February 5, 2013

The Pithy Version

I love Elizabeth Zimmerman. What knitter doesn't? And what knitter doesn't love her not only for her contributions to knitting, but her incredibly spunky, intelligent and unabashed spirit? If one were going to be a visionary of any ilk, one would need to possess these qualities.

I marvel at her.

One of my favorite things about her is her writing ability. Her vocabulary seems vast, educated and all around clever. She was a master of word choice. My favorite word she uses very frequently (at least in the Knitter's Almanac, which I have been reading!) is "pithy."

The word pithy, for me, has always conjured up a sort of sarcastic tone. I am not certain where I got the feeling that it was sarcastic, but I think it came from my experiences with one of my high school teachers, Mr. Walker.

Mr. Walker had an I-rule-the-show-Phil Donahue style approach to class lectures and a very bald head, which was always covered in a bike helmet upon his arrival at school. Daily, he would glide silently on his bike through the halls at 7a.m., and right into our first period classroom, stopping abruptly at the front. He would then swing his leg off the bike haughtily in grand jesture. Once both his feet were planted firmly on the floor, he would stare at us cooly as if to say, "Yes, I did ride my bike here. No doubt, you all used up a few quarts of our precious, limited oil resources to get here. And you probably all polluted the air as you did so." If he were teaching today, he might also add something about a carbon footprint.

He was a Unitarian divorcee and a hipster to boot. A 2013-style hipster in 1986, he was a man ahead of his time. He loved to show off his knowledge to others in a way that dared his audience to just try and challenge his brainpower. He enjoyed quoting lofty writings and would make references during class that he knew were way past our young experiences or knowledge. He knew we could never beat him. To pour a bit of salt into this wound, he liked to employ infrequently used vocabulary during lectures to intimidate us further. And he most definitely used "pithy" at some point...with a sneer. No question.

That was my first experinece hearing that word, pithy; I bought and believed the tone and intent, but not the context. Still, it is not Mr. Walker's fault that I did know the definition of this word as I came across it afresh in Ms. Zimmerman's writings. I should have long ago been a good student of critical thinking and looked it up. Mr. Walker would have wanted that, but if I had, then I would not have a story today. So I will thank him here and move on.

While reading The Knitter's Almanac lately, I kept seeing the word "pithy" over and over again. I have read in the past somewhere about Elizabeth Zimmerman's trouble with those who would publish her patterns. I have heard that people thought she should have kept her directions short when writing her patterns as they did not think her conversational style would sell them. So, when I read each story in Knitter's Almanac containing the patterns, which were followed by a set of directions entitled "pithy" version, I misunderstood.

Given the fact that she was, indeed, a woman ahead of her time (sort of like Mr W.),  her intelligence and vocabulary, and what I perceived to be her greater understanding of her own circumstances and the future of knitting, I thought she was sort of thumbing her nose at the publishers as she would first lay out her rambling, lovely and smart stories and patterns, only to follow them with the "pithy directions."

I thought this was a good joke. Then I looked up the word.

It means "concise," "to the point." In short, just a condensed version of something that only contains the facts or the meaty stuff. This was a little disappointing to me. I am learning--as many others have done before me--to hold her up as a pioneer, and maybe as one who just might have thumbed her nose in the faces of those possessing lesser understanding than her. Maybe even with a little defiance. She knew where things were going in the knitting future, and she knew where she was going and who she was.

I sat in my disappointment for only a moment, because I then searched again for the word. And I found this:


  [pith-ee]  Show IPA
adjective, pith·i·er, pith·i·est.
brief, forceful, and meaningful in expressionfull of vigor, substance, or meaning; terse; forcible: apithy observation.

Vigor? Forceful? Substance? Now that is more like it. 

Sometimes "pithy" was all she needed to say after all.

February 3, 2013

WIP #1, now a nearly FO: The notes.

The final product...sort of
I have completed my first WIP for the year. I love it and wear it now as I enter this post. My goal was to reproduce a similar sweater, though I made mine simpler than the original. My confidence boosted, I will feel ready next time to add more of the details in the original and maybe even use some Spud&Cloe Outerwear yarn to do it!

It was fun to make design decisions as I worked with Ann Budd's generic "bones" for a raglan cardigan and to make it my own.

Here are my decisions, why I made them and what I learned from this project:

1. I wanted a fitted sweater, so I chose not to add a button/buttonhole band. Instead, I sewed in a zipper. I also made the entire sweater in 2x2 ribbing, causing the finished fabric to "draw in," while still have nice give and enough stitches to be a comfy fit. I made a size 38" finished bust in 4st/inch with Patons Shetland Chunky Tweed, brown. When choosing the size, I also remembered to consider that most sizes that should fit me (usually should be able to wear a size smaller and store bought or in knitting patterns according to my actual bust circumference) usually do not fit my shoulders. Thus, I jumped up a size. For more info on this, check out Amy Herzog's Fit to Flatter here.

Basting? I think so. Maybe I will
even cover it in some flannel fabric....
2. The zipper, lightweight and sturdy, also accomplished an "indoor/outdoor" feel to the cardigan. (I found it in my Grandma Miller's zipper stash) It is 26" long to come up almost all the way to the top of the split funnel collar to add more "coat" feeling.

Even though I am a sewer as well as a knitter, I used Deborah Newton's "Finishing School" for some good advice on installing a zipper into knitwear.

She also is a sewer (and a former costume designer, learn more about her here) and gave this important advice: sewing zippers into knitwear is NOT the same as traditional sewing installation! They are handsewn with larger stitches, and an up and down "poking" motion, VERY different than my past experiences with machine sewn installation. This was my first time and it turned out okay. The finished appearance is nice from the outside, but I may tidy up my stitches next and treat the originals as basting so the back/wrong side looks more professionally done. Just in case I needed to do this, I planned ahead and used lighter colored yarn than the zipper or sweater yarn for the "basting."

This pic shows the increases I used. I basically just increased
while following the ribbing pattern as it presented.
3. To get long, cozysleeves, I had to add 3 inches to the original sleeve length (I also have long arms). This gave a more modern appearance, and also gives the option to make cuffs by turning them up. A person could even add an eyelet/button hole style spot to put a thumb through at the end, make a sort of fingerless mitt and the edge. hmmm....might have to try that...

The zip does not go all the way up so as not to scractch my
4. The collar stands up pretty nicely with the thicker yarn as I wanted a mock turtleneck style (does that phrase give away my 80's growing up?). The top edges of the zipper also help. I left just enough space at the top to allow a little split so as not to constrict the neck area. This was something a bit (very tiny bit) annoying in the original sweater.

I did not use the crew neck shaping and BO followed by picked up stitches for the collar as given in the training wheels pattern. When the raglan shaping was done, I just kept knitting in the rib pattern all the way to the end of the collar to add continuity. I also did not want the collar to slope away from the center, since I wanted the zipper to go all the way up, nearly to the top.

5. Difficulties: This pattern is knitted from the bottom-up. When attaching the sleeves to the body, the tension is pretty, well, tense at those joins for a few rounds. For me, this created ladders along the first few rows of ragalan shaping. I sewed them up for the most part, but am considering doing a single crochet "edge" along the seam from the inside of the sweater in a smaller yarn, just to add some strength to the join areas.

6. This brings me to the yarn. In my experience, this yarn tends to be very soft and droops with time. Due to this characteristic (especially since I made a large sweater with chunky weight in the Patons), reinforcing the raglan seams altogether seems like a good idea. Already, I can tell that the weight of the sleeves may be a pull in the future.

I look forward to doing this again with a higher quality yarn, such as the Spud&Chloe I mentioned above. Maybe I will try a smaller sweater for Amy Rose to practice the joins.

Me in the a.m. after coffee but before
shower. Forgive me.
Summing it up: This sweater took me about 2 weeks to complete. This was evenings and weekends and a couple of marathon hours (4 at a time) on my days off. Ann Budd's book is very helpful and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to design their own sweater but are afraid to do it from scratch.

A note on finishing: I really liked the advice found in Newton's book on finishing. Those little things really matter and when we spend so much time and effort on our work, why not go that that little extra step to make the final product so much more awesomer? (Yes, awesomer.)

I will make more sweaters/projects from both books and I look forward to improving my knitting skills!

Next up: a pair of socks to stay awake at all day meetings...