On Frogging

Plum Heather Wool of the Andes after frogging.

When I first starting knitting, I scoffed at frogging. I’m a huge believer in the 80/20 rule, which means that I tend to look for the 20% of the work I can do that will produce the 80% of the desired result. My mother would call this lazy, my husband would obsess over the 20% that isn’t perfect, but my mother-in-law and I agree that life is less stressful when you’re satisfied with “good enough.” In knitting, this translates to forgiving myself for the mistakes and assuming the non-knitters I give things to won’t be able to see the problem anyway, so why waste twelve hours of work undoing something?

Frogging is a bit silly. Except when it isn’t.

Plum Heather Wool of the Andes after frogging.
Time to knit a Seeded Cables Cardigan: 6 months. Time to frog the same: 1 hour.

In the last few months, I feel like I’ve been a frogging machine. And I’ve come to realize that, had I accepted sooner that frogging isn’t just for folks with OCD, I could have saved myself a fair amount of time and energy. What have I frogged?

  • An entire sweater that didn’t fit right.
  • A fifth of a sweater that was knit incorrectly and by a different knitter.
  • The first few rows of a sweater I messed up the shaping instructions on.
  • The setup on a shawl design that wasn’t coming out as I hoped.

All of this has me thinking of general questions to ask myself while I’m working on projects in order to catch the need to frog as early as humanly possible.

  • Is the yarn working with the pattern stitch? (Esp. with cables or lace or unique color runs)
  • Can I actually take over someone else’s project or are our gauges too different?
  • Will it fit properly by the time I finish?

The full sweater that I frogged was really the worst of it. I knew from the first few inches that the yarn and the pattern were not soulmates, but hope kept me moving forward when I should have cut and run. I spent MONTHS on a sweater that ended up sitting in my closet unworn for the better part of two years before I finally decided that it was a crime to let good yarn go unworn just because I couldn’t stand to undo all that work on those finicky freakin’ cables.

How about you, dear readers? When do you make the heart breaking decision to rip out your work?


On Reading the Instructions

BFL Handspun Yarn

My forehead is metaphorically bruised from banging my head against an invisible wall for many hours on end.  Have you seen Kerri Blumer’s Swivel Pullover yet? Stunning. Utterly scrumptious. It is the sexiest application of cables I have ever seen on a raglan sweater and I knew the moment I laid eyes on it that  I had to make my fingers understand how such beauty and joy could be brought into the world.

Even more exciting? I’m knitting it from my own handspun:

BFL Handspun Yarn
This is my undyed BFL, handspun as energized singles…which was another lesson in reading instructions more carefully, but that’s a story for another day.

Here’s the thing about me and sweaters: I’ve knit exactly three sweaters before–one pieced, on bottom-up, one a drunken monstrosity of my own ignorant design efforts. I grasp the basic theory of how a top-down raglan pullover works, but that is something entirely different from having made one. And working from a 10-point, single-spaced, dense text in bad lighting after a long day of installing fencing for the garden is not the best environment for really comprehending the sort of “do this…and at the same time this…and at these different intervals” instructions that sweater-making demands.

I make fun of people for not reading instructions. Mercilessly, if we’re being honest. Seriously, I think half of the people I invite to things have an innate inability to check the date or time on an invitation, given all of the “when should I show up?” conversations I have for nearly everything I ever host. Sweater instructions make me have sympathy for them. Sort of. Which is why I think my new policy for making sweaters is going to be this:

  1. Read the pattern all the way through for general understanding, highlighting size-specific instructions. (Bad lighting, wine, lack of sleep, minor distractions okay)
  2. Read all of the instructions for the first section and write down any necessary notes for keeping track of increases, etc. at different intervals. (Wine and lack of sleep okay. Avoid minor distractions and bad lighting.)
  3. Sleep on these notes. (If you are well-rested and have most of the day ahead of you, it’s okay to just take an hour to do something else before coming back to it. Probably.)
  4. Review notes against pattern to make sure what you think you’re doing will give you the stitch count the pattern calls for. (Threaten to stab anyone who interrupts you. Choose coffee over wine.)
  5. If there are discrepancies, return to step 2 and repeat from there until you have no discrepancies. Bug someone else who has made the sweater if you do this three times without coming up with the right answer.
  6. Cast on.

In this sweater, I jumped straight from step 2 to step 6. If you need me, I’ll be frogging and banging my head against the wall as I cry bitter tears of ineptitude into my vodka…

The First Real Rip

I don’t know what it is with me and socks, but man! I am not having an easy time with the sizing this year. I made my husband a pair of super-soft alpaca socks for Christmas, and given the fact that I had ten thousand other things to make, I decided to go with a crazy simple stockinette sock.

I was following a pattern for the heel and the toe, since I still haven’t quite mastered the geometry of (a) how far across you work for the first and second rows of the heel turn and (b) when to start decreasing for the toe relative to your gauge.

Apparently the designer who worked up this pattern was still struggling with that herself, because even though I measured my gauge perfectly and the size she indicated for the pattern would have fit my husband, the first sock came out about 4cm short in the toe.


Trying not to despair that I hadn’t measured it before grafting the toe and weaving in the ends, I made the other sock and used the length of the decrease from the first sock to figure out when I should start decreasing. You can see in the top sock what I was aiming for.

Alpaca yarn is not cheap, and this was a no-dye-lot handspun from a local craft fair, so buying more and making extra socks to match these two was not an option. (Believe me, I considered it.) So I had to do something that I do not do: rip back.

Never before have I trusted myself to set the needles up at an earlier point in the work. Never. I have tinked a fair bit, to be sure, but if I’m more than two rows beyond the mistake, I generally hold with the Amish philosophy of, “Well, there’s the evidence that no human can create perfect work.”

Long story short: I’m going to have to do a photo tutorial on ripping back, because once you do it the first time and realize it’s not that scary, it’s incredibly liberating. Sock number one will no longer cramp my husband’s style, and I…I can rip back.