Friday, August 4, 2006


Back in January I started knitting socks. After many trials and even more errors, I eventually got the basics figured out -- with lots of help, of course, from a couple of websites and a handful of books -- and stuck with it until I finished the most recent pair for Dad's belated birthday gift. Since I started learning how to knit socks I decided to put off doing battle with sweaters because they seemed horribly complicated, especially since most of the patterns in my books involved knitting separate pieces and sewing them together; besides, I was happy with the challenge presented by a pair of socks -- what in the world did "turn the heel" mean? and how the hell do I juggle four knitting needles to do this? -- and unready to tackle the task of knitting a sweater.
About a month ago I finally finished that last sock after about... four months? (see the Green Sock picture) and I decided I wanted to knit Stuart a sweater. After a bit of dithering about colors -- finally settled on darkish gray with a stripe of medium blue (so called "Country Blue" by the manufacturer -- I bought five skeins of acrylic yarn and went to work using a pattern I found on a knitting pattern directory website. The pattern, rather than being for separate pieces, was for a sweater knitted in the round on circular needles, and the only parts needing to be attached would be the sleeves.
It's pretty straightforward at first: knit the body as a tube, knit the sleeves as tapering tubes, and then get stuck on how to divide the body so the cabled panel I added falls in the middle and not on the side or in the back. After much fiddling with safety pins and a calculator, I got the sleeves attached at the proper places and grafted the inside edge of the sleeves to the bound-off edges at the sides of the body.. and then I knitted, and knitted some more.. and found out that my circular needles were too short to accomodate the body and the sleeves. Off to Ben Franklin's I went, and returned with a pair of nifty 36 inch circular needles... and then struggled with getting the sweater off the old needles and onto the new ones.
So far so good. Now what? The instructions had, by this point, become increasingly arcane. Like math or science, knitting has a jargon unique to the craft; this jargon is confusing to those not conversant with knitting, and occasionally confuses even those who are somewhat conversant with same. The raglan decreases were fine, but then the neckline got confusing. Turning a sock heel back and forth to create short rows and a curved heel cup? That's easy because you do exactly what the instructions on the pattern tell you to do -- and hope you don't make any mistakes in the meantime.
The neckline of the sweater involved a similar process: bind off a certain number of stitches, turn and knit or purl back across to the other side, bind off more stitches, turn and knit or purl back the other way, and so on and so forth until you get the right number of stitches. A number of e-mails in varying tones of desperation over what I term teething problems flew back and forth between the pattern's author and me, and finally -- FINALLY -- I thought I was close to finishing the sweater's neckline. Between e-mails, however, I found myself forced to unravel about two inches of sweater because I'd done too many raglan decreases. And while unravelling said two inches, I was also cooking curried chicken and rice in preparation for a small dinner gathering, and running betwen the kitchen and living room to make sure the unravelled edge of the sweater didn't find itself in the cat's capable paws...and being further unravelled.
Once the curry was done, I sat down and spent a laborious half hour picking up every single stitch with a teenie little crochet hook and putting it back on the circular needles so I could correct my error. Much scratching of the head, and scribbling on the pattern, and more scratching of the head, and some knitting.. and finally the guests arrived and I, still wearing my apron, answer the door, distribute lemonade, and trail yarn all over the house in the process. Fortnuately I didn't succeed in creating a gray acrylic spider web all over the dining room, but I think the cat came close to being mummified when she decided to roll around in the pile of loose yarn. Dinner went off without a hitch, guests stayed for key lime pie and coffee, and finally I get some down time. I left the sweater in the upstairs guest room and didn't do anything with it until later this afternoon.
Now, the blasted neckline has driven me nuts since I finished the raglan decreases. I've already unravelled it once, and this evening, I finished the upper part of the shoulders and discovered I'd made another error: too many stitches left after the raglan decreases and not enough stitches in the front to correct it, and I have no idea where I made the mistake. In a fit of stubbornness, I continued knitting until I had to pick up the bound off stitches at the top of the neckline... and found out that it was a harder task than I'd originally thought. It's easy on a sock because you slip stitches at the ends of the heel flap rows; this creates a chain of loose stitches that are easily picked up when it comes time to knit the foot. A sweater, though, has no slipped stitches to pick up -- this pattern doesn't, at least -- so I decided to pick up every other stitch and start working on the ribbing for the turtleneck. Several episodes of "Are You Being Served?" later I found myself binding off the top edge of the neck. Since the rest of the sweater fits me -- something of a tight squeeze, but I'm quite a bit chestier than Stuart is.. after all, I'm a girl! -- I figured I'd try it on and see how the neck fit. Horrors! The neck wouldn't go over my head! So more unravelling and picking up the loose stitches with the crochet hook and circular needles. What to do, what to do? It seems like I need twice the number of stitches I picked up before I started working on the turtleneck ribbing.
For the time being, the sweater will be resting -- as will I -- in a comfortable bed until tomorrow morning. I hope it sleeps well!