This post originally appeared on 26 June 2004.


You know what I like about knitting? Among others, two things in particular:

  1. 99.9% of all mistakes can be dealt with without losing anything except time
  2. You never stop learning

Knitting is a very forgiving pursuit. Woodworkers can’t un-cut a mis-measured plank. Cooks can’t get the extra egg back into the shell. Sewers and tailors can’t return their fabric to the bolt once it’s been snipped. But knitters can grab and end, yank and reduce the most recalcitrant problem back to its larval state, ready to be knitted again. That suits me, as many of my projects proceed one step forward, two steps back.

I’m a slash-and-burn knitter (swidden knitter). By that I mean that I try to expand my mental knitting territory on almost every project. I’m always hungering for new challenges, new techniques, or trying to figure out easier/less error-prone ways of doing things. So far I haven’t run out of challenges, as even the simplest thing can end up being a roadblock. I’ve got knitting pals that always say nice things about the projects I finish, but probably don’t realize that like an untrained rat in a maze, I spent considerable time scurrying up and back dead ends. But learning flows from making mistakes, having the patience to figure out what went wrong in the first place, and the fortitude to correct them.

I have a hard time understanding all the people who post that they tried something and gave up, some even tossing the project out in disgust. True, I’ll lager the most egregious away for a while or even rip back particularly spectacular failures and re-use the yarn for something else, but I can’t imagine getting so disgusted that I would throw away the whole mess.

Case in point – my sorry excuse for what was supposed to be a mindless busy-work project, filling in extra post-exhaustion hours and (perhaps) lasting long enough to take me through a blissfully non-thinking week of vacation. I could make all sorts of excuses for what’s happened so far, but why bother. Here are the facts:

  1. I mis-measured my gauge – not once, but twice
  2. I mis-measured my kid’s circumference, and settled on making the wrong size
  3. I entered the above bogus data into Sweater Wizard, then mis-read the resulting print-out, and cast on too few stitches.
  4. I didn’t bother to confirm measurements until I was at least 7 inches into the thing. Twice.

The result? Another opportunity to reclaim and re-use yarn. I should be on target now. I’ve confirmed my gauge, recalculated The Smallest One’s size, and re-drafted the pattern (thank goodness for Sweater Wizard). Given that I was going to have to rip back anyway, I took the opportunity to do what I mentioned yesterday – using two balls of yarn to knit the front and back, doing it with an intarsia-style join at the center front. This makes the stripes even wider, as the span of stitches traveled by each strand is even smaller than before. I’m getting nice, wide sock-type stripes now, with a “seam” up the center front (apologies for the lousy pix, my camera is out of batteries so I had to improvise with another):


At the very least, this continues yesterday’s visual lesson on using variegated yarns. The narrower the span of stitches covered, the wider the stripes will end up being. How to know if your yarn will stripe or make that stippled effect? Look at the length of each color section. The longer it is, the more likely it will be to stripe. How to estimate on the fly? In general, a row consumes roughly 3 to 4 times its length in yarn. That’s a very rough estimate. If the color sections are at least three times the width of your piece to be knit you’ll end up with a one-row stripe. That stripe might not begin at the commencement of each row, and may end up being a wider puddled “bounce-back” section on a side, but it will take at least that much length of any one color to have any hope of visual striping.

More length? Easy. Wider stripes, and the possibility of knitting up larger garments that sport them. (Custom dyers take note – LONG repeats made by looping up double length skeins before applying color may be cumbersome to produce, but I bet they’d sell quite well compared to skeins with shorter color runs.)

Less length? A mottled, speckled or streaked appearance, with the predominant color overwhelming the others when seen from far away. Some yarns with shorter color runs can be a challenge to use. I’m not particularly fond of yarns with color sections that are an inch wide or less. In a fingering weight yarn that’s a run of about four to six stitches (depending on needle size). In a worsted, about two stitches. In a bulky/superbulky – that’s only one stitch (or fewer!).

One of the things that drove me to play with entrelac for the Tee I’m also working on right now was the short length of the color runs. Colors lasted for about three to five inches before changing. I didn’t like the blotchy, streaky effect that gave. Working in entrelac though on tiny 5-stitch squares allows the colors to bounce back and forth forming mini-stripes on each block. It’s tedious, but gives a more painterly effect.

I think if I ever wrote a book on knitting the name might be The Lazy Knitter: How to Avoid Mistakes In The First Place. Either that or Chest of Knitting HorrorsTM: How To Get Out and Stay Out. So it’s back to the fertile field of making mistakes, both for my own edification and to provide vicarious amusement for those who read this blog.

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