Tuesday, 3 July 2012

I defeated Bloody Heartlands!

So, this morning I had an email from a fellow small mammal and knitter who was starting out her first lace project, my Midsummer Night Shawl. I'm an easily flattered mongoose, and boy, is that flattering! I always find it kind of exciting and scary when  people want to knit my stuff, in no small part probably because of the scars still on my psyche from the Azalea Incident (okay, one day I will fix that damn pattern.) 

It's doubly scary, of course, because it's her first lace project and, you know, I want to not be the person that ruined lace for her forever. That's a really vivid fear for me as well because of something my mother and I still refer to as Bloody Heartlands. 

Yes, Bloody Heartlands. Not a cattle-ranching bodice ripper, but The Shawl that Nearly Ruined Lace. 

Gather round, my knitting kin, and hear a tale of tears, despair, and frogging. 

I was a relatively experienced knitter. I could manage lace, I could kind-of read a chart, I'd knitted Stuff, albeit simple stuff that didn't work out well. I decided I wanted to do something ambitious and serious, and fell on the idea of knitting a lace shawl using sock-weight yarn. I asked my mum, a much more experienced knitter, if she wanted to join me a do a little KAL. I suggested we do Heartlands, by Evelyn A Clarke. Here it is; 

Nice, huh? The design is based on the shape of bison hooves, with the border representing a river. I'm a sucker for that sort of romance and I can see the hoof-prints when I look at it. And it's free, so I wouldn't be spending money on a pattern and then finding I didn't like it. 

I hadn't done a triangular shawl at that point, so it was going to be a big meaty challenge. Mum and I cast on around the same time, and off I went. 

Second go around, I mastered the tab cast-on, although it felt kind of weird (you knit a little oblong, then pick up stitches along three sides and carry on from there. It makes an invisible end, but it's not without its odd moments.) All fine. Got the idea - two increases at each side, and two in the middle around a centre stitch makes two triangles, and the lace is in the triangles. First repeat started. 

Then my brain melted.

I felt like I'd lost the plot. I couldn't keep this repeat in my head. Looking at it seemed fine, then I'd start down a row and I was completely unable to keep to the right place. I frogged it, and started again, convinced I was tired or something, that I just needed to get in the game properly.

I started again. That little tab, the first couple of rows. Then the next four. I relaxed. Then I looked back at what I had done and realised that the little lines of the hoof didn't match up.

Frogged. Again. I was getting really good at that tab cast on. 

Next time I got to the second repeat before experiencing the world slowing down as I struggled to count to six. Nothing lined up. I could not get one stitch ahead without checking the pattern. My copy of the pdf was now a little sweaty scribbled ball, so I printed off another copy, frogged, and cast on again. 

The next time was easier, but only just. Just soul-destroyingly slow. I needed to colour in some of the stitches to keep track of where I was all the time. I had a tension headache that reached all the way down to my knees, and the worst thing was - I was sure my mum was gaily chopping her way through the border and thinking about casting off by now. 

This time I got four repeats in before seeing the mistake back in row five. I screwed my courage to the sticking-place, and undid it, weeping hot tears of despair. What was happening to me? 

Then, as I braced myself for another evening of that tab cast on (wow, I could do that in my sleep by now) my mum emailed me. How are you getting on? She asked.

I emailed back. Words to the effect of, I think I may have a brain disease. Is there anything heritable in the family? 

Then mum confessed. She couldn't do it either.

With that, I rallied. I was going to prove myself as A Knitter. I was going to defeat the undefeated pattern. Stitch by blistering stitch, row by painful row, I knitted that damn shawl. And it hurt. 

And you know what? Months later, having done other shawls and realising I didn't have a heritable brain defect after all, I realised what it was that had so killed me in that pattern. It wasn't charts or the shaping and it sure as sugar wasn't the tab cast on. It was because the lace pattern wasn't symmetrical.

That was it; that was the brain-melting, can't count feeling I got. The Knitting Lobe of my brain fritzed out because, deep-down, I relied on lace patterns being symmetrical to remember them and to find them relaxing. Isn't that stupid? I didn't even spot it and it nearly broke me!

Is there a moral to this story? Through endless frogging comes understanding? Perhaps. But perhaps the real moral of the story is no matter how soul-grinding, brain-melting, heart-rending a project is, if you can finish it and be proud of what you've done, you've won. You've beaten the pattern. You can nail it's colours to your mast, and say, look at that! That was the day I defeated Bloody Heartlands! 

As Rudyard Kipling nearly says, 

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Knitter, my son! 

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