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


Knitting pattern: Firefly-Inspired Infant Earflap Hat with Pom-Pom


Jayne Hat wm

I’m not really much of a knitter (as you’ll know if you read this post) but I have managed to complete a few small projects for  my best friend’s kids.  This one turned out nicely, but the big surprise was that I made my own pattern!

If you or a friend is a Firefly fiend and is expecting or just had a baby, you need this hat!  This is my first attempt at making a knitting pattern, so if you do knit it, please send me comments.

Click here to get the pattern.

— Amanda

My knitting has hit a snag


Have I mentioned that I learn everything the hard way? I must have. I say that a lot. Because it’s true.

I have been knitting for about three years. Don’t let that sound too impressive – that just means that I have owned the materials and books for three years. In that time I have completed (mind you that’s nowhere near the same thing as “worked on”) three projects. Three. A pair of fingerless mittens I’ve never worn, and two baby gifts.

When my recent illness (more on that in some other post) nailed me to the couch for two and a half weeks I figured I’d finally pick up what I hoped would be project number four: a simple, boxy cardigan from a vintage pattern book. It took me the first two weeks just to finish the back. I was a third of the way through the left front when I realized that I didn’t have enough yarn. Oops! Oh, well, not the end of the world. If I was to end up with two dye lots I figured I’d just split them creatively to make it less obvious – you know, do the back and fronts from the first batch and the arms from the second batch. The color was a few seasons old and had been phased out. It was pulled from the line-up recently, though, so even if they don’t have it at the local craft store there’s plenty online. So I go to the library to check on prices.

While there I decided to check out some purling videos. It takes me more than twice as long to complete a purled row as it does to complete a knitted row, so I want to know if there is a better way to hold my work or the yarn or both. I went to, which, as the name implies, has been a great help to me in the past. I start the beginner’s purling video and in a few seconds I can feel my heart sinking. This doesn’t look at all like what I’ve been doing. I poke around the internet a few minutes more and discover the awful truth: I am not purling correctly. I learned from a book and must have been impatient (as usual) and didn’t pay enough attention. For three years I have been putting my needle through the stitch under the back leg instead of the front, twisting every purl. Which explains a) why it takes me so long to purl (I’m fighting the stitch instead of working with it) and b) why my stockinette “V”s look lopsided no matter how I adjust my tension. I know this doesn’t make any sense and probably isn’t very interesting to non-knitters, but you can see what I mean here. The third picture shows what my work looks like: one side of the V falls in a gentle curve, the other is pulled taut, and daylight occasionally shows through.

(Deep sigh) Thanks for letting me vent. Kntting really is a useful homesteading skill. Really!

— Amanda

Second Knitting Project: First Baby Sweater

Late last month I finally finished my second ever knitting project. It’s a freakishly tiny sweater for my friend B2’s as-yet unborn baby. It’s a terrible picture because I took it with my cell phone (obviously), but it’s really quite cute. The hood, edges, and arms are garter stitch, and the front and back are stockinette. The buttons, however, are the coups de grâce. Matt made them out of 10c Euro coins from one of our two trips to Ireland, so they are bright gold in color and embossed with little harps.

— Amanda