Alison O'Hara / Insight / Uncategorized

The Craft of Writing

 – by Alison O’Hara

fair isle sweaters

Learning to write is like learning to knit. You look at other people’s work – simple patchwork squares, a scarf or beanie, or even a plain sweater or cardigan – and think ‘I can do that!’

It looks so easy, especially when you’ve learned the basic stitches; you feel you can plain and purl with the best of them. You’ve also learned how to read a basic pattern, cast on, cast off, knit two together – what could be simpler?

So you start, and after a while you look back, hold up your work, stroke it and feel it, and think ‘No, it’s too tight,’ or ‘No, it’s too loose.’ So you adjust the tension and go on. But you are still left with a piece that is inconsistent, that shrieks of ‘amateur’ because it’s so easy to see that you’ve been learning as you go, that the style you’ve adopted for the latter part of your work does not match that of the beginning.

Then you might see that you’ve dropped a stitch in one or two places – and to fix it up you’re going to have to undo what you’ve done since then and then do it all again. Or, you realise that you’ve got the pattern wrong.  Maybe the pattern is wrong in itself, or maybe the lines of colour are not going to meet up at the edges when you sew it together. There is no help for it if you want to end up with a flawless piece of work. You must sacrifice your efforts, often hours of them. But not all is wasted, because you have learned the hard way how important it is not to make those mistakes.

And so your expertise increases, gradually you can work faster and more competently and your work becomes consistent from start to finish. After a while, you can experiment with more complex patterns and while this is often another learning curve, once the skill has been mastered, the results are very satisfying.

My hope is that one day I will be able to produce a Fair-Isle sweater of a book.

Alison O’Hara is a member of the ACT Writers Centre. Alison is a recently retired public servant with a strong background in technical writing, editing and proofreading. She is now spreading her wings as a creative writer looking for a writing buddy in Canberra with an interest in women’s stories – fiction and nonfiction. Contact

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