Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Forget Frogs - This one's for the dogs...

Oh god.

Oh god oh god oh god.

How could it go so horribly horribly wrong? I'm an alright knitter! I may be still learning but I never thought... Oh god oh god oh god. How could a simple Gryffindor scarf go so horribly horribly wrong?

Ok, I must admit, the debacle (as it shall henceforth be known) happenned a couple of weeks ago, and I am over the initial trauma by now. I am past the stage of keening and rocking while crouching on the floor and hugging myself, and have gotten so excited about the new, improved and TOTALLY AWESOME design for Ginger's Gryffindor scarf (Can't wait to write about this one!!!) that the loss of about six hours work and a tenner's worth of wool doesn't sting so bad any more.

So as you know from my post on my first project, Twinkle and Ginger both wanted me to make them Gryffindor scarves and I completed Twink's as my first project (BTW, she still complains it is too itchy for her. Damn) so now it was Ginger's turn. She is more of a purist, and so she insisted that her scarf be done in scarlet and gold as specified in the book, rather than the more Maroon colour of the movies' and Twink's scarf. This time, I based the colour blocks on the scarves from the third movie. That is, mostly red with pairs of yellow stripes at intervals The plan for the colours was this: Cast on 35 stitches. Knit 35 rows in red. Knit ten rows in gold. Knit 10 rows in red. Knit 10 rows in gold. Repeat pattern several times to desired length. Finish with 35 rows red. Cast off and add tassels.

As I wrote previosly, I was dissappointed at how badly Twink's stockinette scarf curled, despite being blocked and otherwise gorgeous. So I did some research on ways to stabilise stockinette stitch so that it would lie flat, and one website suggested using varius flat-lying borders (garter stitch, moss stitch, intentional laddering) to prevent the piece rolling up into a tube. I think the idea was that if the very edge didn't curl, the curling wouldn't spread to the centre. A niggle in the back of my mind said "there is no reason why that would stop the curling" but I didn't pay attention.

That website lied.

Nonetheless, I designed the scarf on that basis, with a five-stitch garter stitch border down each side, and about seven rows of garter stitch at each end. I further proposed to stabilise the scarf by doing the yellow stripes in moss stitch. The first 35 rows went fine, but when I went to do the moss stitch my twisted stitching got me into trouble. As mentioned previously, I prefer to purl into the back of the stitch and in order to facilitate this, the stitch below needs to have been twisted. So on row one, I did all my purl stitches normally, and all my knit stitches with a twist. Thinking I had been very cunning and that I could now just purl into every twisted stitch with wild abandon, I went to it without really watching what I was doing, opnly to discover that I had had a brain fart and ended up with a rib stitch (der fred... if you purl on the wrong side you get a knit on the right side... basic basic basic!)

Lesson 1) Think about how to do what you are doing. Then think and think and think again. And then check that what you thunk wasn't overconfident stupidity. Then double check it with the bits of your brain that have been watching tv while you were thinking it through. And for goodness sake look at your work!

Now, if I had had half a brain I would have stopped there and ripped that stripe out. After all, I had only done half of one stripe when I figured out my mistake! Truthfully, I think what stopped me was I was worried that I would lose a loop or two in the process and end up with dropped stitches. I was so afraid of making a minor error that I was willing to leave a major error in.

Lesson 3) In order to knit well, you have to be willing to frog. Being too afraid to undo a mistake will only lead to a lifetime of regrets. And it's better to risk having to lose the first 35 rows and start over by attempting to frog 5 of them than to risk the whole piece by frogging none of them.

"But," thought I, "it doesn't look too bad. A bit like a coarse stockinette stitch on both sides." So I chose to complete the stripe in single rib. But then came the real undoing...

For some reason - which I cannot in retrospect fathom - I decided to do the next stripe neither in the way I originally intended, nor in the way I did the first one. I decided to do it in reverse stocking stitch. Now I had done this before, but mostly in checkerboard or for the background of aran patterns and I didn't realise that a whole stripe of reverse stocking stitch without anything down each side of it will stand out like a tranny at a church fete. NOT mind you because of the textured stitching (which was what I wanted) but because it stands up really high against the stockinette stitch. That doesn't happen as badly when it has other stitching down each side, but in this case, it basically put a huge kink in the scarf so it didn't even hang straight. To make things worse, I forgot to switch back to normal stockinette stitch at the right time, so there were a couple of rows of red also stiching also sticking out above the rest of the scarf. The whole lot screamed "I'm a massive stuff up! Look at me!"

Lesson 2) As Boney M said, "Don't change lovers in the middle of the night". If I decided to keep the ribbed stripe, I should have just don'e all the stripes that way. Changing to an untested way of doing the stripes was just sodding stupid.

Again, I should have ripped it back. All it would have taken would be to frog out 17 rows of knitting to get the whole scarf back to the original design. And at this point it was quite clear that these two stripes simply couldn't be left in as they were. But no. For some reason, I decided to knit on, complete the scarf, and go back later to cut out the two bad stripes and graft in new ones. Bad idea...

Lesson 3) Again, this time bashing my whacking myself in the head with my copy of Stitch n Bitch: IN ORDER TO KNIT WELL YOU HAVE TO BE WILLING TO FROG!!!

So I finished off the scarf, thenceforth knitting the stripes according to my original design. Close to finishing, I realised that I didn't have enough wool left to knit those first two stripes again, so I went to Lincraft, with a little piece of my yellow "cozy wool" an bought another ball of the same brand in the same colour. I noticed at the time that they had changed the packaging, but I didn't think anything of it - after all, shops change their packaging all the time.

Finally, late at night, I cast off, and decided to get right into getting rid of those two awful stripes. I followed the directions in my one knitting book, the A to Z of Knitting by Inpirations Books (my copies of Stitch n Bitch and Knitting for Dummies still hadn't arrived by that time) and picked up stitches above and below the stripes that I wanted to take out. Then I carefully cut out the offending part, and began to unravel back to where my needles were.

This was easier said than done. I thought unravelling would be easy peasy but actually, it was awful. The work seemed to just want to knot and tangle itself together. I got it done finally, but then was faced with another problem. You recall that the main areas of the scarf were stockinette stitch with garter stitch edges? Well it was easy to pick up stitches in a straight line along the stockinette part, but not so much in the garter stitch part. A couldn't work out which bit of which stitch to pick up, or even which stitches were in the same row as my stockinette stitches. And it turns out I must have got it wrong, becaue those edge bits would NOT unravel. I ended up with a fairly neat row of stitches on the needle, with four lengths of yarn comming off it instead of one.

Lesson 4) If you are going to try a difficult new technique a) Try to get someone who knows what they are doing to help you through it, instead of relying a few pictures in a book or online and b) Don't attempt top do it for the first time at 11:30pm in bad lighting.

No problem, I thought. So I'll have an extra row in the border. You won't be able to tell. I'll just knit along, and work those ends away after it's done. So I started knitting in the couple of red rows I needed before putting in the stripes. I started knitting the first stripe in my remaining gold wool from the original ball. And as it took shape, you couldn't really tell that there had been a join. So far so good! I was doing it! I was actually doing it! I was fixing my mistake! The result wasn't going to be perfect but I was actually going to make it!

But when I took up my new ball of yellow wool for the last two rows of this stripe, I made an unfortunate discovery. The wool in the new ball was a completely different weight. It was only about 2/3 as thick as the original wool. I'm guessing that Lincraft changed suppliers for their "cozy wool" brand (this was before I knew about checking the dye lots to get consistent yarn) and that this was also the reason for the new package design. But I slogged on nonetheless and hoped for the best.

Then came the straw that broke the camels back. Halfway through the first row using the new wool, I realised that I had knit every stitch, instead of carrying on with moss stitch (it was so late at night I was getting sloppy). And that was it. That was the last bungle with this scarf I could handle. I downed needles, went to bed, and by morning had vowed never to touch it again.

I did actually come up with a use for this scarf, and I wanted to end this piece with a picture of Boof, our staffy, playing tug-o-war with it. After all, it seemed fitting that my dog's breakfast of a project should ultimately become property of the family pooch. And yet, I'm afraid even that meagre form of usefulness has been vetoed. Poor Boofie is getting old and he has started to suffer from bleeding gums this week. So it has been decreed that Boofie is to retire from tug-o-war (poor baby - it's his favourite game - but truthfully, he'd pull his own teeth out before letting go of the rope / scarf / kong).

One final comment... I am honestly not to broken up over this project going off the rails. It took a while to get over it but in retrospect, I have concluded that the design was just plain ugly. The red was too garish and the edging and moss stitch on the stripes didn't do it any favours. Even if I hadn't made those mistakes in knitting it, it wouldn't have been a nice piece, and that so-called "cozy wool" really is a bit to scratchy for the kids (don't think I'll be buying it again). I think the knitting gods might have intervened on this one, and smote the scarf that was judged and found wanting.

They say everyone has one really really awful knitting project in their history. Hopefully mine is now out of my system...

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