March 15, 2007

Beware the Ides of March

For some time now, I've been meaning to knit a sweater for my wonderful husband, Chris. It hasn't been going very well.

I bought the yarn nearly a year ago. I got Rowan Calmer in black. I chose this yarn because:
A) It's mostly cotton (75% cotton, 25% microfiber, to be precise). While I love working with a buttery smooth merino as much as the next knitter, we live in LA where there is very little need for wool sweaters. Especially if you're as hot as my hubby. (I mean hot as in body temperature, but I'll let the attractiveness pun stand because it is apt.)
B) I've worked with it before and found it soft and pleasant. It has more bounce than 100% cotton due to the microfiber content and the tube-type construction.
C) It comes in black. Chris is a no frills, black tee shirt and jeans kind of dresser. He likes good, solid, no fuss, manly colors. Black being a favorite.
D) It's machine washable.

Yarn obtained, I started searching for a pattern. I was looking for a very basic, V-neck pullover pattern. I liked the one in The Yarn Girls' Guide to Simple Knits called "The Exception to the Rule". That pattern calls for a gauge of 4 spi. I was able to achieve that gauge with this yarn by doubling the yarn and working on pretty big needles (US 10's, 10.5's? Somewhere around there but I don't completely remember anymore.) So last July, when we were in Hawaii, I cast on and got started.

Aaahhhh...Hawaii... Where was I? Getting started, right. The yarn doubled on big needles, while giving me gauge, really wasn't working out. Every stitch was a fight. The fabric it was creating was just fine, but the yarn, needles and I were not getting along as well as you'd hope, especially at the beginning of a man's sweater. I knit up one entire ball this way, struggling with every stitch, before banishing the hostile project to the bottom of one of my random knitting bags. Where it's sat, sulking, until about a week ago.

I brought this project back to the surface because I think I have a plan. I'm abandoning the Yarn Girls' pattern. It's a lovely pattern, but it's not working with this yarn. I sent my Hawaiian effort to the frog pond and reclaimed the yarn. Yarn seen here after being unwound and steamed in the shower a few times:

I have been swatching to find a more happy yarn, needles and Jean combination. I swatched with the yarn as is (no more doubling) on US 6's and 8's first. I found the US 8 swatch too loose and the US 6 too tight. It would be logical, therefore, for US 7's to be just perfect, but we all know swatching and logic do not always go together. Thankfully, this time they did. I am satisfied with the results of the US 7's (about 5.5spi after machine washing and drying flat).

(Can you see the YO, K2TOG's in the swatches? That a tip from Lily Chin I saw on Knitty Gritty. You make a number of holes in the swatch to correspond with the size needle you are using. That way you'll always know which size needles you used for that swatch. Smart gal.)

Meanwhile, during all this swatching (and let's face it, the first attempt in Hawaii counts as a swatch, too) I've noticed something weird about this yarn. Something I did not experience the first time I worked with it. It seems like no matter how tight the gauge, the spaces between each stitch are very noticeable. It's like the stitches aren't springing open enough. I wouldn't be surprised by that in an all cotton yarn, but I've used this yarn before and I am surprised it's happening this time. Is it simply an optical illusion created by the black yarn? Something to do with the yarn being so dark, so your eyes become more aware of the light behind the knit fabric? Or does the black dye make the yarn itself more dense and less able to "bloom"? (The Calmer I used before was a light beige color.)

It bugs me, but I'm aware of the possibility it's all in my head. So I'm moving on.

Having found a gauge I like (except for the thing with the spaces between the stitches), I know I could do all the math to convert the Yarn Girls' pattern to my gauge, but that's not appealing to me right now. I have a different idea. I plan on using the fill-in-the-blanks Incredible Custom-Fit Raglan Sweater pattern. If I'm going to be doing math either way, I may as well go for the pattern where it's all spelled out for me. Also going seamless and knitting all in the round is looking better and better for making a man's sweater with a gauge of 5.5spi.

This is going to be a fairly big project with, let's face it, a high boredom factor. But I do want to do it. I really want to make a sweater for Chris. I've already encountered enough obstacles and postponed this sweater long enough. I need now to make choices about this sweater that will result in it becoming an actual, real-live sweater. I can knit miles of stockinette in the round faster than back and forth. And I can enjoy it more, because I can do it on auto-pilot. This sweater can become my take everywhere, knit anytime project. Watching TV? Perfect. Talking on the phone? Perfect. Talking in person? Perfect. Driving? Perfect. I'm kidding! I just wanted to see if you were still paying attention.

I think I'm ready to cast on today...But...

Bad dog! Naughty, naughty Sadie!

Now look, I know this is not the most troubled path some yarn has ever had on it's way to becoming a sweater. Jo and her Alice Starmore, red sweater come to mind as being much worse. But it's starting to feel like warning shots across the bow, you know? So, given the warning shots AND the date, I ask you: dare I cast on today?