FO Fail: Cowl Foul

Ah, the allure of the quick knit: cast on, click click click, and before you know it you’re binding off and jamming a new hat on your head or snuggling something warm about your neck. That was the goal with the Purl Bee’s Bandana Cowl, which I started last week during a bout of insomnia after finishing up another portable knit. It was late, but I wasn’t worried. I’ve knit cables, I’ve knit lace with thread-like yarn, I’ve knit with 1,000+ tiny, tiny beads—what’s a little bulky-weight yarn, US 10 needles, and stockinette in the round compared to that?

Apparently, a little more complicated than my smug self gave it credit for:

2015-02-11_2_Purl_Soho_Bandana_CowlI should have called this the Fowl Cowl. Doesn’t it look like an eagle’s beak?

As you’ve no doubt guessed, it’s definitely not intended to have a pronounced hook like that. About half way through I started to get suspicious that things were not going to plan, but I decided to trust the pattern and carry on. What I should not have trusted was my ability to read and follow simple instructions after my usual bedtime.

In order to get the bandanna shape, the pattern relies on short rows: rather than knitting the entire thing around and around like a hat, the front portion is knit back-and-forth, and each back-and-forth row connects to the next nearest stitch around the edge increasingly wider crescents. As a result, the front ends up longer than the back and creates the pleasing triangle shape.

For those of you interested in the technical bits, it goes a little something like this…

You start knitting, and then just past the point in the middle you stop, wrap the yarn around the next stitch without knitting it—we’ll call that wrapped stitch X

If you want the most dramatic short rows, the ones that will produce the biggest length difference between front and back, you wrap the next stitch after X, turn, purl to Y, wrap the next stitch after Y, turn, and continue in this fashion, working one more stitch in each direction on each pass.

This pattern, however, doesn’t require dramatic short rows, so instead of wrapping the very next stitch past X and the very next stitch past Y, you knit the first stitch past X and wrap the next one after that, and the same with the purl side. You turn the work half as often, gobble up the stitches twice as quickly, and produce a much shallower point, one that doesn’t curve in on itself. And that’s where I made my blunder: I missed the instructions to knit that extra stitch on each row, thereby giving myself double the work and creating the problems you see. Womp womp.

Another, less obvious problem I had is failing to follow the instructions for picking up wraps on the purl side as described i in the Purl Bee’s tutorial. Each wrap has two “arms” hugging the stitch its wrapped around, an arm on the public side of the work (the one people will see when it’s finished) and an arm on the private side of the work (the one against your skin). When picking up wraps, two things matter: making sure to lift the arm with the needle going front-to-back or back-to-front based on which side of the work you’re on (check!) and making sure to always lift the arm on the public side (whoops). I messed up picking up all of the private-side wraps. So on the public side, instead of being invisible, there is a little bar at the base of each stitch, like a purl bump. Lucky enough for me, the border of the cowl is garter stitch, so these bars blend in unless you’re looking very closely. Since they were basically unnoticeable, I was planning to leave them that way. But I’m going to be frogging and re-knitting the whole thing anyway, so this time I’ll make sure to pick up the wraps correctly too.

To be honest, I’m not even mad about the frogging. (Okay, I was a little mad, but only because I wanted a warm thing RIGHT NOW.) I was going to have some leftover yarn anyway, but now I think I can squeeze two small projects out of a single skein. And it should only take me four or five days to redo it, so it’s not like I’m going to run out of cold weather before I get to wear it. As far as failures go, I think this one is pretty manageable.

Maker Moment: Show-and-Tell

Today during my lunch break I decided to pry myself away from my desk and head into the break room to eat and knit. Although this break room is open for use by anyone in the company I work for, it’s across the hall from the two primary office spaces, so it’s seldom used by the larger departments. This afternoon, however, there was a young man that I hadn’t seen before eating lunch. He seemed engrossed in his phone, and I had my headphones and my knitting, so I hunkered down without introduction.

Pulling out my yarn and needles got his attention. He introduced himself, then asked what I was working on, if it might be a hat. It was a good guess given his vantage point, but I lifted the work off the table to show that it’s actually a bandanna-style cowl (the free Purl Soho Bandana Cowl, for those interested). He asked how long it would take to finish. I counted out the days that I’d worked on it already, added the one or two evenings left to finish up, and estimated that it will have taken a total of four or five days. Before he could become too impressed by my speed, I pointed out that the yarn and the needles are both quite large, which makes it easy to whip up something quickly.

Now, I know some people would find this kind of interaction bothersome—it’s their lunch break; they have precious little time to themselves, let alone to knit; and they don’t like to be peppered with questions. I’ve heard stories ranging from the anecdotes of mildly irritating folks who insist that crochet is knitting or that they don’t have the time to learn a craft themselves, to the horror tales of rude ne’er-do-wells who will snatch the work from the hands of its owner, threatening to send stitches leaping from the needles whilst demanding to know what the stitcher is making or frostily informing them that they’re “doing it wrong.” Even the well-meaning out there tend to interrupt us when we’re counting or give praise that makes us want to cringe a little. It’s enough to make many a crafter keep their knitting safely at home, venturing out only to the sanctuary of a local yarn store, if at all.

Despite being loath to engage in small talk, I am not one to shy away from knitting in public, and the unexpectedly happy ending to this story has reinforced to me why it’s so wonderful to be seen doing something I love.

See, after I showed off my cowl, my coworker surprised me by saying that he’d only ever stitched up one project, a wallet. I asked whether he had sewn it on a machine or by hand; in answer, he pulled it out of his back pocket. It was very worn, making it hard to tell if it was leather, vinyl, or cloth. Around the edge was an uneven blanket stitch worked in faded and slightly dingy orange thread.

“It’s not very good,” he admitted, but I said, “No, it’s great.”

“It’s almost falling apart. I need to make another one, but I guess I should work on getting better first,” he said sheepishly.

“It’s well-loved,” I countered. He grinned, and it was clear that even though it wasn’t the tidiest piece of work, and it was definitely on its last legs, he’d enjoyed the making and using of it.

It’s not often that I spot handmade goodness in the wild, so it was really heartening to not only see something someone made, but to know that my own handiwork is what encouraged them to pull it out in the first place. I consider myself lucky to have gotten that little peek into someone else’s creative life. I hope it’s not the last time, either.

Do you craft in public? What do you do when others ask about what you’re working on? I’d love to hear other uplifting stories, but if you’ve got a campfire tale of mayhem and madness, bring it on!


If January started with a bang, then February definitely began with a sputter and cough for me. I wanted to carry the momentum of the January Cure into the new month, but my bank account had other things in mind. I had hoped to have finished knitting and sewing projects at the beginning of this week, but that just didn’t happen. No projects meant nothing to write, and that felt like I was failing to meet the two-to-three-posts-per-week target I’ve set for myself. Even though I knew it wasn’t the result of laziness, it felt like I’d let myself down. Combined with a bit of bother at work and time spent dealing with (minor) repairs to our only car, it definitely felt like this week was keeping me down.

Fortunately, I managed to bounce back yesterday, just in time to head into the weekend. Not only did I finally finish my first knitting project of the year—and my first selfless knitting project ever—and get it in the mail to the lucky recipient, but I also got two-thirds of the way through a new knitted cowl during a bout of insomnia AND restarted a sweater that I’d nearly finished for myself back in November that, sadly, had to be frogged due to fit/gauge issues.


It’s not much, but it feels so promising to have those 2 inches of ribbing on the needles. I probably won’t fly through the knitting the way I did the first time since it’s working up on considerably smaller needles this go-’round, but I expect to have it done before cold weather leaves. And I will definitely photograph it in better lighting than I get in my east-facing apartment. At night. In the winter.

With any luck, my packet of knitted goodness will be in the new owner’s hands tomorrow, and then I can post the pictures I snagged before I sent it off. If my luck holds, maybe I can even coax a few modeled photos to share too.

Assignment #17: Catch Up Day

Today was supposed to be focused on cleaning up the bedroom since I didn’t get to it during its dedicated weekend. I washed and ironed the bedding this past weekend, and planned to dust, vacuum, and do general tidying tonight. But I came home feeling a bit under the weather—which was cold, grey, and soggy—so I decided that it was a sign that the bedroom just wasn’t going to get its day this month and let it go.

But lest you think I’m the type that would succumb to spending a whole evening melting into the couch, here’s proof that I’m working on other things besides just sprucing up the apartment:

2015-01-26_WIPsFirst sewing and knitting projects of 2015. Can. Not. Wait.

Let’s Get Started

Starting anything new is hard for me. I’m not especially indecisive, but I am a perfectionist, and a determined researcher, and a gadget-lover, so beginning any new activity, whether it’s an entirely new hobby or just a new project, is necessarily a bit of an undertaking with me. It’s not enough that I want try something, or that I have the time or space to work on it—I first have to understand what skills are considered essential and where to learn them; I have to survey the required tools to decide which are necessary, which are helpful, and which give a superior outcome before gathering them up; and I have to wring my hands and agonize over whether, even with all the knowledge and tools available to me, I’ll be able to get the results I want. Suffice it to say that this is not a particularly efficient or effective method of arriving at a finished project. Although I seldom lack the motivation to see a project through, there’s no arguing that you can’t finish what you didn’t start.

The online community of makers, I’ve discovered, is robust, supportive, and prolific—in essence, possessed all of the qualities that I strive for. For months I’ve admired the way the sewists, knitters, and DIYers that I follow offer one another encouragement and constructive feedback, confronting various kinds of adversity with maturity, poise, and general awesomeness. I’ve also envied how productive many of them are, and the way that participating in a community has spurred them to set and achieve goals that would have otherwise seemed out of reach. And, let’s be honest, I’m downright jealous of the meet-ups, craft conventions, and community events where liked-minded folk get together with people who are just as enthusiastic as they are about Making All The Things. I’ve yet to find an in-person creative community where I felt like I fit in, but these online communities make you feel like you belong just by showing up. I’ve read, I’ve followed, and I’ve commented, and now it’s time for me to start participating.

Enter this blog. (Which, in the interest of full disclosure, had more than its fair share of false starts. I expect I’ll share about that one day, perhaps on the blog’s first anniversary, when it’s a distant enough memory that I can laugh about it instead of feeling faintly embarrassed.) If I want to be a part of a community of makers, I need to start making things, so this is my first contribution, which I hope will be part inspirational showcase, part instructional resource, and part kick-in-the-pants to me and everyone else who needs to just start doing and miking the the things we want.

This blog is also a gift to myself, an avenue for writing more. I love to write, and yet I’ve written only infrequently over the last several years. My ostensibly writing-focused job offers little opportunity for original content generation. Keeping a daily diary was a habit that never stuck with me, and my attempts at more free-form journaling tended to wax and wane with the major events of my life. Blogging about planned projects, Works-in-Progress (WIPs) and Finished Objects (FOs), which seems inherently forward-looking rather than present- or backward-looking, appeals to the part of me that hates leaving things half-done and loves having a thing to enjoy and show off, and is therefore a much better motivator than the vagaries of my emotional condition.

To keep me on track, my first series of posts will revolve on participating in Apartment Therapy’s January Cure 2015, which is aimed at getting your home clean, organized, and working for you instead of against you. I completed Assignment #1: A Weekend of Flowers and Floors this afternoon: I purchased a bouquet of white daisies for the dining room table, and I thoroughly vacuumed all of our carpets and laminate. You’ll have to trust me on this, since it the weather was too dismal to get a decently lit photo of the grocery store bouquet, and a shot of beige carpet is hardly the stuff thrilling posts are made of. More exciting home adventures are definitely to come.

So here’s to starting new things, whether they be home improvements, fulfilling relationships, creative endeavors, or just another project among many. Cheers!