Thursday, April 10, 2008

Victory Over the Heartbreaker

This is the odyssey of the Aran Accent Vest. It is a cautionary tale for all of you who would knit this vest. There are many lessons I have learned including those taught by perseverance, stubbornness, optimism, hope and bloody-mindedness. All of which I possess in spades.

In the vest’s defence, I whole-heartedly declare that I love it. I loved it when I first spied the Paton’s booklet Cables which I purchased after a trunk show at Yarn Forward and Sew On (Kanata location) in the Year of Our Lord 2006 (?). And the number of cable repeats I have done for this finished object have engrained an unholy love of the pattern and given me a recurring eye twitch.

The yarn was a lovely gift from Bruce’s mom, Joyce, who was destashing and divesting herself of a few things (a hat form, a Cowichan sweater coat and a poncho). It is Briggs and Little turquoise and tweedy (and barky and twiggy) and offers lots of good stitch definition. However, this is not the yarn called for in the pattern. With a stash like mine, I rarely use the called for yarn. This is where adventure and fearlessness begin.
Lesson 1: Swatches Lie
Lesson 2: Balancing Christmas Knitting and Selfish Knitting is Tough to Do

So, back in October, I set out to knit this with the hopes of having it to wear for Christmas. This was my first blunder. I thought that I could knit something like this in between my Christmas knitting. Not so much. Still, I cast on for a swatch, because I was being good and thought swatching would help. Got gauge and knit the front, meticulously ripping and picking back where I had made errors so that it would be perfect. At one point (at Thanksgiving, in a posh spa hotel room) I took the piece in progress off the needles and measured it only to find it was a bit too big, but using well-known Knitter Denial, I kept on, thinking that I could compensate in some way.

So when I got it finished (the front, after Christmas…like in February when my Christmas knitting was done…don’t tell me this doesn’t happen to you…those of you who are actually knitters), I laid it on the table and took out my measuring tape. Only to find that in the intervening months during which I had concentrated on my Christmas knitting, like a good little knitter, that it had not shrunk while sitting in the Bad Corner. Imagine that. The universe had not conspired to shrink the fabric like it is so fond of doing to my pants.

Lo, it was 2 inches too wide. And I had intended for it to be a curve hugging, bodaciousness enhancer (‘cos I got some of that to enhance…whereas the starving stick model Paton’s has used to illustrate the design in the booklet does not have so much of). I had thought that I would be able to go for that elusive quality, “Negative ease” which draws the fabric in to the hour-glass waist, to accentuated the round bosom and hips. To show it all off.

2 inches too much on the front, having used the right size needles, meant that I would also be 2 inches too wide on the back. Which meant 4 inches too large all around and frankly that meant I wasn’t knitting a size large (which is what my bust measurement said I should knit, for the sake of the general population, you understand). It meant I was knitting wide enough for the XX-large. Now, no one will mistake me for an emaciated, half-starved stick girl model. No Siree, not in this lifetime. However, I am not inclined to believe I need to wear a 2XL for my sweaters. Especially not when I’m going for some of that Negative Ease.

I didn’t have enough yarn to continue the way I was going. So I did the only thing I could think of doing. I RIPPED IT OUT. Fear not! I was fortified by stiff drink and moral support.
Lesson 3: Cast on Again Right Away

It was then the vest became known as “The Heartbreaker”. But, I’ve had my heart broken before and I have soldiered on. So, I unravelled the SOB and strung it out on my niddy-noddy to straighten it out (I put it in the shower for a go at the steam which really made our babysitter laugh. She appreciates my entertainment value…as I know the rest of you do too.) Little did I know however that I would have my heart broken by this design repeatedly. Good thing I’m stubborn or it might not have happened.

I immediately cast on again. I made a second swatch on smaller needles and with a smaller size in mind. My gauge was a tad shy of the mark this time and I thought, “Eureka! I’m headed for negative ease for sure.” And blithely cast on for the front a second time. At least I had the pattern pretty well down by this time and it went better the second time with fewer ripping events and less swearing. Front done, measuring well within acceptable range for the desired effect.

Cast on for the back as for the front until you get to *** in the pattern. Now this point in the pattern coincides with having 3 of those funky diamonds done. And I was thinking to myself, almost there. Maybe done this weekend. Ha. Not so. Look at the pattern and see these words, or words of a similar nature: “continue in pattern until 32 rows centre cable pattern are worked 3 times.” Now, I was at 3 times already so I thought long and hard about how long this freaking thing would be if I worked another 3 repeats. Albeit, the neckline on the front was lower than the back. So I worked 2 more repeats of it (extending beyond the weekend) and took another look. Consulted Raverly which told me that I’d gone too far, but liked how it was looking so I modified my plan a bit for a short and sweet vest. But I did stop at the 5 repeats of the diamond cable and extended the front armstrappy things 2 inches to meet the neckline in the right spot. Sewed up the shoulders and put on the neck ribbing. Then did the arm ribbing. Then sewed up the side seams. And measured the whole affair top to bottom, with consideration for the increase in length for the extra lozenge pattern.
Lesson 4: It's OK to Deviate from Patterns

It was long according to the schematics. That was ok. However, it was still wider than anticipated. After switching to the smaller needles and going down a size in the pattern, I would have thought that it would fit Twiggy. However, this was not meant to be. After washing and blocking, I tried it on and cried. It fit as well as a horse blanket. Good stitch definition. Close attention paide to details in the pattern. Looked great. I just needed to put on another 100 lbs. Since I wanted to show this off at Guild in less than 2 weeks, the all Oreo Cookie diet wasn’t going to make this sucker fit.
Lesson 5: Modifications are Possible After You're Done the Knitting

So I threw it in the dryer. That freaked y’all out didn’t it. I’ve felted projects on purpose by washing repeatedly in hot to great success. I’ve also shrunk things inadvertently in my teen years. I just used my judgement and drastic measures were called for. I very carefully timed things so that it would shrink. Afterall, with too much fabric, I had room to move. So I let it go for 20 agonizing minutes (checking after 10) to find that shrinking was indeed going on. But not enough. A bit of felting was going on too but not so much to be unbecoming.

Still, too big by a lot. Definitely no negative ease. So I moved on to more drastic measures. I sewed the side seams farther in. Like by another 2 inches on both sides. And as the neckline was gaping so much that newborns were crying for lunch, I wove another line of stitches under the cast-off edge to snug it up. Plunging is ok, however, it doesn’t do to have infants throwing themselves out of their buggies or car seats to get at a total stranger’s goods (babies are not fussy when they are hungry.)

After redoing the seam stitches, I tried it on again to see if the snugness was better. Yes! A small victory against the Heartbreaker. However, the excess fabric on the inside had to go.

You know what that means… If you have a faint heart, just leave now.
Lesson 6: Sometimes You Have to be Brave

I had to


I’ve never had to cut steeks. But I understood the theory. Use wool because it has a memory. Reinforce your seams. No unravelling. So that’s just what I did.

Now, the Aran Accent Vest and I can be friends. Victory! Mission accomplished. And now, I want to figure out what cabled sweater I’ll knit Bruce. Although, I might just use the recommended yarn this time.
Lesson The Last: Broken Hearts Mend. Knit On.

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