Shortly before Christmas, a baby boy was born into my extended family. Which meant, of course, I would be knitting him a sweater.
This was not a hardship, as I love knitting baby sweaters, and things have been calm enough here lately that I thought (but was careful not to jinx myself by saying aloud) that I had a good chance of getting it to him before his six-month birthday. I considered my options carefully, and decided that the time was right to knit something that had been on my radar for a while: #16410, Baby Set from Dalegarn #164.
Yes, I told myself, it calls for fingering weight wool (the biggest needle I worked with was a US 1.5), but it's just stripes. How hard could it be?
I scanned the pattern before starting, and it seemed straightforward enough. The horizontal/vertical contrast is created by knitting the back, increasing for the sleeves, decreasing back down once they're done, then knitting the front sides of the cardigan one at a time. Pick up stitches for the neck, wrist, and button bands, make a few button loops, and voila! Stripey baby sweater goodness.
TV knitting, really.
And for the most part, that's exactly what it was.
I complicated things a bit when I decided to use more colors than the two called for in the pattern. I originally thought that I'd use four colors, two for the stripe pattern, one for the hem, button and neck bands, and the fourth for the wrists, but finding the color in my mind's eye (a very dark forest green) proved elusive. Dale of Norway had such a green once upon a time (I used it for these mittens), but I couldn't find any leftovers in my stash. I was going to order some, but it was discontinued years ago, and no one seemed to have any left. I finally found an etsy shop that had some in stock, but when it arrived it wasn't the right shade after all (just a little too bright), so in the end I stashed the green yarn and forged ahead with the three colors I had ... blue and grey stripes with contrasting brown bands.
Other than having to rip and reknit the first sleeve when I saw "CO" and cast OFF instead of casting ON, despite the fingering weight wool and itsy bitsy needle, the sweater pretty much flew off my needles.
And then I started the neckband.
I should have realized I was in trouble when I reviewed the instructions. "With RS facing," I read, "pick up 28 sts per 4 inches along neck edge, using a crochet hook to pick up an odd number of sts k-wise." Exactly how many stitches was left to the knitter's discretion. After that was done, the pattern told me to work 9 rows of st st, then C OFF loosely, fold the neckband to the inside and sew it down.
Huh, I thought to myself. That seems like it would be very narrow. A faint warning bell sounded in the back of my head, but I ignored it because hey ... it's Dale of Norway. They've been around forever. Their editing must be spot on ... who was I to question them?
I knit on, and when I finished, the neckband was a lot narrower than I had expected it to be.
It looked more like I-cord edging than what I think of as a "band", but, I told myself, the baby in the picture has a deliciously chunky neck (in truth, he has no visible neck at all, and his rolls obscure the neckband completely), so maybe this IS what the designer had in mind. I decided I could live with it and moved on to the first cuff.
"With smaller cir needle and RS facing," I read, "pick up sts along end of one sleeve in same manner as neckband." I was to knit back and forth "work(ing) edging same as neckband" while simultaneously increasing or decreasing to 37 stitches.
Well. I certainly wasn't going to be INCREASING. Each sleeve was 90+ rows deep. Once I decreased down to 37 stitches, knit my 9 rows and sewed the cuff down, I had this:
When the sleeve was folded in half, I was left with a bloomer-like sleeve that looked nothing at ALL like it was supposed to.
I finally faced the truth: from here out, the pattern was going to be more of a general guide than a recipe. I examined the picture more closely, and decided that what was given was, in actuality, only half of the instructions I needed to get the bands to look as I wanted them to. I ripped everything out (this was very tedious work, but on the flip side, I now know that any neck or wrist band I sew down is likely to stay sewn) and started over. This time, I picked up and knit nine rows of stockinette, purled a turning row, knit 9 more rows, and finished as instructed.
From this point on, it was as if the designer had grown tired of explaining everything and just wanted the knitter to figure it all out for him or herself. God help you if you need someone to tell you exactly how many stitches to pick up for the button bands. "Work placket in same manner as neckband," the pattern says curtly. I've made button bands before, so while I would have appreciated at least a hint about how many stitches I should pick up, I was able to plow ahead, reasonably confident that I would end up with something that would work.
The button loops were another matter entirely. I found the very idea a bit intimidating, but again the pattern clearly expected me to think for myself. Figure out where the buttons are going to go, it said, then "use the larger crochet hook (and) work button loops along one edge".
The designer clearly had more confidence in me than I had in myself.
The designer clearly had more confidence in me than I had in myself.
I avoided working the loops as long as I could. I sewed down all the bands, wove in all the ends, then circled around the sweater eyeing it suspiciously for several days before fishing out the smallest crochet hook I could find ...
grain of rice provided for scale
and using it to make five 8-chain loops along the right hand side. I anchored them with knots woven into the bands, and they seem very secure.
(I am reminded of the time I was learning to swim at the Beloit, WI YMCA, and was terrified of jumping into the deep end. I spent weeks clinging to the ladder rail and crying while my teacher tried to convince me to just DO IT. One day I finally decided that since she was clearly never going to give up I might as well stop fighting her and die already. I held my breath, jumped in and oh, wow! "Hey," I exclaimed as soon as my head broke the surface. "That was "EASY!!")
After that, I was in the homestretch. I sewed on the buttons, washed and blocked the sweater (I love how very, very soft Dale Garn Baby Ull gets after it's been through the wash), and examined the end result from every possible angle.
It looks exactly like I hoped it would (in the end I'm glad I didn't go with the green cuffs .... it would have been too much), the pattern turned out to be a combination of easy peasy stockinette and "put on your thinking cap, Ruth," and best of all, it was finished and in the mail before baby M was even two months old.
That all adds up to a win in my book.