Monday, February 17, 2014

work in progress

Sunrise this morning, through my bedroom window.

I'll just have to take my word for it.

That white spot behind the icicles?
That's the sun.
I swear.

I've not been very energetic or productive recently. It would be easy to withdraw further into a huddled sense of "waiting out" this weather. But I'm dodging that attitude by having a little knitting "wip" (work in progress) near to hand. If I feel restless or anxious or dull, I can always pick up the knitting and know that I am doing something potentially useful while listening to audiobooks or watching DVDs in the evening.

It was an old BBC episode of Lord Peter Wimsey that set me off on my current project. Do you know the stories by Dorothy L. Sayers? The wonderful actor Ian Carmichael was the Lord Peter Wimsey, I think, but this particular episode, Have His Carcase, was part of a 1987 BBC series starring Edward Petherbridge as Lord Peter and Harriet Walter as Harriet Vane.

Harriet Vane apparently favored knitwear.
Lovely 1930s knitwear.

Did you notice the hat?

Now, here's a thing about knitters. 
At least some knitters. 
At least this knitter.

I often become fascinated by knitted articles I cannot rationally justify making.

Whimsical tea cozies that will not fit my actual teapot.

Intricately-patterned mittens that could never, ever be worn to the barn.

Lacework shawls. Which I won't even link to, because we could be here all night.

I mean, really. Shawls. To say that I do not have a shawl-wearing lifestyle at the present time would be a significant understatement.

So while I deeply admire many knit designs and have saved about two thousand projects on Ravelry and Pinterest, I very rarely actually knit anything that does not have a clear purpose. Like socks. Or cotton washcloths. That sort of thing.

But the Harriet Vane hat...

it spoke to me. 

I stopped the DVD, went back and played the "hat scenes" over and over. I took a few screenshots. I did a pattern search on Ravelry for "tam," and found many, including one that I intend to knit soon. But I didn't find the exact Harriet Vane hat. I started a thread, tapping into the power of the Rav hivemind to come up with specific pattern suggestions. As a result, I looked at dozens of patterns, hundreds of project photos, learning more about this style of hat but still not finding the elements that would make it identical to Harriet's hat.

Then...I stepped back and thought about those elements. I started looking really closely at the screenshots, and trying to determine how - exactly - it was constructed. This process is called "reverse engineering," and it is not one of my strong points, knitting-wise. In fact, I don't think I've ever done it before.

Crikey, what fun!
Make a few notes!
Cast on!
See what happens!

As you can already see, I'm no longer married to the idea of an identical hat - and by the way, I don't even know who I am knitting this hat for - but I am shooting for the overall effect, and am very curious to see how close I will come.

Knitting tip! Do you see that white thread (actually dental floss) on the tapestry needle? In knitters' jargon, it's called a "lifeline." This is a handy technique to use any time there is a good possibility that you will have to rip back a section of work and start again from that point.

Ripping back is easy. Some call it "tinking" because "tink" is the reverse of "knit." Heh. All you have to do is pull the needles out (gasp) of all the "live" stitches and then gently tug away those hours of labor. I mean stitches.

The tricky thing, after ripping back, is to get the "live" stitches back onto your needles. They shrink away, those little loops. They disappear, and they become "dropped stitches" which create more drama to be dealt with before you can even pick up where you left off and start again.

BUT. Could we rewind for a moment?

If you take just a few minutes to thread a strand of string, or thin yarn, or dental floss (my favorite) through each live stitch in one row while it is still on your needles, before anything goes wonky, just in case you may need to rip back and redo a section...

well, in that case, you end up with this:

a perfect and complete row of live stitches, held safely intact by the lifeline until you can ease the needles back into place.
And then you can carry on your merry, knitterly way. Tra-la!

I put a lifeline in last night, and tonight I ripped back a few inches of new knitting because I was not satisfied with the shaping of the decrease section that was beginning to form the crown of the hat. And now, after patting myself on the back for taking the time to put in the lifeline, I will put each stitch back on the needles and begin that section again, with a slightly different approach, and we shall see what happens.

The yarn feels lovely, The stitch definition is delightful. And so far, I am having fun playing around with the magic of shaping a three-dimensional piece of fabric by means of a simple stitch. 

It's a work in progress, and sometimes that's at least as important as the end result.