Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Non-Christmas Cardigan, aka What Idiot Thought This One Up

(Having actually referred to the cat in my header, I thought it was time she put in an appearance- here's Woats, looking cute beside the vexatious cardigan in question.)

The Plan:
In October(!), having finished two pairs of socks and not having any other committed knitting on the horizon, I said "Gee, I've been having so much fun knitting Christmas stuff, I should do more- I know! I'll knit a sweater for Christmas!" So I enlisted spies to ascertain the desired color and obtain measurements, found a pattern and ordered yarn. [Name of recipient has been omitted to preserve plausible deniability should he stumble across this blog. Hint- if you think I might be knitting this for you? Stop reading now, please.]

Why I Might Not Have Been On Drugs When I Dreamed Up this Brilliant Plan:
1. I went on a trip to Hawai'i in November- where I was spending approximately 30 hours in airports or on planes- generally prime knitting time. My original plan said I would knit 30-50% of the sweater while on this trip.
2. I'm a moderately fast knitter. I've turned out baby blankets in about six weeks, which had roughly the surface area of a sweater, and were in a smaller gauge. I've been doing a pair of socks in two weeks- not as big, but they're in fine yarn with lots of stitches. The sweater is thick yarn plus large needles = fast knitting.
3. I chose a top-down sweater pattern to reduce finishing (inspired by the amazing posts of That Laurie), and so the size could be adjusted as I went (meaning that I should never get to the point of discovering the sweater will fit Tiny Tim or the Incredible Hulk, but not any living person of my acquaintance, never mind the recipient of the gift).
4. My database class last semester taught by a (quite good) professor- but he had the remarkable ability to talk for two hours without breathing, drinking water, or apparently noticing that his subject material would stupefy the most enthusiastic computer geek. Even he seemed less than enthralled. (There are topics that will keep me alert and interested for two hours of lecture- relational algebra, entity-relationship diagrams, and transactional concurrency are not them.) Knitting was a necessity. So why not whittle away at my Christmas list at the same time?

Why I Was Totally On Drugs When I Had This Stupid Idea:
1. Most of the flights were early AM. The ones that weren't were redeyes. I mostly slept on these flights. Additionally:
2. Though I had the yarn a week before the trip, the pre-vacation crunch meant that I only had time to swatch to determine what size needles I wanted to use and buy the needles. I had a generic pattern for a top down sweater with a raglan sleeve, but I hadn't yet chosen the patterns to go on it! (The original plan said that I would have patterns all chosen and on the trip I would Just Knit, but I ran out of time.) And while knitting is great for being able to pick it up for a few minutes here and there? Design is not. Many evenings I got in from sightseeing, glanced at the pattern, read half a page of a book instead and fell asleep.
3. I habitually underestimate the amount of work in a project and totally overestimate my own ability to cope, resulting in deadline crunches.

Why The Design Matters:
I'd have been much better off if I was doing a plain sweater. I'm not. [The recipient] loves cable-knits, and once owned a cabled cardigan* which he passionately loved and wore constantly until it fell apart. Several years ago, [my spy] mentioned that he'd really like another, but I was busy with a quilt, and deferred the request. Until now. So I wanted to knit the basic sweater pattern but with some modifications- make it a cardigan with a V-neck (like the old one) and with a new cabled pattern of my own devising.

Seems fairly simple, right? Wrong. It's the combination of the raglan sleeve and the damned cables. All the increases between neck and shoulder? Have to be done in pattern. That means I can't just add a stitch- it has to be the right one, to be part of the pattern that will be *below* it on the sweater (when it's longer). And it's not like I'm adapting a pattern I already had lying around (where I could have penciled in some additions). No, I'm picking a bunch of different cable designs I think will look good together, arranging them to suit myself (and the sweater) and trying to add *those*. Then, keep in mind, I love symmetry, and nearly always when knitting cables I'll try to make the left and right be mirror images. So in half the sweater I'm also flipping the instructions right to left to get the cables to mirror each other. Not surprisingly, this all turned out to be *way more* than I could do in my head. WAY MORE. So I spent most of the trip designing. Picking cables. Charting them in order and marking the increase lines so I could see what I needed to do for each set of increases. Making some minor changes to the pattern to help me keep track of what I was doing.
*Now that I think about it, the original cardigan was finished at 4 am Christmas morning. That was 15 years ago. Evidently, I have not learned anything.

Once the planning was done:

I only started knitting at the end of the last flight home (jetlagged, underslept, and all). I knew when I got back (mid-November) that I was basically screwed as far as the Christmas deadline. I still kept obsessively knitting until about the second week in December (I was totally in denial), but eventually I had to face the evil truth. So I put it aside (cursing mightily), and did other last-minute Christmas stuff.

At New Year's, I had part of the body and half a sleeve done, and a sinking feeling that I was running out of yarn. Also, the almost-completed sleeve? Was sized for the Incredible Hulk. So I ripped it back, and redid it. Two weeks later, the nearly-completed sleeve was sized merely for a body-builder with upper arms the size of a man's thighs. Rip, rip, rip. I put the sweater in its basket to think things over for a couple of weeks while knitting mitts and a hat. (Also, it's getting bulky enough to be less useful as travel knitting. Also I clearly needed a review of basic arithmatic.)

My mission this week? Reknit the damned sleeve and figure out just how much more yarn I need so I can get it this weekend at Webs.

Things I have learned from this experience:

1. Two pairs of socks ≠ a sweater.
2. A baby blanket ≠ a sweater. And even if the blanket and the sweater have the same number of stitches, the added complexity means the sweater will require more time. (This seems quite obvious. Now.)
3. Hofstadter's Law applies to knitting.
4. Hofstadter's law applies to knitting even when you take it into account.
5. No matter how carefully you calculate, if the project has a deadline, you will run out of yarn. Unless you seriously overbuy, and then you'll find you have enough to knit four sweaters (no, I am not kidding- here are two of them).

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