Monday, October 5, 2009

A Journey

That's what this has been.

Verb Cable Mittens

So, right before Sock Summit my favorite enabler and fiber guru Kristine announced a contest on Ravelry. The challenge was to enter a mitten (or, later, a fingerless mitten) knit out of Verb yarn (at least 50%). This could either be a published pattern, or you could make up your own pattern.

I needed a challenge during the second part of summer before the semester began, so I jumped into the deep end of the pool without so much as a backwards glance. I was SO sure I knew EXACTLY what I would do! Two-color mittens, handspun fingering-weight yarn, reminiscent of an arts and crafts tile. It would be a small, practical piece of art.

First came several 8-hour days wasted on internet image research. Picture after picture after picture, flower after leaf after tree all flashed before me. Finally, I found something I loved, and that (seemingly) matched the color palette I had in mind: either Hollyhocks (scroll down a bit) or Lilies. Images bookmarked, it seemed a simple next step in my mind to transcribe the colors onto a multicolor mitten chart. When I sat down to actually do this, I realized that I wouldn't really be able to pull off the kind of design I had set my heart on with only two colors. Dark brown or black outlines and multiple shades of pink and green meant that, at best, I would be knitting five-color mittens, not two-color. Frustrating me further was the insistence of the pattern to use more than two colors on any one round.

The design languished, August ran away, and the end of September crept closer. The deadline for knitting the mittens is November 1, so I needed to get the design down on paper if I wanted to leave myself enough time to knit the darn things. After three weeks of not even looking at my mitten charts, I decided to chuck the whole idea and start fresh. In the meantime, I spun up my Hollyhocks fiber (Falklands wool):

Verb Fiber Club Hollyhocks

And some corriedale in the colorway The Candle's Nimble Flame:

The Candle's Nimble Flame Corriedale

I didn't really have any intention of using the corriedale for the mittens. In my head, I was starting to doubt that it had been a good idea to sign myself up for yet another commitment at this time of the year. So I brought the handspun to my knitting circle, and we all talked about it.

Hollyhocks Falklands

The Candle's Nimble Flame Corriedale

I asked about what people liked in a mitten. Did they prefer a thumb that protrudes from inside the palm, or on the side? With or without a thumb gusset? And there, surrounded by like-minded fibery friends, the idea hit me. I needed a mitten I could knit pretty fast if I wanted (because at this rate, I'd probably have about 48 hours to do the actual knitting after figuring out the pattern). I had some chunky yarn spun so it would make subtle stripes, in a colorway with little variation in contrast and saturation. Cables would pop, but they also couldn't be too complex or they'd get lost in the color. On top of all this, I was keen to make my design something that I perceived as unique. I'd seen lots of cabled mittens where there's an awesome intricate pattern going up the back of the hand, leaving the palm smooth. I said: what about cables on the side?

That sounded interesting to enough people, and after a few really really bad ideas about mitten construction (hint: there is such a thing as too unique), I settled on a basic game plan. I'd knit one mitten and make it up as I went along, keeping notes. The first test of the pattern would occur while I knit the second mitten, using the notes as a guide and trying very sincerely to not just make the second one up as I went along too. Here's what that looked like:

Smitten Mitten Progress

It was EXCRUCIATING to knit so slowly! So tough to stop myself every few rounds and update the notes. You can't hold a pen and keep your yarn tensioned at the same time, did you know that? Well, at least I can't. And when knitting the second mitten, I went into a mini panic every time something didn't come out the way it should. This time, I couldn't just knit 2 together and forget about the extra stitch that popped up out of nowhere. I knew in the back of my head that I wanted to write up the pattern, and other people who knit these mittens would obsess over that extra stitch. Incidentally, I also learned how to correctly count rows/rounds. I still had plans for the Hollyhocks yarn, but it went on the back burner.

And now they're done. After getting washed, it took me another two weeks to get out on a sunny day for a photo shoot. This morning I had some fun in the park with my mittens and the timer on my camera. Here they are, my Snow Chains mittens.

Snow Chains Mittens

Snow Chains Mittens

Snow Chains Mittens

Snow Chains Mittens

It's a good thing I waited a while to take the photos, because I was pretty sick of the design when I first finished knitting the mittens. We needed a break from each other. I am now working on writing up the pattern, but I'm gonna be honest here, because it's my blog and I can. If you hate them, don't tell me. I won't force anyone else to knit them, I promise.


Tracey said...

honestly, i love them! and the photos are great. i particularly like the last one where the side cable shows so clearly. :)

Karyn said...

I love love love them! I have already decided to knit some for my mom. I can't wait to pick out yarn!

Kerryellen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kerryellen said...

Jess! I love the mittens, they're really cute! I'd love to take a stab at knitting them! Miss you!