How do you decide what to frog and what to finish?
When I was a bushy-tailed new knitter, I made all kinds of stupid shit. Sweaters that didn’t fit, projects I couldn’t have possibly thought I had enough yarn for, projects in the wrong yarn that were too soft/scratchy/big/small/firm/floppy/ugly. A lot of these ill-advised adventures were never finished, and mercifully disappeared when I graduated college and went back to Portland. Aside from a few happy accidents, my first five years of knitting produced dismally little that was actually wearable.
The breakthrough, like most of my breakthroughs, came in Peace Corps. Suddenly, I had no yarn choices other than scratchy worsted 2- and 3-ply. A couple times, my mom mailed me an infusion of fancy American yarn, but only in single skeins. I started choosing my projects real carefully, and found liberation within the limits. And I started thinking about how to make stuff I would actually wear.
The first step was looking back at my knitting history. Enough time had passed since I cast on my first pair of leg-warmers at 18, that I could look back on old photos and see which of my projects I actually wore, all the time.
The fancy stuff, in painstakingly-chosen color combinations, either wasn’t finished or wasn’t worn. What did I wear? I wore my red pi shawl, that took eighteen dollars worth of lace-weight alpaca. I wore a goofy Mountain Mohair hat that had no decreases at the top, the rectangle making little cat ears on my head. I wore my Ganomys, sometimes to sleep in. I wore a simple pair of mittens, in un-dyed angora held together with mohair/silk, until they had holes.
I started planning my projects based on what I wanted to wear, not what I wanted to make. I sometimes had to wrestle with my color instincts, which gravitate towards anything neon, or jewel-toned. I started picking grays and browns more often, especially for big projects. My pattern choices changed, too: a lot more stockinette, a lot less noise. My understanding of fiber improved, as well as my understanding of color, and I stopped fighting the nature of the yarn. If I wanted cables, I chose a greasy wool in a solid color. If I had a super-fancy skein of cashmere, I’d knit a plain ribbed cowl out of it.
So it was a little uncharacteristic of the new, grown-up Huelo to buy eight skeins of hot pink Manos Maxima, on impulse, which is what I did last Valentine’s Day. I saw Amy Miller’s Earl sweater, and became infatuated. The rest of my wardrobe be damned, I needed a giant hot pink merino sweater, and I needed it now.
Earl is a fantastic pattern, and it was an absolute joy to knit. I love brioche stitch, and I love hot pink. Making this sweater is the knitting equivalent to taking MDMA and listening to house music. I finished most of the body before the weather got too warm.
But, as the nights and mornings got chilly again, I realized I wasn’t in a hurry to pick up my Earl. Something wasn’t right; the project was fun to work on, but every time I opened my stash cupboard, the big pile of pink brioche taunted me. I wasn’t in a hurry to finish Earl, because I wasn’t in a hurry to wear Earl.
I knit loose. Like really loose. No matter how many needle sizes I went down, my brioche stitch was more air than yarn. I envisioned the finished sweater stretching and stretching until it went down to my knees, the sleeves hanging past my wrists and always falling off my shoulders. I had ignored my better judgement telling me to alternate skeins, so I had clear lines of demarcation where I started a new skein. Plus, my favorite thing about this yarn, and arguably its number one asset, is that it’s really, really soft. I would always have to wear something under it, since it’s a cardigan with no button band, which seemed like a waste for a yarn that can easily be worn next to the skin.
Something else was bothering me. Between Earl, my Enchanted Mesa, and my second Perkins Cove, that made three sweaters on the needles. For some people, that’s nothing, but for me, that’s the upper limit before I start to feel like I’m hearing voices and losing my tenuous grip on reality. I’m anxious to swatch for the Fringe KAL this week, but starting a project that huge, with three other sweaters unfinished, was out of the question. Something had to be finished, or frogged.
The deciding vote came from the ol’ soulmate. I explained to him my predicament. Then I showed him the other patterns I’d picked for the yarn. L definitively pronounced Beaubourg “the coolest looking of all the options.”
Frogging back to fix a mistake is not my favorite, but I love frogging an entire project for the sake of starting a new one. It’s like going shopping for the yarn all over again. I opened up my cupboard with none of the old sense of foreboding, pulled out my Earl, and set up my ball winder.
I’ve never washed frogged yarn before making something new out of it. Maybe I should, I don’t know. Some people on the Internet make a really compelling case for washing. What I do instead is, I frog, and then wait. If I let the yarn sit in a ball for least a month between frogging and casting on again, I find the kinks are relaxed enough not to throw my gauge. Of course, I rarely frog really snugly knit items like socks or fine-gauge sweaters. If I did, I’d probably re-skein the yarn and wash it. In the case of Earl, the brioche stitch created big, soft curls, as opposed to the ramen-like kinks of stockinette, so I have high hopes that it will be relaxed enough to work with by the time I cast on my Beaubourg.
What about y’all? Do you frog projects? Do you wash the yarn? Let me know if you have advice!