Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Ghost of Disasters Past

While changing the closets over from summer to winter, I came upon this relic of my knitting past:

It's the cover sweater from Glorious Knits, also known as the Star Jacket. I made it for Suze, in as close to the original colorway as I could manage. I don't know exactly how long it took; I do know that I was working on it during the summer of 1990. I had already made the Stonepatch jacket, which was intarsia; this is the first fairisle-type knitting I ever did.

As you can see, I really took to heart the warnings to "strand the color not in use loosely across the back of the work." The fabric is in fact so loose that there are structural issues at the side seams:

I also clearly failed to understand the gauge--or perhaps to understand the yarn weights that might give me that gauge, since the yarns are mostly DK weight even though the gauge is supposed to be 4 sts per inch and the materials list clearly says "chunky yarns".

What can I say? I actually think the problems are kind of interesting. First, I bought DK yarns because they were what I could find and afford. Bulky yarns just weren't available in the kind of color range I needed for this project (especially because I was looking for yellows, which are often completely missing from a color range unless the yarn is meant for babies or children).

Next, the gauge. I swatched. I just failed to open my eyes to what the swatch showed: the fabric was too loose. I measured the gauge, got the number I needed, and proceeded blithely on. I'm fascinated by the way knitters--myself included, obviously--can ignore the evidence of our senses. We look at the swatch, or the knitting, and we keep going, even though anyone else could tell us that something is amiss.

There are some errors here that I'm willing to forgive on the grounds of inexperience: if I were knitting the same sweater now, I'd want an even-firmer-than-normal fabric, because I'd be concerned that the weight of the garment itself would tend to stretch it out over time. I might even revise the pattern to knit the fronts separately from the back and join them with a shoulder seam, which would carry the weight better.

Strangely, my tension actually got looser as I went along: the knitting began at the bottom of the back, then went up and over the shoulders and came down the fronts--and the left front is the loosest area of all. (This may be in part because of the weight of the rest of the body hanging off the needles in my lap: the sleeves were knit last, but they were knit separately and then sewn on, and their gauge isn't any looser.)

How sleazy is this fabric? Well, because of the mohair content, you can't actually put your finger through it (without a little effort). But I did make an effort to tighten the work up a bit after the fact. I started on a lower front area, and gradually tightened one stitch after another, moving the slack along the row. Then I tied off the loop of excess. Here are the results:

That's quite a bit of excess yarn. All that tightening was also quite a bit of work--remember that there are three colors in every row. I'm impressed that I did as much as I did, and not surprised that I decided not to continue the process over the entire garment.

Suze wore the jacket a bit. It's now way too big as well as way too sloppy. I've considered trying to shrink it, but that would be a truly desperate measure, and one unlikely to succeed, as a good deal of the yarn is superwash and some is synthetic.

Oh, and just in case you were wondering:

I did eventually learn to do fairisle work with a proper tension.


Carol said...

Tell us what the last photo is, if you don't mind: it's gorgeous!

Lisa M. said...

Ah, now that's an interesting story--but a blog entry for another day. The basics: it's a scarf made of Jaggerspun Zephyr, which is fine enough that you can knit a tube of fairisle stockinette and still have a not-too-bulky scarf.

Sherry W said...

Thanks for being brave enough to post...shows there is hope for us who have fair isle tension issues! I just ripped out *another* swatch last week but I'll keep trying.

The scarf colors are fantastic.