Crowing Ram

Thursday, April 03, 2003
Playing Catsup... or Ketchup... or Horseradish?
<whew> Does anyone know what you get when you cross a yarn shop owner with a web developer? One seriously behind but terribly happy queer boy in Indiana, that's what.
Last week, I promised to explain my technique for repairing C's sweater. I'm almost ashamed to admit how easy it was.
First of all, let's clarify what I was fixing. Sade was excited, but her results were more cosmetic than structural. There were two very significantly pulled stitches (probably about four to six inches of yarn on each), several smaller pulls, but thankfully no actual breaks.
Second, let's discuss my tools. First and foremost, I needed light—lots and lots of light. While I don't yet own an Ottlite, our living room overhead light has four or five bulbs, so I sat on the sofa most directly under the light. Keep in mind that I was working on a dark charcoal sweater, so it was going to be very difficult to see what needed to be fixed if I didn't have enough light. Beyond light, I had only two other tools: a small knitting needle and a heaping helping of patience. The needle is optional (I could have used a crochet hook, a cable needle, a darning needle, or my fingers if I'd wanted to work that hard), but the patience is critical. This kind of work is best taken slowly and methodically. Fast and furious is what messed things up in the first place.
Finally, my techique was this. I went to the largest problem first. In this case, that was this pick. If you look closely, you should be able to see how embedded the yarn is in the fabric where it has been pulled so tight. That's what we're trying to fix.
I divided the loose, picked yarn roughly in half, and because I wanted to work in the right side first, I held the left half of the loose yarn tightly down on the left side of the pick. The purpose of that was to keep that left-side yarn available to work in to the left when I had finished with the right.
With the needle, I then pulled all of the remaining slack into the stitch to the right and immediately adjacent to the pick, basically moving the pulled yarn over a single stitch. I only pulled as tight as was necessary to make the yarn as snug as it would be in the normal fabric of the sweater.
Then, I moved right one more stitch and pulled all of the slack into that stitch. Again, I was careful that all of the stitches to the left of where I was working were only as tight as the stitches in the rest of the sweater. After all, that's what I was working toward: getting all of the stitches back to the same tension.
As I continued to move to the right, I continued to pull all of the slack from the previous stitch into the stitch that I was working on. Each time, there was a tiny bit less slack as the yarn was taken up in getting the worked stitches back to their normal tension (or gauge). Finally, I got to a point where there was no longer any slack, and the fabric to the right of the original pick looked normal.
Then, I went back to the pick, held the right side of the stitch, and started working in the slack to the left one stitch at a time.
When the largest pick had disappeared back into flat, uniform fabric, I went to the largest of the remaining picks. In this way, the bulk of the work was done up-front, and it actually got quicker as I went along. All told, I spent maybe ninety minutes fixing a problem that would have taken days to reknit.
There are a couple of things that made this much easier, though. First of all, the sweater was made from a very nice processed commercial fiber. I'm assuming that it's all wool, but I'd be willing to swear that if it is anything other than 100% wool, it's all protein fiber. My point is this. Even months later, the picked yarn had held the shape of the stitches somewhat, and I was able—to some degree—to simply snug the stitches back into place on the yarn exactly where they'd come from. Synthetic fibers hold their shape less, and natural cellulosic fibers tend to relax very quickly (wool's tendency to hold its shape is often referred to as its memory, and you see the same behavior in your own hair when you blowdry or style it; cotton doesn't behave that way). The fact that the yarn was commercially processed also meant that it was relatively smooth, consistent in weight or girth, and therefore easy to draw back through the fabric without significant tugging and strain on the yarn or the rest of the fabric.
Second, as I mentioned, there were not actually breaks. If there had been breaks, I'd have had to somehow patch the gaps, and that can involve color matching for aother yarn (if the original yarn is unavailable), how to incorporate the new fiber (do you tie it somehow? knot it? felt it to the old fiber?), and other quandries that I'm probably not thinking of because, thankfully, I didn't have to.
Finally, I'm just built this way. For me, a problem like the one in C's sweater is like a puzzle. I can't put it down, and I'll work on it for hours on end without significant discomfort or impatience. It's an interesting riddle in fiber, and it actually keeps me entertained. Of course, it didn't hurt that I was also sitting in front of the television with Wanda Sykes "actin' a fool" (love her, but the jury's still out on Wanda at Large). If you find this kind of problem fascinating, then have at it. If you get frustrated with the deliberate slowness of water filling a glass from the faucet, let someone else fix your sweater; you'll be happy you did.
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