When an Almost-Finished Project Isn’t

I always like coming down to the finish line on a knitting project, particularly one that’s been with me a long while. I usually bribe myself with the promise of casting on a new, shiny thing whenever I manage to finish a project or two. This past winter, I started some colorwork mittens, “November” from Kerin Dimeler-Laurence’s Winter Woodland Mittens collection.  These are my third foray into colorwork knitting.

Just about every project I knit teaches me something, whether I expect it to or not. I’ve selected the colorwork projects I’ve done to teach me new skills in colorwork knitting. The very first colorwork project I knit was Spillyjane Knits’ pink flamingo mittens:

Flamingo back


This project taught me that colorwork is fun and can be all-engrossing, which can be a very good thing if I need to get my mind off of stressful thoughts, like work matters. For this first project, I held both yarns in my left hand. I thought that learning to hold one strand in each hand would be better if ever wanted to knit something larger, so I went on to knit these mittens:

Charoite Mittens - both

When I learned to knit two-handed, I first knit a good-sized stockinette swatch in the English style, which I found very awkward and foreign, but I stuck to it. Having developed some muscle memory with regard to that unfamiliar way of holding yarn helped me when I incorporated both styles of knitting together.

For the November mittens, I’d also learn how to capture floats in both the main and contrast colors, and practice trying to keep an even tension across areas without much color change.

Over the past year, I’ve picked this project up and put it down numerous times. After finishing the first mitten, I decided I’d try to go full steam ahead on the second one so that they’d be ready for wear this winter. I cast on and cranked through the mitten over several weeks, leaving the thumb for this weekend.

I wasn’t looking forward to doing the thumb. Even on a plain mitten, I find the thumbs fiddly. For this one, there were three color changes, so it was terribly fiddly. And once that was done, I knew I was facing weaving in, like, 37,000 ends, tightening up loose stitches where color changes took place, and possibly duplicate stitching the elk calf and cow’s legs where they kind of receded due to a variation in gauge. So, a lot of work lay ahead, even after the thumb was knit up.

I pulled out the left mitten to see what needed to be done to it. I had pulled all the stray ends to the wrong side, but I didn’t weave anything in, so I knew I had a lot of weaving in to do. I looked at the two mittens. And then I realized I’d done the cuffs completely differently.

November cuff closeup

For the first mitten, I’d followed the pattern, doing a K2, P2 rib on size 1 needles, 56 stitches, increasing to 60 for the pattern and changing to size 2’s. For the second, I’d done my standard K1, P1 rib on the size 2’s. Crap!

It’s not even a rookie mistake. A rookie would have read the pattern. Or, failing that, a rookie would have pulled out the first mitten and looked at it before casting on the second. As it was, that first mitten was right there all along, in my project bag, sitting right there with the second mitten, and I never, ever pulled it out to look at it while knitting up the second.

I weighed my options. I thought about just burying the things in my knitting basket. I imagined a future grandchild visiting years from now, getting bored, and going through my basket. “Grandma, what’s this?” he might ask.

“Gosh, child,” I might reply. “That’s an antique mitten from 20 years ago. That’s the way they did them back then. The mismatched cuffs helps you tell left from right.”

Maybe not. I really couldn’t deep-six these. I’d spent way, way too many hours on them. For my own mental health, I needed a wearable project out of all that work.

The mistake wasn’t charming enough to keep. Charming is when the math in my pattern repeats doesn’t quite work. Charming can look homey and quaint. Completely mismatched ribbing doesn’t.

The mistake wasn’t minor enough to ignore. Every single project I’ve ever knitted contains mistakes. The ones I’ve let live are hard to notice — incorrect stitches in unnoticeable places. But this? I couldn’t just tuck those cuffs in under jackets forever. They would certainly get noticed.

The mistake couldn’t be a design factor, either. A design factor happens when I make exactly the same mistake in, say, a lace pattern, doing it every single repeat. That’s not a mistake — it’s a novel feature, by golly.

No, I was going to have to rip out the entire cuff and knit it from the mitten down. All three freaking inches of it. Then, do a fiddly sewn bind-off to keep the cuff from binding too much. Gee, add that to the mitten to-do list.  There was no way, no how, that this mitten was going to be finished this weekend.

I picked up the stitches for the thumb, grumping to myself about the ribbing. How on Earth could I not have noticed my error? For all my years of knitting, it never ceases to amaze me the ways in which I can screw up. Like, RTF pattern, for heaven’s sake.

So, instead of putting the thumb in and starting to weave in ends, I had to spend the rest of the afternoon conducting surgery on the mitten. I picked up all 56 stitches at the top of the ribbing with my size 1’s. Stopping first to take a deep breath and eat a piece of dark chocolate, I cut off the ribbing, ending about two stitches below my needles, figuring I’d overcast the rough edge during the finishing process. Then, I began the tedious process of re-knitting the ribbing.

I’m back on the straight and narrow now, a little irked at myself for creating a needless delay in finishing (and consequent delay in casting on something else). But hey, this project has taught me more than I expected. RTF directions, even for the second mitten.


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