March 20, 2006

I always hated buttonbands.

It's not all sunshine and roses everyday at Chez Harlot, and yesterday (which should really have been a triumphant day, a brilliant return to all things adult and wage earning) I was felled by an uncharacteristic headache and the rigours of parenting teen daughters, neither or which has much to recommend it. I did the only thing I could do, I tried to keep my cool, I fussed with the tinks sweaters, and at some point the parallels between this phase of parenting and this phase of sweaters hit me.


I have decided that I liked being a mother better when I was in charge and everything was simple. Back when all I had to do to be quite sure I was doing it right was to nurse them, read them books and keep them from sticking forks into electrical sockets. Bonus points for going to the park and making homemade muffins with grated carrots in them. The rules were very clear.
Ditto the body of the sweaters...cast on the right number of stitches, check for gauge, follow the chart. Keep an eye out for glaring mistakes, fix them as best as you can and keep going. I'm not going to say that this phase of sweater and child were easy, (I'm glossing over the part where you do this on 2 hours of sleep or breathe your way through the 43rd tantrum of the day or run out of yarn mid sleeve. ) but both parenting and sweater knitting are, at this phase, about endurance and patience.

Then, suddenly...the whole thing changes. Suddenly, both knitting a sweater and parenting are a lot harder. Right out of the blue, without a word of warning (except perhaps the twisted screams of every single person who has ever parented a teenager since the dawn of time) Suddenly, this phase is about all kinds of scary, scary stuff. The finishing.


All of a sudden you're doing things that are serious. Really serious. Cutting steeks. Signing permission slips to go to New York. Things that can't be taken back if you screw them up and misjudge. There's no fixing a sleeve steek you cut 3cm too long, and I don't know how I would forgive myself if my kid wound up in a dangerous place because I botched the situation. Suddenly, the practice of both activities is about nerve, judgment and enormous leaps of faith. A firm inner belief that your child is a decent person with some sense, and an equivalent belief that steeks don't unravel into a heap of crap when you take scissors to them.


Then, before you've recovered from the shock of it all, there's a new thing. The sweater/kid finishing is a different thing again. Now you're picking up stitches, knitting facings to cover raw edges, massaging a basically good sweater into a great sweater by working on the details.

This is not simple. You can't just haul off and knit a button band, any more than you can rip off an arbitrary curfew for your teen. Button bands need to be just so. Too long and they gape, too short and they pull inward. There's a finesse here. A really great sweater can be ruined with crappy finishing. Attention to detail is everything, and the insides matter as much as the outsides.


Same with the daughters. Too much freedom and they could wind up in a situation that they don't have the experience to manage. Too little freedom and I run the risk of not allowing them to gain more experience, or worse...I take a basically good kid and force them to behave badly to untie themselves from my wicked tight apron strings.

The word of the day, the word of everyday, is "negotiation". You can't just haul off and pick up the neckband. You need to read the gauge, you need to think things over. You need to decide how much each individual stitch matters and pace yourself. You can't get all hung up on one itty bitty stitch when the other 99 are perfect.
This part of the sweater isn't about endurance. It's about fussing.


In the end nothing is ever going to be absolutely 100% perfect. Not kids, not sweaters, not parents. You just do your level best with your goal in mind, the kind of thing you would like to end up with. There's no going back to the perfectly clear chart. No instructions good enough, and the time when you knew if everything was ok is gone. You're not going to know for sure if you were right about the button bands until the sweater comes off the needles and graduates from University and becomes an adult and makes great decisions, and until then you just can't take it personally when the sweater tells you that you're ruining it's life with your overbearing knitting and maybe, just maybe you should "chill out" while you finish the sweater and trust that the sweater doesn't really hate everything about you and all that you hold dear and that buying the sweater a cellphone so you can call it whenever you want and bug it while it's out doing absolutely nothing wrong while you worry that all of that time that you breastfed the sweater counted for absolutely nothing and hope, quietly and with as much dignity is left to you, that the sweater really doesn't think that you are a horrible person just because you won't let it date skanky skeins of polyester and break all of the rules that you set up just to avoid worrying about the sweater while you think about what you did when you were a teenager and hope that nobody has figured out any of that stuff and, and...

Sorry. I think I'll go spin now. No buttonbands.

Posted by Stephanie at March 20, 2006 11:41 PM