When I teach knitting, I tell my students to read the entire pattern before they begin. I tell them to check online for any corrections to their pattern, magazine, or book. I tell them about the importance of keeping track of stitch counts with markers, and keeping track of rows, with a row counter or paper and pencil.
I’m the teacher, and I know best.
I’m so smart, in fact, that I don’t need to do any of those things, especially if the pattern appears to be easy. Why would I need to read an easy pattern all the way through? Why would such an easy pattern have any corrections when it’s obvious how it is worked? Why would I need to count stitches or rows on, say, an easy triangle shawl?
Recently, armed with an attitude of fearlessness and the confidence of a fool, I began a large triangular shawl from a popular book. I could see from the pictures that it was garter stitch in the center triangle, and an easy lace pattern around the lower edges. So I set about knitting every row, increasing on every row as the pattern told me. I counted my stitches every so often, and while the triangle was still small, I was right on the stitch counts.
About halfway through the center garter triangle, I was off by one stitch on one side of the center rib. No problem; who’s going to notice a little k2tog amidst all that garter, especially since I was working in a nice, fuzzy alpaca yarn?
On the next row, I was off one stitch on the other side. Hmmm.
I thought it might be a good idea, at this stage (having knit up, oh, about 6 balls of yarn) to read through the directions.
It was late. I was annoyed. I ripped out two rows and re-knit them, with the same result as before.
I glanced at the instructions. I had done exactly what they said. I must have made a mistake. Rip. Re-knit. Same result.
At this point I should have: a) Put it down and gone to bed; b) Realized I needed to study the directions in greater depth, especially at a time when I was more rested; or c) Checked for corrections.
Instead I got out a pad and pencil and calculator, and went over the numbers again and again. I could not make the numbers in the pattern match the number of stitches I had, no matter how I calculated. After making myself itchy and hot with frustration, I went to bed fuming. I dreamed my recurring dream in which my underwear is four sizes too small.
The next day, I brought the project to work, and told my coworker how much trouble I was having. As soon as I started talking to another human being, I realized that the trouble was that the pattern said to increase stitches in pairs, yet I was supposed to end up with an odd number of stitches. Reaching back, back – way back -- to 2nd grade arithmetic, I remembered that when you start with 2, and add 2 each time, you do not end up with an odd number. Not ever. Hmmmm.
Checking online when I got home, I saw there were several corrections to the pattern. Ah. I made the necessary corrections and returned to happy knitting – ah, how happy we fools can be at times! -- still not using stitch markers or a row counter. This worked well until my rows started to get over 300 stitches long. I counted all the stitches every few rows with great irritation. You would think, since I have been knitting for 40-plus years, it would have occurred to me to use markers. You’d think that, but you’d be wrong.
Then, at some point, I noticed my right-side marker was on the wrong side. That gave me pause for a moment, but I decided that, since it was garter stitch, nobody could really tell the right side from the wrong side. What I didn’t think about was that given the sequence of increases, I would never be able to achieve the right number of stitches on the right row on the right side this way.
It was when I got to the point where I was supposed to have 399 stitches, and I was on right side which was supposed to be the wrong side, and I only had 397 stitches, and I had fudged stitches several times (and the edge of the shawl was getting ever wonkier) that I realized I could never get to the correct number of stitches on the correct side following the current scheme. I’d have to fudge a couple of highly visible additional stitches before beginning my lace pattern.
Garter stitch is, thank goodness, easy to rip out. Even in fuzzy alpaca.
The alpaca is really nice yarn.
And I still really like the shawl design. That is, according to the picture, since mine is now a pile of little yarn cannonballs.
And I will probably re-knit the shawl, this time using markers every ten stitches, and counting every row as I go. I will be Good and Follow the Rules and my shawl will come out to be a precise triangle with no lurking unauthorized k2togs or m1s, no veering edges. It will be military-esque in its precision.
But not today. Today I am working on a much more relaxing project, a lace shawl in fingering weight yarn with 4 different lace motifs.
More relaxing? Sure. Because with a complex lace project, I KNOW I can’t proceed without markers, counters, lifelines, a parachute, Depends, and Dial-a-Prayer.