How I get myself into knitting trouble (again)

posted in: Books, Creativity, Knitting | 5

I’m mostly knitting swatches for publication illustrations except that I’ve just finished two larger (and more complex) projects that will be given to other people (more on those soon, I hope). While attempting to knit one colorwork swatch as I was watching a video, I had to rip three times. Obviously, that swatch required more attention and I needed a knitting project that I could work on during movies.

I have several projects going, but none of them feels appealing.

In February, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, of Yarn Harlot fame, finished a Must Have Cardigan from a Paton’s book. She liked it. So I ordered the pattern book to take a closer look. I liked what I saw. And I’ve been pondering making one.

But as I pondered, I realized I’d have to lengthen the body by about 2 inches (5 cm). I always have to lengthen the body. And as I thought about that, I realized that the way the primary cable interacts with the neckline might end up disturbing me. It would change, of course, from the way it works in the design.

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Instead of neatly paralleling the front opening, the cable would probably turn a corner and dead-end into it. I could, of course, adjust where I started the cable above the ribbing to compensate, but frankly I don’t like to pay that much attention to row gauge and I don’t like to engineer things that closely (although when I follow my thought process, I realize that statement seems totally bizarre).

So I plotted out the basic structure of the sweater . . . noting how the patterns work together and how they fit into the shapes of the pieces . . . thought about just finding another 23-stitch cable panel to substitute for pattern B, one that would not have such neat diagonals and so wouldn’t care how it intersected with the V neckline.

And I also thought about how I like my cable patterns to flow out of the ribbing, even if that means my ribbing is irregular (i.e., mixes k2s and p2s and k3s, plotted to be in locations where they’ll flow into the pattern above).

All this was looking like more time and planning than I had in mind, but this is how I get myself into knitting trouble. Something that was supposed to be simple ends up being a bit more complicated.

I also thought that with all the cable knitting I’ve done, I don’t own any of it myself. I’ve given it all away. What I knew at this point was that I wanted a V-neck Aran cardigan for me, in worsted weight, with some combination of patterns resembling, but not identical to, those in the Paton’s design.

So I went to a couple of local yarn stores in search of a nice worsted-weight wool that was light enough to show texture patterns and dark enough to be practical in my life. There’s a skein of what I ended up with in that photo. It’s Cascade 220 (again), color 9336. Brown Sheep’s worsted was a close contender, and might have come out in first place if the shop had had enough skeins of any of the colors I wanted to use; someone else had gotten there ahead of me on the blues, purples, and greens and the shop hadn’t had time to restock.

Good sign: I didn’t get a bag for my purchases. I just carried my skeins (and the buttons for another garment) in my arms. As I was just outside the door of the shop, two people I didn’t know at all asked if the yarn was going to be turned into something for me, because, as they said, "It’s a great color for you."

Next I needed to wind the skeins into balls (I let the shop wind the first one for me, and I’ll do the rest during family-and-friends visiting times). And I needed to look for a substitute cable.

I pulled out a bunch of my standard pattern references and my sticky notes.

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I wanted a cable panel that felt as classic as the original, and that wasn’t going to be boring (I have to watch out for this "not boring" inclination: my "carryaround, easy" knitting projects can too readily become "need to pay attention all the time" endeavors . . . there’s a fine line between not-boring and much-brain-required).

Several of the books offered promising alternatives, but nothing felt right. I’m going to be working with some Elsebeth Lavold ideas for the embellishment of my daughter’s (first) sweater and there’s another Lavold design that I bought the pattern for last week . . . but I want to spin the yarn for that one, which means it probably won’t get done for at least a year. So, in the interest of variety, I leaned away from Lavold-inspired options. I’ve been wanting to work a bunch of the patterns from the Japanese book, but the ones that I found most appealing kept pushing me in the direction of a totally different sweater concept. Some of the stuff in Barbara Walker’s compendium (cable-specific volume rather than design collections, because I wanted the hunt to be easy) was nice but. . . .

AH! Where’s my brain? I have two of Janet Szabo‘s books right here, and if there’s anyone who knows cables, and knows how they can be both classic and contemporary, it’s Janet. So I pulled her books off the shelf and brewed a cup of tea.

Fast Lane, from Celestial Seasonings, because I’ve been feeling kind of dragged out lately (computer problems and more). Since my acupuncturist said "no coffee" (to a serious coffee lover), I’ve come to appreciate the return of Fast Lane. At certain moments, it’s medicinal. (It’s not the caffeine she wants me to avoid but the coffee oils, also found in decafs.)

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Meanwhile, I had knitted a first swatch and it’s lying there drying. I knitted most of it in a darkened Cinema Savers theater while watching a bit of amusing fluff called Penelope with my daughter and some family friends. The swatch was simple enough. Stockinette.

Janet’s Cables, Volume 1: The Basics is more comprehensive than the title sounds. There’s lots of very cool stuff in it about how cables work. I’m looking forward to seeing what Janet comes up with in the next volume, although there’s plenty here to keep me busy until she has it ready. And I’m looking through her Aran Sweater Design to see what kinds of ideas it gives me as well.

I had thought I would just replace the main cable, but now I’m thinking of that whole canvas of front cable panels . . . and I thought I’d keep the side edges of the cardigan in Irish moss stitch, but Janet’s got some neat texture patterns that I’d like to try. . . .

In order to maintain this project’s "carryaround, easy" status, I’ll need to be really careful about which components I choose to combine. I’ll be especially vigilant (I hope!) about being sure that the cable crossings occur on similar rows (or rounds, if I decide to steek, although I may not . . . this shows that I am already thinking of working the body all in one, instead of in three pieces; now, exactly what parts of the Must Have Cardigan am I using? . . . to be determined).

No, I wasn’t born knowing how to do all this pattern modification. I learned it largely by trial and error over a number of years, but the thinking process that leads to my ability to make small (or large) modifications to patterns (or to launch into a design without them) comes directly from the lineage of traditional or ethnic knitting.

My strong belief in the power of the skills that come from understanding traditional and ethnic knitting is the reason that I publish the books that I do.

And where the path on this particular sweater will come out is anybody’s guess right now. But I know I’ll end up with a sweater that isn’t just half-right. It’ll be all the way right (or close enough to all the way right . . . I aim for perfection, but often take some risks that keep me from achieving it). And I’ll undoubtedly learn something I didn’t know before I started down this path. Which was supposed to be simple. And will undoubtedly be interesting. And may take a while.

  • Aran-style.
  • V-neck.
  • Cardigan.
  • Worsted-weight yarn.
  • Similar combination of panels.
  • Set-in sleeves.
  • Bike.
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5 Responses

  1. Your thought process is similar to mine. One of the reasons I struggle so much to just a knit a pattern as written 🙂

  2. It takes a lot less of that process to turn me right back around and I say, “Well, that pattern is pretty nice just the way it is…”

    Daphne’s mouse came yesterday, there was a cat family meeting to look it over and then she started throwing it to herself and pushing it under the end table like she does with all her toys. Thanks! Does Little Bit like Pounce treats? I have some unopened jars that I bought when I still had my old cats who liked them, but these guys don’t like them. Would Little Bit enjoy them?

  3. I read carefully through your post and at the end realized, hey – that was a ‘virtual’ trek and somehow satisfying to this random knitter.
    Thank you!

  4. I take this virtual knitting journey pretty often. Just as often, I stop myself, pick up a sock, and work on something mindless. I find that these complex projects take so much of my time and energy that I can only do them without all the movies, conversation, radio, etc. Then I hardly ever finish them…I’ve determined that perhaps they are only good for designs for which I’m getting paid…but sasdly, the easy designs sell better!

  5. I knit the Must-Have Cardi, as written, except I added an I-cord edging and zipper. It’s one of my faves.

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