Friday, 2 August 2013

A Detour into Knitting

This summer we drove back to Ontario for most of July and August. Since Deep always drives the whole way on road trips, I knew I would have lots of time for crafting in the car (assuming a certain kitty didn't freak out the whole way...). And of course there were those seven weeks of vacation time in Ontario to plan for, so I had to think carefully about what projects to bring with me. I felt a little like Goldilocks – this project is too big, this one is too small... I needed something that would be just right.

I finally decided to start a really neat knitted (yes, knit, not crochet!) blanket for which I had picked up all the yarn over a year ago.

As you can see, the pattern is for a blanket with concentric squares of 3 different vibrant colours, separated by narrower squares in white. I think it's a really striking pattern. I originally saw it in a big yarn store as one of those free tear-off patterns (from Bernat) posted right on the shelves with the yarn. I admired it a few times, but the yarn they suggested (Bernat Baby Coordinates Chunky) was pretty pricey, (and it was that specific colour combination that really caught my eye, so I didn't want to substitute another yarn) so I decided to wait for a sale and consider it again at that point.

Some weeks later I came across this same yarn at my favourite cheap Ontario yarn store (Len's Mill Store), and it was selling for less than half regular price! I didn't see all the colours I needed, but I figured it would be easy to pick up three of the colours at that point, and then go pick up the last colour (the bright green) at regular price at one of the chain stores. I purchased several skeins (such a great price!) and felt very clever... Until I returned to each of the other yarn stores and could not find the last couple of skeins for this project! Not only was I unable to find the green I was looking for, but all the yarns seemed to have disappeared entirely from the usual stores! And I'm not talking about the yarn being sold out either - just completely gone. Vanished. As if the yarn never existed... and the pattern was gone too!

Suddenly I started wondering if there was a reason the yarn has been so cheap – had the yarn been discontinued while I had all but one colour for this blanket? This was starting to feel suspiciously like the time my bridesmaid dresses were discontinued when 3 of my 4 bridesmaids had bought them - ack! What the heck was I supposed to do now? I decided to take a few deep breaths and be patient and keep my eyes open. Maybe the stores were just rearranging their shelves and the yarn would appear again. Maybe the green yarn would show up at Len's Mill... maybe it would work out somehow. After a couple of weeks of practicing patience, it occurred to me that I should have asked my friends in other cities to look for this missing yarn – maybe it was still stocked in other cities? At this point it was probably too late to try this though...

When I had almost given up hope, I was walking through Zellers (while they were having their clearance sales) and saw both the missing pattern and the missing yarn on an "end cap" display at the end of the aisle. I stopped in my tracks and dug through the display until I found the elusive green yarn! Yay! The blanket wasn't doomed after all! (For the record, the bridesmaid dress situation worked out in the end too.) I was barely able to keep myself from dancing down the aisle in Zellers in joy as I bought the required skeins, plus one extra just to be safe.

Anyway – so over a year ago I finally got the yarn for this blanket, why didn't I start it right away? I had a million things on the go at the time, and then we moved, and then I made the wedding blanket... in short, I didn't get to starting this blanket.

There was also some considerable apprehension because knitting is not really my thing - crochet comes easily to me and is relaxing, whereas knitting tends to make me nervous. I mean, with crochet, if you drop a stitch, it's just one stitch (or maybe two or three) - but the potential for catastrophe with knitting is much higher, as a single dropped stitch can ruin the whole project! Even though this project was almost entirely straight knit stitch (plus a decrease on every other row), it would be the largest knitting project I'd ever done, and so I figured some practice was in order first. For a few months I dedicated one of my little project bags to a set of circular needles, and in my spare time I made a couple of blanket squares with straight knitting to build up my muscle memory and my confidence.

Back to the Present

Ok, so we're finally caught up to this summer. I packed up most of the yarn into this project bag (and the rest into my suitcase, in case I got that far), and we headed across the country. The good thing about this project is that it is made in 4 square pieces (one for each corner) that are stitched together at the end. I figured this would make the project more manageable on the road, as I could pack away each square as I finished it, and it wouldn't grow too large for my project bag or to work on comfortably in the car.

I started off the first morning of our drive with a couple of rows on my practice square to remind my fingers how knitting works, and then I pulled out my pattern and my brand new 6 mm circular knitting needles (courtesy of my local yarn shop in Regina, Golden Willow), and started casting on - turns out my fingers did remember how to do this! Since I'm terrible at remembering to count stitches, I used stitch markers every 20 stitches from each end, and a marker of a different colour for the point where I would need to decrease.  This excessive use of stitch markers later gained me some raised eyebrows from my mother-in-law who is an expert knitter, but what can you do?

So I did my first row, and got to the part in the second row where the pattern says "Sl1, K2tog, psso" - and I realized that I really should have gotten some lessons on this from my knitting friends before I left town! Luckily, this is the digital age, and I had the power of the internet in my hand – so I spent a ridiculously long time looking up instructions and diagrams for a slip stitch (everyone assumes you already know how to do this, I guess). Once I found them, it was easy to find K2tog and psso. Thank you internet! Here is my progress after only a couple of hours. You can see in the top left that the corner is even starting to take shape – yay!

And here is the progress partway through the second day – I successfully changed colours and luckily no major mishaps....

On the third day of the drive something startled me in the middle of a stitch and I jerked my hands, and looked down to find that I had dropped a stitch! And to my horror, it had already run down a couple of rows! I know, experienced knitters say all you have to do is "un-knit" and "re-knit" to fix this, but remember, this was my first real knitting project, and I had no idea what these things mean, let alone how to do them! I tried to stop panicking, after all we would arrive at my in-laws place that evening, so I put my needle caps (or whatever you call those things that stop stitches from slipping off your needles) back on, carefully put the project in the bag, and sent a plea to the knitting gods that it wouldn't get any worse.

That night after dinner, I pulled out the project and asked my mother in law for her help – and she worked magic. I saw this mystical un-knitting process in action (though I still do not claim to understand how it works!), and within a few minutes my project was back in order. A little while later though, I realized that I had made a mistake somewhere a few rounds earlier, because my decrease and straight knit rows were out of whack. Thankfully, she was able to work some even more complex knitting magic that involved pulling back a couple of rows, but then un-knitting a few more just in the middle, and reconstructing the whole pattern where I had gone wrong! (see below).

After a few tries, we had it back in order! At this point I decided that it was past time to try using a "lifeline" – where you thread a piece of scrap yarn through all the stitches in your current row, so that if anything goes wrong, you know you can at least pull back to that point without losing any further stitches. The idea of putting in a lifeline always seems to occur right AFTER a catastrophe, but at least when you're done fixing your mess, you can ensure you won't have to re-do that section again! If you look carefully in the picture below, you can see a piece of yellow yarn sticking out near the top of the green stripe – that's my first life line. Over the next few days I made pretty good progress with this project, until I got distracted by other projects (see my Summer Update post).
Then this project got set aside for a couple of weeks straight, while we flew down to Florida for a conference (obviously I didn't have room for this extra bag on the plane), and then went on a short within-Ontario road trip when we got back to Canada. A couple of days ago I pulled out this project again, only to find that I had made yet another mistake – I had skipped two decreases, because I had been too caught up in conversation the last time I was working on this project! So I spent part of an evening working back 3 or 4 rows to fix the problem myself. Once I was back to where I had started, i figured it was time for a second life line. Here are a couple of shots of the process. I just used a tapestry needle and some scrap yarn (yellow in these pictures), and carefully threaded it through each stitch in the current row.

Ta-da! You can see the two yellow strands on the far left, those are the two completed life lines. In theory I could have taken out the older lifeline once I had the new one in, but this seemed unnecessary.

Once I had the second lifeline in, and the project was back on track, I really started moving. It seemed to be progressing much more quickly – partly because my technique was getting significantly better, but mostly because the rows were getting shorter. Here is a shot of my progress late the next morning, as I sat at the kitchen table listening to my audiobook and with my kitty to keep me company. As you can see, at this point I had already completed a whole new coloured stripe and was almost on to the next one. The way it was working up so quickly, I became determined to finish it that day.

That afternoon it was just too nice outside to stay inside any longer. So I set up a chair in the shade under one of the apple trees in the backyard at my in-laws' place, got my audiobook going again, and got to work in the lovely warm-but-not-too-sticky-for-once afternoon. Here is a shot from where I sat, during a brief period of cloud cover when the shadows weren't too dark for a picture. 

A little while later I got up to get something, and came back to find I had a visitor – Oreo, the extremely friendly cat from next door, had decided to join me under my tree! Doesn't this look like a lovely spot to spend the afternoon?

And *drumroll* later that afternoon I finished the first section of the blanket – here it is! Obviously it needs to be blocked, and there are quite a few ends to weave in, but I'm so proud. I finished my first major knitting project, and I did it without pulling out any of my hair! I did put in a third lifeline, as you can see, but I didn't end up needing any of them, thankfully.

Now I'm about 12 rows into the next section, so I better get back to it! I will post about this project again once I've got all four sections complete, as I start putting it together.

Keep crafting!

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