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Seven Hills

Boston-area exploration, travel notes, crafty things, and other Somervillainy.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Lilac Crimes

It's been lilac season around here for the last few weeks, and people have lilac fever. Every time I go out I see someone walking along with a bunch of the flowers sticking out of the top of a purse or the basket of a bicycle.

The other night on the T, I noticed a guy with one of those wheelie bags, clearly heading for the airport, with a huge bunch of sweet purple flowers popping out of the top zippered edge.

I must confess that, though I, too, have procured some fresh lilacs this month, I am neither lilac owner nor lucky recipient, but a lilac thief. I held back for a few weeks, thinking how horrible it would be if everyone acted on their lilac lust, stripping the buds from the streetside branches. But then one warm night after a few glasses of wine and a massive lobster dinner at Legal Seafoods with my cousin, I gave in and snitched a few low-hanging blooms. The warmth in the air really brought out the scent, you know, and it was too much to resist.

Anyway, that particularly grapey, dark purple variety got me thinking about a knitting project I had long ago laid aside, a little short-sleeved spring sweater in that exact shade. That was the problem though: it wasn't little at all. It was wide enough for Aunt Millie and her pet hippopotamus to set up camp. I didn't do a test swatch first, because I never do, but as it came out unusually short in the torso, I don't think that was necessarily the problem. But either way, I didn't realize how massive the thing was until after laboring at it - tiny, tiny stitches, with an allover lattice-texture pattern - for well over a year. In fits and starts, of course. That much purple starts to make you crazy after awhile, and you need a break.

I should never start projects like this, but I get seduced by books such as the devilishly charming "Vintage Knits," by Sarah Dallas (a.k.a. "The Bible," as our crafty friend Dolin calls it).

It really does have some lovely designs, but I suspect what really hooks me is the dreamy photographs of models lounging in whitewashed, bare-wood floor Notting Hill flats (the book is English). These models are usually in their underwear. I'm not sure what that has to do with knitting, but it definitely helps to differentiate the book from grandma knitting. It is knitting porn, for those of us who yearn for a simpler time of vintage cardigan designs, sun-dappled Sundays spent with a bowl of cafe au lait, and boy-short panties sans cellulite.

See what I mean?

Now first, we must ask, what is she doing perched on that little stool in her handknit sweater and skivvies? Second, where did she get those undies, they are so cute! Probably at some freaking British store. But wait a minute, could there be more to that pose than mere artfulness? Notice how her arms are folded across her chest in both photos. A friend of mine took a knitting pattern-making workshop awhile back, and her instructor warned them about patterns where the model is somehow obstructing the view of the garment: it's often because there's a problem with the fit.

Nevertheless, I made the sweater, it turned out badly, and then sat in a box until just the other week, when the stolen lilacs gave me courage. I remembered a sock-knitting class I had taken at Atelier Yarns in San Francisco (the way I first learned how to read knitting patterns), and how another woman in the class had described crocheting a new edge into a knitted piece that had come out wrong, fixing herself "a big drink," and then cutting off the excess. I remember Grace, the nice owner, saying, "Well, if it worked, then great!" Cutting into knitting is scary, and kind of a no-no, because if you don't adequately anchor everything it could unravel. It's also less stretchy and elastic with a rigid seam. But there wasn't any alternative, so I decided to take the plunge.

The crocheted seam:

The big drink:

The (gasp) scary cut, with lacy hemming tape stitched over the raw edges:

The finished piece:

Still a little wide, maybe, but good enough. This sweater was supposed to have sleeves, but the shoulders came out so wide I just left them off and improvised a ribbed edge. Amazingly, they came out like intentional capped sleeves. In fact, the whole sweater came out surprisingly well - this may actually be the first sweater I've made for myself that I will actually wear.

Incidentally, how sad is that? I have a feeling it's not that uncommon.



At 5/22/2006 12:28 PM, Blogger JessRedRose said...

You are so, so brave. But look how nice it looks! Beautiful.

Making a sweater that is far too big is very common. My first sweater is voluminous. Seriously, I could get a friend in there with me.

That Vintage Knits book has such lovely patterns on such teeny tiny needles. Eeek.

At 5/23/2006 7:21 PM, Blogger starfish said...

stolen lilacs are the best lilacs. my mother-in-law has been known to steal
blooms in the middle of the night, sometimes sending her husband out to cut a vaseful of voluptuous blooms. ah, the seduction of petals and their scent.vive le printemps!

At 5/31/2006 2:38 AM, Anonymous natalie said...

OMG! The cute sweater! I remember when you started it. I like it it much better now. You are sooo brave.

I still haven't finished my sweater from that book. What was that like seriously 5 years ago? haha. I have 1 back and 1 sleeve. It's still in one of my knitting bags. It takes too freaking long! LOL.


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