Everyone has a dragon they need to slay. And by dragon, I mean project. And by dragon that needs slaying, I mean a project that just, needs, doing. And has been put off for a very long time for a few vague-but-specific reasons that are little, but always add up to it never being started.
For example. You know almost everything about how to do it, but need to learn a couple specific skills that you aren’t sure you can master. Or you’d like to start research into how to begin, but you don’t know what you don’t know, so you can’t begin to research, because you don’t know what to research. Or the project just requires you to do one specific task before you start, that you can’t admit to yourself that you just hate. So somehow you never get around to doing it. You understand.
My dragon to slay was a knitted sweater.
Imagine being an expert knitter who hasn’t knitted a single sweater. You could easily be mistaken for a novice! Imagine it. A knitter who doesn’t knit sweaters. Is there such a thing? She must be still learning, she’s always working on socks and hats and dishcloths. Meanwhile, I’m knitting socks with my eyes actually closed (practiced so I could watch TV at the same time), and writing my own patterns for lace stockings. Doing five hundred rows of lace border on a Victorian shawl. But I haven’t knitted a bloody old boring sweater!
Okay, I’ve knit one, but can you really call something knitted out of Red Heart worsted weight yarn (universally known by most knitters to be the scratchiest brand of acrylic, or at least it was when I last bought it), and knitted so tight, with needles so small, so that it stands up by itself, like cardboard, a sweater? I didn’t think so.
So there was more than a few reasons I wasn’t knitting a sweater. I was just plain old terrified. I was certain that I was incapable of picking out the right fibre to match the right pattern. And then, even if I did that, there was no way I was going to be able to pick the right size of needles and gauge for the desired feel of the knitted fabric. And then, however to pick out a pattern that will actually fit? I don’t use patterns! And lastly, I loathe sewing and picking up stitches because there’s no right way to do it. Ah! And just thinking about picking up a darning needle to sew together a knitted seam was enough to make me rewrite a whole pattern to avoid it, why have side seams, when you can just knit it on four needles? I was, of course, just plainly not meant to knit a sweater.
However, envy got the better of me. I know a woman. She was slaying dragons every week. Beautiful hand-spun, hand-dyed, and handknitted colourful dragons, e-ver-y week. Damn it. If she could, well I was going to!
I lamented to her that I wished to knit a sweater, but never do, and when she asked why, I automatically and replied that I find them too hot, don’t like wearing sleeves, and…Lightbulb realization. Apparently that had been holding me back too. Her suggestion: a sleeveless cropped sweater, and she suggested a pattern to start with that she had already knitted. Great, at least I have someone to summon when I inevitably start to throw it against a wall.
Well didn’t I figure out quickly that my first few reasons for feeling incapable of slaying this particular dragon, were easily fixed. I just needed to approach things in a slightly different order. Which meant not following my instincts of trial and error, lumping it, and following some instructions.
First, a beginner pattern. (So it wasn’t too hard.) One that the fit does not need to be exact. (So I don’t have to worry about fit.) Done. I made the Mount Pleasant Top by Meghan Nodecker you can find and purchase the pattern on Ravelry (Facebook for Knitters) here. Second. Patterns have these things called instructions which include the weight of yarn to be used. And third, a gauge. This wonderful thing that says how many stitches and how many rows should form a two- or four-inch square of fabric. More instructions! Who knew? Having it come out the right size, and very un-cardboard-like. Easy peasy.
I started with the recommended size of needles, knitted a swatch, adjusted needle size. Repeated until the desired gauge. It never came out exactly, which I lamented about to my friend, who I then received a very sarcastic text from, stating “Guess you just can’t knit it then. Haha.” Which I promptly ignored.
Fourth. Measure myself, and pick a size. Fairly standard, and also easily done. Next time, I will go with my gut instinct, and knit the waist in one size, and the bust in a size larger, because I already know that my waist-to-bust ratio is larger than most, but I was very focussed on following instructions, and so I just picked the size recommended, and kept toddling along.
Then came casting on the stitches. I learned the method required (long-tail) which uses a double strand of yarn, and requires you to pre-determine the length you need before you start, (unless you have two identical balls, or are able to work from both ends of one ball), listened to the warning in the video about making sure I pre-calculated and didn’t run out of yarn, and then promptly ran out, nine stitches before I’d finished the required three-hundred and twenty-four! I did this twice.
Four attempts later, I had the stitches on, and was working my way up the scalloped lace trim. Fortunately, the rest of the sweater was pretty uneventful. The entire thing just went round and round quite hypnotically with barely an added stitch here, and an added stitch there for increasing, and half-a-million stitches later, I was up to the bottom of the collar. The shaping (leaving stitches here, adding stitches there, in order to create the shoulders) was minimal, and soon I was facing the my last battle: the biggest thing holding me back from making a sweater.
Picking up stitches (creating new stitches out of a side seam)! And sewing knitted seams! (I once was teaching a knitting group and ended up in a five minute rant about how I hate sewing up knitted pieces so much, and patterns shouldn’t need this and blah, blah, blah. Cue the laughter when someone wasn’t paying attention, and turned and asked me the best method for stitching up the side seams on her baby sweater.)
Turns out my real fear was that there wasn’t a neat, simple, right way to do it. I was afraid that I would have to just kind’ve stab at it around the shoulder holes, until I had enough stitches to begin going round and round for the sleeves. Well. There are many, neat, right, ways. And there are also YouTube videos for learning all of them. (There are YouTube videos for everything.) I still hate both, and I always will, but now they are tolerable to do.
It turned out that this pattern was really and truly magical. Four rows to knit after picking up the stitches for sleeve one. Repeat for sleeve two. Repeat again for the collar. And this miraculous thing alled a three-needle bind-off! A method of casting off knitted stitches that sews two needles of stitches together into a lovely sturdy, straight seam (in this case both shoulder seams), with no…sewing…required!
I was so proud of myself that I couldn’t even wait to wear it until it was actually done. I wore it out to a coffee shop, stripped it off, and sat there with my coffee and my darning needle, stitching in all the little ends. Dragon slain. Dead. Stomped on. And sat on, with my sword stuck in the ground beside me. (Okay my dark side is running away with me now.) Not really. We just needed to make friends. Just enough to get things done.
And we might meet up again. (The yarn I used for the top is starting to pill, so I think I’m going to unravel it, adjust the sizing, use a different colour balance, take out one skein of wool and use another, and do the whole thing, all over again.) And the whole thought of that, it doesn’t even make me blink.