14 April 2008

Brouhaha's Guide to Frogging Without Tears

I had a very traumatic experience this past Saturday. I'm sure any knitter who's stopped by here can relate.

Imagine this: here I was, carrying merrily along on my Icarus Shawl. Knitting on autopilot. The dulcet tones of Chris Noth of Law and Order fame playing on the background were half tuned out by that grandiose gloaty voice in my head singing "You rawk. You are the knitting Lace Queen. This is so easy. You're a star. Man, you kick knitting @$$. One day, everyone else will realise what you know to be true already: you rule the knitting world. Yarn Harlot??!? Who the hell is she anyway?"

And so on and so forth.

Until, that is, Little Ms Knitting Genius decided to stop and admire her creation, some 20 rows after the last time she had bothered to have a look at it. At first, all looked fabulous, as expected:

Until, all of a sudden, I spied with my little undeluded eye:


(Now, I know that this photo does not point out the sheer horror of what I had done. I can't explain why - the best I can think is that the vale of tears which ensued after seeing a HUGE GAPING HOLE CAUSED BY AN EYELET ROW IN THE WRONG $(#(*$&@(#*$&(# PLACE flowed over the camera lens. Suffice it to say that the little white blob in the lower left hand side of the photo is not supposed to be there.)

The little "you are Queen of the Knitting World voice" was almost immediately replaced by a huge booming thunderclap stating:


I mean, really. Look at Frogman himself, laughing at me in several iterations.

After screaming, effing and blinding for twenty minutes or so, I headed out to the balcony with the offending UFO in hand. The landscape looked like this:

...and the inevitable happened.

By this point I was clearly weakened by my little hissy fit, and so Icarus did not manage to clear the balcony (in retrospect, my vindication for having always been the last to be picked for softball in public school, I guess).

Luckily for Icarus, JJ the Wise soon came home from work. He immediately knew something was wrong as I was not parked in my usual position on the couch knitting. A walk on the estate (as he calls the 32 foot balcony, in his weird British Isles way) soon shed light.

He came back in, Icarus in hand, and said:

It didn't quite sound like that, but you get the point.

After another 20 minutes or so, during which JJ explained to me the folly of blaming a puir wee Muppet for my screwups, reminded me that he had left this

out on the balcony for pitching practice the last time I had tried to sacrifice a recalcitrant UFO to the forest ("D'ye really think the raccoons can eat silk, hen?") and exhorted me to take full responsibility for my mistake ("Look in the mirror, lassie, and see the world!"), I was finally able to stop whingeing and start thinking about solutions.

(And really, no one ever died ripping back a piece of knitting... did they?)

So I settled down to the task at hand. In penance for my bad behaviour, I'd like to share with you what I learned in the event that it might help others in future.

The Guide:

1. Make sure that you have all your frogging supplies gathered and close at hand before starting to rip.

These include:

(a) a knitting needle one or two sizes smaller than your working needle. In my sample, the needle to the right is the 3.0mm working needle. The needle to the left is the "pick-up" needle and is 2.5mm.

If you don't happen to have a smaller knitting needle, find a small crochet hook. In fact, it's helpful to have both at hand:

And if you don't have a small crochet book, go out and buy one now. This cost ... I don't know ... $3 or so and has been a UFOsaver too many times to count.

Oh, and don't forget your stress release tools:
(Yes, that's the soundtrack from Zorba the Greek in the background. I don't have a turntable any more so can't actually listen to it. It will be used in a future project though - stay tuned.)

2. Start to rip.

And yes, you will feel sad when you do this. (If you don't, please drop me a line and tell me your secret.) There is little that looks more forlorn to me than all those vulnerable little stitches hanging open in the air.

Some pointers about ripping:

(a) Do it very, very slowly. This is because if the yarn sticks to itself at all, you will need to tug at it very gently and patiently every so often. Otherwise, you will end up having to rip out more rows than necessary when big huge eyelets start to appear below the row you are actually ripping, at the sticking points. Learn from my mistakes.

(and, by the way, can someone explain to me why silky smooth laceweight silk acts as though it has a fine coat of Krazyglue on it when you're trying to rip it back?!?!)

(b) Save all of your stitch markers in a handy place. (I have not found "in between the chesterfield cushions" to be all that handy, really... but if it works for you, good - because that is usually where they end up. However, this position works better for me:

Aren't they lovely? I like how the green ones match the knitting, actually. But I digress.)

(c) Make sure and stop every so often to wind the yarn that you have ripped. This is especially important with laceweight yarn, to avoid nasty fankles that lead to this:

"This", by the way, is two balls of Handmaiden Lace Silk where once there was one. Sigh. (But on the upside, this finally motivated me to try the Russian Join technique for joining balls of yarn. Try it. It's magic!)

(d) If you are ripping back lace, it is easier to pick up stitches on the right side of the work due to all those pesky little eyelets. Trust me on this one. This means that the last row you rip should be a wrong side row and that the yarn should end up at the end of a right side row. (Sorry if I'm belabouring the obvious. I'm probably stupider than you are.)

(e) Keep count of how many rows you are ripping back and, when you've finished, figure out what pattern row you are at. If it is lace or involves decreases or increases, it will be helpful to have a general sense of the pattern to avoid picking-up booboos.

3. Pick up your smaller needle and start picking up stitches, one by one - and SLOWLY.

Now, it will be helpful at this point if the work you have messed up is done in variegated yarn so that you can actually tell the difference between the yarn you are continuing to rip and the loose stitches. (Another reason to rejoice in the multicoloured world, in my opinion).

In this photo, the brown strand at the top is the yarn that I am pulling back, and the green loops are the loose stitches. If all goes well, this is the last row you will have to rip.

Pull gently on the strand of "working" yarn to release each stitch one by one if possible (if you're dealing with YOs, however, note that two stitches will come loose at each decrease point) and pick up with your needle.

(The eagle eyes amongst you will note that I didn't end up actually using the smaller needle after all. This is because I'm an idiot. But it was a good idea at the time, I thought.)

Oh - it's a good idea to know where any yarnovers were in the original row, as these can be a bit tricky. This is where the crochet hook can come in handy - simply grab the little wee thread that will be sitting inside the hole, and put it onto the needle. It's as easy as that!

Another reason for doing this S-L-O-W-L-Y: more often than you would like from time to time you will find that a stitch will unravel two down, especially if you are working with silk. This is easy to fix if you catch it right away... just grab the other end of your needle/other needle or your crochet hook, grab the offending strand and pull it through.

You will also save yourself some sanity if you don't worry too much about how the stitch you've picked up sits or twists on the needle. Just get it on there. This is easy enough to figure out when you start knitting again, in my experience.

This is another photo further along. I'm feeling much happier by this point, although I don't know if you can tell that or not.

And, 300 odd stitches later, success was mine!!

4. Doublecheck your reconstituted row to make sure there are still no loose stitches hanging.

You will be glad you took the time to do this, trust me. And it's simple - just take a good hard look at your top row of knitting. Any stragglers or offenders should be obvious, like so:

See naughty little stitch no. 7 from the left!??!?! Bastard.

(Actually, I'm quite chuffed to report that I had no loose stitches hanging. I actually went back and did this one on purpose for the photo. Seriously. You see how I suffer for my art?!)

And this is how to go back and fix it.

(I confess, I was a tad stressed during this whole process. I'm sure you'll note this from the state of my thumbnail.)

Oh - and you may find that your loose little bastard stitch is much further in than the one I recreated for you here. Fear not. All that you need to do in that event is secure it with a removable stitch marker or safety pin so that it doesn't ravel down any further.

5. Start knitting your first new row.

You're almost finished fixing your UFO now!! So, some tips to make sure your frogging experience finishes smoothly:

(a) Do this slowly. And count your stitches as you're going along.

(b) Replace all your stitch markers at this point. This will help you ensure that your pattern is in order.

(c) Keep a look out for twisted stitches. It's usually easy to tell when you've done this as your needle does not slide in as easily to the stitch as it usually would. If you find this, simply remove that stitch from the needle with your right hand needle, twist, and replace onto the left hand needle.

(d) Study the work as you're going along to make sure everything looks OK and that there are no little pesky bastard loose stitches still hanging around.

And that's it!! You're back on track. Huzzah! Huzzah!

(er... sorry. I digress yet again. The "Beer" episode of Blackadder was on again yesterday. You know, the one where they all get plastered and carry on like fools and nearly all get executed by Queen Elizabeth I?!? A personal favourite.)

Back to our regularly scheduled programme now...

6. Go have a drink or a fatty snack, or even both. You've earned it!

And there you have it - a rather half-@$$ed guide to frogging success! I hope it's somewhat helpful. No need to see red any longer, really...

(The art is by Maggie Barnes. Man, I wish I could paint!!! Sigh.)

As proof of the pudding, I offer you my latest photo of Icarus, approximately 45 rows after the frogging schmozzle:

I'm liking this knit more or less, although am getting rather bored with this pattern sequence. There's either another 24 or another 46 rows to go, depending on how many pattern repeats I decide to go with.

And, stay tuned for a Brouhaha Design Feature. One hint... it involves this:

(And no, this is not a blurry photo of yarn - although, given the usual quality of photos on this blog, I certainly wouldn't blame you for thinking so!)

Hey, that Kermit isn't that evil looking after all:

Rather swish, eh?

My only remaining problem: I really feel like calling in sick and working on Icarus, but that would be a dangerous precedent to set, methinks. So, time to sign off and get out the door.

Happy Monday!