Product Knitter Hell

Under ordinary circumstances, I am a combination of process knitter and product knitter. I knit as a form of exploration of mathematical concepts, color, and technique (the process knitter part of me), made practical in the form of a usable item (the product knitter part). I give myself deadlines because I enjoy the satisfaction of getting things done, and also to give myself content for this blog once or twice a month. It’s a nice balance between intellectual exploration and concrete accomplishment. Until things go off balance, which is what I’ve been going through for the last three weeks.

I travel fairly often, and the more I travel, the more I dread it. It’s not supposed to work that way, especially when I’m planning a trip to a reputably nice place to see my daughter and her family, including our two little grandchildren, one of whom was having his first birthday around the time of our get-together and would require a birthday present. Somehow I was in denial about the trip and the things I needed to do to prepare for it. I started a complicated machine knitting project at the beginning of November, even though I knew that I would be traveling on the 17th and that I needed to have the knitting machine available in time to knit the project for my grandson’s birthday sweater. I started my complicated machine knitting project, a machine-knit version of the Lizard Ridge pattern, so that I could use up some yarn I bought in Minneapolis a year ago. At first it was fun. The curves of the short-row patterning showed off the colors and variegation of the yarn in a beautiful way that combined order and variation in a way that is my aesthetic ideal. So I’m knitting along happily until about a week into it, when I belatedly start thinking of the passage of days and the date of my flight and the little sweater for the baby using capabilities of my machine that I haven’t fully mastered. That’s when the time pressure started to kick in. Getting the Lizard Ridge project off the machine became my anxiety-filled priority, so that I could work on the baby sweater three days before the trip and make its pieces in time to bring them with me.

And did I mention that my younger daughter was coming to visit us right after our trip to see the older daughter and her family, and that my younger daughter’s birthday was also imminent, and I would be giving her a hand-knit sweater as a gift? No, I guess I didn’t. That sealed my fate for most of November. I was officially in product knitter hell. For the next three weeks, I was at my knitting machine morning (6:30-8:30), noon (1:00-3:00), and night (evenings until I couldn’t think straight, then I hand-knitted my daughter’s birthday sweater). I gave myself time goals that assumed things would go perfectly, and they rarely did, and I spent large amounts of time repairing stitches and getting further and further behind my goals. My daily visits to Melissa at the yarn store got later and shorter and mostly consisted of my announcing “I’m in product knitter hell” as if it was a new phenomenon, and Melissa replying “You know this is all self-inflicted, don’t you?” and me saying “Yeah, and? Gotta go, goals to meet.” I had originally hoped that I would have the Lizard Ridge sweater in wearable form when I saw my daughter and family, then all I wanted was to get it off the machine by the Thursday before my trip on Sunday so that I could knit the pieces for my grandson’s sweater by Saturday night. I did manage to finish the pieces of the Lizard Ridge sweater and assemble them, minus the trims, purl side furry with loose ends, but at least that project did vacate the machine Thursday morning, three days before my Sunday morning flight.

Finally! The trims aren’t done and the dangling ends are all over the place, but at least it’s off the machine

The baby sweater was based on one of the Stitchworld patterns that are programmed into my knitting machine. I have used the preprogrammed patterns several times, but I don’t know the process well enough to do it without following the instructional video for every step. I know the video has instructions for how to use the settings to divide the knitting for neck shaping while staying in pattern, but it’s a long video and I didn’t have time to watch it  in order to locate those instructions. So I modified my design to dodge that issue, and planned to knit the pattern in an unshaped rectangle and do the shaping in a top section of narrow stripes in contrast colors. The sleeves would be simple stripes. The Stitchworld pattern I chose didn’t have excessively long floats, or so I thought, but the contrast color didn’t always knit all the stitches on the rows with the longest floats, 7 stitches apart, leaving me with long, untethered floats. This distressed me enough that I thought that these stitch failures were going to ruin the entire garment, but those relatively few interruptions to the pattern turned out to be almost invisible.

To my joy and relief, I completed the last pieces of the baby sweater, the sleeves, on schedule first thing on Saturday morning, so Saturday afternoon I decided to put the Lizard Ridge sweater back on the machine to attach a loopy i-cord trim around the hem. Naturally, that took longer than I planned, but I wasn’t worrying. I could finish it in the evening, now that I had the machine-knitting of the baby sweater done. Or so I thought. I brought the pieces over to the store to show off to Melissa… and she confirmed my gnawing doubt that the sleeves were too short. I was going to have to undo the bind-off and put it back on the machine, which was currently occupied by the never-ending trim of my Lizard Ridge sweater. Back I went into product knitter hell. Grimly I sawed the carriage back and forth thousands of times to form the long loops of the i-cord trim, to the point that I wondered if I was going to inflict a repetitive motion injury on my rotator cuff and wrist. Around the time when I had been planning to pack, I completed the last bit of i-cord and took that project off the machine. Knitting the four additional stripe sequences per sleeve was only a matter of minutes; undoing the bind-off and putting the stitches back on the machine took about a half hour per sleeve, late in the evening before a trip in the morning that I hadn’t packed for. Well, I got it done because I had to.

Misplaced optimism about time made a nice hem treatment but ruined the evening before a trip

I got some of the seaming done at the airport and on the plane, but when we got to where our daughter and family were staying, our 3-year-old granddaughter declared me her best friend, and I spent the entire time with her reading and re-reading A Birthday For Frances, drawing princesses with her, coloring pink princess gowns in her Disney princess coloring book, and repurposing the pieces of board games to create imaginary home interiors. Her drawing was very detailed and precise for a tiny person 3 months away from her fourth birthday, and I wondered if her well-developed fine motor skills indicated that we might have a potential knitting prodigy in a year or so…

Ariel and her mermaid sisters, depicted by my little granddaughter
My own self-portrait. The granddaughter draws better than I do

Obviously this wasn’t the time for me to fret about the baby sweater that was still in pieces or the pullover for my younger daughter that was still missing a yoke. I saved my fretting for our return to our hotel room, where I finished the seaming and started tacking down the stitches that didn’t knit in pattern properly and securing and cutting the ends. I was able to complete the clean-up of the work and block the sweater the following evening.

To my vast relief, it fit the grandson generously enough for it to be useful all this winter and maybe into next winter.

Having finished this obligation, I had one foot out of product knitter hell, but the other foot was still mired there. Knitting while I was with my daughter and her family was a not-happening thing, so my last evening in the hotel was spent with steam and sparks coming from my knitting needles in a race against time, 36 hours hence, when we would pick up the younger daughter from the airport. My original fantasy had been to have the sweater ready to hand to my daughter when she first arrived, but that was delusional. I just wanted to get the yoke done before she arrived. Her visit was going to be only two and a half days, which meant that I needed to finish the knitting in time to have it blocked and dried by the morning of her last day with us so that I could get the requisite photo shoot of her modeling it.

A few words about this sweater. When my daughter rejected the sweater that ended up with her petite cousin (after the sweater was burned and elaborately repaired), I promised I would make her another sweater that was large and long enough for her to drown in it. I saw a pattern on Ravelry for a sweater that I thought was pretty close to what would make her happy, and my daughter did like it. However, I didn’t use the pattern, although I did use the inspiration, because I was using yarn in a different weight and therefore would have to recalculate all of the numbers, and while I was at it, I wanted to knit it bottom up rather than top down because that’s my preferred orientation– the look of upside-down stitches always bothers me a little. I like to buy patterns if I’m using at least some part of them, because I want to give designers credit and support, but I didn’t buy this pattern because no part of the instructions was going to be useful to me. When I started the sweater about a month before my daughter’s visit, I did a quick swatch with the yarn I was using, West Yorkshire Spinner’s beautiful bulky Re:treat yarn, which I had used last year for this daughter’s Minnesota winter survival gear. I multiplied gauge times the desired circumference of the sweater and devised a zigzag stripe chart that would provide the length I wanted. Then I forgot to look at my chart and did something different, which I had to correct in the next color sequence. So I have stripes of varying shapes, and I like the effect. Thanks, Fiber Goddess!

When I joined the sleeves and body, I had to get rid of some stitches at the armpit joins so that I would have the right number of stitches for the pattern repeats to progress evenly up the yoke, so I decreased two stitches per join, raglan style, until the excess stitches were gone. I did a decrease row in one of the plain rows between the end of the light pink zigzag and the start of the final white zigzags and saved the more drastic decreasing for the plain rows after the zigzagging was over. And I did manage to finish the yoke by bedtime the night before our daughter arrived. I grafted the sleeves to the body at the armpit in the car on the way to the airport. When we got home, I made her try the sweater on, and it was perfect. Then I soaked it in some wool wash and put it through the spin cycle of the washing machine for a minute and laid it out a drying mesh until it was dry the next morning. I wove in the ends that were visible from the outside and called it done.

The wrong side is pretty too
This is how this sweater is supposed to be worn: thrown over pajamas while drinking that first cup of coffee
It can be worn outside too!

So now this product knitting frenzy is over, and the satisfaction of being done and pleased with my work, and the pleasures of returning to my normal knitting habits are fogging my memory of the stress I put myself through. Now I am congratulating myself on the fact that everyone I knitted for has their sweaters. I saw them wearing their sweaters. Whether or not I ever see them wearing their sweaters again is almost irrelevant, because I did what I set out to do and I did it well, and I got the psychic reward of having delivered the finished items at the required time and seeing them on their recipients. I do know that no one cares about that except me: if I had finished the sweaters late and put them in the mail, they would have been just as happy, or indifferent, as they were when I insisted that they wear them in my presence. My compulsive and stress-filled push to meet a specific deadline was about my getting paid, not in money, but in gratification.


7 thoughts on “Product Knitter Hell

  1. WOW! A hard-fought battle, ending in triumph. As a process knitter myself, I would have delivered those sweaters in June. Or whenever. You, on the other hand, achieved wonders and got a nice group portrait of mermaids in return. Well done, and happy Thanksgiving.

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  2. So much here that I love! Most of all: being your granddaughter’s best friend & that she likes the Frances books (favorites of my daughters & granddaughter, too). And the sweaters! Your grandson’s is fabulous, large is great so he can wear it often, babies & toddlers look adorable in large sweaters. And I love the zig-zag pullover, varying stripe widths are a fortunate mistake (I always think of those as my subconscious taking over the design). Speaking of fortunate mistakes, I do love the Lizard ridge sweater (I recall you talking about the orange lines & waves).

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    1. Thanks, Laura! The granddaughter is adorable and very dexterous. It’s a relief to be done with this spate of product knitting, but I could fall right back down the rabbit hole because of December and January birthdays, not to mention a little holiday at the end of December… but I don’t have the energy.

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