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Blue Sweater Blues

October 8th, 2013

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Writer, illustrator, and knitter Franklin Habit joins us for his monthly column featuring humor and insights into a yarncrafter’s life.

I got a message from a reader who inquired after the health and well-being of the Man’s Roughneck Sweater I’m making from a pattern in Lion Brand’s 1916 Lion Manual of Worsted Work. It was the topic of a piece I wrote for this very space way back in January.

I appreciate her kind interest. It’s good to know that the nice lady is not only reading, she’s remembering.

But this is also a bit like having somebody ask about your husband, who has run away with the man who came to clean the swimming pool. Or having somebody ask about the starving child you sponsored, who grew up to rob banks. Or having somebody ask about your cat, who died.

From this you may gather that everything with the Man’s Roughneck Sweater is not tickety-boo.

It’s not the fault of the pattern (which has a couple of puzzling ambiguities in it, but no more so than most elderly patterns); nor of the yarn (LB Collection® Organic Wool), which is even more sweetly lofty after being knit up than it was in the ball.

It’s my fault, my fault, my very great fault.

I decided the original loose-n-cuddly fit wasn’t for me–a fuzzy, curvy little man whom total strangers are inclined to treat like a teddy bear. I don’t need clothes that make me look even more huggable. So I decided to swatch carefully, calculate my gauge, then adapt the pattern to include the subtle, tailored V-shaping from hem to chest that has served me well in the past.

What happened next is in a bag, in the corner, on the floor beneath the rack of in-progress pieces that are not making Daddy cry. When a piece of my knitting hits the floor, it stays there for a while. A while, in this case, is the months it has taken to decide what happens next.

No, let’s be honest. I’ve known all along what happens next. What happens next is ripping right back to the beginning. There’s no amount of blocking, wishing, or hard drinking that can fix this much oops. I simply couldn’t face it until now.

I find that’s often the case with major mistakes or false steps in my work. At the awful moment of discovery, I stare, paralyzed, at all those stitches. I can feel the effort that went into every last one. A stronger constitution might grab the working yarn and start pulling. I can’t, any more than I could coldly mow down a bed of roses in bud. Sure, they might be ugly roses. But they’re my roses.

Instead I toss the thing into the Naughty Corner until I’ve simmered down. Of course this means that it can take me a long, long time to finish the piece–but I’ve never regretted the time spent cooling off. I turn to another piece, preferably something completely different, and pour my thwarted creativity into it.

When I finally pick the other project off the floor, it’s remarkable how often I can see in an instant–with surprisingly little pain–the best path to pursue. It’s as though some dark, quiet corner of my brain has continued to work on the pattern even while the actual knitting was on hiatus.

I’m sure I must not be alone in this, but I’m curious as to what other knit-and-crochet types do. When you find yourself up a creek, do you back-paddle furiously? Or do you climb up on the bank and rest for a spell?

Blue Sweater Blues by Franklin Habit | Lion Brand Notebook

Writer, illustrator, and photographer Franklin Habit is the author of It Itches: A Stash of Knitting Cartoons (Interweave Press, 2008–now in its third printing) and proprietor of The Panopticon (the-panopticon.blogspot.com), one of the most popular knitting blogs on Internet. On an average day, upwards of 2,500 readers worldwide drop in for a mix of essays, cartoons, and the continuing adventures of Dolores the Sheep.

Franklin’s other publishing experience in the fiber world includes contributions to Vogue KnittingYarn Market NewsInterweave KnitsInterweave CrochetPieceWorkCast On: A Podcast for KnittersTwist Collective, and a regular column on historic knitting patterns for Knitty.com.

These days, Franklin knits and spins in Chicago, Illinois, sharing a small city apartment with an Ashford spinning wheel and colony of sock yarn that multiplies alarmingly whenever his back is turned.

  • Claudia Lemaire

    Thank you fellow crafters, for letting me know I am not the only one who cannot decide what yarn will be the first time I start on it. I have frogged for years, before I ever heard the word! Right now I am trying to finish those discarded projects for my farmer’s market sale next month, so I got to get my head right. Besides, I don’t have extra storage (nor budget) for cast-asides!

  • picturesque knitter

    I muscle through it. I’ll pull that puppy out and retry over and over until I get it right. This is probably because I tend to launch into patterns involving skills I haven’t picked up yet (e.g., my first attempt at lace was to make the absolutely gorgeous Hidcote Garden Shawl using mohair Kidsilk Night. I pulled sections out more than a dozen times.)
    I only gave up on a project once, and that’s because it was simply too ugly to live. Bobbles, lace, and color stripe yarn do not go together.

  • Katie

    I used to have a sewing business doing mostly alterations. I would many times remake things that others sewn but were unhappy with the results. I have even bought sweaters at Goodwill that had lovely yarn and took them apart to salvage the yarn and remake into a usable garment. A girlfriend wanted me to finish an afghan in fisherman’s cable style, she had started 15 years ago. I could not match her tension, so I unraveled all what she did and started all over again. For my own knitting, if I am unhappy with how it is turning out, I don’t get all bent out of shape in having to unravel, even if it is the whole piece. Because I knit or crochet for the shear enjoyment of creative hands and know that a piece that was a struggle but well made will be used and enjoyed more than an unfinished disappointment heaped in the corner.

  • Elizabeth Aul Bunch

    I tear it all out and then think. Was it my mistake, or did the yarn just not want to be what I wanted it to be? When it was my mistake (like misreading a pattern or purling when I should have knit) I start over with more care. If the yarn is being contrary I put it aside until I can find the perfect project for it, but I try the project again with a yarn that is more maleable;-)

  • AsKatKnits

    This is where I tell my self as convincingly as possible that I am a process knitter, not a product knitter.

    Now, if only that would work!

  • gr8granny

    Lol…when I retired 2 weeks ago I got a text from my daughter…”Now that you are going to have the time, maybe you can finish my yellow sweater!!”. I started it when she was 13 (30 yrs ago!!) and put it aside when I ran into a glitch. Think I’ll see if I can find some similar yarn and re-make it for Christmas !!

  • Kathryn

    I call them “Unfinished Symphonies” and they are rarely are heard from again.

  • Neenerz

    Ahh, it’s so nice to hear I’m not completely abnormal. (emphasis on completely.) I commandeered my son’s room (don’t start, he’s 30!) for my crafting, so that’s where my projects – unfinished, unloved, unwanted, and the stuff that looks like something the dog hawked-up in the yard – live until I decide to rrrip it out and start over.
    Sometimes, I tie it off and use it — you guessed it, for the dog.

  • Joanne

    I have one project (a twin bed cover) that has been stashed since my daughter was seven. She will be forty this winter. Enough said.

  • Brenda DeLeon

    I hide my frustrations in the closet usually until they are rediscovered when cleaning out said closet. A couple of years ago I found one of those demons from back in the ’80′s and decided it was so bad the only solution was to throw it away. That was a first. I usually rip it out and start over but this was just such an ugly color that was so popular back then that I couldn’t bring myself to even reuse it!

  • janielha

    I guess I’m fortunate that I have only one UFO. It resides in my basement closet and will remain there until I totally run out of stash yarn. At that time I will rip it back to the beginning and start all over again with a new pattern. Loved your article!

  • Marilyn P Daggett

    Oh, boy, I know exactly how that goes. Fortunately I am not knitting a sweater BUT I have suffered through 8 rows of crocheting only to discover there are only 2 double crochets in the shell where there should be three. Indeed, the air around my head was blue from all of the naughty words but I knuckled down and ripped everything out, back to the point where I made the mistake. I was very angry at my own stupidity for not paying enough attention (crocheting a shell-trellis pattern without watching is not one of my strong suits). But I felt lots better after making the correction and finishing the project.

  • Llewelyn

    Oh I am in such good company! My first pair of socks went on hiatus for 4 years before I managed to figure out turning the second heel sans instructor. I did a second pair before going back to the first 2nd sock too. My husband’s sweater got finished last year after two separate timeouts of 6 and 3 years. He was pleased that I did not insist he wear it as the tea-length garment I first tried on him but cutting and ripping and reknitting the waistband put a swagger in my sashay for sure. Then I finished a poncho my sister started knitting when she was expecting her first child (now 38) with a knit-then-unravel loop fringe last summer. I manage to keep multiple tote/project bags (read over a dozen) shuffling and among them are a silk yarn camisole(what was i thinking?) and a cotton lace shrug that have been resting for a year or more. Yes, I am in very good company. So I will continue to knit these darling Aviatrix caps that I am insanely addicted to and put them in the charity bag with love and good vibes all over them! Thank you, Franklin and all.

  • A M Jenner

    My mom sent a sweater she was making for my dad to the naughty corner because she was having severe buttonhole issues. Eight houses, one state, two husbands, and some 35 years later I found it while helping her clean out her storage room. That was ten years ago. Unfortunately, she has not really knit since then, and the acrylic yarn has mostly fused from the heat of many storage units.

  • Aunt DJ

    I have learned never to attempt a fix after 11:30pm. Bad things happen. When I discover that tragic error, I put the piece away and go to bed. As you say, viewing it with fresh eyes after a break helps me make better decisions about the future of the project.

  • Sher

    I am always back-paddling Franklin – even though I sometimes find myself up the creek without a paddle when it comes to projects. But every now and then a project comes along that is truly unruly. Unruly projects are put in a bag in the closet of the spare room. This past summer I dug out all the bags – 9 have piled up there over the past 10 years or so and I promised myself I’d finish them all off this winter…ha!ha!ha!…. I’ll write next spring and let you know if I came anywhere near finishing any of them!

  • demelzabunny

    I want to know what all you knitters and crocheters do when you’ve been working on a project and it’s going fine, but you just get bored with it and you just stop picking it up to work on, preferring to start another seemingly more interesting project, just for that project to more often than not meet the same fate as the one that came before. In other words, what do you suggest I do to be able to maintain enough interest in a project to actually finish it? I choose mostly things for myself (we’ve had THAT discussion before, so I know the item will ultimately receive the respect and love it deserves), yarn that I love, etc. but it’s a struggle to finish almost anything I make.

  • n l brannon

    So John goes on a trip and he leaves his cat with his brother Fred. After a few days he calls Fred to see how the cat is doing and Fred says “She died.” John is very upset especially about the way he was informed, so very bluntly. Fred say: “What do you want me to say? The cat IS dead.” John says: “You could have told me gently. You could have said the cat is on the roof. and when I called again you could have said the cat fell off the roof. Then later the cat is at the vet, and finally the cat didn’t make it. You didn’t have to be so mean to me.” Fred agrees that he was a little harsh and promises to do better. Then John asks “how’s Mom” and Fred says “She’s on the roof.”
    That is where my difficult projects are – on the roof.

  • Dottie

    Let it rest in peace. Keep calm and carry on!

  • Mimi

    The cartoon reminds me of my daughter when she was little and told me about a friend who said “those words Daddy says when the cows get out.” I knew exactly which ones she meant.

  • grannybug

    My unfinished/-finishable projects collect wherever there is a spare spot, often for years. Usually they just die there & when I’m gone, my daughter will resurrect & destroy them. But a baby sweater I started when said daughter was pregnant w/my only grandDAUGHTER got put aside because I was totally flummoxed by the instructions. I meant to ask a better knitter’s advice but I moved a couple of times, the granddaughter started kindergarten, other projects came along. Then when Sierra reached the tender age of 9, the sweater resurfaced & I pulled out & reviewed the instructions. Wait–these are perfectly clear! Why didn’t I understand them?? So now the sweater is finished & awaits 12-yr-old Sierra’s maturity, marriage & first daughter, unless her 21-yr-old brother or older boy cousins get there first.

  • MearlaV

    Oh, I can relate! However, I’m usually crocheting or knitting a gift, so I don’t have the luxury of putting the horrible mess away for very long. I might actually throw it across the room before putting it into a bag for a few days; until I can bring myself to unravel and start again, or just move on to a totally different pattern.
    Recently, I had to put a little hat away for a few days. I didn’t know what I’d done wrong, but it was clear that I’d bungled it right from the start. I’d completed the little dress that the hat went with and was determined to complete the matching hat. So, I unraveled, started again, reading carefully, and it now looks like the pattern photo. I love it when I learn from my mistakes!

  • Knitwit

    How very funny! I know the feeling. Recently pulled apart a completed project which I was always just a bit too ashamed to wear, especially around my knitting buddies, in spite of all their kind compliments. I was learning a new pattern, and my interpretation left a lot to be desired the way I saw it. Most of the time I saw it and walked away from it hoping it would be gone when I came back to where I would invariably leave it. I took the challenge and totally reworked it with greatly improved technique. Now I don’t feel guilty when somebody says it is pretty. Like love, it is lovelier the second time around. It was worth it. Just do it. :-)!

  • Annie McGregor

    Definitely I must leave it for another time. This is true in so many areas of my life: crochet/knitting, writing, cooking, work. When the creative juices run dry, either the project or I have to go sit in the closet…sometimes for a very long time. It’s lovely dark and quiet in my closet. And I believe, like you, that the creative juices keep churning, even when we are not concentrating on them.

  • Leslie Baker

    These terms are unknown to me… frogging, frog it ,etc. Some information would be helpful.

    • http://www.lionbrand.com/ Zontee

      Hi Leslie, “frogging” is just knitter/crocheter slang for ripping back your work. It comes from the fact that “rip it” sounds like “ribbit”. Hope that helps!

  • mountain_butterfly

    If I can’t fix the oops in about an hour or so (I’m stubborn), then I’ll rip back. If it has a time limit to be done for a gift, I’ll continue to work on it, warning it to behave. If no time limit, then it gets put away for…a while…until I can return to it with a fresh outlook, ready to forgive it’s stubbornness.

  • Ysa

    I put my work in a bag and stick it in a corner. Then I say EVENTUALLY. We all seem to be of one mind. All creative and love to torture ourselves. I guess that is all part of being creative knitters and crocheters.

  • Cath

    It depends on the complexity of the piece. I’ve learned I need to stop when I see it isn’t working… not continue on in blind hope it will fix itself. Then when I make the decision to fix, rip back or abandon altogether, there is less to deal with. Usually it’s a rip back. I have learned, to my sorrow, that the problem will niggle me.
    Once on a repeated border to a shawl, I just kept going longer, learned the lace pattern and then did surgery to the piece that was the ‘learning curve’ at the beginning. Helped improve my knitting down skills too. But such is not always possible.

  • Heather

    I crochet. If I make a mistake, I’ll immediately pull it out to where I’ll need to start over. Depending upon how much I had to pull out, I may start immediately or may need to wait a few days until I’ve recovered from the frustration of having to do something a second time.

  • allie

    Usually I do the same, try again but don’t let myself get too frustrated. Eventually do proceed with success or sometimes abandon (can’t stand to waste the yarn) into an afghan or scarf for a gift. It’s a brain challenge thing. Happy knitting, I liked your story!

  • JMQuinn

    My sister and I call these “corner projects” where they are flung until we figure out what to do next. I am now calling them “Naughty Corner Projects.” Lately, I’m brutal and just rip them out not wanting good yarn to go to waste.

    PS…From a lace knitter, that cartoon is priceless!

  • Rachel

    Depends on the possibilities. I have sighed, spent a quiet moment mourning the lost effort, then frogged away. This usually results in my knitting/crocheting furiously to “catch up” – somehow getting back to where I was as quickly as possible eases the pain. Other times, it has turned into something else. My daughter is the happy beneficiary of multiple sweaters intended for people larger than she is. Somehow, despite hitting gauge, having a no-problem pattern, and frequent checks throughout, the finished project ended up too small. My ‘I can’t deal with this now’ is reserved for machine sewing. At least I enjoy knitting/crocheting!

  • Gin

    I love it! However, in response to the question “what do I do when faced with this sort of oops?” my usual action is to do essentially the same thing – set it aside for awhile. How long a while varies. One project that was begun about 55 years ago was in essence abandoned and the yarn used for an entirely different project that was completed successfully. Many other projects have also had their material “redirected” and often turned out well. A few have been total disasters with the yarns still in limbo (aka stash). Occasionally I will go the other direction and “rip-it” which can also turn out well enough to be useful. Since my knitting is invariably inteded to be “useful” I can’t do anything except call that success.

  • mollykitti

    One thing I’m actually pretty good at is figuring out what I did wrong. Mistakes usually get ripped out and redone right away, while I still remember what the error was. I do have a UFO basket o’shame, though. Mine tends to collect projects that take more time than I had anticipated. For example, I knit scarves for charity and decided on a pretty light blue/white Dorothy gingham look-a-like. After two weeks worth of knitting I have a 5 by 5 square. I’m all for taking extra time to make things look nice, but when I could easily knit 6 or 7 scarves in the same amount of time it hardly seems worth it. These projects are the worst! I can’t bring myself to frog something I like, but I know I’ll never end up committing enough time to finish them :(

  • Paula

    I have a “naughty corner” as well and I really like that phrase you coined. I have to wait until the memory of all that knitting or crocheting has left me and then I can rip it out and do something different.

  • friendlyknits

    I feel your pain. Who hasn’t stashed away a bag of something unfortunate, something not crocheted right, something not knit up like it was supposed to…currently a bag with lovely brownish mary maxim yarn hangs in my craft room; there is the back finished of a vest, there is half of one side and there it is, waiting to be finished after I discovered there is a slight faux pas in the knitting pattern when I got stuck on the logistics of progressing. Sigh. Would be a perfect vest for Fall. Soon. Soon…

  • jcirl

    I found my Mothers’ stash last week. She gave up knitting 10 years ago as her eye sight was too bad to continue. We had a laugh together over some of her ‘interpretations’ (her expression for patterns that did not work out)!

  • Rachel

    Usually, I sulk for a while. I hide the piece under my bed, then pull it out and ribbit it while watching something with my daughter. She’s eight, and she’s learned if the crocheting is going back into a ball of yarn, not to talk to Mommy.

  • Cheryl

    First of all, I love your blog and look forward to each new one. I used to hide them in a corner of my closet where I would peak at them occasionally. I have since moved and the projects now reside in a new hassock with a hinged top. Now I painfully think of them when I use the hassock.

  • Helen

    I have a box of UFO’s un finished objects. I just wait until the mood strikes then I choose one. Most of the time it gets finished; I also have ‘inherited’ some PFO’s partly finished objects these also wait for the mood to strike. This month I finished 5 objects as a challenge to myself. It really felt good.

  • deebee

    The unfinished projects are in bags under eh sewing machine. Occasionally one comes out and I try again. They’re mostly things one can’t do while watching TV, lace, counted cross stitch, needlepoint.

  • sandy

    All the time I was reading this, I kept thinking, “I could have written this!”. lol. Exactly what I do but my pieces may stay many, many moons before I decide! :)

  • Madeline Tolins-Schlitt

    Dear Franklin,
    I also relegate my messes to various shopping bags stowed in various corners until I can face them again; usually with surprisingly dispassionate judgement. This allows me to rip away with no tears and correct what I had ruined. I take the same approach to my art work, having been a painter for more than 35 years. I can see the work and what needs to be done to resolve it after it has been out of my sight for a month or two. I love your words! I hope everything is tickety boo now!

  • Candice

    See i am a dual personality knitter one that that meditates, meditates, meditates, for instance i have a sweater that is currently sitting in the closet promouncing an OMMMM for the last two years! i just can’t bring myself to take it apart. On the other hand i can totally be the fearless knitter who takes apart anything, baby sweaters that the pattern is just not ok even though it will mean technically making the thing a total of 4 times just to get it right. So i guess it just depends on the day, yarn and pattern.

  • Lynn

    I feel your pain! I have the “bag corner” also, but I have thrown in projects I misplaced the pattern on and eventually I find the pattern or it becomes something else that’s mine because it’s nowhere near what it was supposed to be! I have accepted the fact that I will never be organized (too old and set in my ways). This is an art form in itself.

  • Margot

    I’ve developed the habit of frogging my things – even finished items I’m just not quite happy with – and re-knitting them. My husband laughs that I certainly get my money’s worth out of my yarn! :)

  • yarn crazy

    Who doesn’t do this? I also do this with seeing projects as did my mother.

  • Kit

    I almost always have several projects going at once. So it is hard to say whether I am putting a project aside or just spending more time on something else. But if I know a project needs to be ripped back to where I made a mistake, that I don’t have a problem with at all, because 1) I like how quickly a knitted project comes undone. I still find pulling out the yarn and rewinding it incredibly amazingly enjoyable. and 2) while I enjoy wearing or giving away objects that I knit, I actually enjoy the act of knitting even more than I enjoy the results.

    My big problem is with projects that I am not quite sure how to do them yet. I get started, and I know how to do the first part, and then I do something, and it can’t be right. And I check to see if there are any corrections. And there aren’t. And I try to see if I can figure out someplace where I didn’t follow the pattern, maybe skipped or repeated a row. Maybe take out a few rows to where it looks right and reknit and it looks the same as it did last time even though I was extra careful. And I look at some of my knitting books or I try to figure out if maybe I misunderstood, and was supposed to slip as if to knit instead of slip as if to purl, and try doing that and see if it looks more believable. And show another knitter or take a picture I can post and ask, and try again. THEN I put it away for a while, and maybe six months later, there is a correction posted for the pattern, or I have read new instructions on how to do something that made more sense to me. Or maybe not. Sooner or later, it becomes something, either the original project or something different. It is all good.

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