Tuesday, March 11, 2008

It's a Knitter's Prerogative to Change His Mind

Have you ever started a project that absolutely should have worked, and then didn't? It just happened to me with the lacy Elizabeth Zimmermann baby sweater I'd started for Abigail, from the February chapter of Knitter's Almanac.

It wasn't the fault of the pattern. The pattern is delicious, classic Elizabeth. It starts out odd, turns strange and grows positively bizarre before what's coming off the needles finally reveals itself to be cleverly constructed and beguiling.

Neither was it the fault of the yarn: Jo Sharp DK left over from my Seneca Sweater and left over again from Abigail's Dragonfly Kimono. Susan loved the fabric in the latter, so I felt another little bijou in the same yarn would be a surefire hit. It's soft, lightweight, and firmly spun–it ought to show off simple lace to perfection.

In theory, perfect. In practice, more like a blind date where the two parties seem like a perfect match because they both love opera; but then one of them turns out to be a die-hard Wagnerian and the other one has a thing for Rossini and even before the salads arrive the waitstaff have to wrestle the butter knives away from them.*

So I frogged it just after I finished half an arm, rewound the yarn and let it sit. And then one morning, I woke up with an unaccountable urge to knit a sweater with cut steeks. Aside from a brief lesson on a swatch at Knitting Camp two years ago, I haven't climbed that hill.

By the time I got out of bed I'd decided that if Abigail could talk, she'd ask politely for a traditional Norwegian pullover, and by happy chance traditional Norwegian pullovers have steeked armholes. How could I say no?

So I picked up some coordinating yarn (Berroco Ultra Alpaca Light) at Arcadia Knitting and set off, with Elizabeth and Meg Swansen (via the Knitting Around book and video) as my sherpas.

It was extremely pleasant to zoom around the lower body, using both colors to create the tradition "lus" (lice) dotted pattern,

Lus Pattern

meanwhile daydreaming about what to put on the chest and shoulders. I've finished it now, and for a first attempt I think it will suit. The fabric is very slightly puckery, but I took care to strand the floats loosely across the back of the work and expect that a good wet blocking will smooth everything out.

Norwegian Pullover Body

Next, the sleeves. And then...the cutting. Yeehaw, baby.

This is why I knit, dudes. Adrenaline. Pure adrenaline.

*Based on a true story.


Ann (yet another) said...

And it looks like a charmer in the making, too!

Aren't little kids fun to knit for? You can try all kinds of things in about 1/4 of the time it would take for an adult sweater, and you get to use great colors and cute motifs.

Kristen said...

Dueling with butter knives?! Sounds like an opera in itself!

Tammany said...

So, are you the die-hard Wagnerian or the Rossini fan? Frankly, Wagner kind of makes me want to stab *myself* with a butter knife.

knitography said...

Beautiful! I really love dark backgrounds and light contrasting colours when it comes to the colourwork. I am almost done my first colourwork project, but I'm not brave enough to tackle steeks quite yet. Maybe a baby sweater is the perfect starting point for that - a small cut won't hurt as much, right?

Amy said...

Uff da! I'm glad you didn't use actual Norwegian wool to make the sweater. Perfect for fair isle and steeking...but dang, that stuff is course. If I were a little kiddo I think I'd rather have alpaca than spaelsau against my skin.

Wagner forever.

Rudee said...

I hope you had a cocktail and a lie down afterwards..

knititch said...

i find it a bit eerie how similar some of our knitting is. light blue aran braid was ain november/ brown/cream baby lusekofte this summer. and a blue one too. they were both smashing hits with the young mothers. the blue one has hardly been off the young boy and the brown was brought by it's one year old owner to day care. i guess it smelled like home.

CatBookMom said...

I've had a couple of projects like that, including a simple cropped sweater that I just couldn't get the dratted pattern to work! Yeah, frog pond!

The new design is lovely, and you are so brave to tackle steeking. Lucky little Abigail!

JoVE said...

It is beautiful. And I love the opera lovers blind date analogy. I bet the true story is hilarious (now; in hindsight)

Bobbi said...

My very first swester had steeks. (Talk about diving into the deep end of the pool!) I've never regretted it...in fact, all of my favorite sweaters have had steeks. When the time comes, if you need someone for moral support or to grab hold of the scissors or poor a stiff drink...call me...I'd be MORE THAN happy to have a "valid reason" to venture south! (Plus, I have a baby sweater that could be used for demo...it hasn't a home, but needs its steeks cut.)

Julie said...

Bwahahahaha. I wanna hear more about the Rossini/Wagner squareoff. Oh man, to be a fly on the wall in that restaurant... were the terms 'dilettante' or 'Nazi' used at all?

Good luck on the steeking, it'll open a whole new world to you. That's both good and bad. ;)

Bea said...

Good luck on the steeking part!

As a true Norwegian, I always leave that job for my mom(and she's not to happy about it, so I usually try to knit something that doesn't need steeks).. ;)

Judi said...

You wake up thinking of steeks and you think Dolores is crazy?

anne marie in philly said...

beautiful job, franklin.

abigail is a lucky girl to have someone knit for her.

I dare say she is the best dressed baby in maine!

laura gayle said...

Underachiever. ;)

Just don't let Dolores get within 10 feet of the scissors and the sweater!

Cheryl said...

Amazing! Seriously she has to be the best dressed child ever!!!

Riin said...

Most of what I know about opera, I learned from Bugs Bunny cartoons. Please don't hate me.

Elizabeth said...

You are brilliant.

(for both the knitting and the opera.)

Thank you for the giggle.

TheBunny said...

Ah, geeky opera humor. I can appreciate it having made a geeky grammar joke at work a few hours ago.

Back in my day, people got an idiom joke when they heard it.

Sue said...

so pretty! I have not tried anything this intricate.

obsessmuch? said...

I look forward to finding out how your steeks go. I am working on a Dale sweater for my baby and I am terrified of that part -- haven't quite let myself get there yet, even though I WAS zooming through it.

Anonymous said...

Yeah I have started that same sweater four times and ripped it out each and every time. I don't know why I can't make it turn out,but for now I am moving on. I have seen it and it is darling, but your sweater far surpasses it. Lucky little girl.

dale-harriet said...

See now - that's why I describe you as "awe-inspiring". I derive a GREAT DEAL of satisfaction from plodding along on something stockinette and thinking "How cool is this? *I* am a knitter, and Franklin is a knitter; we are both knitters." Does my soul good - nevermind I am a toy piano to your Wagner (or Rossini - either image works).

Bells said...

Good work! I can attest to the puckering vanishing after a good long soak. My steeked jacket that I just finished was awfully puckery. It sat in the bath for about 40 minutes and blocked up a treat. If your floats are as you describe them, you'll do great!

Anonymous said...

Oh Frank,

The sweater will be so wonderful. I love the colors and I know that Susan will love it too. Abby will look great in it also. Can't wait to see the finished sweater.


Lisa said...

When I needed to take the plunge and cut the steeks in my husband's Dale of Norway moose sweater, a kind friend offered to help. We set up at her house on a large work table, good lighting, and a few cats looking on. Then, for the important parts: snacks and wine. Made all the difference.

FiberQat said...

You can do it. You can cut in a straight line. Or can't you? Don't let Harry watch.

Good thing it wasn't a Gilbert and Sullivan lover or it will be spears and pistols at twenty paces.

Booa said...

OMG, Franklin, I love what you said, about why you knit. Only another knitter (or maybe a crocheter, or crafters in general) knows about the adrenaline rush! :-) The next time someone asks me why I knit, I think I'm going to say, "I'm addicted to the adrenaline rush." Hee! It will be the truth, but they probably won't believe me...:-)

Seanna Lea said...

Heh, at least when you change your mind you frog it and start something new.

More often than not, I just start something new. I have a clutter of projects.

Alwen said...

Ha. That's why I knit, too: that "riding the bicycle on the edge of the abyss" feeling, right on the razor edge of my understanding.

Those fall off the cliff aren't so fun, but hey! I learned something!

Spinknitty said...

What a pretty sweater. And steeking -- such fun! I was terrified the first time I did it -- I mean, you are cutting through all that patterning -- but what a great construction method. You'll love it.

PICAdrienne said...

The sweater is lovely. I am sure it will be darling on Abigail.

I want to hear more about the duel with butter knives, and did the seafood forks get involved, or was the dispute broken up prior to reaching that stage?

Anne O'Nymous said...

I kowtow to your loving uncleosity, your aggressive music appreciation, your verbal prowess, your knitting adventurousness and wisdom.

The sherpas don't like all the hikers, Franklin, but I know they adore you.

Liz said...

That February baby pattern stopped me in my tracks too! I have the perfect yarn (Sundara, seaweed over something), the perfect baby in mind (redhead girl) but am confused by EZ's directions, after the yoke when she says to "work back and forth on the next 28 sts plus 7 cast on at each end for 4" and repeat for other sleeve" but I think I'm going to take the leap of faith and just cast on & try. I just finished the child's placket sweater & I'm thinking this is a similar construction, but in reverse.

Courtney the Knitting Goddess said...

Italian Baroque, baby! Bel canto 4EVA!

/classically-trained lyric coloratura soprano
//is partial to A. Scarlatti.

grrlmonster said...

more power to you. after fifteen years of knitting im still scared of double pointed needles and intarsia. ive played a little with both.
you amaze me.

Ms. P said...

Breathtaking combination, Franklin. So how many beverages do you think it will take to lift scissors against your careful colorwork?

Bronchitkat said...

That sweater looks great so far.

Steeks - I'm adapting an aran sweater pattern, knit in the round, to be a cardigan, so am thinking of doing a centre-front steek. Advice, please?

Other than "don't", anyhow. Knitting flat really isn't an option as parts of the aran, non-traditional as it is, change every line!

Deborah C. said...

I feel your pain regarding the frogging - I've frogged 2 different sweaters recently, one was finished except for button bands, the other barely begun. I'm wondering if the knitting gods are telling me to knit only socks and shawls... The colorwork looks lovely. I've only dabbled with steeks - I knit a doll sweater as a practice piece and it turned out beautifully, but I'm still nervous about coming at my knitting with scissors!

Rhonda the Stitchingnut said...

I can feel the adrenaline the moment I have scissors in my hand and start to cut steeks. (or is that heart failure?) And the relief that washes over me when it's done AND it worked, is a rush of it's own.

I love the color in the sweater. What a lucky little girl.

The A.D.D. Knitter said...

Yes, the opera anecdote hit home in a big way, except for my husband and I it was 80s Alternapop vs. Prog Rock, and I completely won that skirmish...in any case, nice recovery and the Norwegian sweater is a winner!

Lissette said...

Love the date story, sorry that the actual date turned out so badly, but now you have a story to tell other, and I'm sure one that nobody can ever match.

Love the way the sweater turning out! The colors are gorgeous! I'm looking forward to watching your progression.

Chelsea said...

Ooh, very cool! I'm loving the colors that you chose. Abigail will most definitely be the coolest dressed babe when she hits the bunny slopes in her new sweater. :)

Dove Knits said...

I think Abigail would, indeed, have requested that sweater. It's a more practical one for winter, anyway.

Jorah said...

My friend John said:

> Even worse: they’re both bel canto
> fans but one of them loves Sills
> and the other loves Sutherland.

Captain said...

Great comment from Julie.

Verdi's my favorite, but I'll take Rossini over Wagner.

However, since I haven't listened to that much Wagner, I suppose I could be missing something.

Anna said...

I have one of those marriages; he likes Wagner and Dvorak, I like Puccini and drinking syrup straight from the can. We still go to the opera, just not together.

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