Casting On. Again.

Well, the epic sweater continues to share its uncanny kinship with my writing process. (“Out of cheese error, redo from start …” as Pratchett’s Hex would declare. If there’s ever a literary award for most drafts of a published novel, I’m sure to be a contender for, ahem, well, several works. The Shadow Road’s record was definitely beaten by the thing I finished in December.) (Blackdog, if you’re curious, did not go through such scrapping of chapters and characters and so on; it was mostly one draft written in two long stages, with a normal amount of rolling revision and revision after finishing the first complete draft.) Anyway, I was working on my corrugated ribbing in black and grey and thinking, okay, I hate purling, I loathe purling, but this is going okay, only two inches and then I’m into just plain knitting. But it began to look wrong. And wronger. And then there was no doubting. Something had gone badly awry. You know that bit in Starmore’s Fair Isle book where she says to join and “do not allow to twist”?

Yeah. That. The knitting gods were not merciful, and it was twisted. It was worse than twisted, it was a spiral. It was a slinky, going ’round and ’round the cable of my circular needles. I guess this problem doesn’t arise on double-pointed needles; at least, in all the mittens and hats I have knit, I have never had this happen.

Eventually, even the friendly neighbourhood knitting goddess decreed there was nothing for it but to unravel it, and this I did, with sorrow in my heart. And some muttering of unpleasant language, because knitting into a spiral seems to result in one’s yarn turning into a large snarl, or rather, unravelling a two-colour knit spiral does.

This morning, though I have other work I need to do that’s rather more urgent, I was determined that, blizzards causing a day of licence and all, I would take at least a little time to myself and cast the thing on again, so I sat down to do so, with Mister Wicked keeping a close eye on the proceedings in case an opportunity for Fun should arise. (Fun of the “chase-chase, grr-grr, I have your yarn” variety.) I’m wondering if the cable cast-on technique results in this spiral twisting, because the thing just kept going around and around. I usually cast on with one needle and my thumb. I have no idea what that’s called, but it’s fast and easy and is how I’ve always cast on since I was a mere infant. (My mother has now switched to knit casting-on, where you knit a stitch and then slip it back to the other needle — getting fancy in her old age!) However, for this sweater I wanted something tidy and tight, hence the cable cast-on, which I really like the look of. Trying to straighten out the spiral before I joined it, though, rapidly came to seem a physical impossibility for anything short of an octopus, or one of those goddess-statues with many, many arms.

But wait! I’m a human. I have thumbs and ingenuity. And clothespins. The clothespins are the useful item here. I started untwisting (or de-spiralling) and pinned each bit as I went, making sure to clip it so the stitches were held very firmly onto the cable and couldn’t start to wind themselves up again. It got trickier as I approached the end, but I was successful. I triple-checked it, to make sure that every stitch was the same way up, because no way am I unravelling this ribbing again. Then, very, very carefully, with all clothespins in position, I knit two stitches to join it up. The clothespins all fell off then; I guess it wasn’t really thick enough for them to grip properly for their weight. However, the first round of my sweater is now joined up and has not a single twist in, so all in all a successful morning’s work. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the morning’s work I should have been doing.

Treasure the small victories.

Only … how many more rows to go? And there are steeks to be mastered, plus my determination that once the purling is done, I will learn to do one colour English and one continental. (I usually knit two colours with one on the index and the other on the middle finger of my right hand. I’m still doing that for purling, because I don’t trust any experiment involving purling to go well.)

About K.V. Johansen

The author of Blackdog, The Leopard, The Lady, Gods of Nabban, and The Last Road epic fantasies from Pyr, I also write for teens and children, including the "Torrie", "Warlocks of Talverdin", and "Cassandra Virus" series, and the "Pippin and Mabel" picture books, as well as a couple of short story collections and two works of adult literary criticism on the history of children's fantasy literature. I have a Master's degree in Mediaeval Studies, and read a lot of fantasy, science fiction, and history. Blog at
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2 Responses to Casting On. Again.

  1. pugmantis says:

    This might just prove to me that I lack the patience required to knit. Not that I haven’t tried….

    • KV Johansen says:

      Patience for the hard slogging is cultivated by necessity, in my case, because there’s no other way to achieve a Fair Isle sweater. Between times, I crochet, for the satisfaction of having something I can actually get done and relax while doing. It’s much easier to see when something is going wrong right away in crocheting, so you don’t waste your precious few scraps of relaxing time on something that’ll have to be ripped out. But the hard slog is the only way to the sweater, so I work on it for a brief period once a week. That’s not really patience. It’s bloody-mindedness. The damned sweater is not going to beat me.

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