Sunday, June 22, 2014

Life lessons contemplated while knitting swatches in the basement

1.  Light is good.  More light is better.  Even though it was mid-afternoon, it is a little dark in the basement workroom.  Moving a light closer to the knitting machine made it much easier to pick up dropped stitches, count, and just generally knit easier.

2.  Read the directions all the way through before starting. They don't always give you the steps in the correct order, and sometimes they leave things out.  If you notice these issues before you begin, you can note the additional information on the pattern to remind you as they come up.  For some of the swatches, I found it a good idea to calculate what the expected row counter would be when I arrived at that point.  Finding a difference in actual versus expected row counter led me to quickly detect a mistake.

3.  If you don't have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over? Leaving a loop at the edge of the work would cost me more time later in weaving both ends in.  Far better to just unknit the row, move the row counter back, and re-knit correctly.  When the yarn mast tension is loose for whatever reason (previous unknitting?) I find it is helpful to support the yarn being fed into the machine until the carriage reaches the edge of the knitting and the first stitch is knit to avoid these loops.

4. Check your work before committing. Before you knit that row, check that all the needles have loops on them, and that the loop is in the hook, or else the needle is in hold position and and will be knitted back.  Make sure the yarn feeder is closed if you have opened it.  Make sure you have passed the turn mark when setting up the first pattern row. Make sure the selector lamp says "Ready".  Did you reset the row counter after unknitting that row?  Do you need to go back and change the pattern stitch row number, or reset the needles from A to B?

5. If you make a mistake, it can be fixed. You are going to make mistakes.  No problem.  Forgive yourself and move on.  Just undo the bad stuff and redo it better.

6. The sooner you find and fix a mistake, the easier it is to fix.  Picking up a dropped stitch 1 row down is much easier than finding and fixing a dropped stitch 26 rows down.  Be aware of how the knitting is expected to look, and how it actually looks.  If you are getting hung up on gateposts, you may not see it for several rows.  Stop for a second after each row and see if your knitting is hung up on gateposts.

7.  If you make too many mistakes, stop and start again tomorrow.  There are days when it just does not make sense to go home from work, eat dinner, and try to knit.  Sometimes a brain-dead evening of watching TV is called for.

8.  A little tension is good.  Too much tension is bad. Just like in real life, a little bit of stress keeps you on-deadline and on-target, but too much stress inhibits your performance, if the tension mast is too tight (or the yarn skein being fed gets caught on itself or on clutter around the knitting machine, like the teeth of the extra cast-on comb) you will not be able to knit.  It will be difficult to move the carriage and the stitches at the edge of the knitting will be too tight.  Symptoms of too-loose mast tension are that the yarn loops at the edge of the knitting, or when weaving, the weaving yarn gets caught in the gatepost. Check that the space between the antenna and the post is about the span of your fully extended hand from the tip of your thumb to the tip of your little finger (6-10 inches.)

9.  Make sure you have enough materials before you begin the project. At the end of my last swatch, I had 5 feet of yarn left.  Lucky me! For the last 20 rows I had been worrying about how to splice in another color of the Vanna's Choice yarn that I had only 1 skein of, the skein that was being used up. I had been contemplating a trip to JoAnn's to get another skein to finish 3 or 4 rows, but I  was lucky.   Before you make the swatch it is pretty hard to guesstimate how much yarn you will need, but after you have a good swatch it is pretty easy to calculate the yarn used in the swatch, and the projected square inches of the finished project.  Do the math!

10.  If you have to force it, something is wrong.  Stop and find out what is wrong before pushing on.  Just like real life, things can get out of adjustment in your knitting machine.  If you can't push the carriage across the bed, disengage it and remove it. Step by step, determine what piece of the machine is causing the problem.  Is it the carriage? Is it the yarn feeder? Is it the sinker plate assembly? Ask a lot of questions, and test the results.

11.  Maintain your tools in good condition.  Don't live with a broken or damaged tool. I have a transfer tool that has a split in the metal at the tip. Every time I pick it and try to use it, I get a "split" stitch. I need to throw this tool away. It's not marked so it looks like the rest of the tools.   Before you start a project, especially if it has been some time, check the condition of the sponge bar.  Don't wait until you are fighting with your knitting before you check. 

12.  Put the tools away in the same place each time, then you will be able to find them next time you want to use them.  If they are always in the same place, when you want them, they will be there.

13.  Practice makes things easier, if not perfect. Consistency is key.  If I always cast on resulting on carriage on right, then row counting is easier - if the carriage is on right, the row counter needs to be an even number every two rows.  If sometimes I cast on leaving carriage on left, then from that point on, every two rows results on COL.  That could be OK in some exceptional circumstances, but I think if you engineer your patterns to always have COR at the end of each instruction you are much better off. 

14.  There is no one right way to do things.  It is good to research different techniques, but there is nothing wrong with "unventing" (like Elizabeth Zimmerman) new techniques.   Now that we have Google, it is easy to  find there are multiple ways to perform the desired result.  I will use the one that is most familiar and "easy" to me, sometimes; and sometimes I will try a new method. I'll try it out on a limited basis (a swatch?) and see if it works as expected. Marcia Hauser reminds us that we are the master of the machine, it is up to us to make the machine work to do what we want it to do.  The machine doesn't make the rules.

15.  Give yourself some slack.  Quite literally this means that if the yarn is not feeding smoothly from the cone, ball or skein, you cannot knit. Applied to life issues, chances are good that nobody else in the whole world cares as passionately about the issue as you do.   You made a mistake 50 rows ago? Is there a way to fix it without unknitting and re-knitting 50 rows?

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