27 July 2006

Seriously Good Luck


Before I get into the felted sweaters, I just want to say...wow.

Our internet connection was down yesterday, and when I went online today to see how/if anyone responded to my post of yesterday, I was amazed at the quantity, depth, and sheer wonderfulness of the responses! See, now this is what I love about the confluence of knitting and the internet! Everyone added so many more reasons that the Mason-Dixon book is so compelling, each of which had me going, "yes! exactly! that's it, too!" -- it just goes to show how powerful an effect the book has, or how powerful a niche it's filling. And I want to thank everyone for adding so much more to satisfy my own curiosity about why the book and its projects attract me so much.

As I said in the original post, that was really what I was most going after (i.e., understanding what it is about warshrags, etc, that have suddenly taken over my brain and my fingers, to my own surprise!), so I hope I didn't start or dig up a controversy where there wasn't one. I only saw a couple of posts on blogs (and I honestly don't remember where) that expressed disappointment or scepticism about the book -- which I'm sure appears on blogs somewhere about *every* book that gets published -- and which I thought was interesting only because, while I totally understood what these people found to complain about (the simplicity of the patterns, etc), YET, I loved the book, and bought it happily with no regrets, even though I'm on a strict knitting-book budget. That's what I was trying to figure out, and, with the help of all these good folks who posted, I do feel like we've nailed down a lot of the ways in which this book is much more than the sum of its parts. I hope that convinces a few people to try it who haven't yet. That's why the handful of comments I got about my Absorba the day before prompted me to write the post. Those weren't people who had issues with the M-D book, but they did say they were hesitating, or half-convinced, and I guess I just wanted to find a way to convey to them and others still thinking about getting the book, or doing a particular project in it, what it is that's just so *satisfying* about it.

That said, one of the not-so-enthusiastic blog posts that I remember seeing a while ago was complaining (mildly) about the book, about KALs in general to some degree (mentioning also the Icarus KAL, of which I'm a member too), and was saying that it was annoying for everyone to always be on the same bandwagon. Now, this was just that person's opinion and wasn't at all expressed in an offensive way (I don't see how one person's opinion can be offensive, anyway), so I don't want to go looking for that blog again just to point it out as if it's a bad example of something. It just intrigued me, because I, too, dislike doing what everybody else is doing, or wearing whatever everybody else is wearing, and I too thought, when I first browsed M-D, "well, but that pattern's just from the ball band, and that I could do myself....", etc. But, unlike this other person, I LOVE knit-a-longs, I was delighted to have so much company in making the Icarus, and I found myself unable to resist buying M-D (indeed, the quality of the photography and editing and writing helped here - I started by reading the intro in the bookstore, and I think that sold me, patterns be damned), and of course have since become a total convert to all the projects from the book, and the blog.

So, what about this bandwagon thing? This anonymous blog poster, again, expressed annoyance that "everyone else" was knitting Icarus, and said that she wouldn't do it now, even though she'd liked the pattern and had wanted to knit it when she first saw it. Now, okay, I have to say that I think it's totally insane not to do something you want to do, just because other people like it too. [And, though it may indeed seem in the knitting blagosphere that "everyone" is knitting Icarus, I live in NYC and have yet to see a single other Icarus walking down the street! Not even a Clapotis, or a Jaywalker! :-) ] But -- does anyone else have maybe a slightly less pointed reaction to the overwhelming popularity of certain patterns in the internet knitting world? I'm wondering if a sort of backlash to the knitting trend is starting to turn up? I would absolutely hate to think so, because even though the really chic-chic, Hollywood-y aspects of the knitting-as-yoga trend do make me occasionally roll my eyes, I could not be more delighted or grateful to have perhaps a handful of mere trend-followers to join us hordes of die-hard knitters. Whatever it takes to keep the LYS's in business, and the pattern books coming!! I'm perfectly happy to be slightly discomforted by a visit to a certain extremely uppity "luxury yarn" store on the Upper East Side if it means I can get my alpaca-silk when I want it!

So ever since the trend started, I've been living in shivering, quivering fear of the moment when a backlash will set in, knitting will go out again, and we'll have to knit our kitchen cotton because we have no selection of other, fuzzier fibers available, rather than because we feel like it. But, upon reflection, and upon seeing the response to my post yesterday, I'm going to bravely claim that I don't think knitting will ever go back into hibernation as it once was! Indeed, I think that life today necessitates something like knitting, or yoga, or sculpting, or quilting, or model building, or ANYTHING that serves to keep one in touch with one's body, one's imagination, and the outside world. And I think the internet has a key role in all this. Spending most of our time sitting in front of computers is probably part of why we all need the knitting therapy so desperately, but at the same time, the community-building power of the internet makes it possible, for the first time, for no knitter to have to work out a pattern alone (or abandon it in despair), for no knitter to have to teach himself every skill from scratch, for no knitter to have to hide her knitting lest people think her all kinds of things she isn't, and for no knitter to suffer from the inability to find or make a pattern to express *exactly* his own personality....and so, dear ones, it seems to me that there is no longer any reason for a knitter (who can get internet access, that is, usually free at public libraries!) to run into the kind of situation that so commonly used to cause those infamous "knitting lapses" (mine lasted for years, during the Red Heart Era).

It was you, dear commenters, who have brought me to this hopeful perspective, and I thank you. You have also served to explain why I love knit-a-longs all of a sudden, even though I've always been one of those ornery, non-joining type people. While I grudge no knitter or blogger the right to be annoyed or to post a gripe, I'm so glad that to an overwhelming degree, the browsing of knitting blogs never fails to make me feel inspired, interested, humbled, and motivated.

Oh, and yes, if I could be writing my disseration about knitting...well. I would be a lot closer to being done now, wouldn't I? :-) Ah - the good thing about being a historian, though, is that *everything* becomes history as soon as it happens so, who knows, maybe someday I'll get to write a book about the Great Knitting Revivial of the Early 21st Century. Meanwhile, I take comfort in re-reading my sources for my diss and catching occasional references to knitting there. I'm even contemplating, yes indeedy, working up these small references into an article someday.

BUT - Back to knitting. Er, no, actually, I still don't have any knitting pictures to post, but I do want to tell a felting story. It's a good one, with a happy ending.


So while Hubbster and I were in Michigan, visiting Mom, we went shopping one day at the nearby outlet mall, looking principally at an antique store, where I was hoping to find some old knitting equipment of any kind. No luck there, but we did find a consignment store further on that was offering everything in stock for $2 per item. And guess what, folks - I found no less than 7 gorgeous feltable sweaters:

Some were so beautiful I was almost ashamed to felt them. One is Abercrombie & Fitch, another is DKNY. Two are 100% Shetland wool, and four are 100% lambswool (the seventh is 100% Scratchy Wool, and no, that's not what it said on the tag, but I'll bet it's why it was for sale). I love the lime-green hoodie with the cute cable pattern and the kangeroo pocket. Crying out to be made into a handbag, n'est pas?

I took out all the tags and also several of the seams in the hoodie, since that one's quite bulky and I didn't want to waste the fabric in the seams by letting it felt into a big fat wormlike shape. Here it is, undone, looking a lot like a really accurate schematic:

The DKNY sweater is really interesting, too. It's plain stockinette, but knit side-to-side, with some shaping around the neck and the sleeve decreases going down the top of the arm. I was really tempted to just wear it as-is, but it's pilling pretty badly and a bad color for me, so I decided to felt it after all. I might want to replicate the pattern someday, though, so I took some detail shots of the shaping. Here's a couple of samples:

And in case anyone wants to copy those cables from the hoodie, like I do, here's a detail shot of that:

So, I went to the Laundromat to start felting, and after three cycles (at $1.75 each), I decided to give up temporarily and finish the felting at home, by hand. They all at least started to felt, the blue Fair Isle one felted completely and the Fair Isle parts of two others got close. But I just couldn't stand to sit in the humid Laundromat paying that much for a 10-minute wash cycle anymore. What I wouldn't give to own my own washing machine!

So, back at the farm (er, the 1BR apartment), I dumped the 6 sweaters in varying stages of unfeltedness into a big plastic tub in the bathtub. I added lots of soap and hot water, got out a big wooden spoon and a book, and whacked, swirled and smooshed away at the sweaters for a couple hours while reading. Then, I pulled each one out, squeezed out excess water, and took a look at my handiwork: two hours of rather laborious work had yielded...nothing. Hmph. Time to get out the heavy artillery. The metal cooling rack (the kind you use when baking cookies). I ruthlessly put all my sweaters "on the rack," alternately rubbing them by hand, or laying them across the rack and rubbing at it with the wooden spoon. One piece (half of the hood from the hoodie) felted pretty nicely this way, but it took forever, and by the time I'd gotten that far I was out of all patience, it was past midnight, and Hubbster was beginning to wonder what evil spirit had possessed his wife (and whether she remembered that she's getting a PhD in history, not felting). So I dumped the sweaters back in their soapy tub and left them there to feel guilty while I slept.

Next day, I decided that shock therapy would be the ticket (and, a lot less work). I poured out the old water, filled it with the hottest-of-hot, almost-boiling water from the tap and more soap, took out a little bit of my pique with the wooden spoon, and stalked off to see how it liked this treatment. I re-visited the tub whenever the water had cooled, drained it, and "shocked" the wool with more hot. Apparently, though, this wool was pretty unshockable. Throughout the process, it displayed a uniformly English attitude of restraint and imperturbability in the face of anything I threw at it. Must be because there was Shetland in there.

After two days of this, Hubbster was beginning to laugh at me, and to tell jokes about my undisciplined sweaters to all and sundry.

So, pulling the tatters of my dignity along like Linus' blankie, I gave up and dragged the sweaters, in their tub, down to the basement. Let them be half-felted handbags. Like I care. I'll sew them together with yarn that really does felt, and it'll all be fine. I planned it like that the whole time. And damn if I was going to waste any more energy wringing them dry and then laying them all out on towels to take up the next week to fully dry in this weather. So, I threw them all in the dryer, and put in enough quarters for an hour and fifteen minutes. That outta do it.

So, 75 minutes later down I go to pick them up, firmly convinced that the tags had all lied, that they'd all been stranded with super-wash or nylon or something, and....I took out from the dryer six teeny, tiny, heavily felted, very thick sweaters.

So, in other words, I've invented a new, highly efficient, and cheaper means of public-laundry felting. Dunk your stuff in soapy water till they're full, then stick 'em in the dryer. End of story. The beauty of it is that while $1.25 to $3.00 will get you only about 10 minutes of actual heated, agitated, washing time in a public machine (the rest being rinses and spins), every minute you pay for in a dryer is actually heating and agitating the sweaters. If only I had thought of this from the beginning! Best to keep them each in their separate, zippered pillowcases, though, as you would in a washer, because otherwise the fuzzies will all stick to all sweaters equally (one arm of my grey sweater escaped its confines).

(Grey fuzz on purple-and-red sweater.)

The punchline is....none of the sweaters were actually dry.

They're now hanging on the drying rack in my living room, where they've been for 24 hours, with no sense of dryness yet showing itself. I'll give it a week, or maybe until fall?

Here's a shot, though, of the felted sweaters, minus the very obedient blue Fair Isle one that felted right from the start, and is already dry, which paid for its obedience by being totally forgotten when picture-taking time came.

Both the grey and sideways-green ones were big enough for me to wear before felting. The grey one looks only slightly smaller now, though noticeably shorter, but the green one is miniscule. A good illustration of how much more stockinette stitch felts vertically, than horizontally.

Didn't the cables come out looking really cute?

So, they weren't exactly the incredible bargains I told Hubbster they were, after all those washer and dryer cycles, but I've now actually got the results I originally wanted. Will keep you updated on what I do with the sweaters after they dry. Right now, I'm planning to make at least a few handbags, a la those in Leigh Radford's AlterKnits, and cut up the rest, along with some felted bits and pieces from a previous run to Goodwill to make a couple of big pillow covers. And maybe another handbag. Or two.

Saving for a future post: the Most Frustrating Evening of Knitting Ever (or, Never Frog from the CO Edge Up) and Knitting and Drills.


Laura said...

Boy am I glad I found you through my Stat Counter! Another wonderful, thoughtful post about MDK and bandwagon knitting. I agree with you that it's a shame some knitters will pass over a project they otherwise like simply because (perhaps many) other people are knitting it. I read one well-known blogger say this about the Waving Lace socks from IK. I'm knitting those socks now, and it's a lovely, very pleasurable pattern. I have reflected many times that she's missing out on a great pair of socks because of her principles!

Thanks for such a thought-provoking post...I eagerly anticipate reading about your frogging (mis)adventure.

Jenn said...

Wow....never considered buying wool garments to felt. Cool beans. My mind is running amok with ideas. What inspired you to pursue felting this way?