Friday, October 5, 2018

A Knitter's Lament

What is one of the main reasons of knitters’ frustration? What is the worst thing that might happen while you work on a project? To be completely honest, what is your greatest fear when you embark on a new knitting adventure?
At least for me, this is the worst that can happen… Because it would mean that hours and hours of work (and subsequently hours and hours of my life) were spent in vain. And I have to start all over again. As much as I love starting a project I definitely prefer one successful start to several failed.
And what are the reasons for the need to get back to the beginning?  

1. False planning

Yarns could be capricious and cranky and refuse to become a garment that you want them to become. Let’s face it! If your yarn doesn’t cooperate, it won’t look good no matter how skillful a knitter you are and how much heart and soul you put into your work.
Last May I had to unravel 4 times in a row 4 different projects because my yarn just didn’t want to collaborate (meaning, my creations looked just ugly).
Then, I wanted to make a colorful round yoke cardigan with Rowan Fine tweed and ended up with something quite different for the same reason. My last project for #summerofbasics was supposed to be a cabled sweater and eventually became a plain V-neck cardigan with pockets (via another sweater, this time lacy).

Rule # 1 – do not start planning a project just looking at a pattern. Yarn comes first. From now on I will play with the yarn before deciding which pattern to make out of it. I need to make several gauges, try different designs, wait, and see which one will agree with the yarn and my current needs (because some yarns want to be hats or scarfs when I need a sweater or a cardigan).

Therefore, I probably won’t be participating in a #summerofbasics knitalong in the future. Because this knitalong involves explaining the planning process with notes and drawings. I figured out this is not the best planning process for me: sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Last summer it worked about 50% of the time. From now on, no more #summerofbasics for me (sigh!).

2. Mistakes in a pattern

Yes, they happen quite often and we, knitters, better be prepared. Yet, even after so many years of knitting, it takes me by surprise every time.
Slouchy cardigan that I eventually picked to make out of my marled Colormart yarn, looks amazing on the model. I was instantly attracted to it: a stylish garment with modern shape, V-neck, and side pockets seemed the epitome of practicality.
Actually, the final result didn’t disappoint.
I’ve been wearing my Slouchy for a month now, mostly inside to protect myself from air conditioning (we still have pretty high temperatures in Pennsylvania). However, the process of making it was a real struggle.
My first problem with the pattern was a row by row instructions. It is literally row by row – almost every sentence starts with “Next row”. It didn’t bother me that much while making the back, but, after finishing the left front, I discovered that I missed several rows at the bottom of it. I had to unravel, knit it again, and then unravel again. Finally, frustrated beyond words, I printed out the pattern (I was using it on my tablet while traveling), enumerated all rows, and got a second row counter. Then and only then, I could finish both fronts. Why two row counters? Because there are many short rows that should be counted separately. And no matter how hard I tried, I didn’t succeed in getting the right amount of total stitches at the end. I decided to leave it as it was because nothing is perfect and one or two stitches more or less are not that important in the grand scheme of things. Honestly, I was just tired of being wrong.

And then I came to the sleeves. The pattern’s drawing of a sleeve doesn’t correspond with its verbal instructions. Simply speaking, if you knit it as explained you won’t make a sleeve shown in the schematic drawing. And I already made the back and two fronts (one of which 3 times!!!). At this point I was really frustrated… No, let’s be honest, I was angry… Nonetheless, my anger couldn’t help me finish my cardigan.

I described in details what I did for the sleeves on my Ravelry page. The goal was to make the decreases as inconspicuous as possible, and to avoid holes while decreasing in order to make the seams neater. I think my goal was accomplished. The yarn and the pattern were the perfect match even though some of the finest pattern’s details were lost on the marled fabric.

How to protect oneself from mistakes in a pattern? 
Rule # 2 – either wait till several knitters make it and explain its mistakes on Ravelry or get ready for a possible failure due to the fact that the pattern as it is written cannot be executed properly.

Actually, this rule – to be always prepared for a possibility of a failure – is one of my major life rules. Failures are inevitable; you cannot live without them like you cannot live without air or food. Admitting this simple fact makes it easier to go on with less bitterness and more determination, I think.
I hope I don’t sound preachy here. This is also one of my greatest fears. I used to be a teacher and I know that teachers often have a tendency to do just that. I don’t want to look like I am on a higher moral or other ground that anybody else. And I am not giving anyone any advice for that matter. My only aim is to share my thoughts and opinions and it is for you to decide if I am right or not.

My next pattern was supposed to be something that would be more straightforward and less complicated (I don’t think anyone would blame me for taking an easy route here!). Strangely enough, the inspiration for it came during our trip to Scotland. On the Isle of Skye there were some yellow flowers (I am blissfully unaware of their name) that reminded me of this yarn from my stash. Many years ago I made a bright yellowey-greenish sweater. I wore it for a while before my youngest child took it. A couple of times I tried to make something from the yarn leftovers but it didn’t work and I totally forgot about it till I saw those flowers.

The last couple of Kim Hargreaves’ books have several designs made using different sized needles. This technique produces a stretchy, drapey, and porous fabric and doesn’t require a lot of yarn.
I really liked Subtle from the book Pale for its neckline and an unusual form of the raglan sleeves. And I made it quickly from the leftover yarn without any changes to the pattern. This one doesn’t have any mistakes and was delightfully easy. Just what I needed!

The only problem with this garment in my view is the neckband. It should have been a little tighter. If one day I make it again, I’d pick up 4-5 less stitches at the back.

Yes, it is extremely stretchy. But I can live with it and it will look perfect in Florida.

Since working on Subtle didn’t require a lot of brain power, I started another project for myself from the new yarn that I bought in Scotland. I fell totally in love with this yarn – Illustrious by West YorkshireSpinners - and I believe I picked the right pattern for it – Early Morning by Yuko Shimizu. It is a gorgeous cabled sweater made in the round from the bottom up using lots and lots of short rows. It looks rather intricate but its puzzle-like construction is clearly explained and is fun to make.

After more than two weeks I made to the armholes and one bright morning (after all it is called Early Morning) I decided to try it on. And I decidedly didn’t like what I saw in the mirror.  The asymmetric hem made my butt look too low and the shape was wrong for my short frame. This wonderful pattern that was a perfect match for my new yarn just didn’t fit me well. Needless to say that I was almost in tears while unraveling it.

3. Some patterns don’t work with our body types. 

This is the last reason why sometimes we need to frog our work. At least as far as I could figure it. Do you know any other reasons?
Anyway, now I  am working on small projects – socks and hats – and it turned out to be really soothing.
So I’ll probably stick with gift knitting for a while. Everyone needs a confidence boost from time to time.

Talk soon,