On Knitting Badly
May 30, 2012
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:
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.
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.
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?
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!
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.
PS Now that we’re including a photo of Jack White in every entry, here’s today’s Jack White:
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!