Friday, August 24, 2007

Sweater Stories, Part I

I'm back from my European adventures! Great fun was had, a little yarn was bought, and quite a bit of knitting was done. Now that I'm back and have time at my disposal, it's time to tell two rather contrasting stories. The first is the story of the first sweater I ever knit. I spent hours and hours dying and designing and knitting and getting everything Exactly Right. When I knit my second sweater, I knit it in about three weeks, with a pattern scribbled on the back of some old grammar homework that I whipped out in about and hour and continued to make up as I went along. The difference...well, let's just say the difference shows.

As we will see.

Anyway. Sweater #1. I'd been wanting to make a sweater out of beautiful handyed variegated wool, but everything I found was rather far removed from my unemployed-student budget. As in, I could afford the yarn all right, but I might end up with something that was more "bikini top" than "sweater." Since the hand-knitted hooker look isn't really cutting it at college campuses these days, I had to look for an affordable alternative. Enter the Post-Christmas Sale.

The place: JoAnn Fabrics, in my hometown. The players: me and my (long-suffering, eternally patient) best friend, who for a non-knitter seems to spend quite a bit of time in yarn stores. In the store "just to buy some sock needles, I swear!" I happen upon this:

...on sale, for $3 a ball. Nice and creamy white, all ready to be dyed. Just like the article I was reading about Kool-Aid dying just the other day, in fact. Inspiration strikes.

We hit up Safeway.

(at this point, some of us lost interest in the idea and skulked around the drinks aisle, trying to pretend they didn't know the girl arranging packets of powdered drink mix and muttering to herself. We remain confident that those people, whoever they may be, will continue to be supportive of all knitting endeavors, especially if they're enjoying their nice new warm mittens and would like a hat to match.
Once I got home, I skeined the yarn (after explaining to my mother just why I needed to take over the kitchen for a little while. She was very understanding. Ish.)

My Brilliant Plan involved mixing up all the dye I had in six different jars, one for each color. I would then dye all the reds at once, all the greens, etc. This worked pretty well, but the color distribution wasn't nearly as even as I would have liked, and it also bled a LOT. (In future, I wonder if it would work better with dry yarn? I'd washed and soaked all the yarn in lukewarm water ahead of time, and I wonder if having it wet made the color run up the yarn faster).

Things started to get a little chaotic, but more or less OK.

(my hands, meanwhile, turned progressively more colorful and I started to realize that the "wear gloves" instruction was perhaps not just a suggestion.)

And as I dyed the final color (purple, or at least as close as I could get with Kool-Aid), it was looking good! The colors turned out differently than I'd had in mind originally--brighter and more crayon-y, less rich and more neon. But still, I was happy.

After dying, the yarn was dried,

(with some assistance from the heating ducts in the house when I got impatient.

and skeined into pretty, colorful, fat little skeins for me to carry around and pet.

I was quite pleased.

Now that my beautiful yarn was all ready to be knit with, it was time to find the perfect pattern to go with it. Well, more accurately, it was time for me to find the real-life incarnation of the perfect pattern I already had in my head. V-neck, long-sleeved, very simple so as to show off the yarn, a little waist shaping, set-in sleeves...with the help of Ann Budd and Debbie Stoller and a lot of scribbling and throwing away drafts, I cobbled together something that was, as far as I could tell (having, you know, never knit a sweater or indeed anything at all that was knit in more than one piece) exactly what I wanted.

I hoped.

The result?

Well...the final result was delayed for quite some time, thanks to the intervention of my favorite knitting distraction, School. I trudged along, though. Milestones:

January-March: keep yarn on shelf in common room. Fondle occasionally. Show off to anyone who stands still long enough.

March: Knit back while comatose on couch during the first week of spring break, watching Grey's Anatomy and recovering from Midterms of Doom.

March: Knit front and 1 1/2 sleeves while on a road trip with girlfriends. Drop crumbs from Goldfish crackers, our staple food for six days, on sweater.

April: Get distracted. Knit mittens.

May: Finally finish second sleeve while watching Dodgeball with boyfriend. He is, surprisingly, less excited by this momentous event than I am.

Still May: Take final exams. Finish sewing up sweater just in time for the temperature to climb to 90 degrees and OM$&%TH ("oh my $&@ God that's humid!")

But seriously. The result?

(the colors aren't so accurate in this one, but it shows off the waist shaping and gives a good idea of how the variegation worked out)

(shown here after I finally did block it, after sewing up, which I suppose brings the actual finish date to June) (colors are most accurate in this, last picture)

Quite, quite pleased indeed.

Of course, were I to do it again, I would do about a zillion things differently. I would probably dye each skein individually, which would allow for a more even distribution of dye (as it was, I knit with alternate rows from two different skeins for the entire sweater, to even out glaring differences between skeins). I probably wouldn't use Kool-Aid, opting instead for some kind of food coloring or other dye that might give me richer, less fruit-punch-at-the-seven-year-old's-birthday-party colors. I would definitely block BEFORE sewing up. I would make the sleeves narrower (although granted I still don't know how to make that kind of adjustments to a pattern, so maybe I wouldn't).

But overall, though? For my first sweater? Not too shabby at all, say I. Not too shabby.

Now, if only the weather would hurry up and get cold...

1 comment:

Rosa said...

Holy cow you have hair in that picture.