Last weekend, I got up early on a Saturday morning and decided to do some swatching for my next sweater, Neon by Joji Locatelli. Here is a photo of Neon:
As you can see, the cardigan is knit in a pretty, lacy stitch pattern. This pattern, Tulle Stitch, is a 2-row repeat. You can’t get much simpler than a 2-row repeat. This is my first pattern from Joji, but I can tell you that it is meticulously written. There is no guesswork involved in a Joji pattern. She even tells you exactly how many stitches to cast on for your swatch and how to measure it. So, here I am at 7am on a Saturday. Doug and Emma had returned home the evening before from Canada. They are in jet-lag city and are bound to sleep for hours. Leah is also unlikely to wake early, and if she does, will probably stay shut in her room. I have literally hours of prime knitting time stretching out before me. I cast on my swatch before I even make coffee (egads!).
Now the tulle stitch is a 2-row repeat, but since the pattern is offset on every alternate repeat, in the interests of being very thorough, it is charted as 4 rows. I am sitting on the couch, needles in hand, freshly wound ball of Plucky Sweater yarn at my side, and the Neon pattern on my laptop. A message pops up saying that my laptop is out of juice and needs to be plugged in immediately, or it will close down. The cable is upstairs, and not only do I not want to wake Doug up to get it, but I am highly lazy. So, I grab a piece of paper (the back of a yarn label) and hurriedly scribble down the pattern for the swatch. I then close down the laptop and cast on for my swatch. Row 1 of the pattern stitch looks like this:
Row 1: k1, * k1, yo, k1 * to end
This is what I write:
Row 1: k1, * k1, yo, k1
Now for those of you unfamiliar with knitting terminology the star (*) in the pattern means to repeat, in the following sense – you repeat the bit between two stars. So to knit row one, you would start with a knit stitch, and then do k1, yo, k1 over and over again until you reach the end of the row. Easy, huh? But that is not what I wrote. The star notation is only used in pairs, it makes no sense otherwise. So the fact that my scribble has a star on row one implies that I need to be repeating something. This is what I knit:
k1, k1, yo, k1, yo, k1, yo, k1, yo, etc. etc.
This means that I am somehow interpreting my scribbled notation as:
Row 1: k1, * k1, yo * , end k1.
Okay, so this is stupid, but not outrageously so, and could easily be done by anyone who has not only neglected to drink their morning coffee before starting a new pattern but is also too lazy to charge their laptop. Does my stupidity end there? No, it does not.
After a few rows, I can tell that there is something seriously wrong. The swatch looks wrong. There is no rhyme or reason to the pattern. It does not look pretty. Furthermore, it is impossible to “read”, which means that even after a few rows, I could not tell where I was supposed to be in the pattern just by looking at the row underneath. So, I rip it all out, make myself a cup of coffee, and sit down once again, now properly fortified, to knit the swatch again. And, of course, even though I look at the pattern again and again, I never even realize that it is missing a star, or notice that my brain is automatically filling in the missing star into the equation, and filling it in wrong!
My second attempt at a swatch looks as wrong as the first. But the lack of any symmetry to the pattern stitch is only part of the problem. You see, on the second row of the pattern repeat, you are decreasing one stitch out of every three. Notice, that my mistaken interpretation of the pattern means that on every odd row, I am increasing one stitch for every two, and on every even row, I am decreasing one stitch for every three. This means that the number of stitches on the needle will keep growing….and growing…and growing. After only a few rows, my swatch has doubled the number of stitches. How could this be?
Thoroughly annoyed by now, I run upstairs, grab the cable (waking up Doug in the process), come back downstairs, plug in my laptop, and start reading the pattern. Clearly, if the tulle stitch is continually multiplying the stitch count, there must be something in the sweater pattern that continually decreases the count. But no, the pattern has no such stitch-decreasing mania (and is also very well written and organized).
Doug walks into the room. He is jet-lagged and half asleep. “I am a stupid knitter!” I say to Doug. “Un huh,” he says while making himself a coffee, clearly not thinking this topic worthy of comment. (This is like asking “Do I look fat in this?” A sensible husband will know that no response is a good response.)
I decide to log into Ravelry and search for an answer to this stupid problem. First, I look at the finished Neon cardigans. Lots of them, all beautiful. I notice that the knitters all make comments like “fun pattern” and “easy knit”. One knitter even said “Thought it was going to take me 2 weeks, but only took me 11 days, not bad.” Aargh! I am getting really annoyed now. I look at the forums searching for other people agonizing over the pattern; surely someone has commented on the fact that the pattern increases exponentially. Or that it MAKES NO SENSE AND LOOKS STUPID! Or, maybe it’s just me. “I really am a stupid knitter!” I yell to Doug. “Sure, honey,” he says, clearly paying zero attention to my plight.
I make myself yet another cup of coffee (a double shot espresso latte). I sit at the dining room table. I very carefully read over the pattern again, the whole pattern, every line. At some point a light bulb clicks on: “I missed the star!,” I say to Doug. “I wrote the pattern stitch out wrong! It is not k1, yo repeat, it is k1, yo, k1 repeat. Well, jeez, ” I bang my palm to head, “that makes sense! See, now it increases one stitch out of every three, and then decreases the same number on the alternate rows!” I shout this, as if I have had an epiphany, on par, perhaps, with Newton and the apple. “See, Doug, I am NOT a stupid knitter. I’m just stupid!” Wisely, Doug doesn’t respond.
Post epiphany, I knit the swatch. It looks beautiful:
The pattern is lovely. Furthermore, it is intuitive. It makes sense. I can “read” it, from the row beneath. As for the sweater, once you get past the initial inch or two, the pattern is easy and intuitive. (The yarn is also gorgeous, but that will be the topic of a subsequent post.) Here is a progress shot, proving I have indeed advanced from swatch to sweater proper:
I like to think that sometimes even genius knitters have their stupid moments. I imagine Elizabeth Zimmerman yelling at her husband “But this pattern makes no sense, Arnold!”. Or Barbara Walker, tearing her hair out, saying “There’s too many increases here!” Then, at least I’d be in good company.