Let’s begin with a view of a seaside paradise, because today’s story is just terrible–a real heartbreaker and by heartbreaker I mean mildly irritating knitting experience.
That’s Chalk Sound up there, in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos, where we all decamped for a week that will go down in history as the Shayne family’s least productive week ever. No, we didn’t snorkel or scuba or catamaran or kayak or parasail or regular sail or anything much except sit in a stupor, either on beach or by pool, and eat. It was fantastic. It’s taken me a week even to get up the steam to fix dinner. I don’t know what we’ve been doing for food since we got back. I do know that all the Christmas candy is gone. I ate a stale grapefruit for lunch one day, and a Triscuit.
Anyway, I took three books and read them all.* I took Kate Davies’s Boreal, my latest knitting obsession. I’m going to describe what happened with this project not as a deterrent to making this amazing sweater, but more as a cautionary tale about GAUGE. Because gauge is like the prickly schoolteacher you don’t really like but who holds your entire destiny in her gnarled little hands. You cannot fail to respect gauge.
Here’s what happened.
I was motoring away on this beautiful thing, cranking from the hem upwards to the thrilling Fair Isle portion of the sweater–the party up top. I had made a swatch just as Kate Davies exhorted me to do–a Fair Isle swatch, even, washed and blocked per her advice because we all know that a bath does surprising things to yarn. I went with everybody’s favorite needle size, ol’ number 7, because that was getting me the 18 stitches/4″ I was craving.
I was rusty on my Fair Isle, having not Fair Isled in a while. I turned it inside out so that the floats wouldn’t pull too tight. I got a groove going, around and around, and I crossed my fingers that the stitches would even out once I monkeyed around with them and blocked it.
Then it was time to make the sleeves, another tubular project. I decided to make the sleeves using two circular needles rather than five hundred double-pointed needles which I despise. Again with the size 7. Again with the groove.
I was actually on the beach with this sleeve when i decided to slide it onto my arm to admire my handiwork. (I can’t really recommend knitting merino/mohair while sitting on a beach, particularly a snowflake sweater.) If I kept going, I think this sleeve could easily have functioned as a wetsuit. The only thing less pleasant than sliding a wool sleeve on your arm while sitting on a beach is sliding a wool sleeve THAT IS SHOCKINGLY TOO SMALL on your arm while sitting on a beach.
So dismayed! So awful to discover that your gauge on two circs is about five stitches tighter than it is on a regular circ. I never dreamed I would get such a different gauge. Appalling!
No quick fix to be had. Not a knitting shop to be found on this desert island, no way to get larger needles except by making them out of palm fronds or swizzle sticks.
After a week-long grieving process, and also a departure through a Caribbean airport akin to catching the last helicopter out of Saigon, I revisited this sleeve. I decided to go with double-pointed needles, size 8. I knit looser on DPNs. I figured this would do the trick.
Back on track. I can’t decide what to do with that awful misfire. Leg warmer?
The moral of the story? Give GAUGE the respect it’s due. Don’t assume your swatch has answered all your questions. Bring tons of knitting equipment wherever you go. And, most important: if you’re knitting a wool and mohair snowflake sweater on a beach, you are a sick, sick person.
*The books, the books. I resolved this year to try to read a book a week, or at least give it a try. First finishes:
TOWNIE by Andre Dubus III. Massachusetts mill town memoir by the haunted son of another writer, Andre Dubus. If page 354 doesn’t make you cry, I do not know what will.
THE HARE WITH AMBER EYES: A Family’s Century of Art and Loss by Edmund de Waal. More crying, this time about a collection of Japanese antique netsuke, the little carvings that traveled the world with a wealthy Jewish banking family. Vienna 1938 is not a good place for these netsuke nor the family that owned them.
Finally, and most lusciously, THE TAKER by Alma Katsu. If you loved Interview with a Vampire, and crave paranormal with a literate voice, seriously unrequited love, and a villain with the darkest possible gothic soul, you will love this. Big debut novel, has made lots of Best lists. I had the great luck to meet Alma via this blog, so it has been a special thing to see her book launch so spectacularly. Two more novels in the series coming soon. To celebrate, here’s a contest, with a copy of THE TAKER going to the winner who will be chosen at random:
What’s the most haunting book you’ve read? Leave a comment, deadline Wednesday 10 pm EDT. I’ll email the winner. (Please include your email with your comment.)