sometimes, we take on adventurous projects with surprisingly satisfying results.  other times, we juggle a few (or several) balls too many and we set ourselves up for disaster.  is it just me, or is it sometimes hard to tell the difference at the start…sometimes even halfway through?  allow me to introduce to you my first major failure of 2013.  oh my, is it a doozy.

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ahhhhh!  are your eyes burning?  what is this weird potato sack?!  one of the greatest parts about making garments, in my opinion, is knocking off expensive brands.  i definitely have an inclination for developing new fine motor skills, but sort of lack some broader artistic tendencies.  as in, i know what i like when i see it, but have trouble creating color/shape/texture combinations myself.  the kids and i have a lot of fun browsing through catalogs and cracking the codes of our favorite items, then making them ourselves.

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months ago, i came across this cashmere baby sweater by j crew for a going price of $145.  this color combination, which i liked the most, goes up to 12 months in size.  i have tried, and failed, to wrap my mind around buying a $145 cashmere sweater for an infant to destroy/outgrow within weeks.  making a precious cashmere heirloom baby gift, maybe.  but just buying one off the rack?  nah.

when i saw similar colorways on major sale at michaels after thanksgiving, i picked up a couple skeins ($3 each–admittedly, it’s not cashmere and it shows) and started figuring out how to bring this piece to life for a more reasonable price.  i have made many, many, many top down raglans, but all cardigans.  apparently, you have to work some magic around the neck to ensure it will fit around a head without being too tight or loose, and without a familiar pattern or technique in my arsenal to do so, i turned to elizabeth zimmerman to guide me through since i have her book, knitting without tears, as a reference.

her seamless sweaters are all worked from the bottom up, even the sleeves, the exact opposite of what i’ve always done.  but, after reading through the directions a few times and in the absence of a better alternative, i figured that would be fine.  next, the heart decal.  i have done the tiniest bit of fair isle knitting on a hat i knit for reese over a year ago.  that’s the extent of my color work.  but fair isle wouldn’t work with this humongous heart–i’d be carrying both colors all the way around which would introduce its own problems.

i have heard of intarsia but never tried it.  after very minimal research, i decided that was the best option for this giant motif, and that i could teach myself the skill without much trouble.  of course, in addition to actually making the heart, there must be a pattern for the heart.  i have also never made my own color chart, but it’s just graph paper, right?  how hard can it be?  (now i have learned that there is special graph paper just for intarsia so patters are proportionate and not squashed like mine).  so basically, i was going into this project with broad knitting knowledge and experience, but no specific background in any of the major techniques i would need to finish it other than knitting and purling.  somehow that did not seem at all concerning to me.

a few words on gauge.  as a naptime crafter and one lacking the perfectionism gene, i do not always have the luxury of going to all lengths to set myself up for a flawless, perfect project.  i don’t pin as much as i should, my patterns are not always traced with total precision, my seams are rarely sewn straight, and i only check gauge if i’m using very expensive yarn or designing my own pattern.  those cowls i made in december?  many of them were unraveled halfway through after learning my initial gauge calculation had been a little lazy.

it’s possible that’s what happened here, because i did do a gauge calculation, in the midst of christmas madness weeks ago.  what happened next is unknown to me.  did i make too small a swatch, so the true gauge didn’t show itself?  did i write down the wrong number?  multiply it incorrectly?  measure bean incorrectly?  there are several ways this could have gone as awry as it did, and i will never know the answer because i can’t remember and lost the scribbles.  but gauge is the first and largest problem here.

rather than 21 generous inches around the body, i realized only after working tirelessly to the finish off the giant heart that this sweater was in fact 28 inches around the body.  i hardly need to underscore the difference in these numbers, particularly on the wee torso of a two year old.  but i knit on a smallish circular, and started with a generous ribbed trim, all of which made the body seem reasonably sized until it was late in the process.  very late.

while the heart actually came out quite large, symmetrical, and pointed and curved in relatively appropriate places, intarsia was not so seamless (though it is easier than fair isle).  i use that word intentionally.  perhaps when i googled “intarsia in the round” and the top several hits included the word “impossible” i should have paid attention.  but i found one video that demonstrated it in a very straightforward way, so i proceeded without caution.  surely there was a learning curve and the knitter in the video has more experience, thicker yarn, and larger needles than i.  but i would not call this sweater seamless.

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toward the bottom, you’ll see that i just flat out did it wrong.  but for the last 3/4 of the seam, i figured it out, and it’s still quite loose and noticeable.  i was aware of it while i was knitting, and figured i could go back and mattress stitch it together as though the front and back were two separate pieces, no big deal.  but still, not thrilled with the outcome.

when i saw just how enormous the body had become, i seriously considered making it large enough to fit myself, in which case i could look down at the hot mess in my left armpit and on any given day feel uplifted that i at least do not look as haggard as this sweater.  but it wasn’t quite big enough for me.  and then i was at an impasse.  do i knit the rest of the sweater to fit a 12 year old, or do i try to salvage it to be a sweater dress for bean?  i chose the latter, thereby sealing the fate of this doomed sweater.  seamless sweaters are all about proportions, with give here and there for individual bodies because of the flexibility of knits.  i had no business messing with the rules of nature and defying those proportions, but i knew i wasn’t going to tuck this away for the next decade until it fit bean, and it’s too sloppy to give as a gift.  but i still imagined i’d be able to make it look attractive in photographs so i could blog about the techniques i used, short of writing up a whole pattern.  not so.

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mercy.  so, i knit up two sleeves, small enough to fit her in the cuff, but large enough at the armpit that they wouldn’t look like cartoon stick arms poking out of the giant body.  while i’d read through the ez instructions a few times, i hadn’t really considered in my design just how long the yoke would be.  i purposely drew the heart to end at the armpit so i wouldn’t have to worry about all the bobbins (and even for something so simple, i ended up with 4 bobbins at the top of the heart, blech) and joining the sleeves at the same time.  plus, that’s how it appeared to me in the catalog photo, probably because that sweater was for a tiny baby who only needs a tiny yoke.  oops.

then to my continued horror, i learn that the yoke of this sweater was going to be another 7 inches, minimum.  so now, the one thing that went right was completely negated, as my massive heart was grossly off center on the body.  perfect.  yet still, i persisted, because i had no idea it would be quite so ugly at the end, and because at this point i had come too far and have too many projects in the queue to come back to this one.  i maintained a shred of hope that this could turn into a boho baby chic piece, something so ugly it’s actually cool.  so i kept knitting around and around and around, right up to the collar that is of course saggy and baggy in spite of my careful gauge recalculation at the top.

and so, i present to you what was in my mind a very cute little girl sweater, that instead came to this earth as a hideous nightgown.  with the hair, this ensemble makes bean look eerily similar to a psychotic homeless wig wearing woman that rode the bus around our neighborhood in chicago.  except not screaming profanities.

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and wouldn’t you know it, of all the rather lovely things i’ve made for this little girl, this abomination is the one thing she loves.  the one thing she pestered me incessantly to finish so she could wear it, and the second i let her, she wouldn’t take it off.  she’s wearing it in bed for her nap right now.  as i’ve mentioned before, making clothes for them is more for my satisfaction than theirs, but it’s hard to chalk this up to a total failure when the recipient sees it as such a runaway success.

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anyhow, there you have it, the product of bad things happening to a good knitter.  but, no finished project is without its lessons.  i do count intarsia as a skill now, and winding center pulling bobbins is very convenient for all kinds of color work.  but as much as i love ms. zimmerman, i think i’ll be turning my attention back to cracking the seamless sweater code from the top down once again.

since this abomination, i have invested in this book as well as this one which are keeping me very entertained, and i’m very excited to have signed up for my very first knitting course!  in chicago i lived just blocks from one of the city’s best knitting shops, and while i always had strong intentions of attending classes there, our life was just too hectic.  an online course seems like a great approach for my current time constraints.  i’ve devoted so much energy to sewing this year, it’s actually refreshing and fulfilling to be turning my attention back to knitting for a few months.

so, while i encourage you all to take on new and adventurous projects this year, also keep in mind the importance of recognizing when it’s ok to give up.  in my defense, this was a case of hopefulness rather than stubbornness (i think), but perhaps both require a fair amount of realism to balance them.  until next time, knit safely and wisely, friends.  don’t let the ugly sweater nightgown happen to you.

6 Comments on when bad things happen to good knitters.

  1. Hilarious! This reminds me of the time I intended to make a felted oven mitt – the thing was so big I could wear it as a dress. No amount of felting could shrink that giant woolen thing. I do like your color combo even better than the jcrew version, btw.
    Hey, maybe one year we should go to Squam…

  2. This made my day – I couldn’t stop laughing. I have often failed in my sewing and knitting ventures but my kids have thought them successful – I just say no need to tell anyone mommy made it.
    Thanks for sharing.

    • thanks, suzanne! my neighbor actually claimed this awful thing and her daughters apparently LOVE it and willingly wear it in public. they even drew me a thank you card, which seemed so preposterous! of course, i handed it over with the disclaimer that nobody can ever know where it came from :) thanks for reading!

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