I ripped out the button bands yesterday and re-knit them last night and this morning. I haven’t yet re-blocked it, because it doesn’t really need it, so I’ll leave it as it is for the time being.

I am, in a word, delighted with how this sweater now looks. I am so, so, SO glad I took the time to be dissatisfied with complacency and committed to perfection. It’s made this sweater into something I’m proud of, rather than “just okay”.

For those interested in numbers, I changed the button band to 93 sts from 125. I have a hunch this is because my row gauge was off (I had 28 rows per 4″, vs. 26 specified in the pattern), but also because my garter st is likely wider and chunkier than my stockinette (which is normal).

Here’s the link to my Rav page with all the details.

As with any big project, now that it’s over I’m at a bit of a loss as to what to do next. Tea Leaves has been on my needles for almost a year; it’s weird to have it sitting there, wearable! I want to consider my next project carefully, since I run the risk of starting something with all the vim and vigour of a rebounding 19 year old, only to have momentum fade after a week. I am finding that it is good to have at least one of the following on the needles at all times: a sweater, socks, a shawl, a simple stockinette knit, and a hat. At the moment I have 2 scarves and 3 shawls on the go, plus a pair of socks. Time to make hay on some of those, methinks. But Tea Leaves has ignited a bit of a sweater fire in me, and I believe my next one will be Tidal by Cecily Glowik McDonald. I already have the yarn and everything. And for those sweater-minded among you, Indigodragonfly is having a Sweater KAL right now, and let me say that the cumulative brain power, between Kim’s detailed posts and the advice of the ladies in the forum, is staggering.

Off for a stash-dive, now. Later!

When I last left off I was trying to figure out what sweaters to knit. I live in the Northern Hemisphere, and here, in the summer, knitters happily carry around their lace-weight and sock-weight projects, but as soon as that first cold blast of arctic air comes at us we scramble to find our 5mm needles and some worsted weight yarn.

I cranked out these two pretties fairly quickly,

(These are both from the pattern “Boheme” by Allegra Wermuth.)

And followed them up with some hats.

(The yellow hat is my own pattern, based on a stitch in a stitch dictionary)

(This is the plain version of “Flowered Miss” by Amanda Keeyes)

But the biggest project of all was the one that I started last autumn, and only made it off the needles last night. Here it is, my Tea Leaves of Doom.

I’ve had this sweater on the go since November 29, 2010, roughly a week before my son was born. Casting it on then was a leap of faith. I eyeballed myself, measured an old sweater, and crossed my fingers. I knit the yoke before he was born, and then it sat there, neglected, while I navigated the heady early days of spit-up and colic. In the summer, as part of the Indigodragonfly Summer KAL of Doom, I picked it up again, and began to make some progress. And then a lot of progress. And suddenly I began to realize that I really actually quite enjoy miles of stockinette. I have a crazy life right now; it’s great to have knitting that doesn’t take much concentration. It is no surprise at all that I churn out project after project of simple looking knits, while my lace shawls languish in my knitting basket. There is only so much one can concentrate on at once before too many YOs cause one to YO-YO oneself.

Now here is where the story gets good. Grab a snack. Remember way back in November of 2010 when I cast on this sweater? I had already made two of these sweaters for my daughters, and I, cockily, assumed I knew what I was doing. I knit a swatch, yes, but did I bind it off? Did I wash it? Did I hang it to dry? Did I, and here is where you should pay attention to the story, measure my row gauge? No, no, no, and no.

[And here is where the Knitting Goddess reaches down from her woolly heights and cuffs me upside the head]

The sweater fits perfectly. It’s a top-down sweater, so row gauge, I incorrectly assumed, doesn’t really matter so much. Just make it as long as you need to. Ditto on the sleeves.

No, stupid.

I picked up the button bands, and knew that something wasn’t right. I picked up 3 stitches for every 4 rows, just as the instructions said, but still, something wasn’t right. There was rippling, and bulging. I washed the sucker, and blocked it, and it looks pretty good lying there on its towel, drying, but I know the truth. I know that the second I put it on, those button bands are going to start waving more than a royal on parade.

[And here is where a few choice expletives and perhaps some unnecessary yelling might have occurred]

So here’s how I see it. I carried that sweater around for 10 months, knitting on it here and there as I felt like it, but always stopping short of just finishing the damn thing. It’s like somehow I’m afraid to have it done, because then it won’t be a project anymore and I’ll have nothing to do with it except wear it, of all things (and the back had better stop hiking up, or I’m not going to be happy). I figure that my sweater of doom just isn’t ready for the real world yet. It still needs a bit of knitting time, a bit of coddling and massaging before it’s put to work for the rest of its life.

[And here is where I suck it up, rip back the button bands, and try again.]

“Under foot the leaves were dry and the foliage of some holly bushes which grew among the deciduous trees was dense enough to keep off draughts.”

Chapter XLI, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy

***

Last week saw us sweltering under a hot sun and wilting in intense humidity. Summer had no mercy as we plodded along, touring some local towns, admiring their wares. It seemed laughable to be knitting a sweater and mittens – to be knitting at all!

This week has brought a change to our little corner of the map. Three mornings now we’ve woken to fresh breezes and a thermometer that barely reaches 20C. There was a definite crispness in the air as we left the house this morning, and, despite diligently slathering the children in sunscreen, I couldn’t help but think that I should really be starting their fall sweaters….and soon. Truth be told, I only need to make one. The other two children can make do with hand me downs from the one nearest in age. But which sweater should it be? Simple? Complicated? Quick?

Meghan of Butterflyknit suggested a few today that are lovely. And I have some queued already. Stay tuned for the verdict!

“This Nicholas anon leet fle a fart
As greet as it had been a thonder-dent,
That with the strook he was almoost yblent;”

The Miller’s Tale, Canterbury Tales, Chaucer.

***

A successful knitting project involves four things: Good Yarn, Good Needles, a Good Pattern or Idea, and, most importantly, the Desire to do it. I would wager that the last one is the most important, though it is definitely affected by the other three. However, if the Desire is there, a knitter can, in fact, overcome mediocrity in the other departments, though it is perhaps not advisable. Sometimes, despite adequate amounts of Desire at the outset of a project, WIPs begin to languish in the knitting basket(s) as new and more exciting knits pop up. We talked about procrastiknitting last time – a malady that afflicts many a knitter – but what of the projects themselves?? What do they think about all this mad knitting and purling on other sweaters or cowls or scarves, whilst they sit, crumpled, in various stuff sacks or baskets? Sometimes there is no hope for a WIP. It has been a WIP for far too long, and the honest knitter will look herself in the eye and acknowledge the truth: the WIP has to go.

My own list of WIPs was so astoundingly long that I recently quoted the status quo as being 13 Works in Progress. The trouble is, one hardly makes any progress on any of them at all when things have gotten so out of hand. And then to my utter astonishment, I managed to finish a cowl in two weeks, mainly because I worked on it nearly exclusively for 10 of those days, and that bit of focus did me a world of good. I eyeballed my heap of WIPs, and decided that some of them were well past their prime, and so, in the past week I have frogged* three projects, and more might fall prey to this sudden urge to impose a bit of order to my knitting basket – or, at the very least, free up the needles for other things.

Two of the projects I frogged were due to lousy needle-yarn combinations. The very thought of working on them made me think that scrubbing my heels with the cheese grater might be more fun. One of them was a blanket using sport weight cotton. I know! What was I thinking?! The second was straightforward shawl using a lovely yarn that was completely inadequate to the task, on needles that were the knitter’s equivalent to nails on a blackboard. Why I persisted with it for as long as I did is a mystery only the knitting gods can answer. The third project was frogged because I decided that the yarn – gorgeous stuff – would be better put to use as a shawl rather than as socks.

There is something singularly satisfying about unravelling a project. It is more than slightly reckless – I mean, think of the HOURS one has likely put in – but also a very virtuous exercise in which one, as the knitter, takes an authoritative role, refusing to be brow-beaten by a project doomed from the beginning. Some of my frogging this week is the direct result of the knitting epiphany I had nearly a year ago now: there is no need to buy name brand yarn. There are plenty of lovely artisanal yarns out there…a whole world of unique, exciting yarny goodness. Hence I have a tote full of run of the mill stuff that I hardly ever consider using, and a basket near to overflowing beautiful yarns from Indigodragonfly and Viola. Le sigh. However, I am committed to knitting from stash for a little while, and so the tote full of yarns will find its way into knitted existence somehow…once I let go of the original idea with which I purchased each yarn in the first place. For now, it is nice to have de-cluttered both my basket and my brain…and to look forward to casting on something new. Maybe even tonight!

*Frogging: Unravelling a knitting project completely. So named because you “rip it, rip it”….though, as you can see, I went for the other connotation of “rip it”, just for the heck of it.

“‘All those rows of volumes – will you not now do what you used to speak of? – will you not make up your mind what part of them you will use, and begin to write the book which will make your vast knowledge useful to the world?'”

Dorothea Brooke in Middlemarch, by Geroge Eliot

***

Procrasti-Knitting: Knitting undertaken solely to avoid, escape from, or otherwise ignore more pressing and necessary tasks.

Every knitter I know engages in procrasti-knition. It is an excellent way to “forget” about cleaning toilets, doing taxes, or finishing doctoral theses. But what you might not realize is that  some knitting projects exist precisely to escape from other works on the needles. Yes, it is true: Knitting to escape from Knitting.

 

Why on earth would a knitter need knitting to escape from knitting? Well, suppose you are several miles of stockinette stitch away from a finished sweater…

 

Tea Leaves Cardigan

or too sleep-deprived to concentrate on a lace scarf….

 

 

February 2011 Club Package from Indigodragonfly

 

but you still want to knit. Enter: Procrasti-knitting! The small, easily finished, projects that provide instant knitterly gratification. Hats are good choices, as are cowls. Depending on how fast you are, mittens might also fit the bill. Having more than one project to devote attention to is a survival skill many a knitter has honed.

 

Spring Beret by Natalie Larson, Yarn: Quince & Co.

Problems arise, however, when one persistently embarks on procrasti-knits at the expense of finishing the Big Project. The result is two-fold: First, one begins to run out of needles, as many of these smaller projects mysteriously all require 3mm 80cm circs…. Second, one spends so many hours and days finishing up yet another “just one more” hat that the bloody sweater could have been finished long ago, so get on it, Casaubon!

**There is another, more insidious effect of having too many little works on the needles: Knitzophrenia, when the knitter moves hastily from one project to another, unable to commit to anything for any length of time before moving nervously to the next ….but hush, we shall not speak of it now.**

What procrasti-knits do you have in your bag?

“There is something you don’t know….I am not left-handed!”

Inigo Montoya, in The Princess Bride

 

Cables are one of the hallmarks of knitting….could you imagine an Irish Fisherman’s sweater without them? They don’t serve a whole lot of purpose except to snazz up your project, and provide a way of silently boasting of your knitting prowess. My Nonna would just throw a cable in any old where, la la la, and if it happened to run into another cable, she just get things so intertwined it was a miracle she didn’t end up with something that looked like a knitted brain. She was one snazzy knitter.

For many a new knitter, few things seem as intimidating as working cables, and I will admit, I was one of them. When my December knitting club package arrived in the mail, and my newborn son was a mere 8 days old, I opened the package, saw it was a pattern involving cables, and promptly hyperventilated. Just kidding. Of course I didn’t! Intrepid knitter that I am, I simply decided that I just needed some practice before dealing with cables in the round on small needles.  Instead, I found something knitted flat, with huge needles and very chunky yarn:

 

Not bad, eh? This is the Speedy Cabled Beret by Paulina Chin.

Buoyed by my success, I began working on the mittens from the club pack…and soon set them aside. You see, it is quite difficult to make any progress with something that needs a cable needle every other row when one is also tending to a newborn. And here is where the story gets really good. I mentioned this difficulty in the Ravelry forum where we were all chatting about our club packs. And lo, several smarty-pants knitters pointed me to GlennaC’s Tutorial for Cabling Without a Cable Needle. It brought a sea change to my knitting world, for reals. No more stopping to fiddle with the cable needle, just a woosh, and a twist, and on with the knitting. Exhilarating. Thrilling, even.

Here is my (not-quite-finished) left-hand mitt, cabled without a cable needle for the last third of it:

Not quite the prowess that it would take to do this, but a good start. I’ll let you know when I can do this blind-folded with only my left hand. For now, I’m one step closer to knowing how to knit everything.

Happy Knitting!

If I were stuck with a child allergic to wool I would become very sneaky: I would make it a sweater of orlon or whatever, into which I would knit one color-pattern of wool. If this were received and worn without carping comment, I would increase the dose . . . . I could always say that the particular color I wanted was only available in wool.

Knitter’s Almanac, Elizabeth Zimmerman

***

 

There are few knitters as revered as Elizabeth Zimmerman, and few projects as iconic as her Baby Surprise Jacket. First published in 1968, the popularity of the BSJ has seen an upsurge of late, and there are currently 13891 BSJ projects listed on Ravelry. It is  definitely a piece of knitting that one has to try at least once. But why is it a “Surprise”?

Well, first you knit a blobby rectangle:

 

BSJ Unfolded

And then you fold it just so:

And, Surprise!, it becomes a sweater!

Isn’t that nifty?

Now, many a knitting blogger has sworn up and down that she will make dozens and dozens of these as gifts, and it is true, it is a marvel of knitting engineering. But I must admit that I flagged a bit in the middle – it is a lot of garter stitch after all – so if I do make it again, I’ll be sure to add some stripes or use a more vibrant yarn.

This BSJ, made for my son, used 5.5 skeins of Mission Falls 1824 Wool in Surf (sadly, this brand is now discontinued). It is oh so cuddly and soft. The top button is a vintage find from Erin, and the mother of pearl elephant buttons, also from Erin, are from Courage My Love in Toronto. Since these photos were taken I decided to swap out the elephants so that all the buttons look like the one at the top…I was worried that mother of pearl buttons might not survive the washer very well.

I am happy to say that my sweet little man loves his sweater – not a carping comment to be heard.

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