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Blue Sweater Blues

Writer, illustrator, and knitter Franklin Habit joins us for his monthly column featuring humor and insights into a yarncrafter’s life.

I got a message from a reader who inquired after the health and well-being of the Man’s Roughneck Sweater I’m making from a pattern in Lion Brand’s 1916 Lion Manual of Worsted Work. It was the topic of a piece I wrote for this very space way back in January.

I appreciate her kind interest. It’s good to know that the nice lady is not only reading, she’s remembering.

But this is also a bit like having somebody ask about your husband, who has run away with the man who came to clean the swimming pool. Or having somebody ask about the starving child you sponsored, who grew up to rob banks. Or having somebody ask about your cat, who died.

From this you may gather that everything with the Man’s Roughneck Sweater is not tickety-boo.

It’s not the fault of the pattern (which has a couple of puzzling ambiguities in it, but no more so than most elderly patterns); nor of the yarn (LB Collection® Organic Wool), which is even more sweetly lofty after being knit up than it was in the ball.

It’s my fault, my fault, my very great fault.

I decided the original loose-n-cuddly fit wasn’t for me–a fuzzy, curvy little man whom total strangers are inclined to treat like a teddy bear. I don’t need clothes that make me look even more huggable. So I decided to swatch carefully, calculate my gauge, then adapt the pattern to include the subtle, tailored V-shaping from hem to chest that has served me well in the past.

What happened next is in a bag, in the corner, on the floor beneath the rack of in-progress pieces that are not making Daddy cry. When a piece of my knitting hits the floor, it stays there for a while. A while, in this case, is the months it has taken to decide what happens next.

No, let’s be honest. I’ve known all along what happens next. What happens next is ripping right back to the beginning. There’s no amount of blocking, wishing, or hard drinking that can fix this much oops. I simply couldn’t face it until now.

I find that’s often the case with major mistakes or false steps in my work. At the awful moment of discovery, I stare, paralyzed, at all those stitches. I can feel the effort that went into every last one. A stronger constitution might grab the working yarn and start pulling. I can’t, any more than I could coldly mow down a bed of roses in bud. Sure, they might be ugly roses. But they’re my roses.

Instead I toss the thing into the Naughty Corner until I’ve simmered down. Of course this means that it can take me a long, long time to finish the piece–but I’ve never regretted the time spent cooling off. I turn to another piece, preferably something completely different, and pour my thwarted creativity into it.

When I finally pick the other project off the floor, it’s remarkable how often I can see in an instant–with surprisingly little pain–the best path to pursue. It’s as though some dark, quiet corner of my brain has continued to work on the pattern even while the actual knitting was on hiatus.

I’m sure I must not be alone in this, but I’m curious as to what other knit-and-crochet types do. When you find yourself up a creek, do you back-paddle furiously? Or do you climb up on the bank and rest for a spell?

Blue Sweater Blues by Franklin Habit | Lion Brand Notebook

Writer, illustrator, and photographer Franklin Habit is the author of It Itches: A Stash of Knitting Cartoons (Interweave Press, 2008–now in its third printing) and proprietor of The Panopticon (the-panopticon.blogspot.com), one of the most popular knitting blogs on Internet. On an average day, upwards of 2,500 readers worldwide drop in for a mix of essays, cartoons, and the continuing adventures of Dolores the Sheep.

Franklin’s other publishing experience in the fiber world includes contributions to Vogue KnittingYarn Market NewsInterweave KnitsInterweave CrochetPieceWorkCast On: A Podcast for KnittersTwist Collective, and a regular column on historic knitting patterns for Knitty.com.

These days, Franklin knits and spins in Chicago, Illinois, sharing a small city apartment with an Ashford spinning wheel and colony of sock yarn that multiplies alarmingly whenever his back is turned.