Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Good Intentions (A Tale of Courage and Woe)

Once upon a time there was a knitter.  The knitter loved knitting and everybody around her knew her to be a knitter.

One day, the knitter's friend said, "Can you teach me to knit?" 

The knitter's eyes lit up and she said, "Of course!"  They made an appointment to get together and introduce the friend, whom we shall call Kristy (names modified to protect the poor innocent knit initiate) into the ways of yarn.  The knitter introduced Kristy to the mystical realm of Ravelry, and told Kristy to find a pattern that she liked. 

Now these two friends had another friend who also knit, and this third friend advised, "She needs to start with something easy.  Just teach her to knit a scarf."

But the knitter was stubborn and said "No, it's better if she picks a pattern that she loves and a yarn that she loves.  She's more likely to stick with it that way."

And so Kristy, after wandering the hallowed halls of the Ravelry pattern library, came back to the knitter with several patterns that she liked, wanting to know if they were too "hard."  The knitter did not like to tell her anything was hard, but did try to steer her in the direction of patterns where the "hard" part didn't come right at the beginning.

At last, Kristy selected a pattern, a simple stockinette poncho with a lace pattern at the bottom, which she adored and which the knitter agreed was a good starting point.

The day came when Kristy and the knitter met for the first time to induct Kristy into the mysteries of knitting.  The knitter had laid out a tray of yarns in different weights and constructions, and proceeded to give Kristy a brief lesson in how to read a ball band, and how to choose the right yarn for her project.


Then the knitter reluctantly suggested that they go to JoAnn Fabrics and pick out yarn for Kristy.  But Kristy would have none of it.

"I want to knit with the good stuff," Kristy pronounced.  "Can't we go to the shop you really like?" 

The knitter lit up and agreed that yes, yes, they absolutely could.  And so the two friends set off together.  When they arrived at the yarn shop, the knitter laid a hand on Kristy's arm and said, "Now, you can look around all you want.  There's lots to see and there's lots of beautiful stuff here.  But for your project, you need to buy something from that wall."  The knitter pointed to the wall of worsted weight yarns, and Kristy went dutifully off to inspect her options.  She made an excellent suggestion in her favored shade of purple, and when the knitter wavered on which needle size to pick out for her, Kristy bought an interchangeable set.  The knitter was delirious with joy, thrilled that her friend had such good sense.  A short time later, they left the yarn shop, armed with the purple yarn, a packet of stitch markers and other necessary accessories, and several books carefully selected as the foundation of Kristy's reference library.

Once the two friends returned to the knitter's house, the knitter introduced Kristy to the joys of the ball winder.  But, it was not time yet for Kristy to begin her project.  First the knitter selected some leftover wool and taught Kristy to cast on.  She taught Kristy to cast on, to knit, to purl, and to cast off that day, and sent Kristy home full of knowledge and a vague understanding of the mystical concept of "gauge," with instructions to practice on the swatch of spare wool until she felt ready to make a swatch out of her project yarn.

Kristy went home and knit excitedly.  Like all new knitters, she made mistakes, and she brought her mistakes to the knitter, who realized that Kristy had been confused by the knitter's instructions on purling, and so was purling all of her stitches through the back loop.  The knitter took a reference picture of the knit stitch and a reference picture of a purl stitch and e-mailed them to Kristy, with a reminder that she should (at this stage) always be knitting or purling into the leg of the stitch closest to her, rather than the leg facing away from her.

A couple of weekends later the two were to met again.  The knitter was worried because the instructions for the pattern that Kristy had selected were not very clear.  The morning that Kristy was to arrive for their next knitting lesson, the knitter took it upon herself to rewrite the pattern instructions in a way that made sense, careful to keep all the normal aspects of the knitting pattern while adding some comments to remind Kristy of key concepts.  Kristy arrived with her swatch, and after examining the swatch and explaining a few of its flaws to Kristy, the knitter proclaimed Kristy ready to cast on her project.  The two measured the swatch, and performed the sacred ritual of gauge calculation, selected the size Kristy should knit, and matched it to the cast on number.  Under the knitter's guidance, Kristy highlighted the instructions on the pattern for the size she was to knit.   

The knitter showed Kristy a new, faster cast on this time, the "long tail" cast on, which Kristy was excited to learn because casting on 234 stitches using the knitted cast on takes forever.  Unfortunately, the long tail that the knitter pulled out for Kristy was not long enough, and the knitter and Kristy found that they were about a dozen stitches short.  Feeling guilty but reasoning that a) it would be such a small area of the garment that it wouldn't show b) Kristy was a new knitter and it was entirely possible that this would not be the worst looking area of her project, the knitter taught Kristy the backwards loop cast on to get the remaining stitches. 

The knitter showed Kristy how to join her work in the round, making certain to admonish her as to the dangers of twisting your cast on and ending up with a mobius.  The knitter watched Kristy knit her first round, and properly praised, Kristy went happily home to knit the first six rows of her project before the two friends would meet again.

The next weekend, the knitter went merrily to Kristy's house, and Kristy proudly produced her knitting.  The knitter praised her work, promised to fix the few flaws, and explained to Kristy that the next step was to replace the markers, which Kristy currently had placed every 50 stitches, with markers every 12 stitches to mark off the pattern repeats.

The knitter began this process for Kristy, fixing the small flaws as she went.  She was puzzled to find at the end of the round that she didn't have the right number of stitches left.  She had somewhat expected that this might be the case, since Kristin might have accidentally added or removed a stitch in her beginning rounds, but the knitter was surprised to find that she was 7 stitches short.  The knitter counted again, and again, and when it became apparent that it was not a counting mistake on her part, broke the news gently to Kristy.

"These things happen," the knitter said.  "It's no big deal.  Why don't we just increase to get the right number of stitches?  I'll teach you how."  Kristy readily agreed but suggested that they go get lunch and stop by "that other yarn shop you like."  The knitter was all too pleased to go, and later they returned, happily full and hugging yarn.  The two friends sat down and the knitter showed Kristy how to kfb.  They did the appropriate math, and Kristy began knitting around, increasing at appropriate intervals.  When she is finished, she hands the project back and the knitter is astonished to find that they now have 7 stitches too many.  Utterly perplexed and annoyed, the knitter began counting again.  This time, as she counted, she had a little trouble getting the stitches to lay nicely for her, and after a moment, the knitter stopped and frowned.  She fussed a little more with the knitting, and suddenly stopped, and stared at her hands. 

She tried not to show her panic, so as not to alarm Kristy.  Surely she must be mistaken.  Surely she had down something in her slipping and counting.  There had to be an answer.  It couldn't be possible that she and Kristy had both been looking at this piece of knitting all day and not seen it.  Furthermore, the knitter knew, with certainty, that they had checked before joining the stitches in the round to make SURE they were not twisting the cast on.  So the twisted fabric in her hands had to be a lie.  There had to be a way to fix it.

But the knitter knew, deep down in her knitter soul, that there was no answer, that Kristy would have to start over.  Kristy's expression of shock was horrible.  The knitter felt awful, felt that she had utterly failed in her duty as purveyor of knitting wisdom.  The knitter made Kristy turn away as she ripped out all of Kristy's hard work. 

The knitter turned her ire on the pattern.  It was poorly written, she had known it, and she sat down now with a calculator and made an infuriating discovery.  234 is not evenly divisible by 12.  All the work that they had done before discovering the twist had been pointless anyway.  Ignoring the fact that she had not actually added up the stitches to check the total rather than relying on the repeats coming out even, the knitter fumed.  She began checking the other sizes in the pattern, and discovered that the size Kristy had chosen to knit was the only one that didn't work out. 

A sudden suspicion entered the knitter's brain, and she asked Kristy, who was still in shock, to show her the original pattern.  Kristy handed it over, and the knitter stared in horror.  There, on the original pattern, the number of stitches to be cast on for Kristy's chosen size was 324 (a number, it should be noted, which is divisible by 12).  But there, on the new version of the pattern - the pattern the knitter had rewritten for Kristy - 234.  The knitter felt sick.  To avoid just such a circumstance, the knitter had been careful to copy and paste the inches for each size, and the size information, but in a fit of impatience, she had retyped the cast on numbers instead of switching windows to copy them.

Distraught and disgraced, the knitter cast on for Kristy again, the correct number of 234 stitches, separated by stitch markers into the proper 12 stitch repeats.  Kristy showed great restraint, neither bursting into tears nor throwing the knitter out of the house.  She even made noises, in her traumatized state, about their next meeting.  Both the knitter and Kristy accepted the goodnatured mocking of Kristy's husband.

The knitter hopes that Kristy has remained strong and will continue on her beloved poncho.  She hopes that Kristy has not succumbed to the siren song of the new bulky wool she bought at that other yarn store, which Kristy loved because it was the color of her beloved border collies, and that Kristy will persevere and keep working on the poncho...but only time will tell.