Rootling about

I had a bit of a crisis. Several crises. First there was the unedifying broadband crisis, which I won’t go into here having blogged about it elsewhere and also having no desire to revisit the experience, then there was the dead MacBook crisis (it’s old, but was my back-up machine), and then there was the ‘I’ve just finished a sweater and where on earth is it going to go?’ crisis.

This last one meant I had to plumb the depths of the old blanket box in which I keep knitwear. And when I say depths, I mean depths. I seldom get to the bottom. But this was a successful rootle, a real voyage of discovery, because I found the first complicated thing I ever knitted. And astonishingly, it had a pattern with it.

I think it must have been about 1985, or maybe earlier. I’m amazed the photocopy has lasted. The cardigan is unfortunately in something with a lot of acrylic in it (well, I was young, broke and in love with everything Phildar and Pingouin, including Phildar needles, which I still adore).

As a result it’s quite flat, and you can see where there’s only a single strand of wool quite clearly. I don’t really recall wearing it a lot, but somebody has been doing so and it can only have been moi. It has about as much life in it now as a piece of old cabbage and flops about like something which has been dead for some time, but I can’t get rid of it. I swear I remember every stitch, with my very-skilled-knitter flatmate telling me I would never finish it because I wasn’t coordinated enough. Nah nah na-na nah.

Then I found another cardigan with associated pattern. I really am not usually this organised, honestly, except with work where I’ve been accused of having OCD (all editors do, darling). This is in the thrilling style of the late 1980s (love that hat),

and though it still fits, there is no way I would wear it, even though I was sensible enough to avoid doing the glittery embroidery. But I liked the yarn then – acrylic again, but of course – and I’m slightly ashamed to say that I still do.

Well, I like the colour, with the turquoise and yellows. The actual yarn is eeeeeuuch. Was there no real wool about then? Or was I playing the impoverished student? Were people who went out and chose acrylic yarns of surpassing horror accepted as normal members of society, rather like those who applied Artex to ceilings?

Some time in the 1990s I came almost to my senses, but failed to upgrade my patterns. I went back and revisited one or two which had fallen apart due to being knitted out of old inner tube and artificial chemicals. But I bought better-quality yarn – you know, only partly inner tube. Maybe I was weaning myself off something gradually, possibly the exposure to unsafe levels of nastiness. I loved this cardigan deeply, knitted it in what my own mother described as ‘another attractive shade of shite, I see’ and wore it until it pilled so much that it disintegrated. (I’ve often lived in the sort of places where seriously big knitwear is a substitute for central heating. Or any heating.)

And so I reknitted it relatively recently, this time choosing some rather delicious tweedy Aran weight yarn from my stash, 100% local wool, from the much-missed Hunters of Brora which I bought just before they went out of business.

It’s lovely, lovely yarn. It’s nubbly and soft and full of depth. It’s essentially grey, a natural grey, with some black and white and charcoal. I bought it on the cone from the mill, skeined it and washed it and hung it out to dry outside the croft. It even smells right; there’s still a bit of lanolin left. It’s warm – boy, is it warm – and snuggly and reminds me of Sutherland and going down to the ceilidh on Tuesday evenings and watching the wild goats and enjoying a wee dram with the neighbours, sitting outside on summer evenings. In short, it means something.

But there’s a problem.

It’s not the same.

I don’t know what the difficulty is. Maybe it’s just too heavy? Maybe I miss the stitch definition you get with a plain as opposed to a tweedy yarn? Or maybe I haven’t really weaned myself off that heady cocktail of inner tube and fleece? No, that really cannot be the case… and now I’m wondering what embarrassing secrets everyone else has lurking at the bottom of their knitting stores. I cannot be alone in this. Please.

Of course, that doesn’t mean I’ve found anywhere to put the new sweater. I think I need a new blanket box.


8 thoughts on “Rootling about

  1. Deb

    Oh Kate. FIrst of all sorry about your crises. Been there.

    I can remember some horrendous (but seemingly wonderful at the time) things that I have knitted. As a teen I made my dad a yellow (yes YELLOW and bright primary at that) crew neck. I think it was the first sweater I actually finished. And I am quite sure he only wore it to not hurt my feelings. I can still see it on him. I made a Kelly Green (my favorite color in high school…told you I was a green person) short sleeve top out of a bouclé yarn which was also an art project for school. It ended up in the display case in the front hall of the school so I guess it was OK. I can still remember how difficult it was knitting with that stuff. And I am certain both of these were acrylic. Then a big knitting gap came along and I didn’t knit until my son was about two and I tackled my most complicated pattern…a cute little fair isle vest which he wore for about five minutes. I still can’t believe I knitted it because it was about five colors. It is now part of a large bear’s wardrobe.

    I’ve had quite a few regrettable projects along the way…some so because of the failure to swatch. LIke the pink and blue cotton cardigan that an entire family could wear at once (why on earth did I continue knitting that?) The cabled henley fisherman knit that turned out great but kept slipping off my shoulders unless the neck was buttoned up. At least THAT was wool. And last but not least in my sweaters with a memorable past was a gorgeous royal blue crew neck that I made for my husband. I think it was the only thing I had ever knitted with no regrets. Until the day my husband did the wash. Did I mention that IT was also wool? He didn’t turn it into a doll sweater on purpose though because even though we had agreed that it was OK if he didn’t really like it, it was in the 80s and looked really great on ME with leggings. Sigh.

    1. kate Post author

      I’m quite lucky in that I didn’t start knitting until I was older (well, apart from a vile striped scarf I knitted in the Brownies), so I wasn’t able to inflict anything like that on my family.

      Ah yes, not swatching helps. Hmmmmmmmm. Have just consigned another giant cardigan to washing basket as am going to felt it and make it into cushions. It expended hugely widthways and could probably fit round two families now. Tried to felt it back into shape but just made armholes too narrow to force arm down. I think that’s a mixture of me and Colinette; the pattern was truly dire, even by their standards.

    1. kate Post author


      I’m sure that qualifies as a fire hazard – it may even spontaneously combust – and there’ll be a charity shop somewhere just crying out for it. Really. Well, it’s all that the ones near me seem to have, anyway…

    1. kate Post author

      I’m shocked, ;-), ho ho – time to start using all that lovely stuff that grows on the backs of those things that go ‘baaaaa’….

  2. Anne

    This post is very reminiscent of what I did a few weeks ago as I too went through my woolly jumper store. Thankfully I had long ago got rid of all my 70’s mutli coloured mohair concoctions and a few mutli coloured acrylic fair isle jobs !! but I did manage to find two heavy cardigans made out of Rowan Magpie which I have now frogged . It takes up less room but what the hell am I going to do with the wool ? !!!

    1. kate Post author

      It’s quite shocking, isn’t it? Mercifully I was never into shoulder pads (I wasn’t knitting at that stage) and cleared most of the embarrassments out when I moved house 10 years ago, otherwise this would have been a whole lot more traumatic.

      Rowan Magpie – it’s (oops), it was 100% wool, wasn’t it? At least that’s one thing – perhaps it will felt well…


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