By Rachael Herron
Knitting my own wedding dress had always been a goal of mine.
I wanted to make people gasp.
That’s kind of a silly, pretentious thing to admit, right? But the truth is that sometimes I’m a vain woman. I wanted to make people’s jaws drop. I wanted them to see me in a Gibson girl silhouette, wearing a thin, yellow dress of such diaphanous beauty that Charlotte of the legendary web would be astonished by my prowess.
It was an excellent goal.
And look, it wasn’t my first time up to bat. I once knitted an Alice Starmore pattern called Cromarty out of Koigu Kersti. I nailed it (even though it took 25 balls of yarn and weighed the same as a Great Dane). I don’t wear it—it makes me look like a short, wide, fancily-cabled house. It was a big goal—I succeeded.
But when I started knitting, and when you started knitting, we had simple goals. Just getting the yarn around the needle without it skidding off more than twice in a row made us feel like rock stars. Purling! Remember purling? For many of us, just the word made our skin crawl with fear.
It’s just knitting backward, people blithely told us, not understanding that we could barely knit forward yet. They wanted us to turn it around? (My sister, an accomplished knit-stitcher, has refused for almost thirty years to learn purl. She’s quite happy with garter stitch, thank you very much.)
Then there was the vaunted goal of The World Beyond Scarves. Just making any item that was intended for a more complicated body part than the easy-going neck was huge. Remember your first slipper? Your first sock? Perhaps you’re not there yet, but your first sweater is a miracle that you make with your own brain and hands, and you love it passionately even if it’s twelve sizes too large and a funny color of on-sale yarn. You managed sleeves! And a body! Bonus points if your head fits through!
My loftiest goal of all, though, was that wedding dress.
Completely forgetting that the wedding was about the two of us making a solemn vow, I was stuck on the wow.
I knew I could pull it off.
Are you sensing where this is heading?
Yep, I bought the gorgeous DK cashmere blend, in the palest, butter-like yellow. When I knit the skirt, it hung like gossamer. It showed the darts perfectly, and the tiny lacy details at the hem were divine. Calf-length, it took a month of knitting in all my free time to finish. With only a month to go before the wedding, I’d have to start on the lacy bodice soon to get it done in time.
I tried it on.
And I almost cried.
Okay, truthfully, it wasn’t that bad. It looked like an unfashionable, homemade, yellow skirt. I could have paired it with black boots and a cute black top and gone to the library or grocery shopping. No one would have laughed at me for wearing it. (Not much, anyway.)
But it wasn’t gorgeous. It wasn’t a wedding skirt. And that hurt. All that time, all that money, down the drain. There was no way I’d make the bodice—even the most perfect top wouldn’t save the dowdiness of that skirt. I went to Macy’s and bought a white cocktail dress off the rack. It made me feel pretty enough to get married in, and by then I’d remembered the day was about my partner and me, not about what I was wearing.
But I’d shot for my goal and missed it by a mile of expensive cashmere.
And it taught me something about goals in knitting.
First, goalposts have wheels. In the beginning, you just want to end your rows with the same number of stitches you started with (easier said than done). Then you want to make a garment. Then your goal becomes to craft an heirloom. The goalposts move, but you—the knitter—are still in charge of placing them, or even if you want them to be on the field at all. (Goalposts also make great drying racks if you take them out of play entirely.)
Second, it’s also okay not to have a goal. A lifelong, dyed-in-the-wool product knitter, it’s only been during my forties that I’ve started enjoying the process of knitting for what it is. Sometimes now I pick up gorgeous yarn and cast on with nothing in my mind but sliding the yarn and needles between my fingers. I play with stitch definition and texture. I sometimes make a scarf or a hat, and I sometimes just rip it all out after playtime.
And third, goals in knitting are physical ambitions. You start with a pre-something, just an idea and a pile of string, and if you’re lucky and diligent enough, you end up being able to hold that ambition in your hands. The thing about ambitions, though, is that they change as we age. Once I had the ambition to be a flight attendant. I was 10 years old. The world didn’t stop spinning when I realized I’d rather not spend my life not touching the ground. The very word ambition comes from the Latin, ambire, to “go around.” To wander. It’s okay to change our minds at any point, as I did with the wedding dress.
But goals, once committed to, sometimes pay off. I’m a knitting writer, and I’ve been one for almost 10 years. That was my biggest, dearest goal, and with absolutely no sense of decency or shame, I clutch that goalpost like it’s going to drive away. Someday I’ll yarn-bomb my goalpost, as soon as I feel comfortable letting go of it long enough to cast on.
And one of the greatest joys in life comes from watching others reach their goals. My friend Stephanie Klose achieved her goal of not only designing but also knitting her wedding dress, winning the Craftys for it in 2014. Wearing it, she truly looks like the modern knitting Gibson Girl. It’s perfection.
Stephanie Klose in her wedding dress. Photo by Kristine Foley.
You can view a video of Stephanie and her wedding dress here.
Stephanie succeeded. I didn’t.
To fail big means you can truly appreciate when others knock it out of the park.
I never want to get married again. I’ve happily remarried the same person in multiple states and countries, and I think I’m probably done with my own weddings.
Unless someday I decide to knit Stephanie’s pattern, that is.
Rachael Herron is the bestselling author of Splinters of Light, the Cypress Hollow series, and the memoir A Life in Stitches. She's a proud New Zealander as well as an American, and she wishes she could knit and play ukulele at the same time.