Vegetables, yarn, and yarns: all of my passions all in one place.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Preparing to Knit: the Simple Steps to Take Before You Ever Cast On

The Beloved Baby Bonnet is just about at its end. All that’s left is the blocking and the drawstring. The blocking is supposed to come first, but I’ve been putting it off because I need to have a place set up for it to dry properly, not an easy task in my apartment. The drawstring, I’m actively avoiding because I don’t quite understand what the pattern is saying in regard to its existence as an attached piece on the hat.

(Bonnet modeled by angry Red Wings Octopus Pillow Pet)

This is what I get for not pre-reading the finishing paragraph. I did not read this paragraph for two reasons.
1.      I’m not a fan of finishing.
2.     It usually has no real bearing on how the pattern itself is knit so why preread? (Answer: To make sure it’s understandable, so you don’t spend a month knitting a hat only to get stumped with the finishing.)
This brings up two key but often overlooked aspects of knitting that don’t get talked about enough: prepping and finishing. Finishing, I’ll address in the next knitting blog, so stay tuned.

By this, I mean finding all the required materials (or appropriate substitutes), swatching, and pre-reading the pattern. These are the types of things that really help avoid your knitting biting you in the butt later. I’m not good with the swatching usually. I don’t have a washing machine or dryer at my disposal that a. works 100% of the time and b. doesn’t require inserting a quarter. This means I have never washed a swatch. Not ever. I’m also fairly cheap and don’t want to buy extra yarn unless I have to. Instead, I’ll knit a swatch, unravel it after measurement, and reknit it as the start of the project. This is terrible, terrible practice and I’m lucky I have yet to end up with a sweater than would clothe only a small boat or a mouse, depending on the direction of mathematical error. What you should do: Knit the swatch, wash the swatch, and keep swatching until you get gage. Period. Will I ever do this? All I can say is maybe one day I too will own a washing machine. (I’ll ignore that I could easily have at least hand washed my swatches, because that wouldn’t give me my needed excuse.)

Finding all the materials ahead of time and pre-reading the pattern is something I’m usually very good about, baby bonnet incident aside. I have a feeling this has more to do with my hatred of the act of casting on more than it does my dedication to preparedness. Much as I love knitting, I despise casting on and this might partially explain how I manage to avoid accumulating five hundred half-finished projects due to startitis. Lord knows there’s enough patterns I plan to knit eventually.

Gathering the materials is easy enough as long as you do it. When the pattern says to have two half-inch buttons, you should have those half inch buttons before you cast on and you should have them in one location with all the other required materials for the project at hand. If you don’t have any half-inch buttons, you should go buy some and put them in that same said location (probably a bag dedicated to the project at hand) before you start knitting. That way, you don’t get all done, get ready to finish things up, and realize you’ll have to wait a week before you have the free time to run out to the store to buy buttons. And inevitably, the store will have no half-inch buttons and you’ll have to wait another two weeks for the buttons you purchase online to arrive in the mail. This waiting will not help anyone, least of all the project, especially if you have a babyshower deadline in three days.

As for pre-reading the pattern, the importance of this cannot be overstated. Not all patterns are created equal. Not all patterns are even necessarily legible as a pattern. The only way to know you have a good one is to read it, start to finish. You get the added benefit of learning if the pattern requires learning a technique you don’t know. Even better if you know you never want to learn it, because then you know to pick another pattern before heartache has been inflicted upon you and/or your knitting. What I like to do is take the pattern, which is often written in a longer format that might be necessary to explain techniques and stitches, and rewrite it in a spiral-bound notebook. Once you know the spiel, though, you don’t need to carry six pages of techniques around, so it condenses things to a more manageable size. What’s more, it is contained in a convenient carrying case that will protect it and provide it some excess weight so it doesn’t blow off your lap on a windy day at the park. Usually, with my own form of notation, I can cull a six page pattern down to two pages. If I get tripped up, there’s no rule that says I can’t go back and look at the original pattern, but most of the time, it’s not necessary.

I followed all these steps (except for the swatching) right after I received my mother bear patterns in the mail. I purchased the knit-in-the-round and the seamless crochet versions, though I will accustom myself to the process first with the knit pattern. I gathered my yarn, a sweet ducky yellow acrylic of indeterminate origin that I inherited from my grandmother-in-law. I found the needles. I contemplated what would work best for embroidering the eyes and made sure I still had enough of it left. I double checked that I still have seventy zillion tapestry needles (most of which were also inherited). Then, I rewrote the two-page pattern onto one page of my notebook and spent some time contemplating some of the odd finishing techniques (what exactly is entailed in “pinching” ears into existence? Not much by the look of the many youtube tutorials available). As of today, I have finished ten rows of my first mother bear.  This first one I’m doing all in one color, but it will be a happy yellow so I don’t think the recipient will mind.

To finish up some old business, we finally got all our wedding pics a few weeks ago and here is an at-the-event shot of the veil:

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