Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Knowing When to Quit

A few years ago, I made a quilt. That’s no surprise since, at that time, I was making lots of quilts. But this quilt was a bit unusual. It was all done in shirting plaids, a medallion style with whimsical pieced stars and interesting borders. Although it was not really the style of quilt I normally make, when I saw the pattern, I fell instantly in love and desperately wanted that quilt.

And that’s where the problem started, I think. I wanted the finished quilt but, as it turned out, I loathed the process. The whimsical stars required 8,889 different pieces, each of which had to be cut individually to preserve the scrappiness factor, none of which could be cut using my trusty rotary cutter and rulers. (Okay, I’ll admit that the number of pieces is only an estimate based on the perceived eternity it took to cut the damned things.) Then came the piecing. All those stars, all those different borders, all those plaids. My quilting passion runs to intricate hand applique and, although I can do everything but pluck chickens with my trusty Bernina, machine piecing is just not my favoritist thing in the world.

Still, I persevered and, after approximately a thousand years, I had a finished top. By then, I was running on sheer determination to have the finished item. Did I mention that this was a generously sized lap quilt? It was, if memory serves, about 80" square. This is just big enough to be a royal pain to baste and nasty to machine quilt. I’ll skip to the chase and admit that I did a crappy job of basting - I loathe basting, no matter what the method. With the machine quilting half done, I happened to turn the quilt over and realized that I’d quilted several folds into the backing fabric.

Cursing - and quite possibly demented - I used my favorite method for un-quilting. I grabbed the top in one hand, the batting and backing in the other and pulled. (Don’t try this at home, boys and girls.) Stitches popped merrily, proving that cotton thread is no match for the strength of a crazed quilter. Unfortunately, it turns out that cotton fabric is maybe not as tough as cotton thread. Amid the popping, there was an ominous ripping sound. The quilt top had torn in a couple of places.

Disgusted, I set the quilt aside. A week or two later, one of my best quilting buddies was visiting and I pulled the quilt out to show her the disaster and get her advise. I nattered on about replacing patches and re-basting. MaryAnn looked at the quilt and then looked at me and said "Throw it out." I protested - all those hours, all that fabric, all that work. How could I throw it out? "This quilt is like Vietnam," she said solemnly. "Sometimes, you just have to know when to get out."

Which brings me to this:
This is the beginning of Ivy, a lovely design from the current issue of Knitty. Ivy is my personal Vietnam of Knitting.

From the start, I had my doubts about whether or not this design would suit me. As a busty woman, I’ve never found wrap tops to be my friends. In my limited experience, they tend to gape in odd and unflattering places but the authors of Big Girl Knits swear up and down that wrap tops are the busty gal’s very best friend and they’re the experts, right? So I thought maybe it was time to rethink my wrap-top ban. And it’s such a pretty sweater. Right after the design appeared, I bought the last 17 skeins of Elann’s Quechua in Saxony Teal - not only the yarn used in the design but the very color used in the model because I liked it best of all the colors available.

Last week, I cast-on, more or less on impulse. I knit and I knit and I knit. And I still only had an inch or so. The design is knit on U.S. size 4 needles at a gauge of 6 stitches per inch. Now, I’ve always maintained that most women look best in finer gauge knits but, my god, people, do you know how long it takes to knit a sweater at 6 stitches per inch? An eternity. That’s how long it takes - a freaking eternity. Still, I liked the way the neat twisty rib border was looking and surely, this lovely drapey fabric would be worth the effort. So I knit some more. And I started to think dark thoughts. Thoughts like ‘Wow, this yarn is awfully splitty and slippery.’ and ‘Is this stuff kind of scratchy or am I just having tactile hallucinations from knitting so many stitches and not getting anywhere?’ I stuffed all doubts to the back of my mind and kept knitting because I wanted the damned sweater.

Last night, I crawled into bed and knit a couple of rows before going to sleep. By now, after approximately five thousand hours - actual count, I swear! - of knitting, I had 10" done and I had only four more inches to go before I got to the armholes where I could start binding off, thus reducing the number of stitches. Actual progress, I thought. I’ll have the back done before too long. And then it hit me. The back will be done. And then I need to knit two fronts and two sleeves. Two fronts that start with as many stitches as the back - the whole wrap thing, you know. Four more pieces with this splitty, slippery, definitely a bit itchy yarn. A lifetime spent knitting a garment I’m honestly not sure will look good on me. What if I finish it and it gapes like every other wrap top I’ve ever donned? What if it looks good but is so itchy that I have to wear long sleeved shirts under it? What if I simply go insane from knitting all those hours with a yarn I’m starting to hate?

But look at all the hours I’ve put in, I argued. I can’t just turn my back on all those hours of work. And then I heard MaryAnn’s voice. "Sometimes you just have to know when to get out."

This morning, I pinned the back out and contemplated it sadly. Several days of my knitting life are in that piece and the twisty rib border really is very cool. But the thought of having to knit another eight zillion stitches with this slippery, splitty, itchy yarn, in a pattern that may look awful on me is enough to make me consider the joys of macrame.

So, I’m hanging up my needles on this one and bidding a fond farewell to Ivy. You never know, I may cast on for it again one of these days, maybe in Silky Wool or Rowanspun DK. I still like the design. I still hold out hopes - fantasy? - that it would look good on me. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that, while I may want the finished product, I’ve got to enjoy the journey. I may not like every part of the process but I can’t hate every part of it either. And no matter how much time I’ve put into something, it doesn’t make sense to throw good hours after bad.

Sometimes you just have to know when to get out.


Blogger Nancy Herkness said...

Dallas, you're a very wise woman.

9:22 PM  
Blogger KarenK said...

Oh, yes. Sweaters and men: "Sometimes you just have to know when to get out." The sooner the better, but better now than never.

10:04 PM  

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