A Good Yarn

I’ve been knitting since I was twelve years old.  For some reason, I asked my mom to teach me, even though I had never seen her hold knitting needles before.  I don’t remember when I heard about, or saw knitting, but I asked for needles and yarn.  I received two very long aluminum needles with “Susan Bates” on the package, a skein of Red Heart, and a booklet proclaiming “How to Knit” with a generic model holding knitting needles and a scarf of many colors emerging from them while she smiled benevolently at her work.

It must have been an occasion of some sort, because my aunt’s family arrived later and I was showing my gift.  I confessed to having some trouble casting on and my mother couldn’t help because she didn’t know anything about it.  My aunt was a very take-charge sort of person, so she said “Ignore the book.  Here’s how you do it,” and showed me some magic with her thumb and pointer finger and some looping around.  I think it took me a good half hour of frustration and “show me one more time” before I finally got it.  Of course, the resulting cast-on row was tight from my anxious hands and sweaty to boot, so you knitters can appreciate the squeaks that resulted from trying to insert my needle into the petroleum-based yarn.  Yikes.  How I did not throw it aside and proclaim “Knitting is stoooopid!” is beyond me, but I guess I was sucked into the magic.  How each little loop sits there patiently, waiting for its turn to get transferred to the other needle, and seeing the yarn pass through each one to become a new one, all tidy and lined up along the needle shaft.  How the breath is held until the end of the row and then released in a woosh that yes, you actually made it.  Then you turn around and start it all over again.

Invariably, I’m sure I had the problem of too many stitches at the end of the row (because, of course, I was counting in my head like a good little beginner) and I asked how to fix it.  Take Charge Aunt said “Give it to me, I’ll fix it,” which she did without a word and handed it back to me.  Even at the age of twelve, I was outraged.  I didn’t ask anyone to fix it for me, I wanted to know HOW to fix it myself!  I knew myself well enough to know it would happen again and so shouldn’t I be equipped to make the necessary repairs?  I remember saying to Take Charge Aunt, “Show me what you did,” and her reply was confusing then but funny now: “I don’t know what I did!  I just did it!”  Clearly, she was an innate problem solver who thought and did faster than her words could keep up and explanations would be difficult for her to make.  “But what happens if I do it again?”

“Then I’ll fix it again.”

“But what if you’re not here?”

“Then you’ll look in your book for the answer.”

“But I don’t know what I did wrong?  How do I fix it if I don’t know what it is?”

She asked my father for another cocktail.

And so it went, through my early knitting life, that I would make scarves and pillows and anytime I didn’t have the right number of stitches I would either ignore it or knit two together or pretend the hole in the fabric wasn’t really there.  Pretty soon my knitting became more regular and even, but I still didn’t understand how to correct mistakes or even know when they were made.  (This was in the Dark Ages, boys and girls, when there was no such thing as an internet or google or you tube.  Heck, this was before videotape!  If you needed questions answered, you looked in the encyclopedia or went to the library for a book.  Our library was six miles away, so yeah.)  I saw pictures of multi-color knitted projects and sweaters that looked adorable, but I couldn’t understand any of the directions so I kept casting on scarves and pillows and very rarely finished any of them.

I think I probably abandoned knitting, but not entirely, because every now and then I’d find my Susan Bates aluminum needles which were somewhat worse for wear and some leftover plastic yarn and cast on about thirty stitches and start knitting and purling, but had no pattern or idea what I wanted, I just needed to knit.  When I got married I decided to knit my new husband a sweater.  A real one. I picked out a booklet that proclaimed “Real Fisherman Knits for the Whole Family!” and instead of going with the classic natural color, I picked out sky-blue yarn to go with my husband’s blue eyes. Yeah, because most guys want sweaters that match their eyes.  I also picked out the wooliest-looking acrylic yarn I could find, because it was cheap and we were newly married and it was the thought that counted, right?

Well, this was a big project, alright.  There were no charts to follow, it was all line by line instructions.  Fisherman knit sweaters have cables and bobbles and background patterns in a symmetrical layout, and this pattern featured one central panel of double cables and seed stitch, two panels on each side of that featuring small cables and bobbles in between, and two strips for the underarm area featuring seed stitch, stockinette, and reverse stockinette.  No biggie, right?  I can’t tell you what the back featured because I never got that far.  I think it took me two and half years of knitting it on and off and I got from the cast on, ribbing, and up to the middle of the chest.  I had to read each panel line by line within the row, and it was very easy to lose track of K1, P1, K7, make bobble, K2, P2, K2, P2, K2, P1, KFB, K2, P2, K1, P1, etc. for infinity.  I would insert little check marks next to a row I had finished and then would purl back and go to the next row.  I didn’t know what to do when I completed a section and it said “repeat first section” so I would add another little checkmark but when I had four or five checkmarks and they didn’t line up I wasn’t sure where to go with the pattern so I would begin knitting and hope it would turn out right.

This year marks 26 years that we’ve been married.  I think I found the sweater pieces about six years ago and after careful observation and studying the thousands of stitches and the pitiful attempts at fixing mistakes and the dawning realization that a fisherman sweater in sky blue acrylic was ridiculous and what in the world were BOBBLES doing on a man’s chest that I closed the bag it was in and deposited it in the trash.  I did not feel one twinge of regret.

Last Christmas I attempted a sweater vest for Hubby.  I scoured the internet for patterns, measured against one of his manufactured sweater vests for accurate sizing, tested my yarn, got a gauge that yielded a pretty good fabric, did math for adjustments (gasp!) and went to town.  I was happy with this because the color was great (a manly forest green) and there wasn’t a bobble in sight, just a lovely conservative swath of plain stockinette knit in the round with a purl stitch at each underarm “seam” for stability.  It was when I divided for the front “V” section that something began to nag at me.  The rate of decreases was looking a bit unusual for a vest and nothing like the vests he wears.  I decided to try it on and see what was wrong.

Did you ever have that hot burning feeling in your face that you just did something really stupid and now you have to start all over or the despair of how much time you’ve wasted and what were you thinking?  Are you understanding where this is headed?  I had knit a forest green halter top.  The straps were straps instead of a sweater top, and it was tight and looked ridiculous.  I realized I had to rip it back to below the point I had split for the “V” and figure out where I had to fix the pattern I had already been “fixing.”  It was two weeks until Christmas and I said to myself “You can do this!  It just needs to be tweaked!”

Is anyone surprised that the vest is in time out?



Danger. Back away from the knitting.


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