Monday, July 10, 2006

The Deliberate Mistake

When I was a child, I fell asleep under a quilt handstitched with appliques of little dolls on a bed of yellow ginham and green twill. In one quadrant of the coverlet there was a odd square of pink chintz, a piece of cloth that violated the incredible artisanry of every tiny matched stitch, every well-ordered block. If that quilt had not had that strange and obvious error, I might have slept under it for years without ever realizing that the quilt was handmade. As it was, I fingered that garrish piece nightly, contemplated the sewing of the quilt and imagined a its history, wondering what its maker was thinking when she interrupted the quilt's perfection. Surely she didn't stitch in the pink square without realizing that it could never pass as correct. Surely the patch was a deliberate mistake.

This quilter's decision to put a deliberate mistake into her work unites her with countless other artisans from around the world. The makers of those meticulous Persian carpets made obvious errors in their rugs to show that noone was perfect except Allah. Some people believe that the Gods might be angry about arrogance of a human effort to produce a work of art without imperfection. Navajos thought evil spirits could escape only through an error in art.

Some people question the truth of the idea of the deliberate mistake. For example, one source quotes an interviewer who suggests that Amish quilters, often believed to use the deliberate mistake in order to prove they were not prideful, actually believe that "an intentional error is saying just the opposite--that their work is perfect and that they would have to be purposeful in order to make mistakes." Another analyst suggests that quilters, when asked about the concept, uniformly reply, "I make enough mistakes without making them on purpose." Wouldn't it be more arrogant to believe that one has to make a deliberate mistake in order for the quilt to be imperfect?

I did not need to make my mistake deliberately, but I did have to make a commitment to keep it in my knitting. I tried first to correct it--and proceeded to screw it up a bit more. I could have ripped out a couple of rows--but I did not. Learning to live with my mistakes occasionally helps me break my perfectionist streak and its stranglehold over my productivity. It is this mistake that separates my Icarus from the zillions of other Icari appearing all over blogland and the Stitch-n-Bitch Universe. It is these little mistakes we make that remind me that our works are made with our hands, our hearts.


FemiKnitMafia said...

This is a wonderful description that I whole-heartedly agree with. Of course, I'm not a perfectionist, so leaving mistakes in my knitting is par for the course. But, it's comforting to remember that artisans throughout history have done the same thing, intentionally.

Unknown said...

Ohhhh, I know of what you speak.

sgeddes said...

Thanks for the information. I wasn't familiar with the concept before this. Very interesting for a discussion topic.

I would love to see some of the works that have the deliberate mistakes in them. I wonder if everthing else is "perfect". I've seen very little that I would call perfect. But I think that is what makes things unique and beautiful too.

In my own work there is certainly enough errors to not add any more. It is hard enough to live with those!

Birdsong said...

What a great job writing up this concept, which I originally learned while studying Navajo weaving many years ago... I am in the category that makes enough mistakes accidentally so never had to worry about "inserting" one! I love the color of your Icarus, and can't wait to see how it turns out. Thanks for your kind comments to me Friday.

Anonymous said...

yes. that. exactly.


beadlizard said...

Expressed perfectly!!!

I was taught that a deliberate mistake is a design feature and a genuine mistake noticed and left is a practice in humility.

I have always found it interesting that we, the artisans, are bothered by the mistakes that other people will often characterize as "charming."

I used to be a perfectionist, but making a living doing piecework for many years taught me humility! --Sylvia

belledame222 said...

I like that, as a general philosophy.

and i remember hearing that about the Moslem/Persian carpetmakers, the deliberate flaw in the design.

personally, tho', i don't feel i need to exactly go out of my way to be imperfect/do things imperfectly; it just sort of happens naturally...

Anonymous said...

Beautifuly said. Sometimes with perfection we find monotiny, it is the obvious error in that quilt that made it interesting to you. This is true with people too. It is the unexpected that draws us in.

Sheepish Annie said...

Well said. Without folks willing to risk mistakes there would be no advances. And I have to say that many of the good things in my life were the result of "happy mistakes." (of course I will always say that I meant for that to happen...:)

Anonymous said...

I first heard of this concept when I was very young, we took a school field trip to the Shaker Village, here in NH. All the cross stitch samplers on display were missing the letter Q, presumably for the same reason. Very interesting.

And I like the plural of "Icarus"!!

Anonymous said...

"imagined its a history..."

Is this a deliberate mistake?

Your writing (and photos) are so terrific, I'm glad you allow an occassional mistake to slip through and resist the temptation to edit them all out. This is part of what makes blogging so interesting to read; it is fresh and unedited.

Keep writing!


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