Question of the day: what will compel you to rip back a sweater? What do you do when your momentum on a project comes to a screeching halt?

My most recent knitting project has been the Lena Tee, by Carrie Bostick Hoge. I started knitting it because I am a sheep: Karen Templar of Fringe Association linked to this Instagram of a finished Lena, by danabarath. There is something indefinably inspiring about that garment in that shot, and I thought, self, you NEED to make that sweater.

The pattern calls for fingering weight in something drapey, and I decided to use some stashed Malabrigo Silkpaca, which is laceweight, held double. Silkpaca is (shockingly) silk and alpaca, so drapes beautifully, and I thought it would be soft and light for a summer tee. (Of course, alpaca is really warm, but eh.)

So I cast on.


The color is Zarzamora, which is this wonderful kind of mottled steel-gray/purple/greenish stormcloud color.

Except that it is also handdyed, with all the beautiful variation that accompanies hand-dying.

See, I had originally bought 2 skeins (back in 2013), intending to make some kind of infinity scarf. I then decided that knitting an infinity scarf in stockinette on small needles was tedious even for me, so bought two more skeins to make a lace cardigan. I bought the second pair at a totally different time and totally different place from the first, and yet they ended up pretty much an exact match.

Then when I decided to make this sweater holding the lace double, I realized I needed a couple more skeins. They arrived. They are beautiful. But they are way more PURPLE.



It may look like the top is just in shadow, but I promise that it’s not – there’s a really distinct line where the new skeins started and the sweater turns decidedly more purple.

Hence the post title.

So I find myself at a crossroads. I’m really – well – cross, because I only have a few more inches of knitting to go, and might have been able to finish the sweater this weekend (you knit from the bottom up in the round, then divide front and back; I finished the front and have been plowing away on the back). I was really looking forward to a finished object, I really really don’t want to start over. Also, this is laceweight held double on size three needles, and even for a basically sleeveless tee, that’s a lot of knitting. Further, frogging (mostly) alpaca is not my idea of a great time.

BUT. Will I really wear this sweater if most of the body is lavender-gray and then the top third-ish is purple?

Frankly, I don’t think I will. It will bug the heck out of me.

It’s not a hard fix, at all, in theory – frog and start over. Especially since I’m holding the laceweight double, I can then mix and match holding skeins together and end up with a much more uniform fabric.

I just have to frog and start over.

Or, if I can’t face that, I can just finish it, and wear it with the big purple stripe effect.

So. What have I done? Shoved it in its project bag and cast on something new (which is itself an example of halted momentum: I knit the entire yoke and an inch or two below the armholes of a swing cardigarn, then figured out it was too big). Someday I will come back to this one and decide what to do.

Till then, I have lots of other yarn.

Sand painting (or, a little knowledge about Buddhism is a dangerous thing)

Tibetan Buddhist monks have a tradition of building mandalas, beautiful geometric symbols with spiritual meaning, out of colored sand. They spend days building the pattern, carefully and ritually, and then at the end, destroy the whole, to show the impermanence of material existence.

Sometimes knitting is a little like that.

Just about a year ago I finished knitting a short-sleeved pullover in Madelinetosh DK.

As of earlier this evening, this is what it looked like:

I had been pleased with the way it turned out, in that it turned out exactly as the pattern would lead you to expect. But I only wore it once, and realized that the pattern was not the best choice for me. The round yoke and cap sleeves were extremely flattering; the wide ribs/welts and the wide neck did lovely things to my shoulders and neck. But a ribbed body with basically no ease is not the best choice for someone who carries her weight in her middle and whose waist bears a marked resemblance to a barrel. I don’t know that it looked as unflattering to others as it did to me, and I would never tell anyone else not to wear this style. But since I, personally, don’t like drawing attention to my waist, I didn’t feel comfortable wearing it.

So tonight I sat down with the sweater in my lap, picked my way around the bottom hem till I found where I’d woven in the end of the cast-off, pulled it out, and ripped the whole thing back.

Now, on the one hand, comparing the creation and destruction of my sweater with a Buddhist mandala, is pretty self-aggrandizing and inaccurate. My sweater was utilitarian rather than spiritual, and rooted much more in display and vanity than ritual purification.

But on the other hand, there is a ritualistic, meditative quality both to making and unmaking a knitted object, especially when that object turned out “right.” You begin by repeating the same stitches over and over again, carefully following the pattern before you, to match an ideal. The result is an intricate pattern where each individual stitch contributes to a greater whole. Then, when the time comes, you reverse everything you’ve done, and release the labor put into the finished object back into the universe.

I also can’t say what Buddhist monks think about this process of creating and destroying. But what I find particularly interesting, as someone who is both type-A and materialistic, is that I find having completed the sweater satisfying in itself, and don’t at all regret ripping it out. You’d think the perfectionist in me would see the creation of something flawed as a failure, that the greedy consumer in me would hesitate to rip back because then I would have one less thing in my life, and that the efficiency-addict in me would gnash her teeth at the waste of time devoted to something I didn’t end up liking.

But I don’t feel any of the above. Instead, I feel satisfied that I finished a project I started, and equally satisfied that I was able to let it go. It’s much more prosaic and mundane than a sand painting, although in the original meaning of mundane: of this world, rather than spiritual; temporal, not universal. But I come away from ripping back with maybe a similar recognition that not everything is permanent and fixed, and that unmaking what we’ve made might provide some perspective on attachment to pretty things.

4388571679_dafc696ca8_bMonks sweeping away the colored sand mandala of Shri Hevajra, Tharlam Monastery of Tibetan Buddhism, Boudha, Kathmandu, Nepal, © Wonderlane via flickr