Sunday, August 19, 2007

I Frogged It My Way

When I first learned to knit, I decided to knit for pleasure. I would never, I vowed to myself, make the mistake of planning to knit sweaters for my entire family for Christmas. I would not knit fancy christening shawls and bridal veils on a short schedule. Bottom line: I would not knit things on a deadline.

What good is a resolution if you can't twist it out of shape? I have found myself feverishly finishing the last pair of mittens for a Christmas stocking on December 23rd. I have woven in ends for my mother's Christmas scarf in the car on the way to her house.

I knit things my way. I seldom knit from someone else's pattern, preferring to do the design and the math myself. I dream and swatch and plan and calculate slopes and curves. Knitting doesn't always work by the numbers, however, and quite often the garment does not come out quite the way the swatches and math suggest.

I do a lot of ripping out and re-doing. It's part of my process, fussing with shoulders and borders and short rows until I have a design that works.

All of this reworking has led me to do Just-in-Time Design. To avoid having to do a lot more work than necessary, I design one section of a garment at a time. I tinker with the design while I'm knitting, and then base the next section of the garment on real measurements and numbers from the garment in my hand.

Since I knit from the top down, this means figuring the yoke first. Once I get the yoke knitted to my satisfaction, I do the numbers for the body.

With the Racing Plaid sweater, my bent resolution combined with Just-in-Time Design to light a fire under my fingers.

The first disaster struck yesterday as I was just getting into the body. As I was juggling three balls of different-colored yarn on my lap, one escaped and landed right in my tea cup. The ball was soaked, and the darjeeling a dead loss.

Fortunately, the yarn was dark green and the tea very light.

I blotted the yarn several times with a thick towel and set it in the sun to dry. As I knit, I pulled the middle of the ball out to finish drying as I knit. Sanity was restored.

As I was minding my own business, knitting the body of the Racing Plaid sweater, I was thinking about borders. How was I going to finish the bottom of the sweater? Ribbing, maybe a fancy multi-color ribbing? A crocheted border of some sort? A snug hem to go around the zipper?

As I knit on, I realized that a crocheted border would not make the edge behave. The combination of yarn and stitch pattern led to very curly edges, and a thin line of crochet wouldn't have enough oomph to tame it.

I don't like a snug ribbing for baby sweaters. Diapers make a baby's butt bigger than his stomach, and a baby sweater can't be too snug at the hips.

Getting closer to the edge, the border came to me: a garter stitch border, made of single-row stripes of each of the three colors in the design. The garter bumps would echo the plaid pattern, and a garter stitch edge would have the strength to tame the edge.

I knit it and it was beautiful. A nice, tailored finish for the almost-woven look of the sweater.

Then I cast it off. The border flipped up, thumbed its nose at me, and said, "Ha ha! You're going to have to rip me out, because I'm never going to behave myself otherwise."

The flipping border struck fear in my heart. There are combinations of yarn and stitch patterns that defy all attempts to put a smooth, flat border on them. I've ripped and re-knit borders as many as five times before giving up and putting a hem in a garment.

I calmed myself. This yarn is not a tightly-twisted bouncy single, but a soft untwisted merino Superwash. The slip-stitch pattern is dense (bad for flipping) and curly (ditto), but the flipping itself wasn't too bad. A single rip, a moderate round of decreases on the border stitches, and another go round should tame it. The zipper would help keep the front in line. And, given my time constraints, I could always resort to a strip of twill ribbon around the bottom to counteract any remaining flip-out tendencies.

Knit softly and carry a roll of twill ribbon.

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