the first mess

Learning the importance of a knit swatch.

Learning the importance of a knit swatch.

I recently started following a vegetarian food blog called 'The First Mess.' (One of our #goals this year is to find new recipes to add into the rotation, and following new food blogs has been a big help!) The 'first mess,' explained by the blog's author, Laura Wright, is in reference to the arrival of the first run (or mess) of peas in early spring, and described as "the day with stars on it," in the book, An Alphabet for Gourmets, by M.K. Fisher. I love the imagery that evokes, a 'heaven meets earth' kind of day.

My first mess is of a different variety. A messy mess with little promise of celestial dawning. 

Best Intentions

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I'm on a mission to knit beyond the scarf borders, so last month, I ordered a kit from We Are Knitters to stitch up my very first top! The kit arrived, and I spent a couple of days just admiring the yarn (pima cotton in aquamarine), contemplating the pattern (by far the most complex I have ever seen), and imagining myself effortlessly knitting this top in no time. (The verdict is out whether or not mental rehearsal of an action is effective prior to the physical performance, but it couldn't hurt, right?)

I finally sat down to cast on the necessary 81 stitches. (Eighty-one, that's a first!) I am no stranger to having to cast on a couple of times to get the stitches the way I like them and this time was no different. No big deal. Once they were all neatly lined on my needle, I followed the pattern for the first 4 rows - rib stitch, which I was familiar with. Yay! From there, I ventured into unknown territory. For the next 112 rows (holy moly), I was to knit the moss stitch. After I googled the stitch for the description, and watched a YouTube video about it, I was put at ease. The pattern was living up to its 'Easy' designation. 

In theory, at least. 

While the moss stitch is not terribly complicated (knit one, purl one, repeat), getting the correct tension was anything but painless. My hands were cramping up from holding the cotton so tightly. I had to stop after each stitch to try and coax the next one up the needle to be knit. And as cotton is not really 'spun' so that all the fibers are woven into one, I kept splitting the individual threads. But I kept going. 

The First Mess... Up

I mossed 45 rows and then took a closer look at my progress. I couldn't deny a beaming pride at how far along I'd come. I was almost halfway through one panel! (Not really, as after the 112 moss rows, there were 22 eyelet rows, and some odd numbers of finishing rows, but it felt like halfway). But a couple of rows down from the needle, two stitches right next to each other looked loose. Or maybe I did the wrong stitch back to back? And then I saw another 'hole' a couple rows down from that. Hmph. So, I did what any normal person would do. I flailed the project in the air a bit, tried to bunch the surrounding stitches over the holes, and held the project at arm's length to see if it was passable as is. 

The holes totally jump out at me, and I couldn't keep mossing, knowing that they would be there for all eternity. 

The holes totally jump out at me, and I couldn't keep mossing, knowing that they would be there for all eternity. 

It could have been passable. Even Dylan told me to keep going. But when his justification to carry on was, 'one day you'll look back at this first piece and be amazed at how far you've come,' I knew I had to start over. (Essentially what I heard was, 'one day you'll look back at this first piece and laugh at the silly mistakes you made... and how you have been wearing this piece, mistakes and all, out in public.' You'd start over too.)

I couldn't bring myself to rip out the 49 rows right away. In fact, they are still perched on my needle, awaiting further instruction. What I did do was get out another ball of cotton, assemble my circular needles in the same size, and take another glance at the pattern. 

The pattern recommended knitting a swatch of 17 stitches and 22 rows in the moss stitch. All patterns recommend knitting a swatch prior to beginning the project, and I have never done so before. In the world of scarves, it didn't really matter if I knit too loosely or too tightly. The same goes for the blankets I've crocheted. Who would notice if a blanket was not precisely the measurement that the pattern called for? I certainly wasn't measuring! 

But with a top, I'm pretty sure the size matters. So I knit a swatch. My first swatch. It was kinda fun, although I had to stop myself from thinking several times, 'these are good stitches, and I'm wasting them on a swatch!' I have to say the best part about swatching was actually the ripping. (Are you supposed to keep the swatches?) I figure that the process of unraveling my neat swatch stitches is good practice for when the time comes that I will release the 3,969 some odd stitches of my first go around. (I still cringe every time I think about it.)

Could I Go On?

Last night, as Dylan sat editing the video we filmed for Above and Beyond Cancer on Kilimanjaro this past January, I re-cast on my 81 stitches (twice). If you've any knowledge of video editing, you know the editor can work on a single line of dialogue, or one certain image, at length. I kept hearing the part of the video that asked, in reference to if one could keep climbing the mountain, 'Could I go on?'

Summiting Kilimanjaro was a definite test. Hiking up 19,341 feet is no walk in the park, and it really challenged my mental fortitude in additional to my physical fitness. To get to the top of any mountain, you really have to want to get there in along with working your butt off. I couldn't help but equate the same to my knitting. Did I really want this? Could I keep going, despite the obvious setback? Will the reward be greater than the challenge? Of course - with Kilimanjaro as well as with my new top - the answer is yes, it is totally worth it. I summited the mountain, and I will keep going with my knitting. Sure, I may not be done this top by the time Easter rolls around (when I had planned its debut), but persevering in the face of challenges is part of the process every time. (And making funny faces about the challenges helps too.)

Okay, so in the end, this whole swatch procedure was kinda fun. Remind me that I said that the next time this scenario has me whining!

Okay, so in the end, this whole swatch procedure was kinda fun. Remind me that I said that the next time this scenario has me whining!