So I finished my sweater* as you can see by exhibit A above. And I really like it. It isn't exactly what I was aiming for but I like the fit, the shape and the idea behind it. And it feels particularly satisfying to finish something that technically was a little bit tricky and creatively a little bit odd. Because that is where the joy of an experimental project lies.
I originally came up with the idea for this sweater as part of the Fringe And Friends 2016 KAL which starts in September (I think). Karen was doing her magic and trying to encourage one and all, to step out of their comfort zone and try improvising a top-down sweater. Which is a super way to start your improv journey.
For me though, as I've made many a basic improv sweater over the years, I decided to join in spirit of what Karen was suggesting, by trying something challenging. So I upped the ante and decided to try an experimental sweater that couldn't be mapped out as simply as a standard top-down sweater.
So your normal improv process is pretty simple and goes something like this….
1. knit a swatch
2. record your gauge
3. know your desired measurements
4. multiply your measurements by your gauge and start knitting.
That wasn’t going to work for this sweater. I wanted to make a sweater with lots of negative ease (meaning it looked stretched) across the shoulders. The rest of the sweater would have positive ease (meaning the fabric would sit flat but loose).
Originally the aim was to create a sweater with a kind of funnel-ish boat neck that sat wide on the shoulders. The shoulder shaping was designed to be stretched when worn to show off the shaping itself. As you can see by the photo at the top of the post, this lead to quite a weird non-standard sweater shape when finished, and I knew that the standard calculations I normally use wouldn't really work.
The weird shaping meant that there was no way of simply multiplying measurements. And I was a bit in the dark as to what combination of rib and stocking stitch I would use - as I hadn't decided on where each part should start and stop. I also wanted to add in a few short rows to raise the back of the neck a little but not too much.
Pretty much the only way I was going to find out if my idea worked was to knit the thing.
In other words I had no clear idea of what I wanted. It was more of a vibe than an idea. Freestyle knitting at it's best.
I started it on time and then hooned through a few iterations of the shaping and the shoulders. I ripped for joy, and started again quite a few times. And then I got a bit demoralised, put it down for a month or two and ignored it while grinding my teeth a little.
I picked it up post-wedding (hence the pretty nails) and then tried again. This time I got a little further. I knitted the body (which I liked) and came up with a way to resolve the shoulders under the arms with a panel of rib. How much rib did I need though? And should I make the yoke depth smaller than normal to increase the stretch around the shoulders? I did some more ripping after a particularly tight armhole and then I got a bit demoralised, put it down for a month or two and ignored it while grinding my teeth a little.
And then I brought it on this holiday.
This week I finally got to it after doing all the procrasti-knitting I could find and pushed through the uncertainty.
And after a few simple days of knitting I got it done!!
Which reminded me of an important life lesson.
When I think experimental sweater I think "gee that seems like fun". Experimentation will be all about the freedom and the joy. Because experimentation can be seen as play, right? Which it is in many ways.
What I’d forgotten, is to experiment means sitting in uncertainty because the nature of experimentation is uncertain. Experimentation – especially when you are going after a specific result – is rarely without its painful parts. It's impossible to do without the possibility of failure, otherwise you wouldn't be experimenting, you would be following a plan you know works.
Uncertainty is fear and we are evolutionarily** programmed to avoid fear.
I love experimentation – the fun bit – but seem to conveniently overlook the fear part until I’m in it, and about to throw the whole thing in the bin during my various points of uncertainty. I avoid my uncertainty rather than just accepting that I am always going to hit it when I’m experimenting. Forgetting this lesson over and over again is a little dumb, but seems to be one that as a classic eternal optomist I am fated to re-learn over and over again. I continue to get frustrated with myself for my ongoing avoidance of experimental projects that I'm really excited about, but find it hard to stick with. Maybe this whole cycle is simply my process for this type of project. :)
Elizabeth Gilbert states in Big Magic that acknowledging the fear and becoming friends with it, but never letting it drive the car or even be in the front seat, is the way to make peace with this part of the creative process. And I believe her to be right in my experience!
And the resulting sweater?
In spite of my doubts, that I had until I tried it on at the very end, I'm really very very happy with it. I can point out all the things I would change if I was to go back. But for the moment I'm going to wear it and see how I like it.
I’ll grab a few photos of it on a body as soon as I manage to find a caravan park with light in the bathroom. What's that I hear you say? You could just ask a member of your family to take a few photos for you, couldn't you? Ahhhh, my sweet innocent blog readers, that has really never ever worked out in practice in my home, hence the proliferation of one-arm selfies in my instagram feed.
Who takes your photos? I genuinely want to know. Do you use a timer, a kid, a partner, a tripod?? How do you lot do it??
*I've not blocked it yet but hopefully in the next day or so!
**I don't think this is a real word but it's the best I could think of late last night. :)