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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.

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  • Kathleen Sweeney

    With me, it’s under the couch. I feel your pain – why do we do this to ourselves? Oh right, we love to knit!

  • AnnaN

    I have to confess that I own a big white unassuming,unlabeled box full of ‘I can’t deal with this now’ projects that sits quietly in the closet until I pluck up the courage, energy and sense of adventure needed to deal with one of these odes to error. I then close my eyes and reach in with as much gusto as I can muster and pick one to fix which mostly involves starting over completely with a lot of sighing.

  • Beverly Button

    I have bags of these kinds of UFOs in a plastic storage box. There are 3 options I follow: 1. Rip it out. 2. Revisit and try another tactic. 3. (And this is shameful) Rip back a few rows to use when I need just a bit of that color yarn.

  • kmhuset

    I try to fix it, I give myself three tries, then it goes in a bag on the floor, in a closet, wherever I can stash it so I don’t start stressing about the time and money I wasted on a project that I will never get to finish. I just frogged the first sweater I tried making 8 years ago. I failed miserably and just now wanted that yarn back to try something new. It sat in my knitting basket that whole time, just waiting to be picked up and finished.

  • Christie

    i confess that most of the things waiting to be frogged are knitted, i can crochet so much faster and more skillfully than I knit….. I set aside a 1/2 done washcloth or scarf and try to decide if I want to call the holes in them a design feature, or suck it up and frog it and try again.
    I also find that if I have a huge project, i need a smaller one on the side to hop back and forth on for some “quick finish” inspiration.

  • Katie Rice

    I have a basket of problem children projects. I leave them alone for a while – days, months, or years – and when I am ready to tackle them, either the problems are still there (rip out and possibly start over) or the problems don’t seem to be problems anymore (finish the project).

  • Sansarya

    It depends on how much I love the yarn (or how much cashmere it contains). If I really love the yarn I’ll frog it rapidly (and carefully) and give it a new start in life as something else. If it’s got cashmere in it, I’ll consider how much I love the project because odds are I was really in love with the finished object in order to have spent so much money on the yarn for it, in which case I usually fall back in love with it and carefully tink and start over. I have projects I started over as many as six times, but every time I came back–even after a long time-out–I have learned so much more about knitting and this particular pattern that it all goes more smoothly.

  • Danielle Baines

    I rip back with gusto and start again. If I loved the pattern I start again with new yarn. More often I loved the yarn and so I hunt out a new pattern for it.

  • Linda

    So right on. I definitely think time is the great healer.

  • Maria Edmonds-Zediker

    Oh, I send many items to the meditation pond, where they can decide either to be cooperative or face frogging. I was making a shawl that I ended up putting away for a year – just could not transition to the next part of the lace pattern. A friend posted a picture of her 6th finished object from the very same pattern. I fished around until I found the shawl, ripped the whole thing out and started over. Amazingly, it just flew together the second time around! I love the shawl and it’s one of my favorite items I made for me.

  • Jo-ann

    My knitting too has a naughty corner (Or maybe its a dungeon). Some of it gets to rest in solitary confinment for a very….. long time. Then I get the courage to frog or fix or adapt (eventually).

  • nvartist

    I have a drawer, another drawer, a bucket, and a couple other places that I have put projects that were not working out. :( I can’t throw them out. I can’t rip them apart and start over. I think someday I will get back to it and try and fix it, but sometimes I think that is nothing more than a pipe dream. :)

  • RachaelC

    I rip out right away and force myself to start again immediately…even if it’s just one row. I don’t like things lurking in corners :P

  • MarilynB

    I just can’t put away projects that have gone wrong, or haven’t gone right- whichever. Either I have to rip it out totally and repurpose the yarn, or just frog and fix the mistake. Otherwise it preys on my mind while it’s sitting in the closet.

  • Dee

    If it’s a project that uses two or more skeins, I’ll figure out the glitch and then start again with a different skein. It takes a bit of the curse off the frogging (rather like changing the subject instead of having the same old fight). If it’s too aggravating, I lay the yarn aside for a while and usually end up knitting something totally different with it; life’s too short to struggle with a star-crossed shawl.

  • Annmarie Signey

    This is a heartfelt note of encouragement from “the nice lady” who wrote to inquire about your progress on the sweater. I did knit two of them, one of them in a 3x larger for my bear of a husband. Franklin, I hope you do find it within you to frog the darned thing and knit it to your satisfaction. My husband is thrilled with his. Now we just need some cold weather in Southern California

  • jhainaut

    I have another variation of this. I often start projects that are beyond my current skills like the Herbert Neibling piece that I started three years ago when I was just beginning lace knitting. It was so incredibly difficult for me but I persevered for quite a way. But, then I put it away until “I have time to really focus on it.” By the time I pick it up again, I will be a more skilled lace knitter and perhaps it will go better.

  • Mrs. M.

    I am definitely a stitch ripper. Someone once told me that the correct name for this process is the eraser stitch. I have had a lot of practice with this “stitch” and have even been known to mumble a few of the “lace knitting words” while doing it!

  • Tracy Hoover

    If I find a mistake and feel the need to rip back a lot of work, I almost always sleep on it. And I consult the other members of my knitting coven. I have no fear of ripping back, but one must be sure that is the correct path.

  • Sindy

    I have a project that is made of nubbly yarn that defies me and refuses to be unraveled. It haunts me…

  • KathyS

    I had a Pi shawl which marinated for a couple of years after I discovered a mistake in it when it was almost finished. Of course, I hadn’t used lifelines. I might not have known about those when I began the shawl. First, I had to decide that I couldn’t live with leaving that mistake in the shawl before picking it up again. That, and the knowledge of it waiting for me (and the expense of the yarn) spurred me to pick it back up, rip it back 2/3 of the way, and reknit it, with lifelines the second time. It’s beautiful, and I’m glad that I fixed and finished it. If I hadn’t, it would still be nagging at me.

    • DrFaith

      What are “lifelines?”

      • Julie

        Lifelines are placing a piece of scrap yarn through all the stitches in a row so if you make a future mistake you can easily rip back to there. You have to keep moving it every few rows. I find it a bit of a hassle so I only use them when working with yarns that are hard to see the stitches so very difficult to fix. As an example, I knit ruffled scarves for everyone for Christmas last year. That yarn is almost impossible for me to rip back and the lifeline saved my bacon a few times. They can also be lifesavers in the case of the pi shawl or other lace-type work with a lot of intricate stitches.

        • norma

          I can see how this would be a great help. I had not heard of this before either. Thank you so much for the hint.

        • Itschell

          I use dental floss instead of yarn. Really durable and it’s slick, so it shinnies out of any yarn you thread it through. The samples you get at the dentist office are perfect to keep with notions stash.

          • deb

            what a FABULOUS idea!!!! thanks so much for that one! and they come in the little spoolie things so won’t take up space in my bag and I don’t have to search for an opposing color. gosh, I LOVE this idea!

  • TamiH

    I knit socks rather quickly. I’ve had a sock sitting in a time out for two and a half months. I thought I could do one fix and so put in smaller needles and dropped down two inches. The problem is doing calf increases in pattern with the simple instructions of ‘do them on either side of the middle back’. I had gotten to that part of the sock on a road trip, with limited wifi in the car. So I winged it. I did pretty well for several inches and then it happened. I had lost the flow and when trying to add in another of the pattern motify, I goobered it. So there it sat in the corner.

    I’ve decided I’m going to frog the whole sock and start over fresh like I hadn’t had any issues (there had already been a few prior to this). I’ll do another project after the frogging and come back to it all fresh and new and with an increase plan.

  • Mardee

    I have a time-out pile where naughty projects go until I’m ready to deal with them. The Icarus shawl, for example, spent well over a year in the pile, until eventually I had the skills and wherewithal to finish it. Other projects end up on the ball winder, where I happily turn them back into yarn. You can’t look back – only forward, and like you, I often find that it’s much easier to make the decision after an extended cooling-off period.

  • Debi Stoll

    I completely sit on the bank and dream of that perfect pattern that crochets up easily but is complicated, fits like a glove!
    To date I have, for various reasons, the major one being 6 moves in 1 year! I had to keep buying more yarn (boo-hoo) because I couldn’t find what I was working on which persists to this day because most of MY stuff is still in storage somewhere in the depths of a huge container which is packed solid.
    So far my happy experiences have been with crocheting socks. I have most every book and tried all techniques as well as mixing techniques.
    But what I’d really love to have is a nice fitting cardigan.
    I took a break from my latest endeavor with Doris Chan, the Barcello Jacket, to check my email and lo and behold you popped up and put a smile on my face.
    It’s nice to know I don’t struggle alone.

  • g rasdorf

    I sympathize completely — for me I set it aside and knit a baby hat for the local hospital, or two or three, before picking up the piece and starting over again. Generally, I try not to wait more than a week before beginning to rip it out.

  • Chris N

    I knit like I read. Frequently, but I take my time as to savor the process and the results. So if a project gets me discombobulated, I either stay the course or I say forget it and move on. Too many books to read and too many projects to complete to get hung up on one I don’t like or am not happy with. Took me a long time to say that. Whew, I feel better!

  • Ilnara Hesken

    Unless it’s a really big mistake I call it a personal touch in the design and continue on. When I was first learning to crochet I had to frog projects until I learned how to watch my stitches so my rows didn’t decrease or increase when they shouldn’t. My latest project was something I was winging for a pattern and decided to be fancy with one sleeve. Due to circumstances (my cat stole my hook and I couldn’t find it for quite a while, it was in a crack under the wall) some time went by between sleeves and when I was working on the second sleeve I forgot to check the first and ended up not adding in the fancy twist. My daughter doesn’t care and says no one will notice.

    Usually, if I’m frogging a project it’s because I got a yarn stash from someone with unfinished work in it. Without knowing what the original person was making, it’s easier to frog it and use the yarn for another project.

  • Kay

    Ohhhh, sheese…the age-old question, “to frog or not to frog.” I have read everyone’s comments and I have to admit, at one time or another I have done all of the things mentioned. I frogged 10 rows of a very complicated afghan (one in which I had to pick put every stitch individually) because I absolutely had to have it perfect…and then there is this dark, secretive corner of my closet that contains a mostly-finished sweater that I am convinced will never see the light of day…

  • Meglet

    Oh, yes: we’ve all been there, whether we admit it or not. After many years of needlework, I’ve relaxed a bit in my pursuit of perfection. I take comfort from the Amish quilters, and call the “design element” (read: screw-up) “an intentional flaw to save me from the sin of pride.” Only God is perfect, and He isn’t knitting this sweater.

  • Eileen

    EileenI love the concept of a naughty corner! When I discover an error of more than one or two stitches and cannot identify a solution immediately I too put it aside. usually I look at it again in a few days- sometimes even hours and the mistake or solution becomes immediately obvious. Good luck with your porject.

  • Lynn Vars

    Yup, I roll it up and stuff it in a bag and shelve it with my skeins of yarn. This means it can be forgotten for quite a while. But most of the time I am able to figure out the pattern, unless of course I decide the yarn would look better as something else. Unfortunately this usually means having to find something that matches as the dye lot is extinct– sometimes the yarn is extinct.

  • Tinhen

    Some of mine hide in corners, cupboards, drawers, tote bags; some are hidden in plain sight, wondering when-oh-when I will return to them. Like the lace shawl that I knit, completely ripped apart, reknit, and then ran into a major problem on the edging. That one is fixable, but it has been pouting at me for over a year. Some of the others are taken apart immediately, like the one I finished yesterday, and I substituted yarn which I thought would be spiffy, but it ain’t. Maybe it’ll be dish clothes instead of the summer hand-bag I was hoping for (now that’s a spiteful comedown for lemon and lime cotton yarn).

  • Tinhen

    Some of mine hide in corners, cupboards, drawers, tote bags; some are hidden in plain sight, wondering when-oh-when I will return to them. Like the lace shawl that I knit, completely ripped apart, reknit, and then ran into a major problem on the edging. That one is fixable, but it has been pouting at me for over a year. Some of the others are taken apart immediately, like the one I finished yesterday, and I substituted yarn which I thought would be spiffy, but it ain’t. Maybe it’ll be dish clothes instead of the summer hand-bag I was hoping for (now that’s a spiteful comedown for lemon and lime cotton yarn).

  • yogayarnie

    It goes in a bag and stashed somewhere until I decide to go through UFOs. Many get frogged so I can use the yarn for something else, some get fixed and finished. If they get frogged, chances are I didn’t really care for the pattern, and I only started because I was looking for something to do with my hands.

  • yogayarnie

    It goes in a bag and stashed somewhere until I decide to go through UFOs. Many get frogged so I can use the yarn for something else, some get fixed and finished. If they get frogged, chances are I didn’t really care for the pattern, and I only started because I was looking for something to do with my hands.

  • joancarrara

    Yep, it happens to me, too. I have a large basket next to my couch and those naughty knitted articles end up at the bottom of it. I recently made a mistake assembling a baby sweater I knit for our newest grandson. I didn’t realize I had made the mistake until I had already sewn the right side seams together so well that I needed to use scissors to take it apart and you guessed it! I snipped in the wrong place. I was so distraught, I put it away for the night. The next day, i picked it up again and was able to weave the hole closed. After reassembling the two pieces, correctly this time, the mistake wasn’t apparent at all….whew!

  • Eleanor

    I had a similar experience the first time I knit the Swallowtail shawl, my first attempt at nupps. They caused me so much grief that I ended up putting the unfinished garment away in a box for several months—out of sight, out of mind—and then researched online to see how other people had tackled this issue. Why I hadn’t thought of using a lace crochet hook myself I cannot say, but that was the solution. I was able to let my poor scarf re-emerge into the light, where I ripped it back to just before the nupps, then tackled it anew, with my trusty crochet hook to the rescue. Since then I’ve knit many more nupps and found that I have progressed beyond the need for the crochet hook. But that first experience was truly humbling.

  • SapphireChild

    I have the worst time with projects that are or would be fine if I hadn’t run out of yarn in a color I can’t match. I have a large afghan that went this way. It has been hidden in a closet somewhere since about 1993. The piece would have been about the size of a double bed, as I recall, and was only about 5 inches or so from the end. Often I think I should cut my losses and just let it be used as is, but the perfectionist in me can’t bear it.

    Projects that aren’t turning out well like you describe, I also have to set them aside for a while until I can look at them without swearing. Then I can execute the major rip back or completely out and move on with life with nothing more than a little wistful tilt to my head.

    • petenpete

      Go online to Ravelry, eBay or do a google search – see if anyone has the yarn color & dye lot you would need to finish your afghan. You never know. If you have the afghan that’s been sitting in your closet for 20 years, someone else is just as likely to have that specific yarn sitting in their closet for the last 20 years.
      I have a cross-stitch quilt top that I meant to have finished in time for my daughter’s 12th birthday (back in 2002), then her 16th birthday (2006), then her 18th (2008). Maybe I can get it done in time for a grandchild someday. Now that I think of it, it wouldn’t even have to be my grandchild.
      Good luck!

    • petenpete

      Go online to Ravelry, eBay or do a google search – see if anyone has the yarn color & dye lot you would need to finish your afghan. You never know. If you have the afghan that’s been sitting in your closet for 20 years, someone else is just as likely to have that specific yarn sitting in their closet for the last 20 years.
      I have a cross-stitch quilt top that I meant to have finished in time for my daughter’s 12th birthday (back in 2002), then her 16th birthday (2006), then her 18th (2008). Maybe I can get it done in time for a grandchild someday. Now that I think of it, it wouldn’t even have to be my grandchild.
      Good luck!

  • Tephra

    Yeah… I have a sweater that is clocked in at five (almost six) years now. I started knitting it and my gauge loosened up (it’s an all over cable pattern) so it was running large… then I lost 30 pounds. Now over fifteen inches of positive ease just would not do so it had a long time out (I was knitting front and back at the same time and was up to the armscye bind-offs). I did eventually rip that all out (over 40,000 mostly cabled stitches) and re-knit it, sewed the shoulders, finished the neck and started the sleeves. Which I ripped out when I got to the elbow because I thought I was increasing too fast. Re-knit the sleeves, set them into the armscye, sewed the side seams on the body… and had a bad feeling. I tried it on and yep, the sleeves are too long, just how much? Every inch I added before starting the increases the second time. So it’s in the time out corner until I cut off the extra length and graft the cuffs back on because I am NOT picking out the seams and ripping the sleeves down all the way again,.

  • Miryom

    First it goes in the closet with the other problems. Many months later one of those come out into the light….usually to become something entirely new…or….just another ball of yarn waiting for still another project for still another day.

  • CatherineMcClarey

    I only thing I’ve frogged so far was a crocheted baby cocoon for a charity project, linked with a sweepstakes drawing, with a definite deadline — so “cooling off in the naughty corner” was not an option. It sat next to my computer for a couple of days while I watched YouTube video tutorials for baby cocoons, jotted down the measurements I should be shooting for, and then frogged back to a couple of increase rounds before the pattern said to stop. From that point on, I worked straight up in the pattern stitch, and did about 10 extra rounds to get it the right length.

    (A few weeks afterwards, the pattern designer saw my griping on Ravelry, and responded that his pattern was at fault, since he was childless and thus didn’t know what the right proportions for a cocoon would be; however, his sample in the pattern photo had looked just fine — go figure!)

  • shnuffy1

    I let things percolate for a year, which is about my cycle for re-visiting the stash of new and “oops” yarns and then ask “way” or “no way”. If “way” , I spend some time trying to figure a solution, including lots of tinking. If the spirits answer “no way” or ” what were you thinking?”, I send it off to a group of ladies who knit for charity. I would guess most of the goofs revert back to the original yarn-ball state and get re-knit Assuages my sense of guilt to think it will go, eventually, to a good cause.

    • KCCarla

      What an excellent idea sending it off to the ladies who knit for charity!

  • I’d rather be knitting

    I have a naughty corner too. Right now it’s occupied with an intarsia wool sweater I started 20 years ago, that moths got to before I finished it. I know I should fix the holes, but I just don’t have the heart yet.

  • Crackles47

    The guest room closet is my hiding place of choice. Unfortunately I’ve had a lot of company this winter, so much cussing has occurred between visitors, as I had to clean out the closet. Fortunately, they don’t know!

  • Tina Kirk

    I rip right away! I can’t stand to put something away because I screwed it up. I do have UFO’s, but they’re things that got interrupted by emergency knitting — gifts, samples for classes, or shameless begging from my sister. Sometimes the UFO’s are returned to immediately after finishing the more important project, but sometimes they suffer from “absence makes the heart go wander” and I start something new and more intriguing — for now.

    • Over Zealous

      I can’t believe that I read this just as I had ripped out for the third time a knit pattern for heritage lace. I was so tired my eyes were crossing. I went to bed.
      I am so stubborn that I will not put anything away for later. My Mother would do that and had so many unfinished projects when she died. I am still trying to finish a crocheted bedspread that she had worked on many years ago. There were no instructions with it and it was too far along to do away with it so I recreated the instructions and had to figure out what needle to use. So just remember that someone you love may be stuck with all your unfinished projects.

  • petenpete

    I’ve learned over the years to listen to my yarn. If it wants to be a sweater, the project will go swimmingly & move along quickly. If I find myself ripping out a project more than a couple/three times, I unravel it & put it away until it’s had time to mature & reveal it’s true destiny. Socks have often turned into shawls & vice versa. Don’t be too hard on yourselves or on your yarn. You might be trying to make a silk purse out of what is actually at heart, a lace cowl.

    • gwenpatt.dc

      Exactly. If the yarn isn’t happy, Mama isn’t happy. And we want Mama to be happy.

  • Mary

    This piece was so timely! I literally just finished a scarf I started three and a half years ago, then picked up my Kindle Fire to read my email. LOL. That … scarf has had my favorite size six pair of Signature needles held up and I wanted them back. So happy to see I’m not alone in the ufo category. Thanks, Franklin, you made my day.

    Mary

  • kosmikaren

    Oh how many projects ended up in my trash because I didn’t know what to do. So now, I start small. I take some time to work up a swatch to see if I like doing it or if it looks like something I’ll like when it’s done. Since my intention is to tear it out and either abandon the project, modify it in some way or skip it all together, I don’t cringe when I take it out! Saves me a lot of frustration and wasted yarn.

  • nanashari

    OMG! I thought I was the only one with numerous unfinished projects stashed in a corner in the spare room…mine are crochet but the premise is the same…got tired of the project; didn’t like the pattern anymore; made a mistake waaaaaay back. Thank goodness for reading this blog. I don’t feel so guilty or alone!!!

  • Ulrike

    When I found out how many UFOs there were blocking my knitting needles, I decided that each coming month I would either finish one of them or rip it back to the very beginning or give it away as it was, no further discussions.
    The result: The amount of UFOs never changed. I just did hide them better in order to save their lives.
    Love, Ulrike

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