Saturday, April 16, 2011

The perfect pink sweater – or, why I still knit.

Knitting is risky. It’s not for the emotionally fragile. The investment is steep, the return is uncertain and the possibility of ruin is high. So why do we keep knitting? The belief and hope – however ill-founded – that the result will be beautiful. And sometimes, some very wonderful times, this actually happens. 

I bought this beautiful pattern when my third child was still a twinkle in daddy’s eye. By then, I had stopped hoping for a daughter, but I still couldn’t resist. I had vague hopes that one day I might have a little granddaughter to knit for. Last July, when we found out we were having a girl, this sweater (and some Heather Ross unicorn fabric) was the very first thing I wanted for her. The project was troublesome from the beginning. I had fallen in love with the original yarn, but it was impossible to find. For a month or two, I searched every yarn store I could find for something else.  Either the gauge was wrong or the pink wasn’t pretty. So I settled for something that I didn’t love and tried not to think to hard about it. I swatched carefully, checked my gauge and began. Several inches in, something seemed off so I measured. My knitting was off! It would never fit a baby. I was frustrated, disappointed and I’m not ashamed to say I cried. I was pregnant after all. I swore off knitting.

But my baby girl needed a pink sweater. I had dreamt of knitting little pink things for five long years and not coming home in the perfect pink sweater simply wasn’t an option. So I turned to a project undertaken by legions of knitters.  A project that every knitter should have in her repertoire – the infamous Elizabeth Zimmerman February Baby sweater. I figured so many people couldn’t be wrong about a sweater. They are. That story is one of toil, desperation though ultimately triumph. Maybe I’ll tell it one day when it hurts less. If you plan to make that pilgrimage yourself, I recommend you read my Ravelry notes.  After surviving EZ and her pithy bullshit, I vowed to never pick up a pattern again without good research and some kind of reasonable hope that it actually works. So I ordered a pattern and yarn based on an article on the Purl Bee that featured absolutely reliable baby sweater patterns – even though the pattern gauge didn’t match the the yarn’s own recommended gauge.  The yarn arrived just as I brought baby home from the hospital and I swatched right away. But I really didn’t like the way the Koigu felt at all on a large needle. It was very airy and it just didn’t seem like it would look at all nice with the leaf yoked sweater.  Again, I cried and swore off knitting.

And then, one beautiful day – one clear and sunny wonderful day! – I realized that the Koigu was the same gauge as the Louisa cardigan. The really lovely little thing I wanted from the beginning anyway! I remember that sunbeams actually broke through the clouds at that moment and a heavenly chorus burst into song. I quickly swatched the Koigu at the recommended gauge and it was perfect.  The drape and feel of the knitted fabric at its proper gauge was soft and wonderful. Something felt promising this time. I crossed my fingers, held my breath and cast on. Several inches in, I checked my gauge and it was still correct! I check the finished measurements and they were still correct! It was working and it looked lovely and the yarn felt so nice under my fingers. I happily knit away. In fact, it came together so much faster than I anticipated, that I put it aside for a while and quickly knit up a little gray ruffled shrug to get her through the winter. I went back and finished off the last few rows not long ago, did the picot turn and sewed it all up.

There was an error in the pattern (skip the wyif when you work the slip stitch pattern) and I did make a mistake or two that required ripping out and re-kintting, but all in all it came together nicely. When a project works out like this – a joy to knit, a beautiful finished piece – it’s heavenly. It’s also dangerous. This is when you are at risk for buying more yarn. And you might not stop at yarn for just one sweater, either. In your cockiness, you’ll buy yarn for two or even three sweaters, thinking, “that one went so well, I could just turn out a few more things.”  You can’t and you mustn’t try. Haven’t you noticed that the Lady Kina is still in my project queue?  

What’s complicated about knitting isn’t fancy stitches. It’s that it simply isn’t always possible to tell which patterns will work and which won’t. It’s not always easy to know which yarns will be appropriate and which won’t. And mistakes can be very difficult – and often downright impossible – to fix. I have yet to come across a sewing mistake that can’t be fixed somehow. Knitting projects end up half-made in boxes in the attic, the closet, under the bed or hidden under the floorboards in shame. That yarn will never get used for another project. Something happens to yarn that has failed to work up. It’s tainted. It’s cursed or maybe even possessed.  

This post has gotten away from me. I don’t mean to be humorous. I tried, in fact, to find a literary way to write about this beautiful sweater that I really really love. It seems impossible to write seriously about knitting. A little sarcasm (and quite a few drinks) is needed to take the edge off.  Otherwise, the ordeal of how my precious long awaited baby girl very nearly didn’t have a precious little pink hand knit sweater to come home in would be too painful to relate. If you aren’t a knitter and have stuck with all of this, you’re wondering why we would put ourselves through all this trauma. To that, I have only one thing to say:  how seriously gorgeous is this tiny pink sweater

1 comment:

  1. This is so entertaining! The cardigan is gorgeous, and I'm really enjoying your blog