Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Kitchener is my Nemesis


I got my own dose of lessons in humility, lately. Even though other things in my life may be a mess, I could always look to my knitting to see some minor successes. Well, I could, until last week.

So I am making a pair of mittens. This is my first pair of mittens; I have made fingerless mitts before, and they are fun but really not that practical in January when your hands are really cold. I decided that, darn it, I've been knitting for 24 years, I ought to be able to make a pair of mittens and get some full coverage for my hands.

I have pairs of store bought gloves a-plenty, but my favorite thing to keep my hands really warm is a pair LL Bean ragg-wool mittens that I have had since college, or maybe high school. They have no fancy thinsulate filling or waterproof fabric. They're plain wool, with a thin wool lining. They repel the water because they are wool, and they are the best at keeping my hands warm because the fingers are together. They're awesome. Their only flaws are that they're a drab gray/brown and they are not handmade. I wanted to make some pretty mittens for myself.

I found the perfect pattern to do it: Wood Hollow Mittens from Through the Loops. I became obsessed with this pattern as soon as I saw it. At first, they were going to be my Ravelympics project. It seemed the perfect pattern: these mittens are doable within 2 weeks, but they still offer a stretch because they involved kitchenering a seam, which is a skill that I have not yet mastered. I found what seemed to be the perfect yarn: Berroco Vintage Wool, an affordable, machine-washable, and super-soft wool/acrylic blend in a gorgeous violet heathery color called Sloe Berry.

I couldn't even wait for the Ravelympics to start them. I cast them on last week. Full speed ahead!

I was completely entranced from the start. I love the twisted rib. I love the big cable-y goodness of the main stitch pattern. I loved the perfect point formed by the thumb gusset--man, I'm easily enchanted, aren't I? And then I got to the end of the fingers, where the pattern calls for you to kitchener together the last 7 stitches of each side together. Full stop. Screeching halt, actually.

And here I met my doom. When I said before that the kitchener stitch is "a skill I have not yet mastered," I was understating the situation. I was being kind. I was sparing my own feelings. I was letting myself off easy. In reality, kitchener stitch is a skill at which I outright stink. I suck eggs. It is hard to believe that, after so many years of knitting, I could be so bad at this particular kind of knitting. I'm pretty darn competent at so many other things in knitting (well, except for color-work, but let's not go there. Who needs different colors, anyway?).

Just as I do every time I try kitchenering (or grafting, as it is also know), I bravely dug out one of the knitting books I have that goes through kitchener in detail, complete with step-by-step descriptions and pictures and color-coded diagrams with little arrows. I dove in. Here is the result:
The kitchenering is at the end of the fingers here. If you can't see it in the picture, I will tell you that this is terrible. It looks awful. It's backwards. I don't know why, but my kitchenering always ends up backwards. If I am doing stockinette it ends up looking like garter stitch. If I am doing garter, it ends up looking like stockinette. I don't know why.

I pretended I did not hate it to death and moved on to the thumb, and then I started the second mitten. I figured I would rip it out and try again on another day. At the recommendation of someone on Ravelry, I totally wimped out on kitchenering the second mitten and did a three-needle bind-off instead. When she suggested it, I thought, Eureka! I thought I had found the perfect way for me to kitchener--by avoiding it entirely! Ha ha! I'll show this mitten, I thought.

But easier said than done, people. The three-needle bind-off needed to be done inside the mitten so it would not show. This meant turning the mitten inside out, which meant that they had be taken off the 6 inche needles right? That's where I got in trouble. I figured, 7 stitches are no big deal, I'll just let take the needles out and flip the mitten and they'll be right there. I don't need no stinking stitch holders. Right?

Wrong! The live stitches at the end of the fingers did not want to flip inside-out. Turns out those live stitches have a mind of their own. They know which way they are supposed to go, and apparently being inside-out was not on their agenda. I had to go digging for these stitches to try get them back on the needles, and it was not pretty. It did not help it was 11:30 at night, everyone else had gone to bed, and there may have been a glass of wine lurking nearby.

Here's my end result for the fingers on the second mitten (before I finished off the thumb):
See what I mean? Better than the first, but still no cigar.

So what have I learned, children? Practice, practice, practice. I tell the kids that they can't expect to be great at things the first, second or even the third time they try them. I need to listen to my own lectures. I need to practice this thing called grafting or kitchenering. I need to face my demon--nay, my nemesis--over and over again until I can beat it into submission. Well, I would be happy if I could just manage to deal with 14 measly stitches on a mitten, OK?

I close with a picture of some neighbors wandering through our backyard the other day.
I could not get them all in a picture, so you will have to take my word that there were 15--FIFTEEN--of them.

1 comment:

Kirsten said...

I used to end up with purl stitches every time I tried Kitchenering too. To solve this I simply turned the work inside out to Kitchener. I found it much more logical work it this way. You may find it easier too.

Nowadays I Kitchener on the RS, but for me it still takes a bit more concentration that way.