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Knitting Karma

If my Aunt Marcia is up in heaven watching over her family, I sincerely hope she’s so busy keeping track of my Uncle Sam, her three children, eleven grandchildren, and one great-grandchild that I’m lost in the mix.

At her funeral just over six months ago, I promised her family that I’d finish up her last knitting project, an afghan intended for a family member’s engagement present. You can’t just go back on a promise like that-and I won’t. But I’m sure in for a long, difficult slog.

The thing is, I’m old and set in my ways when it comes to knitting. I’ve been at it off and on for 18 years, and that’s plenty long enough to develop strong preferences and habits. I like knitting intricate, traditional blankets and garments composed of Scottish, Irish, English, and German stitch patterns. I like sheep’s wool and alpaca best. I am most comfortable on straight wooden needles. And I like small needles best, preferably somewhere in the 2-6 size range.

The half-finished project I have inherited is a large-scale diamond and cable afghan. Not too bad of a start. It’s knitted in a synthetic blend. That could be better. My aunt was working on round, nickel-plated needles. That’s not playing to my strengths. The needles are size 17. Oh dear God in heaven, that’s an ergonomic disaster for me. Imagine if you suddenly had to write using a first grade pencil and you have a pretty good feel for what I’m up against.

To add a little more fuel to the fire, my aunt left off mid-row, meaning I have to rip out her work-the last needlework of her life!-to figure out where she was and continue.

To quote the Mason Dixon knitting ladies, this is the knitting equivalent of nuclear waste. You can’t touch it and you can’t get rid of it, so you just move it around and pretend it doesn’t exist. In this case, I tucked it away in the secret depths of Matt’s closet, told the family I’d get to it once I finished a baby project, and then hoped they’d somehow forget.

Meanwhile, I tuck Simon into bed every night under the pretty afghan my Aunt Marcia made for him, a situation that makes forgetting impossible and ratchets up the guilt quite nicely. This past week my Uncle Sam called to gently inquire about the afghan, putting an end to my procrastination and denial once and for all. Tonight I breathed deeply and dove in. I tried not to think about the work I had to rip, I figured out where I was quickly, and then I got to the real work. Work is the operative word here.

It was worse than I had feared. The needles felt huge and ungainly in my hands. The yarn snagged on the cord connecting the round needles in the middle, forcing me to stop and shove loops over mid-row. At the same time, I dropped stitches left and right off of the super-slick metal tips, and the metal needles themselves draw heat away from the hands, making them stiff this winter night.

And the coup de grace? My gauge is tighter than my aunt’s. It’s completely expected that an uptight thirty-something would knit tighter than a septuagenarian hopped up on morphine in the end stages of cancer, but it’s a problem nonetheless unless I can convince the family that the afghan is supposed to be four inches narrower beginning at the half-way point.

The joke is on me for sure, because I know exactly what the textbook solution for this is: It’s too hard to try to adjust your natural tension; the best route is to go up a needle size! I am, without a doubt, the butt of the knitting universe’s joke tonight.

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