Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Strange fits of fashion, Part 1



Late last November, despite the fact that more guests were to arrive imminently and the house was in shambles after the dionysian excesses of Thanksgiving, I drove several exits down I- 95 South, past the lurid Potemkin facades of Ye Olde Mistick Village to one of my favorite Connecticut yarn shops, Mystic River Yarns (www.mysticriveryarns.com).  My mission: to witness the act of steeking. 
Steeking, as you may not know, is when you cut up the sweater you have just knitted circularly to make holes for the sleeves or an opening down the middle of the front for a cardigan, or similar such slashes. Timid thing that I am, I wanted to see someone else do this in cold blood, and to experience the Schadenfreude of knowing that the tragic aftermath was her problem, not mine.

The demonstrator was a kindly woman named Ginnie Dugan who had completed the body of a cardigan in gorgeous Shetland yarns of varying autumnal hues, and with what seemed to be very small needles.  In other words, her project had been highly labor intensive. After explaining to the assembled many interesting facts about knitting Fair Isle patterns, she brandished a pair of long-bladed scissors and deftly cut through the center steek, the knitted-in line of demarcation between the two sides of the front.  

As she did this, the fibers of the wool self-healed in a way that only Shetland wool can, so that instead of turning into a mess of raveling frayed ends, they simply folded back on themselves and formed a placket. Rather than playing the role of horrified onlooker, I found myself encouraged by Ginnie's sang froid, and came away thinking that such an act was within my realm of possibilities.

Which is probably why, after I made a sweater for Cy Place-Perrotti's first birthday, I agreed to ruthlessly slash the neck opening for purposes of enlargement.

Young children have a way of growing fast. Cy turned one on February 26th and the sweater was large at that point. By April getting his head through the neck hole was like replaying the drama of birth.  I told his mother I'd see what I could do to adjust the opening.

With the steeking demo I'd witnessed at Mystic River Yarns in mind, I coolly sliced through the neck and shoulder of the sweater, creating a gash that immediately began to ravel. Unfazed, I threaded a yarn needle with some leftover worsted that more-or-less matched the green of the bulky yarn I'd used to knit the sweater (on size 10 needles), and picked up the live loops and started to bind them down.  (Sewing with the same bulky yarn would have created an extremely thick seam.) And the results...well, so far, not so great. But I shall persevere.

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