Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Curse of the Red Sweaters- Part 1

A Comedy of Errors, in 6 parts- The Napoli Sweater

Every knitter has a story of a project that, for whatever reason, just did not end up as planned.  I have many. Almost a dozen.  Coincidentally about the same number of full sized adult sweaters I have made.  Each one of these garments started with inspiration and great intentions but ended with me collecting, yet another, badge for my "The Hard Way- Acquired Knitting Knowledge" sash.  We'll just call it my THWAKK sash. Well Internets, my first red sweater had THWAKK written all over it but I was too inexperienced to know that yet.

The Project: The Napoli Sweater, by Berroco
Napoli Sweater, by Berroco
"Our swingy cardi is the perfect topper for your layered look."
I loved this sweater!  The buttons up front were modest, yet playful. This was a sweater that would work equally well for both work and play. It was cute and stylish. Everything I could want in a sweater. I quickly bought the booklet and set to planning out the project.

Reading the pattern made me realize that perhaps I may have been skill-jumping a little over optimistic on my current knitting ability. Sure, at this point in my knitting history I could honestly say that I had successfully* knit a couple of sweaters for kids and had completed  a few adult sweaters. They were... unique. But I finished and they were kinda cool and I really wanted this sweater for myself. So I was willing to try.

I shake my head now, a scant 3 years later, at how absolutely wrong I went with this sweater.  But, for the sake of a story with a moral  I will continue to tell you about all the ways in which this project was going to go wrong.

We'll start with the obvious: Sizing. I was concerned that the XL, the largest size of the pattern, was going to be too small. (I have a 44" bust.) Positive and negative ease was not a concept that I understood yet. The description of the sweater clearly reads "swingy" implying a loose fit but I was very worried about it being too tight. So my answer to this was that I would just modify the pattern to match my own measurements. I can do that.

The next most obvious way to go wrong: Yarn Choice. The pattern called for Touché yarn, a cotton/rayon blend that looked, to me, to be a firm and dense fabric when complete. It looked heavy and I wanted a lighter sweater as I am almost always hot rather than cold. I went to my LYS and chose a bright red bamboo yarn.

Things could have gone a lot better for me had I listened to the advice of the sales woman in my LYS.  I showed her my pattern and the yarn that I had chosen "because it was pretty and I liked the colour" off the shelves and asked for her advice. Choosing her words quite diplomatically she suggested that choosing a yarn in the same gauge would be an easier choice. She showed me that the pattern called for a yarn that was 5 stitches/inch and that the yarn I had chosen was 5.25 stitches/inch.  I think I may have even rolled my eyes at her.

"That is practically the same" I say with misplaced confidence. She assures me it is, in fact, quite NOT the same and sits me down to show me that math of how this will affect my finished project.

This brings me to part three: Math.  I will pause for an aside at this point. I am generally quite good at math. I am an engineer by profession. So it is fair to say that I do  a lot of math. So when the LYS sale woman was explaining sizing ratios and formulas for modifications I understood exactly what she meant... when I was in the store.

So I off I head home and I am now modifying my sweater to be larger AND to deal with a different gauge yarn. I may have over complicated things for myself because I wrote this complicated modification formula on the top of my pattern and kept referring to it with every row when I was trying to figure out if I have the right number of stitches or not.

My sister, who is always fond of teasing me was heard saying "You can't just knit a sweater can you?! You have to turn it into a complicated lesson on algebraic equations." And  it was at about that point I gave up my modification formula entirely and just started adding 10 stitches to each row. Fuck it! I'm eyeballing it from here.

I am sure you can guess that my Gauge was not even close to the 5 or even 5.25st/inch that it was supposed to be. I will admit a very embarrassing truth here: I did not understand at all how to measure gauge or even why it might be important. I got that I needed to do math for stitches per inch for sizing but I had no idea that you could knit a yarn in anything other than the gauge on the ball wrapper. I thought the purpose of swatches was to see if you liked the drape and feel of the yarn. So I would knit my little 4" square- wave it around and say "yep, it sure is pretty" and do absolutely nothing with it!

I also had no idea how to use something as simple as Stitch Markers. The back and the two fronts had many repeats of increases (or decreases) depending on the piece being knit. I bought these little circles knowing that they marked a spot and somehow managed to knit them into my sweater along the bottom edge of the back. I then proceeded to try to follow the rows of stitches up from the bottom to where I needed to do my increase or decrease. I would forget if I was to decrease before or after the marker. I was not look close enough and mis-trace the path and be over by one or three stitches to the left or right. Needless to say there were no tidy nor straight decrease lines up the back of my sweater!

With these 5 very important and quite fundamental issues it should be no surprise to anyone that my sweater once lovingly sewn together was huge, oddly shaped and was horribly unflattering! The sleeves, which may have also been knit with different sized needles, were too wide and too long. The shoulders drooped and the underarms sagged. The bamboo yarn was stretching each time I held the sweater up and seemed to be growing exponentially! Thank goodness I knew nothing then about blocking.

I knew I couldn't wear this sweater but I had worked so long and so hard on it that I wasn't prepared to throw it away. Yet. So I folded it up with the pattern and tucked it in my knitting bag for further contemplation another day.

The next part isn't pretty... reader be warned.

Part 6 of my story involves a stray kitten named Leonard that our family was trying to adopt. Leonard was a beautiful cat  and he needed a home but he had one huge flaw: he would not stop peeing on things.

There is no gentle way to say this. This poor cat got accidentally trapped, for an hour or so, in my closet. The same closet where I had my knitting bag on the floor awaiting enlightenment on what to do with this absurd sweater. He peed on the bag. I don't know how it happened but the sweater was folded on the bottom of the bag. Under a knitting reference book and under the pattern. The pattern, bag and book had to be thrown away immediately but somehow the one item in the bag that would have been no worse off covered in cat urine was miraculously safe!


I should lie and say that I threw the sweater away. But I didn't. This is going to sound terrible but I gave the sweater to my mother-in-law, who, I'd like to say, that I like very much! The sweater was washed and clean.  No pee ever had touched the thing.

I am equally sure that my mother-in-law politely took the sweater off my hands as a kindness to me and immediately hid it at the back of her closet hoping to never see the awful thing again! At least I hope that is what she did. I shudder at the thought of her having gone out in public wearing that thing.

The knitting bag was the last straw for Leonard and our family. He went to live on a farm shortly after I found the knitting bag. **

I learned some very important lessons on this project. Such as:
  • Stitch markers should not have to be cut out of projects.
  • Swatches have a bigger purpose than just being an extra 4" square of yarn.
  • Gauge matters.
and last, but not least:
  • watch that you don't accidentally trap the cat that pees on things in your closet with your knitting!  He would have bought the literal farm if he had peed in my stash!
But, as we all know, it's a process, knitter.

*I am formally defining "successfully knit" as... completed a sweater that may or may not resemble the original pattern but it is, indeed, without any doubt, still a sweater. ( e.g. the weird little raglan sweater whose raglan decreases only went to the left (on both arms and on both sides)- yeah, still a sweater even though it had the weirdest neckline of any sweater ever imagined.)

** This is NOT a euphemism for a more violent end to the cat who ruined my favourite knitting reference book!

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