Sunday, 30 July 2006

I see the light

Whew. Today is the first time in a week I am beginning to imagine that a time will come again when I will feel well. A week is a bloody long time to be sick and care for a sick child too.

Anyway, back to that post I wrote in my head a week or so ago. Patterns.

I started sewing and knitting at a young age and while my mum taught me the basics, I went off on my own pretty early on. Thinking back I'm kind of surprised by this. My mum is in the main a pattern follower but I'm pretty much an intuitive maker. I had a lot of disasters, it's true, but I often felt as let down by patterns as I was by my own wild leaps of faith. Somehow the promise of those neatly drawn dresses on the covers of the Vogue patterns just didn't cut the mustard when all was said and done. The same was true of knitting. The sleeves were always too long, or the necks too narrow, or the shape just wrong.

So while my mum slaved over the instructions I would try and work out how to go it alone. Somehow I imagined I could do it better than the professionals. At the very least I knew a lot more about my body than they did. And sometimes I got it right, or at least started big and gradually whittled a garment down till it fitted OK.

Of course later when I learned how to draft my own sewing paetterns I realised how perfect a pattern system is, if only you learn enough about it. My problem all those years ago was not patterns themselves, but my inability to judge a pattern's merits and understand how to alter it. To be able to just look at something and know those sleeves are going to be too sharp or that neck too wide. Or know that on my body I need to take at least a centimeter off the sides of every pants or skirt waist if I want it to hang right.

While my tailoring skills may be a little rusty at the moment I know it wouldn't take much for me to relearn all those things. I now understand the value of doing it first in calico and marking up the alterations and keeping a block that tells me what my body looks like when it's flattened out into a 2D image. And how to superimpose that on a pattern and change the flare of a skirt or the length of a sleeve or the height of a collar till it's more what I had in mind.

So intellectually I understand all that. I know that in the end creating and following a pattern does save time and does improve outcomes and you get a record of what you learned so you don't need to learn it all again. But my recent foray into rediscovering knitting has seen the re-emergence of my naughty pattern ignoring self. It started with the gorgeous felted slipper socks which I can't evenly felt because I ignored the vital all in one yarn instruction and now my nerves are on edge as I progress with the hoodie.

Instead of doing what is right by the pattern I thought oh heck I can alter this. For a start despite the fact that the finished versions of the jumper I have seen look great I thought the wool called for was too chunky (not to mention rare in Oz), so I took it down a size. This then meant smaller needles. It seemed logical to me that if I just knitted a larger size than I wanted the finished garment to be then the relative guage difference would all work out. Sounds right doesn't it?

But you see I should already have been reading the pattern of my thoughts. If I needed to mess with things this much, perhaps this wasn't the pattern I really wanted? Perhaps if I really liked the finished garments I had seen so much (and I did! I really did!) then I should have shut up and just done what I was told.

Instead I gaily cast on the specified number of stitches and set off. All too soon I came face to face with the grim reality that patterns use a range of measures - stitch and row numbers but also outright lengths and bacl to stitch numbers. So when I finished the plackets and joined the jumper into a round and the pattern said to knit until I had 54 stitches across the back and I already had 58 I knew I was cooked.

And because it's so darn hard to tell with a knitted garment what it will really be like when it's off the needles (especially round needles) I can't tell whether I have made a fatal error. The head opening seems big enough and the trunk seems wide enough and the sleeve openings seem like they are the right size and in the right place, but really, I have no idea.

And aside from the terrible fear that I might have cocked up this most divine of yarns I went to extraordinary lengths to get enough of (and might be forced to fully unravel a whole jumper if I have) I am also kind of disappointed with myself for repeating past mistakes. Until I know more about what I'm doing, until I take accurate guage and plan for a proper pattern adjustment I should learn not to be such a smarty pants, to trust that the pattern maker has done the job of working it out for me.

Of course if it all works out brilliantly I retract everything I just said because, well, obviously I am a smarty pants. And if it is a terrible disaster we shall never speak of it again.


Bronwen said...

So are you going to give us any sneak previews? I can't even imagine where to start.

sooz said...

Yes, there are sneak peaks already - my post of Wednesday 26 July is the most recent.

Di said...

I can relate- to the sewing and the knitting stuff. I think I'm perhaps more like your mum though- I hate the idea of wasting my effort, so I always plan and measure and compare and check before I go too far, and then remeasure and check countless times along the way. Not that this is at all foolproof! It's amazing what we can convince ourselves of sometimes.
An idea for you- it's so much easier to check fit/sizing when you're knitting in the round on circulars: if the circs aren't long enough to try it on, thread a piece of yarn through the live stitches and then try it on. I think it's always nicer to know if you need to change plans sooner rather than later!

samantha said...

Sooz, I am like you - I just think i can 'wing it' and everything will be okay! And I look at things and think yeah okay, it will be allright. Thankfully, on the whole my way has been okay and there have been far more successes than duds - which just encourages me to do it all again! but I agree, maybe if I have to 'wing it' that much the pattern I started with isn't really right?! why can't we then start from the very beginning on our own? I think because I'm just a teeny bit scared, and who do I have to blame if it doesn't work out?! :)
Can't wait to see the finished product - my fingers are crossed for you.

Alison said...

I'm going to second what Di said and suggest you try the hoodie on - one of the great advanatages of doing something in the round!! You'll soon understand how far you have to go, or if it's enough etc.

And I'm so glad you're starting to feel better!

sooz said...

Yep, my circs are too small, but the yarn thread is a great solution - can't believe I didn't think of it! Will definitely give it a go and see if I can pin Amy down long enough to get it on her, thanks so much Di and Alison!

Bronwen said...

oops sooz, yes I see it now... *sigh*
It looks good though. Goodluck!

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African Kelli said...

I am glad you are feeling better! And I envy your tailoring abilities.

Suse said...

That yarn through the stitches is a brilliant idea! (Don't you just love the craft community pooling of ideas?!)

Glad you're feeling better and I too send you warm regards and wishes of continued success and wholesale spammy delights. Ahem.

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