Catastrophic Knitting Mitigation – The Lifeline

I am realizing that having a knitting project last a year and a half correlates to a large number of blog posts written about it.  Not just blog posts where the publish button has already been clicked – that total is three, not including this one – but blog posts which have been languishing in the drafts folder.  Now that I’ve finally finished my epic cowl, I can stop being embarrassed of my failure, stop hiding my old posts, and bring new found knitting knowledge to the light of day.  So now, let me tell you about the joys of knitting lifelines.  They sound important, don’t they?  Oh my knitting friends, they are crucial if you want to enter the world of crazy stitch patterns.  Read on…


Post started October 8, 2016

I have a knitting project that has been languishing.  It’s not because I don’t love it, because I do, but somehow other priorities keep popping up.  There was my daughter’s requested blankie, the 100th birthday present, and a new baby layette (for a welcome niece on her way).  All really legitimate reasons to take a knitting break from a complicated project.  However I’ve finally started to make some consistent progress on the Purl Soho cowl.  The days are getting cooler and in no time the weather will call for me to wear this beauty.  (Future me – ugh, I missed an entire winter!)  Thankfully my fingers have memorized the pattern and I can knit while watching my daughter’s soccer practice or television.

This week was full of problems at work.  Anticipated problems.  Surprise problems.  Big and little problems.  I was looking forward to the distraction of spending Friday night watching Grey’s Anatomy and getting a few rows knit.  Just about the time the whole Alex Karev thing blew up (Future me – I’m not really sure what the Alex Karev thing was all about, but it apparently drew my attention away from my stitches)  something felt funny in my knitting.

If you aren’t a knitter this might sound strange – felt funny – but I assure you when your fingers know a pattern you can feel a mistake before you see it.  The “knit in the row below” stitch felt too bulky.  Then the next knit stitch felt weird.  I took a third awkward stitch before my brain screamed “stop”!  Something was wrong and things were about to go wronger.  My desire to escape from my problems was being complicated by a new knitting problem.

Can you see the mistake?  The place where the pattern goes awry starting at the fourth stitch from the last one on the needle?  Here, I’ll show you a close up too.  This is not a good situation.

But do you see those odd blue and yellow strings hanging out the edges of my cowl in the not-close-up picture?  Smarty smart me put in a lifeline a couple of rows before the mistake, so the issue is fixable.  Problem solved!

Lifelines allow a knitter to go back in time to a row where the pattern is correct and start over, even when there is a complicated stitch pattern.  You just take your needles out, rip all the stitches out, and begin again.  When your pattern has a repeat, like this one does, it’s best to put the lifeline at the end of each repeat, unless it’s a big repeat, then feel free to put in lifelines mid-repeat.  Basically you’ll want to weigh the annoyance of putting in a lifeline against the annoyance of ripping out more rows if you make a mistake.

Right before I started the checked rose section of my cowl, I learned about lifelines.  See, the first section of the cowl, the rambler pattern, was knit painstakingly.  I knew that using the knit into the row below technique meant that any mistake would be next to impossible to fix.  It’s hard to make stitches come back when the stitch itself depends on you removing every other stitch from rows to make the fabric.  So I only knit the first section when I could pay close attention to my knitting, but that severely limited my knitting time.  My preferred method is to multitask knit.

Online knitting searches led me to the lifeline idea.  Basically you either:

  1. Thread a piece of scrap yarn – in a contrasting color and with a smooth texture – into the completed last row of your pattern repeat using a darning needle.  Just finish the row and thread your scrap yarn through the stitches.  (I used a circular needle, so just threaded the waste yarn where the cord was.)  Make sure the yarn is substantially longer than the garment you are making, so it doesn’t get pulled through.
  2. Some needles – not mine – actually have little holes in the needle which allow you to thread waste yarn into the hole before you start the last row of the repeat, and as you knit the waste yarn will automatically be pulled through the stitches.  Sounds cool, but not possible with the tools I have.

Post Continued August 10, 2017

I didn’t really understand how this lifeline magic worked, so I made a swatch!  (I swatched more with this project than all my other projects combined to date.)  This helped me figure out how to place a lifeline and how to use it to recover from mistakes.  Here are the steps of creating and using a lifeline.

  1. Begin knitting your pattern.
  2. Remove the cat from your work.
  3. When you’ve completed a repeat of the pattern – 6 rows in this case – take your darning needle and thread scrap yarn through each stitch of the completed row.  Leave the stitches on the needle as you do this.  In the below image you would thread the yarn where the bamboo needle is: through the green stitches.  img_5179
  4. Start knitting again.  The next time the pattern repeat ends, put in another lifeline.  When you are confident there is not a mistake in a section you can pull out the lifeline for reuse.  My rule of thumb was rotating three lifelines.
  5. Now, oops, you made a mistake.  Take the needles out, and rip back to the lifeline.  Rip away!  Don’t be shy.  The waste yarn will keep you from unraveling too far.
  6. Take your knitting needle and follow the waste yarn through the stitches. 
  7. Now just start the pattern again.  I was worried that I’d need to adjust the pattern –  just do a simple knit row or something – since the pattern involves knitting in the stitch below, but somehow magically this technique just takes you back to exactly the same place you were when you finished the row.  It’s like all those hours of knitting after the waste yarn went in never happened.

This technique is great for complicated stitch patterns, lace, and cables.  It’s an invaluable technique that I anticipate making me a braver knitter, because I’ll know how to recover from a mistake.   Let me know if you’ve ever used the lifeline technique and how it’s worked for you.

 

Knitting Friends

This cowl.  I’m not one to let knitting projects languish.  I start them, knit, bind off, weave in ends, then start a new project.  Occasionally I’ll have two projects going because one is big, or otherwise not travel friendly and I do not travel sans knitting.
This cowl was started with a knitting friend.  Together we decided to buy the expensive kit, and marveled over the magic stitches produced by “knitting in the row below” and the resulting fabric variety produced.  After finishing the first solid-color rambler section, I ditched my purchased color 2 and 3 and called on my knitting blogging friends to help me choose a new colorway.  Then, when the two-color checked rose section was complete, I called on blogging friends again for the final color decision for the english rose tweed section, using the world’s longest swatch to guide the discussion.

This cowl, oh!  I loved planning it, swatching it, playing with colors, and learning new techniques.  When I was done I couldn’t wait to wear it.  It was beautiful, soft and warm.  After researching others’ processes I blocked it before doing the final graft.  Then I got stuck…on February 6, 2017.

This cowl, ugh!  As directed, I had started with a provisional cast on – in March 2016 (the knitting took almost a year) – and all I had left to do was to pull out the waste yarn, pick up the live stitches and use kitchener stitch to turn the scarf into a cowl.  Easy peasy.  I’d done it many times before, except I’d never done it with a provisional cast on that went immediately into this crazy honeycomb looking stitch.   Also, I might have created some problems for myself by chosing a brown tweed yarn for my waste yarn.  Knitters, we all know to chose a smooth contrasting yarn for our waste yarns.  What was I thinking?  (Non-knitters, the bumpy multicolored tweed yarn made it both hard to see the waste yarn, and hard to pull out.  Tweed has qualities good for knits, but bad for this technique.)

This cowl…it was so close to being done.  I tried to just yank out the provisional cast on, and it wouldn’t come.   I made four swatches with the provisional cast on in the appropriate yarn weight and color.  Each swatch was examined every which way, but I couldn’t see how to remove the waste yarn and insert my needles.  I tried to figure out where the stitches were, and I couldn’t.  I even posted a comment on the pattern on Purl Soho requesting help.  While Adam seemed lovely, he also seemed to be explaining the basics of a provisional cast on to me, which I understood, but I didn’t understand this particular variation of the provisional cast on – although in hindsight he was leading me in the right direction.

PurlSoho comments

This cowl sat in a bin for five months.  I thought about just sewing it up with an ugly seam on my sewing machine.  After the completion of each subsequent knitting project, I would pull the cowl out and try to puzzle how to get those stitches on a needle and remove that waste yarn.  Each time I gave up, folded it up, and hid it from my eyes.  Then another knitting friend came to the rescue.  Back from a year abroad for a few short weeks we agreed to meet for drinks and knitting.  Of course we brought our current knitting projects, and on a whim I brought my cowl.  After a few sips of cider, I pulled out the offending cowl and asked for help.  “I just can’t see where the stitches are, and yes, I know the tweed was a bad idea.”  She lovingly took my project into her hands, and evaluated the situation with the care only a fellow knitter is capable of.  Finally she said, “It’s lovely.  If it were mine, I’d take a size 1 needle and try to follow the cast on yarn stitch by stitch.”  I turned the idea over in my head.  I hadn’t tried that technique yet.  That was July 10th.

This cowl is done!  I traced the stitch pattern through with a long tiny needle three times before I was confident enough to pull out the waste yarn.  With each stitch I would insert my needle where the waste yarn was, then pull out one stitch.  At the end I had 52 live stitches to graft, and I was supposed to have 51.  Any knitter will tell you that is a success.  I can graft one extra stitch no problem.  After reminding myself of the kitchener knit-purl-purl-knit pattern, I lined up the two sides, made sure the cowl wasn’t twisted and started grafting.  As I went along I fixed stitches that were twisted and puzzled where I’d messed up the undoing of the provisional cast on, but in the end, it would take a pretty serious knitter to see where my graft was off.  (Yes, I can see it.)

This cowl’s first picture, with yarn ends hanging out all over waiting to be blocked, went to the original knitting friend.  She’s not through the second panel yet, but I assured her that when she got done I’d be able to help her graft the sides together.  (My frustration may have influenced her decision to stop knitting.)  The second picture of the final product cowl complete with ends woven in went to the knitting friend who saved me.  She’s across the world again, but at roughly 11:00 p.m. for me and a.m. for her I sent her a picture and a text.  “It’s done.  You are a genius.”  She is, and I’m so grateful for my knitting friends who push me to take on challenges, help me resolve design issues, and give me ideas when I get stuck.

This cowl cannot wait for the temperature to turn cold.  It’s been waiting years to make an appearance.


Knitting Details:

Pattern: Purl Soho Stitch Block Cowl

Yarn:

Color 1: Purl Soho’s Worsted 9832 Twist in Sea Salt

Color 2: Madelinetosh Tosh Merino in Shire

Color 3: Purl Soho’s Worsted Twist in Moody Green

Ravelry link: http://www.ravelry.com/projects/afthead/stitch-block-cowl

Help Me Pick my Yarn – Phase 2

Four months ago I posted an exciting knitting contest, and finally, I can announce the results.  Just in case you haven’t been holding your breath for three months awaiting the results of this knitting contest, here is a reminder.  I’m making the Purl Soho stitch block cowl.  I need three colors of yarn and was deciding between these three options:

The voting from March was close, but the Hobbit Cowl emerged as a narrow favorite:

Option 1 – Hobbit Cowl – 4 votes

Option 2 – Sunset Cowl – 3 votes

Option 3 – Scottish Cowl – 2 votes

After getting distracted by my sweet daughter batting her super long eyelashes at me and asking for a new blankie, I finally wrapped up the first panel of the cowl.


Isn’t it pretty, and cool and texture-y?  Now it’s time to add in color two and three!  I have to make a decision.  This is a pricey project both from a supply and time perspective, so I really want to get it right.  I decided that the only thing to do was to start knitting swatches to see what I really like best.

The world’s longest most ridiculous swatch.  (No, I didn’t check gauge with it.  Why do you ask?)

Eleven swatches later I’ve decided I really do like the colors selected by the blogosphere.  If only I were a more trusting person I could have saved myself a few hours.  (You readers are SO smart!)  Except…the decision isn’t done!  One section has two colors and the other has three colors.  I need to decide which color is in the two-color section.  Readers,  I turn to you for guidance again.  Which option should I choose?

Is the left version with Shire as the second color better, or is the Moody Green, on the right, better?  Please help me decide before I leave on vacation, so I know which color to pack, because I know I won’t get through all 20 inches in a week.  Thank you!