Thursday, April 28, 2011

Boyfriend Sweater

Lately the number of times I've found myself delving wholeheartedly into a new craft have been few and far between.  My mother's new pair of gloves (rendered entirely redundant the day after I started knitting them when the California sunshine came out in full force and said, 'Hey, Bay Area, welcome to early summer!') is not even half finished, the lone tube of magenta knit perched accusingly on my coffee table for the last few weeks.  And even less frequently than that do I choose to embark on a project that involves--shudder--sewing.

But the other night I was hanging out with my boyfriend and my buddy Elaine said, "You should make him a sweater."  And it's been a long time since I've made a sweater, but since my boyfriend is the most adorable thing ever, I thought, "You know what, I should."

This, by the way, is my boyfriend:

Jealous much?

His name is Peanut and he's an older Pomeranian gentleman who rocks a short coat and relaxed demeanor like nobody's business.  And I heart him--see, that's what his egg says, "I heart Peanut."

I haven't made a dog sweater in more years than it's been since I actually voluntarily sewed with yarn (there's just something about the texture of yarn for sewing that I hate) but Peanut is pretty awesome and one pattern in particular struck me as the only right choice for him.  So the other night I grabbed a favorite color combo and set to knitting.

The sweater I chose to make is knit in four pieces: a back, a front, and two arms.  You have to knit them on regular needles (can't recall the last time I did something on anything other than a pair of double-pointed metallics...) and then set them aside.  And then you have do another thing that I kind of hate: block them.

Blocking is weird.  If you're not familiar with it (though I don't know why anyone reading this blog wouldn't be--welcome, person who randomly wound up here by Googling something weird like pterodactyl baseball or kitten stirrup pants!) it's just a way of relaxing your knitting into a flat piece.  Plain knitting (without any fancy stitches) tends to roll in on itself, which makes sewing the edges together all but impossible, so once you've made a piece of flat stockinette (that's just a fancy way to say "plain") fabric, you have to do something to flatten it out.

roll in, much?  

Two popular blocking methods are to soak the thing in water and let it dry, or to iron it.  I find both unsatisfactory, at least with acrylic yarn.  Blocking robs the fabric of some of its bounce and fluff and leaves it oddly thinner and looser than before.  But if I have to choose a method, I think ironing is the way to go.  You've gotta use steam, and use it sparingly, and if possible iron just the edges so they flatten (though, as was the case for this project, sometimes you'll have to block the whole thing to completely eliminate the rolling issue).

Once blocked, the parts look much more like sweater puzzle pieces.

Then comes the next step: sewing.

When I first started knitting dog sweaters (long story...sad, too) I was a very new knitter and found the piece work very confusing and incredibly time consuming.  After a while I figured out I could eliminate a lot of steps by rewriting patterns to be knit as one piece on circular needles.  It was a pretty successful endeavor, and a great way to learn more about knitting and teach myself some pattern writing in the process.  It also made me hugely more confident about my knitting chops in general, which lead to better and more complex endeavors.

In any case, my dislike for sewing flat pieces of knitting together continues to this day.  Yarn begins to unravel when you're knitting long seams with it, and it feels squeaky, and if you're sewing for too long your fingers will get sweaty and then the squeaky, unraveling yarn will become moist, and that's enough to make you frog the entire project right there.  Not to mention that after the first seam I tend to get impatient (or maybe just bored) and the quality of my stitches begins to deteriorate, making me like sewing even less.

But I was mentally prepared for all of this, and since I knew it'd probably be the only time I'd sew knit pieces together this year, I was okay with it.

Most patterns tell you to use mattress stitch when you're sewing pieces together.  Let's see if Google can find you a graphic illustration.

Hey now!  That's not what I meant, Google!


So if you're not clear what's going on there, when you knit something it's got a front and a back side.  The front side looks like this:

And the back looks like this:

When you use mattress stitch you sew the yarn under the back loops (shown above) so that they've hidden by the knitted loops on the front side (previous image).  Kind of clever, I guess.

Anyhow, I was pleasantly surprised to find that my years of crafting experience have made me a much more capable mattress stitcher than I'd previously been.  Check out this quality craftsmanship:

Pretty darn lovely, I have to admit.

But still painfully tedious, especially when you have 6 seams to create.

After a while, though, the sweater finally started to take shape.

And five episodes of Sons of Anarchy later (I know, but my real boyfriend kept telling me it was a good show and damned if, even though it's about bikers, it is.  I credit the Hamlet allegory...) I did a little round of crochet edging and voila!  It was done: a boyfriend sweater for a furry boy friend.

Stay tuned for what's sure to be the cutest follow up post ever: Peanut models his baseball jersey boyfriend sweater.

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