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On Knitting Badly

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Dear Kay,
I hesitate to write this, because I worry that it’s going to send knitters running away from Fair Isle knitting with their hands over their heads. I’m going to lay it all out for you anyway, because sometimes, you just have to own it when something doesn’t go well. This is not a pretty tale.
A number of weeks ago, my knitting mojo departed, swiftly and completely. Is that my knitting mojo walking down my driveway? Gone? Just like that?
I can put my finger on the moment that it left. I was right in the middle of a beautiful project (Kate Davies’s Boreal) using a beautiful yarn (Tess’ Designer Yarns Grand Manan, which still sounds like an island in the Caribbean to me). But I’d had the miserable experience of a too-small sausage sleeve, the humbling re-do with larger, beloathed double-point needles:
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And I had just arrived at the moment when the sleeves join the body of the sweater for the thrilling final ascent up the yoke.
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I managed to get the sleeves to join, but I just . . . couldn’t . . . go on. The prospect of all those snowflakes, all those single-stitch moments of Fair Isle where gauge is your taskmaster, where knitting Fair Isle on a big needle feels strange when I’m used to Fair Isle on small needles . . . I knit one row, then put the thing down.
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I didn’t start anything new. I just stopped.
Now, I think of myself as a competent knitter — hell, I wrote a chapter in a book about how to knit Fair Isle. Yet I couldn’t get over the fact that I’d knit such misshapen, lumpy snowflakes. Despite the fact that Boreal is the cleverest pattern I’ve seen in a very long time, a perfect mash-up of traditional technique and modern design, I could not make it look right. I had done all the things I know to do: turn the work inside out. Watch your floats. Spread your stitches. Carry the background color in your right hand. Knit slowly. Get all Zen about it. Stop worrying. Relax.
Boreal has stayed out, in my bedroom, for weeks, waiting. For some reason, I could not put it away. I’d straighten the room, yet leave all the charts and yarn and needles exactly where they’d been. It was a shrine to incompletion. I got pissed that I was pissed. I was ignoring one of my fundamental beliefs about knitting: Knitting is a land of solvable problems. Unlike real life, knitting can be fixed. You can redo it as often as you like. Nothing is ruined forever, in knitting.
Maybe it’s that belief that kept me from stuffing this project into the back of my closet.
Sure enough, last week I was so irritated with a component of my everyday life that I instinctively sat down in the chair that was surrounded by all the Boreal makings, and started to knit. The yoke took very little time, really, a few nights. It’s big yarn, big needles, and it is the perfect project for a DVR wallow in a program such as, say, Deadliest Catch, or as I call it, The Crab Show. Now THERE’s a show with some unsolvable problems: crab fishing in the Bering Sea. What if you don’t actually catch any crabs?
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My snowflakes still look bad, but in the same way you can make yourself feel better at poolside simply by taking a look around at your fellow swimsuit models, I took a spin through the Ravelry photos of other folks’ Boreals. They all look like mine! Nobody can make a great-looking snowflake! It doesn’t matter!
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This is before blocking. We all know the mighty redemptive power of blocking, so stay tuned. The cat seems to have camped out on top of my wet sweater. I can’t decide if fifteen pounds of warm cat is going to help things or not. Can’t hurt, I guess.
Love,
Ann
PS Now that we’re including a photo of Jack White in every entry, here’s today’s Jack White:
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Civil War Jack White! A tintype made when he appeared in the superdepressing film Cold Mountain.
Jack White is the Barbie of the music world. You can dress him up all kinds of ways!

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56 Comments

56 Comments

  1. Looking forward to your after-shot and the difference a 15-lb. cat can make.
    Lovin’ the new Jack White feature!! ;)

  2. I’m sure I won’t be the last to say this, but let me be the first: the snowflakes look just fine to me. The whole sweater looks terrific. You are just confused because it’s summer and you haven’t seen a real snowflake in a while.
    Maybe I’ll be inspired by this to pick up the final half of the final sleeve of the celtic-knot sweater that I haven’t worked on for 10 years. (seriously.)

  3. Beloathed, my new best beloved word!
    All that slight wobbliness will for sure flatten out with a wash. No prob!

  4. The sweater looks fantastic! It looks REAL. If we wanted perfection, we’d buy a machine. The only sad thing is just like the uber-wooly pullover I’m making out of blue-faced leicester/jacob, it will go from bath to cedar chest until we have truly cold weather again in the South. Sometime in 2020 I’m guessing.

  5. The sweater looks fantastic! It looks REAL. If we wanted perfection, we’d buy a machine. The only sad thing is just like the uber-wooly pullover I’m making out of blue-faced leicester/jacob, it will go from bath to cedar chest until we have truly cold weather again in the South. Sometime in 2020 I’m guessing.

  6. Jack White is the Barbie of the music world. Love it.
    Love the sweater!

  7. I am going to have to watch “Cold Mtn” again just for Jack . . .

  8. I was going to say your Borealis is looking mighty fine but then you had to go and end with the Cold Mountain Jack White. Mighty fine, indeed.
    (I even loved Nicole Kidman in that movie, and that never happens)

  9. Deadliest Catch Marathon on Memorial Day, Guernsey Wrap on the needles, life just does not get any better – I agree! Sweater is truly lovely, knitting can be fixed, so glad that you soldiered on with it – knitting imitates life, we keep relearning the important lessons.

  10. Well done. Looking forward to the blocked version. Blocking is truly magic.

  11. Deadliest Catch is one of my most favoritist shows ever. Although I do want to punch Elliot right in the dang mouth.

  12. So good to have you back, both of you! Meantime, this post just cracked me up every which way, especially the swimsuit line. You have given me courage to pick up the cursed piece of a summer sweater for which I cannot seem to follow “shaping at the same time” directions properly. Third attempt, here we come.

  13. Love the snowflakes! Love the entire sweater, in fact. (And Grand Manan is an island off the coast of New Brunswick.)

  14. Love the snowflakes! Love the entire sweater, in fact. (And Grand Manan is an island off the coast of New Brunswick.)

  15. Of course blocking will fix it! That’s one of the great things about fair isle. It looks like hell and you think you’re an idiot until you block it—and then it looks fabulous and you tell yourself how amazing you are. You are gonna be happy!

  16. The sweater looks great! Plus, you know, YOU KNIT A SWEATER. So there’s that.
    Re: Deadliest Catch – More Edgar!

  17. Is it weird that after you said Jack White was the Barbie of the music world, I now want to see him in a chevron skirt and white go-go boots?

  18. Actual knitting content! How exciting! You have perfectly illustrated Saint/Prophet EZ’s dictum to “Knit on with confidence and hope, through all crises.”
    But I will say that I am a little surprised to learn that you may have not been knitting along to History Channel’s Hatfields and McCoys. (Filmed in Romania!) I’ve found it to be excellent knitting TV.

  19. Good luck with the blocking. I’m sure it’ll all work out.
    That Barbie thing is so quotable I wouldn’t be surprised to see it popping up everywhere!

  20. I love the Jack White. Saw him at the Auditorium Theatre here (smallish) and it was THE BEST show I’ve ever been to. I cried because it was BEAUTY purely unleashed in sound and spirit loudly. ;p

  21. I love this post for so many reasons!
    First, the phrase “shrine to to incompletion” which I am now considering for a sign over my front door.
    Also, for capturing the psychological value of the swimsuit model comparison. Ohhhh yeah.
    And, you have given me a reason to Cold Mtn from my Netflix queue…thank you! That list is beginning to rival my rav queue.
    I think your sweater looks lovely, and since colorwork is a spectator sport for me, I appreciate both the images and the background story.
    And now I look forward to a picture of your official Blocking Supervisor, hard at work. I figure that other feller’s picture is a placeholder.

  22. The sweater is lovely, with or without mojo. Your post is inspiring and helped me realize why I’ve never been able to enjoy the deadliest catch — I need to get going on a good Fair Isle project to help distract me. Can’t wait to see the blocked result.

  23. Never lose sight of the fact that snowflakes are supposed to be each a little unique. Perhaps you’ve knit true snowflakes, not rubber stamp, perfectly repeated snowflakes.

  24. The whole time I was reading your post I was thinking “Blocking will make it look beautiful” and I bet it will. ‘Cause that is a seriously beautiful sweater. Also love the new Jack White feature a lot. I wonder if he likes knitting. He looks like he might appreciate such things.

  25. That is the hottest Jack White.

  26. That is the hottest Jack White.

  27. It’s beautiful!

  28. Love you guys. Love the Boreal. Have to admit that Jack White creeps me out a little bit.

  29. whoa. Jack as a mashup of a sullen (duh) Neil Young and a vacuous (double duh) Kate Moss! Who knew?
    Don’t let him near the Boreal, K? It’s too pretty for him.

  30. I saw the Jack White tintype image as a cross between Tiny Tim and Johnny Depp.

  31. Ann, you are a gift to the world. Your writing, your knitting, and your Jack White photo selections bring me great joy and sustenance. xo!

  32. Say what? I am emerging from a UK heatwave (not the sort of thing we usually have to cope with here) and am swimming through a sea of cool-Britannia bunting so… have only just logged on to you after a short break. (Forgive me.) I have no idea who this Jack White bloke is but I can see he’s got pretty eyes; so I shall follow all your links to find out more. But, lo, what is this nonsense about the snowflakes? Stop beating yourself up about them because they look terrific. I am so with Mary de B here (her comment about machines…).

  33. Say what? I am emerging from a UK heatwave (not the sort of thing we usually have to cope with here) and am swimming through a sea of cool-Britannia bunting so… have only just logged on to you after a short break. (Forgive me.) I have no idea who this Jack White bloke is but I can see he’s got pretty eyes; so I shall follow all your links to find out more. But, lo, what is this nonsense about the snowflakes? Stop beating yourself up about them because they look terrific. I am so with Mary de B here (her comment about machines…).

  34. Like the sweater! Jack Black, not so much (sorry, he creeps me out…).

  35. 1) the snowflakes are great! You are your own worst critic.
    2) I AM IN THE SAME PLACE with a lace shawl I am knitting for my daughter-in-law to be on 7/14…got to one set of new charts, not working right and (here is the biggest stupidity) did not put in a rescue line when I started that chart….pray for me.

  36. Is anybody up for designing a Jack White themed knitting project of sorts? All this Jack White is ripe for a knitalong. Ripe!

  37. I wouldn’t even attempt that sweater, the snowflakes look fabulous. Is this like saying you look fat so we all tell you how thin and pretty and not like a lumpen snowflake you look? Because we are all perfect snowflakes!

  38. The snowflakes look just fine to me! In fact, they are quite lovely, as are the colors that you chose. This was a good project to finish before the REALLY hot weather sets in.

  39. Ladies
    1. I had a blast last night reading your first book cover to cover in one sitting after spotting it at my local library
    2. have you seen this? http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-18261992 who knew that crochet could do that?!
    with greetings from damp Edinburgh

  40. Am working on a Boreal, set aside to finish a fair isle sweater for my sister by July9. (we are going to Sisters OR, what else would she wear??) I was feeling fine, thinking my snowflakes would pass and then you mentioned the cat. Now I will be convinced that if your’s blocks lovely, I am doomed. No cat.

  41. The snowflakes look great, and will look even better after the kitty-pressing. And I too am happy to see the new Jack White feature on the blog! I wonder if he needs some hand knit socks?

  42. Oh the sweater looks great, however, Jack White has made my morning – thanks!

  43. Awe, you don’t like your snowflakes! I know, they’re just not up to par. Yes, yes your’re sooooo right! DO NOT put those inferior snowflakes on your body! No Sir!
    (Tell you what? You’ve been so nice, all of the wonderful blogging over the years, and all. The least I can do to pay you back is to take those snowflakes off of your hands. Yea, O Lord! I am willing to make the–uh–sacrifice. So send those unblocked snowflakes on over to good old Dia–I mean Chilly Lilly. Why, Darlin’ you almost like fambly, and there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for my kin.)

  44. P.S.–Seriously, now, that is one beautiful sweater! I do hope you will feel better about in after blocking, because it truly is Magnificent.
    Wear it in good health.
    LoveDiane

  45. Grand Manan IS an island, but in the Bay of Fundy, not the Carribbean. http://www.grandmanannb.com/
    Jack Black is the Barbie of the music world…… I might just have a tee shirt made up with that.

  46. Dear problem ladies,
    I have lost my knitting mojo too but there’s no good reason. I’m worried about myself because I don’t feel like knitting ANYTHING! A long time ago I had a 10 year hiatus from knitting (reasons unknown) and I don’t want that to happen again. Any suggestions on how to treat my condition?
    -June

  47. “My snowflakes still look bad, but in the same way you can make yourself feel better at poolside simply by taking a look around at your fellow swimsuit models” Thank you. I plan to put this is my iPhone Quotes app. The sweater looks great and I am sure you are lovely in your swimsuit as well. :-)

  48. Love the spectrum of words in this post, from snow flakes to tin types, What fun!
    I too hope to see your blocked sweater soon, so pretty.

  49. The snowflakes look fine to me. You do know you were not meant to be knitting an actual accurate representation of a snowflake but just the suggestion of an idea of a snowflake? Of course you do. It’s just the angst of a work in progress. Blocking will make you fall in love again!

  50. The snowflakes look fine to me. You do know you were not meant to be knitting an actual accurate representation of a snowflake but just the suggestion of an idea of a snowflake? Of course you do. It’s just the angst of a work in progress. Blocking will make you fall in love again!

  51. Wow, the sweater looks gorgeous even now. Can’t wait to see it on you.

  52. I thought I was the only one who looked at other Ravelry projects to make myself feel better.

  53. Just a little FYI…my hubby never thought he would ever use the words knitting blog and cool in the same sentence but he has and did! Thanks to the two of you and Jack White! Actually, Jack is so cool, he’s beyond cool…

  54. I just regained my knitting mojo yesterday. My daughter wanted me to knit her a Cowichan sweater, a type of knitting (huge needles, unspun yarn, intarsia and fair isle) that I had never done before. I completed the &^%$##@@% thing, but it’s unwearable. Dense, badly fitting, uneven patterns.
    Saturday night I had a revelation about where I’d gone wrong and yesterday I pulled out the leftover yarn and bagan again. And I think I can do this now! Those Cowichan grandmas who made their living from this could knit a sweater in a couple days (size 13 needles, 4 stitches to the inch!) so I’m planning to have a FO by the end of the month.
    P.S. I am totally jealous that Naomi gets to work at Maiwa. I’ve been there once and it was marvellous.

  55. Cold Mountain Jack looks like he could be one of my relatives. And of course “Cold Mountain” is depressing. The guy was a deserter! You knew he was going to come to a bad end (although if I had been in his shoes I’d have done the same thing – Raleigh in the summertime without AC would be just terrible).

  56. If I can grow accustomed to wearing a soft linen shirt unironed, then surely you can bear snowflakes with character :) (the aging-gracefully word for “lumpy”)