Stratum part 1: escaping the tyranny of choice

I feel like color knitting is a big thing right now – partly because I see it showing up frequently in new patterns and books, and partly because I find myself drawn to it for the first time, ever, and I’m not really creative or independent-minded enough to pick up this kind of interest on my own.

(A while back the husband and I had a long conversation about what we’d name our hypothetical sprog, should we ever produce any, despite not intending to do so. We both agreed that we loved the name Isobel and would definitely name a daughter that, and congratulated ourselves on our originality. We didn’t know anyone named Isobel or with kids named Isobel. Neither of us had heard the name Isobel in popular culture. We were genius baby-name-pickers. We then looked at the then-current top 10 girls’ names and Isobel was number 3. I mean, it was spelled Isabelle, but really, same name. At that point I stopped worrying about being unique and accepted that I am entirely a creature of my time and place.)

However, while I’d like to give colorwork a shot, that’s a pretty big leap from my usual practice of knitting miles of stockinette. I figured it was safer to make a few, smaller jumps, and begin by knitting stripes:

photo (3)

Stratum by Karolina Eckerdal, published in Brooklyn Tweed’s Wool People 8.

Apart from the stripes, I liked the lovely wide neck and the graceful A-line skirt, and the way the sweater has ample positive ease without looking shapeless or sack-like. (Why yes, this does sound like all the other sweaters I like.)

But then I had to pick colors.

I was determined to use yarn I already owned for this (I do not need to buy more yarn; someday I’ll show you how much I have kicking around). In fact, that was one of the reasons the stripes were so attractive to me: I have a number of random skeins of fingering weight yarns, none of which are enough to complete a solid sweater on their own, but can combine to make a striped one.

Stash diving is interesting, though. On the one hand, you have that feeling, “Do these yarns really go together, or have I just decided that they go together because they’re what I have? Am I really just letting my desire not to spend money disguise the fact that I’m making an ugly sweater?”

On the other hand, if you’re like me, it can be hard to get to yarn stores in person. It’s absolutely, utterly worth it, when you can. Local yarn stores are fully of pretty things and knowledgable people and it’s important to support them. But the few lovely yarn stores around here are open almost exactly the hours that I work, and sometimes you just can’t wait till the weekend to look at yarn. It’s often easier to trawl the internet tracking down yarn online.

So if you decide, “No, I will buy new yarn! I will choose the perfect colors that go together perfectly!”, but cannot get to the yarn store, you find yourself staring at swatches from about 17 different online sources at once, trying to line them all up on your laptop monitor at the same time that you weigh their fiber content and qualities and price, and simply end up stymying yourself into immobility.

(Or that might just be me.)

(Of course, I do this in yarn stores, too. If you’d like to kill a few hours doing nothing, come to a yarn store with me when I have the intent to buy yarn and also a budget. I’ll probably pick up and put down the same 5-6 skeins of yarns at least 62 times. It will be scintillating, I promise.)

So despite the little voice whispering in my ear, “But do the colors actually work together, or are they just convenient??”, it was actually a relief to limit myself to choosing from the few things in my stash that go together closely enough to be worth a shot. It’s not really surprising that I could come up with some plausible combinations, given that my stash is full of things that I’ve chosen, and I tend to like the same kinds of things over and over. (See: purple yarn; taupe nail polish.) But this is the first time I’ve really managed to make it work.

Besides, I don’t need another handknit wool sweater in the least – so there’s no pressure on this. If it turns out hideous, I’m no worse off than when I started, and I’ll have got some entertainment out of the process at least.

So soon I’ll talk about swatching for this sweater.

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