Once in a while you come across a pattern that will defeat you. If you're a new knitter this happens relatively often, and you think that the problem lies just with you. When you're more experienced it STILL happens, although you're quicker to blame the pattern or the yarn! Sometimes it's knitter error. Sometimes you just can't put your finger on why that pattern does not work for you at that time. However, most people don't talk about it, which leads beginner knitters to believe that they're the only ones with pattern compatibility issues.
The Robot Tank Top was my nemesis. It looks pretty simple at first glance - stockinette, a few colour changes and a bit of slightly trickier intarsia. However, to be fair, even the intarsia is in blocks so it's not going to be too complicated, surely?
This was the pattern I chose to complete on my train journey - one that I expected to be quick, satisfying and pretty easy. Ha!
Let me remind you how it was supposed to look:
I was to knit it for my almost 6 year old, Charlie. I used Paton's Smoothie DK, in red and grey, and Debbie Bliss Cashmerino in slate.
First off, the yarn was truely, dreadfully awful. I thought 100% acrylic would be nice and practical for an active boy, and I knew the tank top would need regular machine washing. Smoothie has got a nice feel on the ball (oo-er), not like nasty scratchy acrylic. However, once you start knitting with it, the cabled ply soon becomes a problem and it's very easy to split the ply and make a mess. I did this lots of times and kept having to go back to correct my mistakes.
The tank is made in two separate pieces which are to be joined. The neck and armhole finishes are to be picked up and knit after the garment has been made up. I carefully checked my gauge, which was spot on. I don't very often do this.
The back of the piece was made with pretty much no fuss at all; no problems so far. It took me maybe a couple of days. The front however, was a nightmare. Firstly, because of the way the pattern was laid out, I failed to notice that you needed to knit 3 inches of stockinette before starting the instarsia pattern. I noticed after half completing the colour work. Fail. That was several hours work to rip back. Irritated but undeterred, I started again following the chart. This time I finished. THEN I noticed that you needed to start shaping the armholes half way through the pattern. Arrrgh! Again, it had to be mostly ripped back and started once more. It's arguable whether this is pattern fail or knitter fail. The information was there, but it wasn't clear enough for me to process. I think that the point at which one starts shaping the armholes could have been marked on the chart with a dot, but still.
Finally, I completed the item. Fabulous. Except it didn't look right at all. It was the right length, but way, way too wide:
I got the tape measure out, and I got my gauge swatch out. Swatch was fine. By some conspiracy of fate, the tank top was 3.5 inches WIDER than it should have been. Arse. Was this the yarn, or the knitter? Or possibly a fault in the pattern?
At this point, I threw the darned thing on the floor, swore at it quite a lot and then studiously ignored it for a few hours. There was no way Charlie could wear it without looking ridiculous. I didn't want to give up because that would be letting the sodding, stinking robot win. What to do, what to do?
At first I considered steeking. Steeking is the process of CUTTING knit fabric to make it smaller. However, any idiot knows that knitted fabric unravels. Therefore, the magic and mystery of steeking is some cunningly placed stitches to form a barrier against unravelling.
I pinned the Tank Top Of Doom out and looked at it for a long time. Steeking might work, but I needed to lose so much that would lose my armhole shaping. That would make for a pretty crappy looking tank top. Eventually had a better plan - I would cut off the ribbing, pick up stitches all around the garment on a large circular needle and then start to knit downwards (from top to bottom, rather than the bottom to top working of the original pieces). That would add length to the body. Charlie would have to grown into the darned thing.
However, that did pose one problem. If you look really closely at the last row of red and the first row of grey, you'll see that the new stitches are knitted half a stitch to the left of the new ones:
There really is no way around this; it's a fact of knitting. The key is to do something to disguise it: a lace pattern or colour change will do. Thankfully the back of the garment had red and grey stripes, so it was pretty easy to disguise the new join.
I was taught to knit as a child by my mother. To this day my mother says she can't knit "properly."It's hard to explain, I may well upload a video, but her version involves letting go of the needle to wrap the yarn with your right hand. My grandmother, a proper English knitter, taught me to knit "properly" in order to make up for my mother's dodgy technique. I clearly remember being able to do both, but choosing my mother's technique because it was more familiar to me. How frustrating!
Fast forward about 15 years and I spot a garter stich cushion in an interiors magazine that I decide I can make. It's 2002 and I haven't even picked up any needles in all that time. I bought the necessary knitting accoutrements and set about reminding myself how to knit. It was before the days of online knitting, my mother lived 100 miles away and my grandmother had died. So I sort of taught myself.
Last year I decided that this "wrong" way was something that could be corrected and set about teaching myself how to improve using You Tube tutorials. I found that Continental knitting felt the most comfortable and was soon on my way with this new skill. I found the knit stitch took longer than before, but gradually got used to the new pace.
A couple of times recently I've wondered why I can see the backing structure of the knitting. It was whilst knitting this Tank Top of Doom that I realised my stitches weren't really sitting straight. They were slightly raised on the right:
I decided to investigate and - lo! I am twisting my stitches. Marvellous. The problem apparently is in my purl stitch, which I was doing the easy way rather than the proper way. Wise Hilda has a good explanation here. With a bit of research, I realise that the answer I need is Combination knitting. It's kind of the best of both worlds. If you wish to find out more, the doyenne of Combination (or Combined) knitting is Annie Modesitt. Anyway, to cut a long story short, it appears that my original knitting style was right all along! Who knew?!
You can see the different styles when comparing the plain red background to the stripey bottom of TTTOD. You can see it best on the back of the garment. The bottom is smooth, drapey and more professional looking. It's also faster and more satisfying to knit.
So there you have it! As well as *everything* going wrong with TTTOD, I learned a new technique and was able to reflect on my own skills. Thankfully it was a project for my son, I would not have sent out a project like this to anyone else. All that remained was to do some embroidery and sew on a few buttons. Oh and weave in the ends - a new technique learned with a crochet hook thanks to You Tube. So here it is:
I've not blocked it yet because I wanted to show you the difference in stitches. It will shapen up a bit more then.
It's still WAY too big for Charlie, but he'll grow into it:
Having had a quick Google, it looks like it's aged 9 -10. Hey ho, at least I have a finished product! Until recently, I would just have frogged the blooming thing, but it's nice to know that you can make a knitting pattern behave and show it who's boss.
Tank Top of Doom = 0. Determined Mother = 1. Yay!