Sunday July 11, 2004

I’m finished with the back of Siv, and nearly finished with the front. I’m doing the shaping now, so I have to pay attention. This is the point at which I determine whether the sweater fits or not. So there is a lot of counting and measuring required.

Lavold (the designer of the pattern) recommends measuring the pieces while they hang in the air. This, she says, is how the sweater will be worn. This sounds very reasonable until you actually try it. You can try it right now. Go ahead, get a sweater and hold it up in one hand. As it dangles there, pull out your tape measure and check the distance from the beginning of the armhole to the shoulder. You will find that this is impossible.

Knitting geeks usually lay their pieces out, put pins in them at strategic points, and measure between the pins with a ruler. They also make schematics before they begin knitting, and calculate the correct measurements and stitch counts at each point. They have rulers, measuring tapes, and knitting gauges handy in their knitting baskets, too.

I am not a knitting geek. Remember, I am the one who hasn’t bothered to find the cabling needle. But of course I believe in measuring. I just use a more old-fashioned system. I know that the first joint of my index finger is about 1″. The first two joints make 2″. If I hold my hand in an L shape, it is about 4″ from the beginning of my thumb to the tip of my index finger. From the tip of my thumb to the tip of my little finger, well stretched, is 8″. So I can do a lot of measuring without actually having to get up and find some official tool for measurerment.

I think this is handy. Everyone should check out the basic measurements of their hands so they can do this. You can estimate most measurements under a foot in this way. You can also estimate the measurement of your foot — it’s about the same as the distance from the crook of your elbow to your wrist. So you can check the progress of socks as you knit them, without having to take off your shoes. If you stand with your arms outstretched, the span from one fingertip to the other is about your height. And if you hold a closed waistband up and wrap it around your neck, you can quickly estimate whether the garment will fit you or not. People will think you are odd, but it works.

I have no tips on quick estimates of volume. #2 daughter and I went  to the farmer’s market yesterday. Our own garden is filled with lovely tomatoes, peppers, melons, squash, and herbs, but one cannot live on these things alone. We also need blueberries, peaches, and green beans. So there we stood at the stalls, keeping the farmers waiting while I tried to guess how much of each thing we might need. Quick, visualize a pie and calculate the number of peaches needed for said pie. Then add on the number of peaches that will be eaten before we get around to making the pie. It’s even harder with blueberries, because the dogs eat those, too. On the other hand, you don’t have to do any mental switches from big round fruit to slices, when you are figuring in blueberries. On the third hand, you do have to consider the need for making blueberry pancakes, plus the random eating of handfuls for berries, and feeding them to the dogs, before anyone actually makes a pie. The best plan is just to buy lots and lots, because after all who knows?

This is a popular approach for the buying of yarn as well. It would seem that people who calculate and measure as much as knitters do would be able to buy the right amount of yarn with perfect confidence. You can weigh a sweater made with a similar yarn, and buy the same number of ounces. You can keep careful notes and buy the number of skeins you have used for this kind of yarn in the past. You can even use the number of skeins suggested in the pattern. And yet most knitters buy way more yarn than they need.

It may be because it is hard to estimate volume, even though no one will be eating the yarn before you get around to making the sweater. Estimating weight is tricky, too. I really only know of two good landmarks for this: first, the average cat weighs about 8 pounds. Second, you can send 4 quarters for the price of one stamp. Neither of these pieces of information helps much with a sweater, even if you intend to make a sweater for a cat and mail it. But I think the most likely explanation is that we like to buy yarn.

There is a yarn shop near the Farmer’s Market. #2 daughter and I parked directly outside it, even though I do not need any yarn until I finish Siv. We finished our vegetable and fruit purchases and got back to the car just five minutes before they opened. We loitered around a bit, and even went up and peeked through the window in hopes that the yarn ladies would open early and let us in. No such luck. It didn’t seem reasonable to stay there in the heat with a car full of produce just so we could go in and touch a lot of yarn we had no intention of buying, so we went on home. Sigh.