July 25, 2007

JULY 25, 2007

When I was a little girl, it was our family's custom to visit my grandparents every Sunday afternoon. (My parents were high school sweethearts, and so my grandparents on both my mother's and my father's sides lived not too far away from each other -- close enough that both my parents went to the same high school.)

My paternal grandmother was a bossy, God-fearing woman who believed that children should not speak unless spoken to. When I was about seven, she sat me down on one of those Sunday visits and showed me how to crochet. From then on, on every Sunday visit, she would keep me busy by having me work on whatever afghan was her crochet work-in-progress at the time. The first stitch she taught me was afghan stitch; eventually she taught me single and double crochet and how to make granny squares.

Other than my contributions towards my grandmother's many, many afghans, my history of crochet projects is limited to:

(1) When I was in the seventh grade, a drawstring bag I made for myself out of three shades of blue Red Heart yarn. I figured out how to make it, all on my own -- as I recall, it was double crochets with some shell stitches as decoration at the top. I thought it quite an accomplishment. When I carried it into my first period class at my junior high school, some of my classmates started cutting their eyes at me. The teacher, Mr. Husker, noticed, and simperingly asked, "Oh, did you bring your pursy-wursy?" His comment stung, and I never took that bag to school again. (Years later, my daughter Jennie was doing some research for her English class, and discovered that the word ridiculous comes from the French word reticule -- a reticule is a drawstring bag that French ladies used to carry and that French men made fun of. To carry a little drawstring bag is to look ridiculous . . . which was the lesson I learned that memorable day in the 7th grade.)

(2) Later, in high school, I crocheted for myself a close-fitting hat with a floppy brim. (If I recall correctly, it was all single crochet stitch -- although the "ribbon" across the brow might have been double crocheted.) It was the 70s, these kinds of hats were the style at the time. Miraculously, since I knew nothing about issues of gauge, the hat fit me perfectly; I wore it many times. It was a successful project.

(3) When I was 19, I saw a pattern that I liked for a crocheted sweater in a McCall's magazine. Again, I knew nothing about gauge or yarn weights -- information like that wasn't included in the lessons my grandmother gave me for working on her one-size-fits-all afghans. I slaved away on this sweater, using a worsted weight yarn (Red Heart, again, because it was all I could afford on what I earned as a secretary). The sweater came out huge, and stiff. The pattern must have called for a DK or thinner weight yarn. I never wore the sweater, but it took me years before I could part with it and give it to the Goodwill.

And I haven't crocheted since, other than the occasional provisional cast-on, or the wee bit of finishing on a knitted item like this poncho.

However, there is going to be a crocheted garment in my future, as one of the items we will be making for the Nihon Vogue course will be a crocheted vest. I thought I could benefit from a refresher course in crochet, so I signed up for the beginner's class at Weaving Works.

The crochet class is three weeks long; this week is the third and final week. For week one, we learned basic crochet stitches, such as single and double crochet. These seemed familliar to me; I remembered my grandmother trying to teach me to run the yarn through my fingers to tension it, and then finally giving up on my seven-year-old hands and just letting me let the yarn hang loose. In class, we did not learn afghan stitch, but the instructor did mention that afghan stitch is now called Tunisian crochet.

Last week's topic was:


the Granny Square. I made the one above, in class last week, and memories of my grandmother came back very strongly -- although I know that I have never made anything from granny squares. But here's something I could make:


It's a vest! And the whole front and the whole back are granny squares! I got this vintage pattern from a pattern round-robin I participated in, on the big KnitList, some years ago. The pattern amused me, so I chose to keep it. It is the same vintage as the years I was in junior high. The vest is orange, blue, and white -- and those were my junior high school's colors! I could have made a vest just like this, and worn it to school, instead of the pursy-wursy!

Perhaps that would have changed my whole history with regard to crochet.

Now, to turn our attention back to the Nihon Vogue course, and to resolve the cliffhanger: Did she get her homework finished, or not?


Yes! The larger, gray pieces are the front and back of my vest; the pink swatch is the gauge swatch for Allegra's sweater; the gray swatch with a bit of Fair Isle work on it is my gauge swatch for my vest.

As is so typical for me, I had a couple of false starts on the vest. Exactly one week before the class was to meet, I had knitted most of what I thought would be the back piece. I kept working away on it, and holding it up to myself and thinking it wouldn't fit. I kept re-checking my math, but it all seemed to indicate that the vest should fit. So then I would think that I wasn't understanding the pattern drafting. Finally, I just had to listen to my instincts -- that permutation of the vest was not going to fit. My math wasn't the problem, nor was my understanding of the pattern draft. Somehow, I had mis-measured my bustline, at 5 cm smaller than what it should have been. 5 cm! That's almost two inches.

I started the vest over again with six days to go before the class was to meet. After knitting almost the entire back piece again, I realized I had made an error in my stitch count, way back at the cast on. I probably could have lived with this error; I probably could have fudged by saying I wanted less ease.

Instead, I chose to start all over. I knitted the back piece, the front piece, and the pink swatch, over Wednesday, Thursday, Friday of last week -- with a dozen rows of vest to finish up early on Saturday morning. (The class met last Saturday.)

My secret? Caffeine, and lots of it. And getting up early, to squeeze in as many hours of knitting as possible, each day. It was only the second day (Thurday) that I experienced any discomfort -- a tiny bit of carpal tunnel, a tiny bit of knitter's elbow -- but I took Advil and pressed on. I didn't go to yoga class, I didn't walk on the treadmill; I stayed focused on the homework knitting.

At the Nihon Vogue class, Andrea, Naomi, and Melinda modelled their raglans in progress:


Aren't they cute?

For our top-down raglans, in class we calculated ease at the underarm, and our next homework assignment is to knit the body and complete the waistband ribbing. (We'll do sleeves later.) I had figured out my ease at the underarm, and crocheted my provisional cast-ons. After I knitted the first round, though, I had, like, an inch of working yarn on either side of each provisional cast-on. (This was instead of the typical amount of yarn you'd have between one knitted stitch and the next, say, a sixteenth of an inch or something like that.) Since we were given time in class to do this knitting, I took the opportunity to ask Jean about it. Long story short, when I followed her advice to crochet extra chains in the provisional cast-on (in excess of the number of knitted stitches needed), and when I knitted across the provisional cast-on from its slipknot beginning to the crocheted end (rather than the other way 'round), the problem went away. Who would have thought such minor adjustments could make much difference? The devil is truly in the details.

I was determined to show up at Jean's class with all homework done, and I accomplished that. Given a little more time, though, I would have completed a second swatch for the pink sweater. After looking at many, many pink yarns, Allegra chose Jaeger Roma in the color Hollyhock.

I am re-swatching for the pink sweater because my gauge swatch came out very dense. I got 34 rows per 10 cm, and I would like to have fewer rows. I normally knit Continental; I am experimenting to see whether my stitches will be taller if I knit using the throwing method. (I'm going up a needle size, too.) If anyone has an opinion about whether picking or throwing makes a stitch taller or not -- or if anyone knows how to make stitches taller, please leave a comment.

After being a good girl and focussing on my homework, I'm suffering a grand case of startitis as an after-effect. I spent hours Monday drooling over the pages of Victorian Lace Today. I've been studying and studying crochet patterns, just in case I decide to start something. And I did start some felted slippers from Felt Frenzy:


The Lakeview (the multicolored yarn) is color pooling -- purple on the sides of the foot, and blue on the top and bottom of the foot. This is so different than the photo in the book, which shows such beautiful, even striping. I am thinking the authors of Felt Frenzy either got a dye batch of Lakeview with a much longer color run, or else they strategically manipulated their yarn to prevent the color pooling. In the fullness of time, I think I'll try working this slipper using two different balls of Lakeview, and see if the colors distribute more evenly.

Posted by Karen at July 25, 2007 08:50 AM

Love the pic of them wearing the sweater tops! Sounds like class is going really well.

Posted by: Lara at July 25, 2007 02:03 PM

Love reading your stories!

I completely took out my raglan on Monday night! I thought it felt a *bit* small and realized my two US6 needles - one was 4.25, one 4.00. So an overall 4% difference(details on the blog). So..I'm having some fun fits and starts also!

Your work looks wonderful. The fair isle on the vest is going to add so much!

As always thanks for the inspiration. I'm having startitis also. Last night I cast on some monkey socks to work on at Stitch N Pitch tonight.

Take care!

Posted by: Naomi at July 26, 2007 07:58 AM

Lara -- I might not have said this outright in my blog entry, but I was a very happy camper at Jean's class this past weekend.

Naomi -- I am just gasping that you ripped out your entire raglan! Nooooooo!

Posted by: Karen at July 26, 2007 08:12 AM