Actually, in Reverse

For something that started so quickly, that cowl is totally going the other way now. The spinning and plying flew by and now…  The problem is me, like it always is.  I started knitting the cowl, charging along – following the pattern and when I had about 8cm, I realized that the gauge wasn’t working out, and that it was coming out too small, and… I ripped it back added another repeat, and kept going.

Now the astute among you will notice that I have here violated knitting rule #1, which is that I didn’t do a swatch, if I’d have done a swatch, I would have known my gauge was off, and that it would be too small, and I could have prevented the wasted knitting time. It’s a cowl though, and so I broke the rule, and when I had to rip back there was nobody but me to blame, and it wasn’t that much time wasted. The cowl is small, it’s fast knitting.  That first rip didn’t even bother me. It took two minutes, I pulled it all out, I added another repeat to the stitch count, and I started knitting again.  Now, is there anything you think I missed there? Any step that I should have taken, any technique I could have used at that moment to make it more likely that things would go better for me in the future? Yes, yes there was, my little poppets. I have here executed classic knitting mistake #2, which is that if you make a mistake, then it is likely best not to repeat the mistake and then expect the result to be different. I was in trouble because I didn’t measure, and I could have gotten out the measuring tape, and I could have seen how much it was too small by, and then I could have added an appropriate number of stitches based on that, rather than just adding “some” and feeling better about the whole thing.

That wasn’t the choice I made though, after executing mistakes #1 and 2, and so when I realized that I hadn’t added enough stitches (for the second time) and it was still going to be too small, there was nothing to do but blame myself again.  I pulled the work back, and added two more repeats, and started again.  Returning to the astute among you, we see that I have still not made any mention of a measuring tape or simple maths, even though I have now been twice punished with wasted knitting.  Inexplicable choice, that. Inexplicable. Still, I am who I am, so I added more stitches, started again, and knit until it was more than clear to me that I still had a problem. Then I knit for a while longer.

That’s right. Classic knitting error #3. I knew it was wrong, and I kept right on going while I thought about that.  I kept knitting and knitting, and the more I knit, the clearer it became that I now had not one, but two problems. First – the cowl was not going to be big enough, and second, it wasn’t going to use up as much of my handspun as I wanted. There’s nothing quite as sad as wasted handspun, so… I knit for a while longer and thought about how sad it was that I was making this mistake. I kept knitting, and knitting, and every so often i would spread it out on my leg and sigh, and think about the mistake I was making, and then do another few rounds. It was late into the evening before I decided that I couldn’t ignore it any more – so I knit another few rounds while I thought about how to solve it. This, of course, is knitting madness, brought about by brought about by an unwillingness to live in reality, and I kept knitting like knitting would solve my knitting problem. The more I knit, the bigger the problem got, and the more I knit the less I wanted to pull the work out and start again.  I thought about alternate ways to solve it while I knit. I thought about living with it (obviously, I was leaning that way), I thought about doing some increases and making a weird shaped thing. I thought about knitting socks instead.

rippingmeasuiring 2015-08-27

Once I’d sighed several times, and spread it out again, and the problem was still there (despite all the times I’d tried fixing it by doing nothing) I finally took the needle out of it, and got a tape measure, and went to the scale, and faced a few facts.  First, yes. It was too small.  I wasn’t getting gauge, and it wasn’t going to be big enough. Not quite. Second, after weighing the thing, it was plain that I wasn’t going to use up the handspun. I was more than halfway through it, and there was way more than half the yarn left.  I think that was when I poured myself a decent size glass of wine, reminded myself that I had nobody to blame but me, wondered absently how it is that I never learn my lesson, and ripped the thing all the way back.

Now I’ve started again. I’ve done the math, I’ve used a measuring tape, and I’ve (once more) sworn that I this is the last time that I’ll ever screw up in this particular way.

redocowl 2015-08-27

I’m 12 rounds in, and I vow, this will be a cowl. There’s no other mistakes left for me to make.


108 thoughts on “Actually, in Reverse

  1. Ooh, that last question. Should never be asked. My theory however is that the yarn is so gorgeous that it deserved to be knit more than once just so you could spend more time with it before it’s all over.

    • Now see, that’s close to what I was thinking. Subconciously, she wants to keep knitting with that yarn as long as possible — hence, the “errors!”

      It IS lovely yarn. I look forward to seeing its finished form!

  2. Only the one you made when you thought that nothing else could go wrong. The universe tends to be very inventive in proving one wrong on that one. 😉 Good luck on this try!

  3. If nothing else, you are getting your money’s worth out of that handspun. After all, you spent the time spinning and now are getting to knit it multiple times!

  4. You are the knitting goddess and I am but a lowly sock-serf, but if that were my project, I would know that more mistakes lurked in the shadows.

    Because I’ve had projects that went wrong one way after another–gauge, yes, followed by knitting errors (like doing something hinky with simple 2×2 ribbing and not seeing it for several rows—or many rows, even, or dropping a stitch on a toe decrease and not finding *that* right away either) , yarn problems (a yard of yarn that was sort of loose plies more or less lying alongside each other, knots in the yarn, yarn that broke after I’d knitted that row and another, and so on. There’s the start of a green and white sock still sitting in a sack with its green yarn (the white has been taken away and used up on something else) because of too many mistakes before I even got past the heel. (I started another sock to replace it; that pair’s done now.)

    So I’m glad you’re better than that, and you have in fact made the last mistake on this project. Forward!

    • Wow! Elizabeth Moon is commenting on the Yarn Harlot’s blog! I love learning that you knit. Maybe the Harlot will try writing sci fi! I’m very happy right now.

        • Thanks! I discovered the YH in a comment on Scalzi’s Whatever but I’m…afraid…of following too many writers. (So many words, so little time.) Regardless, I’ll go there now.

    • Heh…that sounds like a couple of my projects! And what Bebe said- I’ve read and enjoyed many of your books. How fun to find you’re a fellow knitter!

    • Oh, you all know she does it on purpose–just BECAUSE it’s so fun to watch someone else hang a crazy move on which you absolutely know is going to end up in more slapstick knitting error/comedy! We really appreciate your willingness to sacrifice your peace of mind for our entertainment, Stephanie!!

  5. A cowl that is too small is a hat (maybe even a long stocking cap.) A hat that is too big can become a cowl. And a cowl is a small enough piece of work that it is itself the gauge swatch.


    • Haha this made me laugh so hard. This is exactly what goes through my mind when I realize I should’ve done a swatch but reality still hasn’t hit me yet. And then I’m too far in and have to finangle something out of whatever I knit. I just tell myself that I’m being “independent” and a “knitting rebel” haha

  6. On behalf of knitters everywhere, I thank you for “taking one for the team.” Your knitting, ripping and re-knitting and ripping and re-knitting and finally measuring, ripping and re-knitting is very instructive for all of us.

  7. This post makes me very nervous as I have just started knitting your Pretty Thing cowl and I have not swatched. Yes, I know I should, but inclination to jump right in trumps “should” every time. I know my gauge with MadToshLight on 4mm is a little large, which means that using 3.5s will be spot on, right? I did add an extra repeat, as the cast on looked impossibly small. My plan is to give it to my sister (big head) if it comes out large enough and to my mother (small head) if it doesn’t. And then I’ll know exactly what to do for the next one, which I will knit for me.

    • I had to unpick the bind off I used the first time I knitted the Pretty Thing. Sewn bind off = perfect, any other bind off = too tight. Yes, the whole project sat in time out for a couple weeks before I did anything to repair my failed shortcut.

    • Laughing hysterically as I too do the big head/small head analysis when things are going into the toilet. Works for cowls and hats! Also have done big hands/small hands analysis for gloves.

      And my downfall is always either forgetting to wash and block, or knitting a gauge swatch that is too small to give a good indication of finished gauge even when I DO was and block.

      • Oh yes, talking myself into swatching (when I do) is just the first hurdle. Sticking with the swatch until it’s big enough is the hardest part and my most-frequent downfall. Last winter I knit a lovely hat with lots of cables, and the idea of swatching cables was just too much, so I didn’t. Even though I was using fingering instead of worsted and took a wild guess at how much to increase. Needless to say, the hat came out way too small for the brother it was intended for, but it fits my mother fine and she loves it.

  8. Something’s odd. On my iPad, I can’t see any comments, just a page full of beautiful bootees. 13 pairs of them, all the same.

        • This reminds me of an adage that a friend of mine’s dad had. She shared it with me (and we both passed on to our kids): “Experience is a fine teacher, but a fool will learn no other way.” That’s one of the many good things about this blog, we can (hopefully – if we’re wise) learn from Stephanie’s and other commenters’ knitting mistakes! Yet, every project seems like it’s going to work until it doesn’t. So, to be a knitter is to also be a ripper : )
          Also, the yarn is beautiful – whatever it gets made into will be pretty!

  9. A recent purchase of yummy yarn is going to be a hat and mitts, until the yarn lady showed me the matching scarf pattern to go with them. Had to buy extra yarn now for all three things. Well I started the scarf because I had the right sized needles. It starts out with ribbing with a occasional knit knit knit or purl purl purl depending on which side you are on. About 1.5 inches into the 2 inch ribbing I noticed at about at the 1/2 inch mark I had purled in the middle of the knit knit knit not on purpose. I kept going saying to my self it doesn’t matter…it’s only one little mistake…Sigh…got the ribbing done, started the pattern, did two rows and just couldn’t stand it anymore. Now I am at the 1/2 mark again and no mistakes so far. Moral of the story, if you see a boo-boo and it can be ripped back, it will be, don’t fool yourself.

  10. I believe the phrase, “Guage lies” comes to mind. (Or something along those lines that I’m sure I’ve read on this here blog.)
    But really what I wanted to say (and yes, I know not to start a sentence with ‘And’ or ‘But’!) is…
    Those are so not colours belonging on your blog!
    I’m sure it will be lovely. 🙂

  11. Aren’t you always saying you’re a process knitter? It’s not wasted knitting, it’s stretching your yarn budget, because you get to do more knitting with the same amount of yarn.

  12. Wow – now I don’t feel so bad. Sunday went to the bead store to get beads for my shawl in progress. Got home and realized they are too small. Tuesday went to bead store again and bought larger beads – still too small. This evening will be my third trip to bead store – and still did not think to bring a sample of the correct size bead.

    Have you considered making two cowls from the one skein? I believe it is Sam who likes to match her accessories with yours.

    Just a thought.

  13. Honestly, I can see why you kept knitting it–the colors are so pretty, even in the one that’s too small. I’m sure it will be gorgeous, and you’ll certainly feel you got every last drop of enjoyment out of the handspun!

  14. Sigh…it is another universe really. I know we laugh about wool fumes, but perhaps the methodical lovely clicking, the OCDC hand movements, the sweet way the yarn slips along…a woolly mind-meld. it looks as pretty as a birthday cake though…

  15. Ok I know I shouldn’t laugh but it’s so darn true! How many times do we lie to ourselves in an effort to swelf soothe? I have soooo been there and done that, but I would have never been so entertaining about it!

  16. “…knitting madness, brought about by an unwillingness to live in reality, and I kept knitting like knitting would solve my knitting problem.”

    I love this.

  17. We were travelling to visit our Daughter. I knit a hat on the way. All time thinking this looks too big, kept knitting anyway. Tried it on at the hotel, yup too big, ripped it back and knit it again on the way home!
    Sometime gauge lies too!

  18. I think I understand. Sometimes all I want to do is knit. Just get into a project and knit it. Not have to muck around with swatching or measuring but just knitting.

  19. I think it’s going to go swimmingly from here on out. Knitting Optimism, it’s gotta be one of the options, right? You added even more repeats, therefore it will fit over your head and use up more yarn, solving two of the former challenges. See? You’re winning already!

  20. Omigawd, I love you. I have done this exact thing I can’t tell you how many times, waiting for some kind of magic change in the fundamental laws of the universe…but I’d never, never admit it. Thank you for sharing the humiliation, and so gracefully\y!

  21. I would have kept knitting too, just because it’s so pretty. Looking at would make me think it was going to be okay. Because it was so pretty. Sigh.

  22. Madame Harlot, That is lovely yarn, not my usual choices but somehow it rings the happiness bell. I think your interesting knitting choices have been driven by some deep need to keep handling and watching the interesting color changes move through your hands. Your monkey brain is getting in the way of your enjoyment by demanding direct linear results. Knit on with joy. Sandy

  23. Are you knitting with your fingers crossed while chanting incantations to the yarn goddess after that last line????? May the Force be with you.

  24. I hate to smile at your pain, but every time you post one of these, it gives me hope that someone who has been knitting so well for so long still uses some of the same “magic thinking” that I do. On the other hand, I guess no matter how much more experienced I become at this, no amount of knitting mojo will allow me to will the yarn to do what I want it to do…

  25. There is another mistake you could have made.
    You could have kept right on knitting the first time and proudly presented the FO to a DD for Christmas and watched them be unable to pull it on over their quite normal sized head because it was *way* too small.
    Ask me how I know…

  26. What else can go wrong ? Did you already forget the one and a half sleeved baby raglan? Never say never ever ever!

  27. This anecdote is such a perfect metaphor for how life is sometimes that it feels like one of the Buddhist stories my partner occasionally shares with me when he’s been appreciating their application to his life.

  28. Sigh. Thank you for this timely reminder that the weird spot at the yo k1 yo spine was not getting less visible, even if the stitch count was fine. (But… it’s fingering weight singles!) I just returned here after ripping back 24 rows….

  29. Oh, I am sorry. A cowl isn’t supposed to be so persnickety – it is supposed to accommodate itself to whatever number of stitches you care to cast on, and then to whatever length of yarn your care to spend on it. If it makes you feel any better, I have several single socks, at least one mitten, and a worrying hat (worrying because I’d like to actually give this one away to someone who gratefully wears handknit hats) that will attest to the fact that you are not alone in the determination to continue knitting on the object of interest come heck or high water, or logic or reason.

  30. I have a question about your spinning ( maybe it will distract you from all your ripping!): how did you spin that beautiful braid to produce those wonderful stripes? It almost looks like a gradient in the wound-up ball! I have a similar braid and I’d love to try and get the same effect!

    • Sara, I have no idea. It was absolute dumb luck. I ripped the braid in half, spun each half, plied them together and whammo. Happy Surprise time. I couldn’t do it again if I tried.

  31. Another reason to knit scarves. Across the short dimension. Decide if it is the width you want (early in the overall process) and knit till the yarn runs out.

    Or perhaps the first attempt could have been a wrist warmer?

  32. My granddaughter is 4. She’s a good size for her age, but she’s 4. So please tell me how I knit 4 inches on the sleeve of her christmas sweater without noticing that it was actually big enough for my 14 year old (who is 6’4 and weighs 200 lbs?)

    Oh, right, knitting denial.

  33. “The first rip didn’t even bother me” was a harbinger of what was to come. I do prefer Classic #3 if I’m going all in. Recently managed to add a cable to the underarm of a baby sweater (a pattern with no cables whatsoever) and thought about it all the way to the cuff.

  34. I’m always amazed at people who can drink or knit. I tried one time and I learned that lesson the hard way.

    Also, you probably just jinxed yourself with the no more problems question.

  35. Thanks so much for making me feel better about this stupid baby hat I have started and ripped apart about a million times trying to get the size right. If the Yarn Harlot knits on knowing it’s futile, it makes me feel less stupid when I do it. 🙂

  36. Pingback: On trying not to compound mistakes | Rethorykal Questions

  37. How could anyone make a cowl too small?? A large glass of wine or a big bottle of beer can help solve any problem.

  38. Sadly, I have a cowl in my house that I thought of as a read this post. I finished it knowing it was too small… It is finished and lovely and I am still looking for a very small person on whom it would fit. I am sure I will find someone eventually (or I will finally decide to rip it out and have a re-do).

  39. Pingback: Chris Hemsworth,17.04.2012, The Avengers, Moscow, Russia |

  40. Steph –

    1. I really, REALLY hope that on this current try, you upped your needle size to correct the gauge.
    2. If you still have some of the homespun left over, fingerless mitts and a cowl would be lovely together. Or just the cuffs to the mitts, if there’s just a bit left.

  41. It’s hard to admit a mistake when the yarn is handspun, feels good, the pattern is pretty and the yarn is too. You just don’t want to stop to fix a mistake.

    I understand…..really!


  42. What you need, in times like these, is to not knit alone. Go knit with a knitting group. Someone invariable catches on and will point you in the right direction.
    One would hope. 😉

  43. Someone else may have said this, but you know the real reason we knitters continue to make these kinds of mistakes? Because sometimes it works out. You think the whole time you’re knitting the darned thing that something isn’t quite right, but I’ll keep knitting and we’ll see. Most of the time that voice in your head really means, “Stop now! For the love of your sanity, you really ought to stop now!” Sometimes it only means that you’ve buggered it up this way before and you know it could happen again, so you’re appropriately nervous. And sometimes it means something you thought would be okay is actually a fantastic twist of fate that made the thing absolutely perfect. While that last one happens incredibly rarely, for those of us who have even a wee bit of a gambling spirit, it’s probably why we keep going! Ask me about the sleeves on my most recently finished sweater sometime…

  44. I’m so glad to hear that I’m not the only one who keeps knitting while I contemplate the mistake I’ve made in the very same piece of knitting. I’m sure it’ll be a gorgeous cowl;)

  45. I’ve been embroiled in a knitting project that’s been stuck for almost 2 years. Every time I pick it up I figure out again that even though the yarn is amazing, the knitting is miles of moss-stitch boredom (and I like moss stitch!) followed by “what the hell is this pattern talking about?”. And on top of that, I finally admitted to myself this month that it just isn’t working. I don’t like the shape, don’t think it will fit, and am no longer excited about it. And still, I knit. Until last night, when my friend reminded me of your wisdom from this post. I slept on the idea overnight, and this morning I’ve decided to rip it out and do something completely different…in fact, I’m going to use it to start the pattern I’ve been trying to find the perfect yarn for. Thanks to both you and my friend for saving me several more months of disappointing knitting!

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