Hidden Mistakes in Crochet: Irish Legend or American Myth?
Making mistakes when crafting can be so discouraging. Especially in yarn crafts where entire patterns can be thrown off by missing a stitch. When we see others feeling upset, we naturally want to console them. After all, everyone makes mistakes! In fact, have you heard that in Ireland they believe that a piece of your soul goes into every project you make? And did you know, that the Irish believe in deliberating making a hidden mistake in crochet pieces so that your soul can escape?
But wait...is that even this true?
On Twitter in 2018, the above claim was made. It quickly spread like wildfire. I'm not going to name names, because it's very easy to Google this tweet.
In 2021 the person who made this claim was asked for a source by someone else who wanted to include this bit of folklore in their book. Here's how that conversation went down:
The sarcastic thumbs-up response is what led me to go down this rabbit hole.
I did hours of research on the origins of this claim. Let's start out by looking at the general concept of imperfection, and deliberate mistakes, in crafts.
According to Shawna Bowler and her thesis "Stitching Ourselves Back Together: Urban Indigenous Women’s Experience of Reconnecting with Identity Through Beadwork":
"A spirit bead is an intentional flaw created within an otherwise perfect piece of beadwork to demonstrate humbleness before the Creator, and to show that nothing on Earth given to us by the Creator is perfect, including ourselves."Shawna Bowler
This is a legitimate, and widely recognized, example of a culture deliberately making mistakes in their crafts for a spiritual purpose.
Another well documented example of deliberate mistakes in crafts comes to us from the Navajo Nation. Jill Ahlberg Yohe, a cultural anthropologist, goes into great depth on this topic in her work "Situated Flow: A Few Thoughts on Reweaving Meaning in the Navajo Spirit Pathway".
In the image below you can see a contrasting bit of yarn. This deliberate mistake is referred to as a spiritline or, ch’ihónít’i.
...the community conceptualized the ch’ihónít’i as being a purposeful mistake in two ways. In the first case, the spiritline is woven into the textile as an intentional “flaw,” a symbolic path for the survival of the weaving tradition to continue into the future. The second interpretation is that the spiritline is a deliberate design element incorporated by the weaver as a valued expression of modesty. Because nothing in life is perfect, some say, the weaver adds the spirit line to materialize the positive attributes of human imperfection and humility.Jill Ahlberg Yohe
Wabi-sabi is a world view that embraces imperfections as being a part of the perfection of nature.
Originating in Taoism during China’s Song dynasty (960-1279) before being passed onto Zen Buddhism, wabi-sabi was originally seen as an austere, restrained form of appreciation. Today it encapsulates a more relaxed acceptance of transience, nature and melancholy, favouring the imperfect and incomplete in everything, from architecture to pottery to flower arranging.BBC Travel
Phukari is a type of folk embroidery that originates from Punjab region of India and Pakistan. Deliberate mistakes are well documented in this art form:
...women sometimes introduced small color or pattern changes into their work. Some were added to protect the shawl's wearer from the evil eye. Others were stitched to mark important events that occurred during a textile's creation, such as the joy of a baby's birth or grief over a relative's death.Carla M. Sinopoli
Minerva (Athena, Pallas) and Arachne
I debated whether to include this myth. Simply because it is a myth. Ultimately, I felt that it fit because the moral of this myth is in line with some of the above concepts:
A woman named Arachne was the best weaver in all the land. Her work was so beautiful that people from all over began to hear whispers about its magnificence. Word spread to Pallas (a.k.a Athena/Minerva), who was the goddess of weaving and all handicrafts. Pallas disguised herself as a crone and approached Arachne.
She questioned Arachne's skill, telling her that in order to be such a wonderful weaver that she must have been blessed by Pallas.
Arachne denied this, insisting that she got her skill alone, from practicing. She then went on to say that if Pallas was there that she'd challenge her to a weave-off.
The old crone promptly changed back into Pallas and the weaving duel began. Arachne won and Pallas was enraged. So enraged that she began beating Arachne with a shuttle!
Arachne was disgraced and humiliated. She attempted to hang herself (probably fearing what could come next). Pallas, suddenly "pitying" Arachne decided to do something even more terrible:
...as she turned to go she sprinkled her with the juices of Hecate's herb; and at once her hair, touched by the poison, fell off, and with it both nose and ears; and the head shrank up; her whole body also was diminished; the slender fingers clung to her side as legs; the rest was belly.
Still from this she ever spins a thread; and now, as a spider, she exercises her old-time weaver's art.The Metamorphoses by Ovid
Apparently that's where spiders come from. The "arrogance" of perfection without giving credit to the goddess.
Amish Quilts and Humility Squares
Something I often saw claimed alongside the Irish myth was that the Amish do something similar.
The Amish community is famous for their quilts. The claim being made is that the Amish believe that only God is perfect and that to not make a mistake was an act of vanity. Therefore, Amish quiltmakers insert something called a "humility square". This would be a piece of fabric that is obviously different from the rest of the pattern.
But guys, this claim isn't real.
According to Wendell Zercher, a curator of LancasterHistory.org, he asked the Amish community about this concept and "Their response is, 'no one has to remind us that we're not perfect.'"
Here's another great article that cites a couple of historians and Amish folks on the topic of so-called "humility squares". The quote that stuck out most to me is from Barbara Garrett, a historian and Pennsylvanian quiltmaker: "...when I asked Amish ladies, the most common comment: 'I read in a magazine that you all think that about us. That was the first I heard the idea.'"
Possible Source for the Tweet & Verdict
So! As you can see, it's not difficult to find reputable and scholarly sources for legitimate instances of cultures making deliberate mistakes in their crafts.
After hours of researching, the only other source making the claim that the Irish make hidden mistakes in crochet projects, is a 2006 post from CrochetVille.com:
The way that this post is written and structured leads me to believe that it was the source for the Tweet. Of course I can't be certain, but I can tell you that there's no earlier record of this claim. When asked, most Irish people have never heard of this either. So while some Irish folks may happen to believe it, it is not a common belief in Irish culture.
What we can say for certain is that Tampa Doll's mom, who is apparently of Irish descent, definitely believed it.
It's a false claim.
Don't 👏 trust 👏 people 👏 on 👏 twitter. Or any social media website! Unless they're giving you reputable sources. I fully believe "Tampa Doll". I bet her mom did say that all the time! But who knows where her mom got it from. People make stuff up because we are inherent storytellers. Or worse, some people make stuff up to get followers. Once it goes viral, it's almost always too late to do damage control.
This speaks to several much larger issues in our present-day society. But this is a crochet and crafting blog, so let's save those topics for another day.
I Want to Believe
If we want to believe in the concept of a mistake being a trap door for the soul, great! I am all for perpetuating the general idea of this. I would love for there to be more American myths and legends. Frogging rows and rows of work in the pursuit of perfection is maddening. Let's carry on saying, and believing, a modified version of this because it's a cool way to say, "fixing that mistake is not worth my mental health and time". Leave the mistake, save your soul. l love it!
However, falsely attributing a belief to another culture is an unfortunate habit. This sort of behavior can easily snowball into more unseemly beliefs and actions. Especially when it's done willy-nilly about all sorts of topics and with no regard for what is true.
A legend doesn't need to be antiquated to be cool. A myth doesn't have to be "foreign" for it to be mysterious and full of wisdom. We don't need to take other cultures and try to Frankenstein our own.
All we need to do to fix this, is to change the intro:
Did you know that Americans believe to leave a hidden mistake in your crochet work so that your soul won't get trapped in the project?
An American woman originally posted about it. Therefore, the truth is that it is an American legend. And we could get even more general. Maybe this will be something that all crocheters start to believe. That'd be great too!
In either case, I am proud that as a community we want to acknowledge that everyone makes mistakes.
Help Get the Word Out
If you agree that Americans should take ownership of our crochet myth, share this article! There's no way to scrub the incorrect version from the Internet. But if enough people post this article, or pin the below image on Pinterest, we're sure to get people questioning the origin.
Do You See a Mistake in This Article?
The point of this article is that as humans we seem to collectively lean into normalizing mistakes. If you notice a mistake in this article, please tell me! Comment below, making sure to link to source material, and I will be sure to update this article.