At long last, my first embarrassing cardigan

Embarassing cardigan

Everybody’s first hand-knit garment falls short of their dreams, but I have to wonder if everyone else’s first hand-knit garment took them four months to complete. Maybe if it was a whole ensemble, or a floor-length gown or something, I suppose, but mine was just a cardigan. My setbacks were:

  1. After completing the back and half of the left front I discovered that I was twisting my purls. I had to take apart the work in progress and start all over.
  2. By the time I got around to this project, the color I had selected from the fall 2009 season was discontinued. Naturally, I didn’t buy enough. Unwilling to start all over a second time (or pay five dollars shipping for an online order of five dollars worth of yarn), I trolled the discount bins and closeout sales until I found three more balls.
  3. I don’t know if there is a mid-row decrease that doesn’t show on the knit side if you do it on the purl side, but I couldn’t find one. The neck shaping on the fronts of this pattern instructed me to “at neck edge dec 1 st every 3rd row by working tog the 14th and 15th sts from front edge 7(8-9) times more.” Well, this odd number meant that I was going to have to work 2 together on the purl side at some point. I tried following the directions literally, but I didn’t like the look of it (it left a strange lump on the front that looked like a slipped stitch) and I was uneasy with the fact that it didn’t match the picture, so I rewrote that section, moving the decrease backwards or forwards a row in accordance with whether or not it conflicted with all the other crap that was going on (Oh, how I hate the instruction “AT THE SAME TIME”!). The result was quite satisfactory, but in the meantime it meant a lot of scribbling on paper and yet more unknitting.

I sure as heck learned a lot over the very long time I spent staring down at toffee-colored acrylic yarn. I learned how to do a tubular no-roll stockinette hem (and, as a part of that, the crochet provisional cast-on) – and then learned that it’s a hem best suited to knitting in the round because no matter how carefully you do the seam it will look like crap. I should have followed the directions and done the fold-it-up-and-whipstitch-it-after-you’ve-done-the-seams hem. I learned that horizontal buttonholes look like crap even if you’re really good at them and that their ugliness should just be ignored when they are not obscured by the buttons. I finally learned how to do “invisible” seams with the mattress stitch (thanks to a copy of Montse Stanley’s The Handknitter’s Handbook I scored at the thrift store). I also learned that Spinnerin really meant it when they described these sweaters as “bulkies.”

In a surprisingly realistic moment of logic I decided that this, being my first grown-up garment, was going to suck and quite possibly be worn little if at all, so I opted for el cheapo yarn. It was hard to find a non-fluorescent color in my (rock-bottom) price range, but I lucked out by buying in autumn, when all the “harvest” colors are available. It’s acrylic, so I’ll have to hand wash it forever and it will pill like mad, but hey, at least it’s done. Your first big knitting project is kind of like your first car – cheap, clunky, uncool, and likely to fall apart at any moment, but you’re still proud of it and it teaches you just about everything you’re going to need to know for the next one.

My next knitting project? Probably a cherry red bolero to go with the yoke-necked black and white polka-dotted dress Matt bought me last summer. But not for a while. I need a break from these months of penance-like daily knitting, so I think my next downtime distraction will be something in the sewing vein, like the vintage 1942 apron pattern I was resizing, or relining my favorite woolen overcoat.

So, how is this self-sufficient if it takes up so much time? Well, when you get good at it you can make designer quality stuff at thrift store prices. Winter provides plenty of time for crafty stuff (no weeding, hoeing, pig feeding, planting, harvesting, preserving, camping, road trips, or major construction to get in the way of the needles), and crafty stuff that keeps you warm is better to my mind than crafty stuff that is simply decorative (doilies make me break out in a rash). And perhaps someday I will have a handful of merino ewes that I can shear.

— Amanda


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