Sunday, November 18, 2007

When Physics and Knitting Collide

Sometimes it is very easy to make a very big mistake. Even though you do all the right things - you swatch, you measure, you plan and execute perfectly - the God of Knitting Physics still comes along and raps you smartly over the head with a 15mm wooden needle, just to keep you in line.

I had a bit of a disaster. I started the third item from Simply Knitting's plus size collection, which was to be a loose garter stitch slipover to pop on top of a camisole to disguise the old "flying squirrel" arms that so many of us of a Certain Age experience. I really don't know why I design things in garter stitch, because it bores me rigid - bits of it here and there are fine, but an entire garment can get a bit tedious. To be honest, I feel much the same about stocking stitch. Stripes or stitch patterns are much more fun, because you can say to yourself, "Ooh, I'll just do another stripe", whereas you're very unlikely to say, "Ooh, I'll just do another few rows of stocking stitch"!

Anyway, I'd swatched carefully before I began and was quite confident that, even though I was knitting on bigger needles to increase the lacy effect, I was going to get a garment of the right proportions. Halfway through, I decided I was bored with garter stitch and, because I was working from side to side, thought it would be more fun to do the second half of the garment in drop stitch. I swatched again very carefully and found that the stitch count matched perfectly, although obviously the row count was different. This wasn't a problem as I could simply knit the same width of material as I had on the first half. I recalculated the decreases for the sleeve and set off on drop stitch.

I finished the top a lot more quickly (gotta love those wide drop-stitch rows!) and cast off. And then I held up the neck opening. The garter-stitch half of the neckline (a slash neck going from front to back) was about three inches smaller than the drop-stitch side. After a moment's panic, I realised that this was because I had cast off too tightly. I decided to be brave, unpick the cast off, and redo it with a looser one. I consulted the Oracle (aka The Knitting Answer Book by Margaret Radcliffe - thoroughly recommended; I'm sure it doesn't have everything in it, but so far it hasn't let me down) and picked the tubular cast off, which is a sewn cast off. Well, it was a bit fiddly till I got into the rhythm of it, but it worked perfectly and I congratulated myself that at least I had learned a new technique.

I sewed up the sides and found a similar problem on the drop stitch seam - again I had cast off far too tightly, and had to unpick it and do it again. This time I tried the Yarn-Over Cast Off which is absolutely brilliant if you, like me, tend to cast off too firmly. Effectively, it lengthens the stitches on the cast-off edge, and it's really easy to do:

Step 1: Knit the first stitch on the needle.
Step 2: Bring the yarn forward and slip the stitch you've just knitted over that yarn.
Step 3: Knit the next stitch from the left-hand needle and pass the stitch already on the right-hand needle over this new stitch.

And that's it - just repeat steps 2 and 3 to the end of the row. You can experiment with the yarn overs - you may find that you only need to do the yarn over bit every two or three stitches, depending on the tightness of your casting off. Clever, isn't it?

So I'd reworked the cast off on the neck, I'd done the same on the side seams, I'd learned two new techniques while doing so, and I was feeling pretty smug. Finally I did what I should have done a lot earlier in the proceedings - I got Richard to hold it up for me.

And it stretched.

And stretched.

And stretched.

What had been planned as a slipover that would end just below the waist was now six feet long and still going. And this is where the Physics comes in. What had I forgotten? Unlike Isaac Newton, I had forgotten to account for gravity. Stretchy yarn + big needles + gravity = the longest waist-length garment that has ever been seen in the history of knitting.

I didn't quite believe what I was seeing at first. My initial reaction was, "Maybe it will ride up a bit when it's put on..." Well, I gave up on that idea when Richard proved to me that the neck opening had stretched to a point where it would fall from my shoulders to the floor without touching me at any point. There was nothing left but to try to unpick it. Sadly the yarn, although lovely to work with, did not take kindly to being unpicked. Instead, I had to grovel to Debora - the very understanding editor at Simply Knitting - who is sending me some replacement yarn with which I intend to make an entirely different garment...

(If you're wondering why I hadn't held it up before, it's because I have been put back on to bed rest, having overdone it with the whole Walking Round the House bit. It's quite hard to hold up a garment to its full length when you only have little arms.)


Tigger says, "Will you stop waking me up with that camera? I'm enjoying this bed rest stuff...."