Auntie Joni was the knitter in our family. My grandmother (who taught me many of the needlecrafts) could repair a hole in a sweater, and she often darned socks, but it wasn’t her choice craft. Auntie Joni (my grandma’s sister) ruled the roost when it came to wool. She was fast and adventuresome. She knit intarsia, Fair Isle, cables, and lace on one hand while playing the piano with the other. I’m kidding, but you’re picturing her energetic virtuosity, aren’t you? When I was a kid, she knit up mittens each the size of a Thanksgiving turkey, then shrunk them to just fit the hands of her three children. The wool of these felted mittens was so dense, they were rendered near-waterproof, and perfect for downhill skiing. Visiting Auntie Joni was always an adventure through a gallery of works-in-progress. Like my Grandma, her sewing room was stuffed with bags of fabric and baskets of wool, threads graffiti-ed the carpet, and stray needles barbed arm rests. No matter the season, Auntie Joni had several projects on the needles. It wasn’t until I was nearly 30 that I caught a bit of an interest in knitting, and by then, lived too far from Auntie Joni for proper knitting lessons. I bought a copy of Stitch n’ Bitch and taught myself to knit and purl. I made a square. Then I made a scarf for my one-year-old. And then, I promptly knitted and felted an intarsia tote bag for my sister. Auntie Joni’s mittens came rushing back to me when I pulled the half sized bag out of the hot, soapy water.
I’m a s-l-o-w knitter. Being self-taught, my technique is wanting. I can’t be engrossed in a movie or conversation. I can’t knit in the passenger seat. I often lose count. It’s sort of amazing that I’ve finished anything on knitting needles. But a few years ago, I went to Stitches West Yarn Convention in Santa Clara with my sock-knitting friend Monica. I spied a must-have cardigan. I tried on the sample, and knew exactly which size to knit. I bought the pattern: Mondo Cable Cardi by Bonne Marie Burns at Chic Knits. And then I obsessed about the yarn.
Knitting your own sweater is brave. You need to be sure of your sizing and keep your gauge consistent. You need to love the yarn, because it’s an investment. And you need to commit: ie. Finish the thing, already!
Sizing & gauge—I felt confident about the size since I was able to try on the sample. And I generally don’t have problems maintaining tension. Working from an unknown pattern however, requires research and help from the knitting shop pros—if you’re a sweater novice. Or in-depth reviews of the pattern on Ravelry, the knit/crochet on-line community.
Yarn—I chose a hand dyed yarn from Madeline Tosh. It is superb. The color is called Thunderstorm, which is an inky midnight blue with flecks of blue-grey. It is a luxe, non-itchy merino wool that I cannot wait to wear. I have had to purchase two additional skeins to assure that I won’t run out, and that dye lots won’t be totally off. If you have a large project, like a cardigan, then it’s best to purchase all the yarn at or near the same time to assure colors match. There are complicated knitter tricks for avoiding striations when switching between skeins, and you can find many books and Ravelry threads about this topic: just search “yarn pooling.” Hand dyed yarn has its own innate variation, and that it what I love about it. I don’t mind that colors pool slightly, or that areas are somewhat splotchy. It’s part of the yarn.
Commitment–it is 80% complete, as it has been for 2 years. Until now. About 8 weeks ago, I spied a nearly complete cardigan in andreacollects Instagram feed. We have had a good-natured back and forth about the progressive state of her cardigan (now complete), and the stagnate state of mine. It’s July, or “winter” in San Francisco, and I’d like to wear this cozy piece.
For the last couple of evenings, I’ve been adding rows to the incomplete left sleeve. It’s nearly to the stage of switching to double-pointed needles as the sleeve decreases. Then I must work the collar. The pattern has a crew neck version, but I like the 4-inch width for warmth. I plan to wear this cardigan as a jacket. Lastly, the whole thing will be blocked, or washed gently and dried flat. This process should even out all my stitches and hopefully lay down that curling bottom edge. If not, then I plan to take out the inch of intermittent (5 knit to 1 purl) rib, and re-knit a closer knit/purl ratio rib—this should help the edge lay flat. I hereby vow to post a progress report thereby holding myself accountable to you, my three readers.