me cares if I do things perfectly. My husband and my kid sure don’t. My parents don’t. Friends? Nah. When it comes down to it, my students even seem to enjoy signs that I’m a normal human being who makes mistakes sometimes.

The only one who notices and minds most of my little mistakes is (you guessed it) me.

Knitting Helps Me Overcome Perfectionism One Stitch At A Time

A sideways shot of a blue and white teacup and saucer (on the left) sitting on an oak table with a white doily and some white knitting on steel needles. Knitting helps me overcome perfectionism by giving me a safe place to make mistakes.

So this is where the knitting comes in. Over the last 14 years, I’ve made more mistakes while knitting than I can possibly count. My first scarf still makes me chuckle when I look at it. There are 15 stitches at one end, 22 at the other (a huge difference when using size 19 needles!), with random tufts of yarn sticking out in odd places and gauge issues in multiple spots. It’s a bit of a mess.

I knit it for my then-boyfriend, now-husband, who still has it and swears it’s perfect. It was my first lesson in realizing that others don’t see the mistakes or, if they do, don’t care.

Since that first scarf, I’ve dropped stitches, messed up row counts, bungled pattern repeats, and gotten things so badly tangled that the only solution was to frog it and start over. In the end, none of it mattered. I didn’t lose anything, really, not even time, because time spent knitting is never wasted. I gained knowledge and skill. The mistakes were usually fixable.

Most of the items I made mistakes on were destined to be gifts. I gave them to their new owners with a bit of apprehension, knowing how many mistakes were in them. Guess what? Nobody ever noticed, and if they did, they sure didn’t say anything. They were just happy to have something pretty and useful that was made for them with love.

That can go a long way toward helping you overcome perfectionism that’s causing problems.

Give Yourself A Safe Space To Be Imperfect

In the end, what knitting has given me most of all is a way to practice being imperfect and being comfortable with that imperfection. I can make mistakes and see that they aren’t catastrophic. I learn to fix them, and then I grow from them. It’s an unexpectedly thrilling experience.

So here’s to learning to live with—and love—our imperfect selves and the imperfect things we make. Making mistakes is a normal part of living and learning, and nobody really expects perfection out of us. We shouldn’t expect it of ourselves, either.

And the best thing about yarn? It never tells your secrets.


Want to incorporate knitting into your own process of beating back perfectionism? Here are some resources for you:

  1. My complete beginner’s guide to knitting
  2. Here’s where you can find links to my patterns on Etsy, Payhip, and Ravelry.
  3. For a wealth of resources at a reasonable price, consider joining The Knitting Guild Association.

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12 Comments

  1. Anna Crawford

    Oh, I wish I could say knitting/sewing/crocheting/etc. has helped me with perfectionism. Since I have a shop selling those things my inner harsh critic gets full reign. 😕 However, I must say that the relaxation and enjoyment in the process of making things outweighs the pain of perfectionism. (I fully concur with procrastination being the child of perfectionism. I have to consciously struggle against it.)

    1. Lauren Rad

      Whenever I encounter parents who think their kid is lazy, the first thing I always ask is whether they might not actually have a perfectionist on their hands. I know it was at the root of a lot of my time-management problems as a youngster, and it’s still such an issue even now. Glad to have a companion on the journey!

  2. Janie Friedman

    Yep. Knitting has definitely helped me let go of perfect – at least in my knitting. I’m a work in progress, otherwise.

    1. Lauren Rad

      “Work in progress” just about sums it up over here, too. It’s a long journey, but one that’s worth the effort.

  3. Trudy

    I just took an online class from Julie Weisenberger of Cocoknits. She said she never has the right stitch count and she just adds or subtracts a stitch when she finds it, or leaves it in if it doesn’t matter. I swear my perfectionist heart skipped a beat. And she’s a professional!!! So freeing to consider it’s all fine (okay, not in a lace pattern 🙂). Now if only I can get myself to do it!

    1. Lauren Rad

      This is me, too! My samples for my designs are full of errors, some of which I’ve fixed and some of which I’ve decided to just ignore. It makes life much more pleasant.

      1. Carol Howell

        Totally agree ! I have just started to knit again after a 35 year break ! And loving it !

        1. Lauren Rad

          Welcome back! I’m so glad you’re having fun picking up the needles again. Excited for you and all your future projects.

  4. penny detwiler

    I learned to knit almost back to childhood and find it to be my go to thing for so much. Teach it to y our kids, its so calming and the end product is worth it.

    1. Lauren Rad

      Agreed wholeheartedly. I find it really comforting, especially during stressful times.

    1. Lauren Rad

      I think there is probably a whole community of us out there!

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