Julie knits and writes and knits.

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The Shoddy Little Sweater

Some projects just find their own time. I began this sweater on June 30, 2007. Flickr keeps track of these things for me. So 18 months in the making, and another month or so for the photo shoot.

It began with the yarn. I saw hanks of Colinette Parisienne in Soft Sienna at Lizzie Ann’s Wool Company in Holland, Michigan, one of my favorite LYSs. I had to have the yarn. I knew it was for my daughter.

The yarn reminded me of dryer lint. But in a good way. You know that soft non-color of dryer lint? It’s kind of blue, kind of grey, kind of pink? It’s fuzzy, light, soft?

I brought the yarn home and started swatching with it.

I already had the idea of making something tiny for my daughter, something t-shirty or camisolish, and had been swatching with silks and merinos and rare Habu Textiles stuff, but not falling in love.

But this yarn.

I knew I wanted to live with it for awhile. I found the needle size (US 5) to make the fabric that made me happiest.

Then came a class with Lily Chin, learning to design knitwear for my own body, or anyone else’s. I’d been steeping myself in Zimmerman, and so Chin’s class layered courage on Zimmerman courage along with some techniques for drawing patterns and constructing garments.

Just watching my girl and how she dresses made the form clear: A t-shirt. But not too, too sweet of a t-shirt. A long t-shirt that pokes fun at t-shirts.

I wanted to mess with the stockinette.

And then the women in my family were having fun with this word, “shoddy.” My hilarious niece, one of the funniest people I know, started us all using the word in a way that injected it with affection and comfort and kindness. A dryer-lint sort of feeling.

I decided to call the project Shoddy. At that point the rest of the form sort of fell into place. I knew it would have random yarn-over holes. (It turns out I’m not capable of completely random behavior, because I formed rules about the holes as I knit. I couldn’t help it.)

And then the process was pretty straightforward. I grabbed one of my daughter’s favorite t-shirts, and used it to make a pattern and a fabric model for the piece, which traveled in the project bag and served as a reference as I knitted.

I knew I wanted to make a seamless sweater, and did my math to know how many stitches to cast on. I cast on provisionally, thinking I might want to knit t-shirt-style hems, but not wanting to decide right away. (I did do this in the end, but after changing my mind 42 times.)

Then I just knit to match the fabric model, marking the sides, and decreasing two stitches at each side for a few rows to form waistline curve, and increasing to climb back up to the armpits. The yarn overs are either single or double YOs, decreasing with the next stitch so that I was never increasing or decreasing stitch numbers except at the sides for shaping. I decided to swim the holes up fro the sides in the front to the center, and just run a line of them down the center in the back. Not sure why. It just felt right.

The arms were a little challenge. I wanted the exact angle of the sleeves from the original t-shirt, and if I were Elizabeth or Meg, I probably could have figured out how to increase at the armpit to make them without seams, but I chose to start the sleeves flat –again casting on provisionally — for about an inch to match the flat pattern before joining them to the body. as you would for any seamless sweater. So it’s not an entirely seamless sweater. There is a one-inch seam under each sleeve. I’ll loiter in seamless sweater purgatory for a few millenia for that, I’m sure.

I had recently made a complete Elizabeth Zimmerman EPS Saddle-shoulder, and was still madly in love with the fit and the fun of knitting it, and so chose that style for this piece. I planned on a kind of funnel-neck, and knit it that way at first, but when the girl tried it on, it just… blech. No. I knew I had to rip back to make a bateau, but… A.) ripping mohair is just not fun. B.) I had no idea how to knit a bateau neckline.

And so the piece lingered and reproached me for… a while.

I next went off to a weekend camp at Schoolhouse Press with Meg Swansen and Amy Detjen and Joyce Williams. Show and tell is part of that, and I decided to show the Shoddy, though it was incomplete. Anybody who visited with this sweater had the same impulse, to throw it up in the air and watch it float. It’s that light and fluffly. Meg did that with Shoddy. And her eyes sparkled. It was a happy moment for me, let me tell you. Well, they eliminated all of my agony in about four seconds, Meg and Joyce, who pointed me to this neckline on this sweater:

Which you’ll find in her book Latvian Dreams, which of course I had. I felt a little like Dorothy. I’d had the answer with me the whole time. And now I had more courage from the Source, the Well, from Mecca.

So you would have thought I would have ripped right into that baby. No, I kind of sat on it for awhile. Not sure why, though I have likened it to finishing a good book. I really slowed this project down.

I ripped back the neck, and found the bateau an easy and elegant thing to knit. No problem. Basically you’re knitting two little V-neck decrease points at each shoulder, then a purl turning ridge, and then increasing at the same point so that when you fold the hem back inside, it matches up, and all you have to do is stitch the live stitches down. Very easy and elegant.

And that dictated the hem treatments for the arms and bottom hem too. Simple…. so why wasn’t I finishing it?

It just sat without its hems for ever so long. I pulled it out and pet it, folded it up and put it away… for MONTHS.

Post Project Depression. That’s the only thing I can offer for why it has taken me so long. I loved this baby, and had a hard time letting it go.

But then winter returned, and my daughter was kind of wondering.. and my knitting friends were wondering, and everyone has been wondering…

I finished it. Blocked it. Gave it. And today, finally, have photographed it. It worked. It’s pretty.

Thank you, thank you to all who helped inspire and teach and offer courage.

And on to the next unfinished thing…

The whole gestation is documented here.


Camp Dispatch

On the one hand, I knit endlessly while at camp. On the other hand, I don’t have much to show for it. Well, this hat:

And this hat:

Which is actually the same Very Warm Hat:

Which you’ll find in Knitting Around, by Elizabeth Zimmerman, p42. I switched out the yarn and the motif, using the lovely and stitch-definition-preserving Quebequois yarn you can get in lots of beautiful colors from Schoolhouse Press.

And I knit a lot on a swatch made specifically to learn steeks. And steeked that swatch into a funny looking woolly rag.

And I met and fell in love with a great many breathtaking sweaters…

and lots of wonderful knitters…

No doubt about it. These are my knitting people.

Got a lot of autographs on my Schoolhouse Library from Meg Swansen and Joyce Williams and Amy Detjen, who are all exactly as gracious and earthy and generous as you’ve read everywhere else.

Even mini-camp does not disappoint. Well I haven’t been to the big camp, and seriously don’t know if I could do it without my brain exploding. It leaked out my ears with just a couple of days of this…

Oh! And I met and hugged Michelle, who is somehow always the person I get by email or phone when I connect with Schoolhouse. So good to meet her. Egad this is a gorgeous family.

The main thing I learned is that I’ve been knitting color WAY TOO TIGHTLY. And while one can get away with that in a mitten or even a hat or a baby sweater, it’s a little hard to manage, or get the fabric you want or get the results you want when you move to a grownup size sweater (cough, investment).

I was a bit fraught, having decided before climbing into the car that I would pick a sweater and buy the yarn for it once I got to the Schoolhouse. But meeting all these sweaters had me so paralyzed that I couldn’t decide among the half dozen I know I want to knit. I couldn’t even prioritize them. Arrgh!

Bad luck ruled, and the stress of learning, frogging, choosing plus hormones (okay, it was really the hormones) gave me a whopping migraine on the day we all went out to the Schoolhouse warehouse/office. All I managed really to do is load up on the coilless safety pins I can’t knit without and snag a bundle of unspun natural black icelandic (with no idea what I’ll make out of it). I did also snag all the yarn samples, which I fondled all the way home, and which is putting me in still further distress about choosing/choices.

Also, and I’m not making this up… Meg let me walk out with a vest she made that my husband coveted. Just walk out of her cedar sweater storage room, taking it back to the hotel so I could figure out how she did it. She couldn’t remember. It’s a groovy vest, a kind of homage to the baby surprise sweater. Maybe a hippie surprise vest. I worked out a schematic and a pattern, and will either use the icelandic for that or get some different yarn to cast that on in the Fall. It’ll be a fast knit. More on that later too…

So…. NOW what? I’m profoundly inluenced after just a couple of days with these goddesses. No, I didn’t come away with much of my own work, but with a lot of good help and saving suggestions for all my stopped projects, and resolve to practice, practice, practice…

And with a lot of frogged knitting. And with the satisfying feeling (for me) that there is so, so, so much more to learn.

The little child’s vest has been ripped back to the armpits, and all the steeks started again. I’ll explain more about that and why in another post.

The peacefleece tunic is ripped just to the top of the bottom color border, so I can steek the sides to make side vents, or something. Not sure.

c.a.r.e.f.u.l.l.y ripping back Shoddy to put in the Bateau following the hints on the sweater above….

Plans for the great and glorious Mom Memorial Sweater (MMS) are now really boiling my brains. I’m stuck between wanting to finish and practice more color work on the projects I’ve got, ordering up yarn for and starting the spectacular Morroco Sweater from Latvian Dreams, or sketching and charting the MMS….. hmmm… but really feel I need to get some work and practice in for these before starting them. I may have to order the yarn, though. Just, you know, to encourage me…

The big lesson… to trust your knitting. Like a poem or a piece of fiction, or a painting or a sculpture, you let it tell you what it needs. Mindful knitting. That’s a big takeaway.

More later. More later…

Pinkie Blankie In Progress

(Pudgy beaglish guy added for Scale)

Download Julie’s Pinkie Blankie pattern. (If clicking the link doesn’t work for you, try right-clicking and “saving link as” to put the file somewhere on your machine where you will find it again.)

Okay, the story behind Pinkie Blankie is this…

I had a security blanket when I was a little girl. Its name was pinkie blankie. It was a wool bit of a blanket, with satin edges. And I hung onto it for a very long time. A Very. Long. Time. When I was 8, and Pinkie Blankie wasn’t very pink any more, and we were preparing to move overseas, Pinkie Blankie… disappeared.

The story told in my family is that Richard Jason, the hateful and hated bully who lived next door, stole Pinkie Blankie and threw it into Glen Creek. It floated away, probably to the ocean. Anyway, it was gone forever.

Have I mentioned that my mother was a great fictionalist? A fictionalizer? A fabulist? Someone who used fictional devices to effect change in her family? She was a gifted liar. Always for good reason. For instance, there is the portrait of a Chinese mandarin, which hung in every house we ever lived in, who, mom claimed, was our great-great-great-great grandfather. She said later she lied so that we would never be prejudiced. Not bad, eh? It is unnerving, however, to know that most of our family history may be fabricated. We have no idea, actually, who we are, or what is true. But we are comfortable with mystery.

It wasn’t until I began, a few weeks ago, to think about a security blanket for a friend of mine, and stumbled over the large stash of pink Tahki I’ve been sitting on (which reminded me of this amazing gift of knitting)and put these things together, that I even remembered my Pinkie Blankie. And then began to wonder about the Richard Jason incident. How did he get into our house, upstairs to my room, steal my blankie, remove himself from the house, head a block away up the road to the creek, and throw it in, all without anyone noticing?

And it wasn’t his style. He was capable of terrible things, much worse, in fact, but he enjoyed torturing each of us in person. He wanted to read the humiliation in our eyes. This secret swiping of the blanket just didn’t add up. And that my mother delivered the news? How would she be the one to know? As somebody’s mother, she would be the last to know. The very last.

And the timing… just as we were going through a great purge in preparation for a move overseas… and my age. And… well… I think I’ve been blaming the wrong person for Pinkie Blankie’s demise for, oh, 40 years.

Mom’s gone. Pinkie Blankie’s gone. I will never know the truth. But I can raise Pinkie Blankie from the ashes. Maybe several, given how much of this yarn I have in my silly-big stash. The first will go to a friend who needs it even more than I do. The second may go straight into the creek I now live on, to float out into Lake Michigan, where my mother’s ashes rest. I’d like to let her know I’m on to her, finally.

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