I’m dedicating this blog entry to my friend Michael, who just may be about to pick up his knitting, and to my friend Chris, who scored some yarn this week! if I can do it, YOU can do it.
An aunt knit me a sweater when I was a skinny preteen. (I still have it, Auntie Phyllis! And if I could lift a 150-pound reel-to-reel recording machine off my cedar chest, I’d post a photo of it!) It’s beautiful, and it made quite an impression on me. Other family members had impressive needle and hook skills, and there have always been displays of their handiwork in my life.
When I was eighteen I “got a scholarship” from Chapman College for a ship trip around the world. I use the quotes because the scholarship itself was not even close to covering the costs of the semester at sea. But I went, most likely because of my thoughtful parents and generous grandparents.
In Australia I bought myself some beautiful wool yarn, white thick-and-thin stuff wrapped with thin blue threads. I just loved it, and planned to make myself a sweater. And why wouldn’t I be able to? Our family was good at that kind of thing! And I did commence to knit a sweater. It was a pullover, and amazingly enough, I finished it, it fit in spite of my lack of experience with creating knit swatches to choose the correct needle size and, well, lack of any kind of experience at all with knitting. It was a bit difficult to pull over my head, I recall, and a bit baggy under the arms. And I couldn’t really wear it often because it was an extremely warm piece of clothing. It was beautiful, though.
Years later I began to knit again, and enjoyed it. I did mostly small projects that I could take with me to all types of music rehearsals. I love planning and dreaming about colors, and the act of knitting. I bought and devoured books about knitting, bought yarn and needles and made things.
It wasn’t until recently that I decided to make another sweater. I’d been re-practicing (re-learning?) my knitting techniques with scarves, stoles, neck warmers and such. And I have a rather (ahem) impressive stash of a variety of yarns, pretty much purchased at random.
I subscribe to several blogs about knitting, and discovered to my chagrin that most of them are aimed at selling things – yarn, knitting supplies, books, patterns. The ones I enjoy the most are about the details of knitting – tutorials, lessons, and problem solving. And this summer one site, https://fringeassociation.com, caught my imagination, by suggesting a knit-along in which the participants would design (gulp) and knit a top-down sweater. This is a type of garment commonly knit on circular needles, starting at the top and going down. It sounded both scary and exciting, but possible.
There was a sweater pattern I like very much that is knit from one side to the other, if you can picture that, and it seemed like it could be great fun to see if that particular sweater could become more personalized, starting from the top with a sort of yoke of one color, and working down to the bottom of the sweater with a different color. And changing the pattern from a side -to-side thing to a top-down thing sounded like fun mainly because the blogger with the idea, Karen Templer, is skilled at explaining and teaching. I thought I would give it a try starting on August 1st. Lots of knitters must have been as enthusiastic as I, because a large group of them joined up, and began blogging and photographing and sharing ideas. I didn’t join, but I read and pored over the photos with great interest, and chose some yarn.
I had purchased some recycled cotton yarn on eBay a couple of years ago with the thought of making pot holders and dish cloths and towels as a way to practice different stitches. I jumped in. It was fun, and I ended up with quite a few finished objects. And I could take the small projects with me when we went to our corn fields. Here are some of them.
I was pleasantly surprised at how lovely the recycled cotton yarns were, and I decided to design my sweater with a grey-and-white yarn as the yoke, and use a cream-colored one for the rest. I planned to use a stitch that I like for the body of the sweater. It’s called Roman stitch and it’s rather elegant, and a simple stitch at the same time. It’s visible above on that cream-colored washcloth.
I began by making swatches to check my gauge, and making a practice yoke in ribbing. Here’s the winning swatch.
First experiment: I decided to use 1×1 ribbing (take a look at nearly any sweater – you’ll see ribbing in the stretchy bits at the cuffs, and usually around the bottom. edge.) The marled gray yarn looked so pretty next to the cream. I had knit the yoke and about six inches more of the sweater in the cream yarn before I decided that the 1×1 ribbing wasn’t what I wanted. Then followed an entertaining period of reading about the qualities of 1×1 ribbing versus 2×2 on line. I wish I had photographed the knitted result at this point, with the Roman stitch, because there was a lengthy time lapse before more fabric was made, and the stitch looked so nice, but the size of the sweater seemed a little small, although carefully planned. I tore the stitches up and started again.
Second experiment: This time I went with a 2×2 ribbing. It seemed more practical, nicely stretchy but springing back to its shape, and the color of the yarn even seemed even prettier in that stitch. I knit about half of the yoke, and was about to move on to joining the new color and using a larger needle when I saw it – a spot where I had put six purl stitches in a row instead of knit, 2, purl 2, knit 2, etc. And it was right close to an edge, quite visible. I tore out the stitches and started over. After all, I had only knit a couple of inches!
Third and fourth experiments: I’ll cut right to the chase here and admit that when I cast on, I only cast on 90 stitches instead of 94. That’s what comes from trusting your memory, instead of reading your notes. MUST R-E-A-D THE PATTERN, GAIL! So when I got to the part where I was increasing, four stitches evenly spaced across the neckline, I didn’t end up with the right number of stitches at the edge of the fabric. You’d think that I would have checked my notes at the end of the third yoke failure, or better yet, before that, but – no. So I made the same mistake again on the fourth one.
Somewhere along here, the knitting Olympics came along, called Ravellenic Games, planned by Ravelry, an enormous online knitting community. The general idea was to cast on a knitting project during the opening ceremonies of the Olympics (in Rio this year – cool!) and knit along, trying in your personal way to complete your project by the closing ceremonies. Fun! Although the opening ceremonies had been a couple of days earlier, I madly and irresponsibly decided to combine the two ideas: design a sweater, and knit it during the Olympics.
Fifth experiment: I had a heck of a time getting the correct number of stitches cast on, involving non-silent cursing on my part, but accompanied by dogged determination. I decided to change the size as well, for more negative ease, for a more comfortable sweater that I could wear over a tee shirt or sweater. I made new plans in my notes for the number of cast-on stitches to begin with, and the places to increase, and the spots to place stitch markers. By this time I’d decided to skip the Roman stitch although the blogger has published new helpful information about planning combined stitches. I still have time to decide whether or not to change to the cream color, or just to continue with the gray marled look. (Simplify! Simplify! Or not.)
Sixth experiment: I got the yarn cast on (correctly this time) and I’d knit 3 rows on August 20th. But who was counting?
I stuck with it. The Olympics came and went. I could no longer go for the gold. Umm, what comes waaaay after bronze?
I made a big, big mistake in one of those connecting open-work lines between each section. I got confused and couldn’t fix my error, and decided to leave the obviously crooked increase there. i was just so tired of ripping out and starting over, I chose to leave it there, to remind me of what happens when you don’t stop to think when you know something it wrong. It can be a design element! I kept going.
And then this happened.
See that tangled mess? It doesn’t look so daunting in the photo, but it was! It was! I’ve been knitting two ends of a yarn cake at the same time, and at one point I just kept knitting when there was a small blob of yarn that had come out of the center, pushing the yarn away from where I was working. That was a big, big mistake, and it cost me a long break from knitting anything at all. I did try to untangle it, to no avail. I appealed to Chon’s genius in untangling knots in electrical cords. He looks at the tangle, makes a few magical moves, and voila! But he didn’t seem to be interested in exercising his mechanical genius. I waited. Then one day, he wanted a button replaced on a favorite shirt. I did that and waited. Another request came for another replacement, and it made him so happy! That was when I reminded him about The Tangle. I placed the mess in his lap, and he began. It took a long time. It would have taken me until never. I would have had to cut the yarn. But he did untangle it, and I gratefully picked up where I had stopped. I would have thrown my hands up and grabbed the scissors, but with his help I got to continue knitting, this time much more carefully tugging the yarn from the big cake. I’m approaching the spot where I’ll divide the back from the sleeves and front, and work on each part separately, and I’m looking forward to that. I’m not a fast knitter, and it sounds much more accessible to work on small sections instead of rows of more than 300 stitches.
Having tossed out the idea of using the Roman stitch, I forged on. I was really looking forward to reaching the point where the stitched get divided into back, fronts, and sleeves.
I’ve reached that spot now, and I’ve passed it! I have a few inches of the body to work, (it’s a short cardigan) and the bottom ribbing. Then, on to the sleeves. And the button bands. When I pick up stitches for the bands I may use a cream cotton instead of this hedgehog color. Maybe.
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