WIP Amnesty Day 2019 and the Tale of Jenny’s Cardigan

Friday 19th April 2019

This year, for the first time, we held a WIP amnesty day.  Instead of the usual 7 or 8 attendees, we had 14 knitters here and so we used both downstairs rooms.  The concept was:  bring a WIP or maybe 2, and we would try and help you to get it kick-started again, or talk about other options, mainly frogging and re-assigning the yarn but also design tweaks to make it a more achievable or enjoyable knit.

I used to run mini versions of this when, many moons ago, I was a Rowan Design Consultant in Johnny Lou Lou’s.  For a while, I ran an evening knit club once a month and often this was, in practice, a WIP session, because knitters would sometimes bring shelved projects for me, or the group, to help with.  But really, I had no idea how a WIP day here would work.

In fact, it was a great day.  Fairly exhausting but also exhilarating as there was a great atmosphere in the house, along with a fantastic range of projects.  I have had news of some post-event triumphs and I am glad we did it. 

Amongst other things Kath and I helped with reducing the scale of a huge brioche project – very tricky but managed really ably by the knitter of the brioche, and Kath; refreshing the skills needed for how to Fairisle 2-handed in the round; making a design change to a project in order to alter and slightly simplify the pattern; reading and interpreting a pattern for a stalled project to get it going again; and poring over a very old pattern, plus the almost-complete WIP.  It is this latter example that I want to tell you about.

Jenny brought along a cardigan, not far off being complete.  The story of this knit, told to me and now to you, with Jenny’s permission, is interesting.  Many years ago, Jenny was travelling from her home in the South West of England, to the North.  This was a sad visit as she was attending a funeral.  As we often do, in times of grief, stress and even fear, she wanted, probably needed, to knit but in haste and distraction as she departed from her home, had no knitting with her.   So Jenny sought out a knitting shop on the way, and bought a pattern and the yarn.  The yarn is pale coral in colour, like the silky insides of the little shells you find on gritty Cornish beaches.  The pattern is a wide-sleeved cardigan, with ribbing in the usual places and set-in sleeves.  It has an all-over textured pattern. 

The fibres are not wool.  They felt to me, plant-like, such as linen mixed with some other fibre maybe. I can often smell the various fibres (I am part Dachshund and have an amazing sense of smell which is not always a blessing as it is, unlike Dachshunds, accompanied by a stomach as weak as watered milk) and I can always smell silk, cotton and wool in a yarn.  But maybe because this was a very old project, I could not sniff out this fibre. 

The pattern was literally in tatters.  Just readable for the most part, but fragile and torn.  I suspect it was old when Jenny bought it and of course, weeks of use, in an active project, followed by years of biding its time, waiting to be in the light again, and knitted, in a cupboard, had reduced it to the flimsiest of documents, that you might expect to see being handled with white gloves and curated by the National Trust.

The garment – for it was almost complete – had a number of issues that needed to be puzzled over.  First, if she knitted the second sleeve, Jenny was going to run out of yarn.  Second, there was a seamed shoulder that was not quite perfect, and whatever happened, this had to be un-picked and righted.  

What were the options?  One option that was cast away from the very beginning, was consigning the garment, or the yarn, to the bin.  Whilst it had no value in material terms, to Jenny, it was a very important and tangible link to the person whom she had held in her mind and her heart, when she first bought the yarn and cast it on.  And she still does hold that person close to her.  So, this knitting is inextricably woven into the fabric of that long-ago, but still very real sorrow, and surely formed a crucial step along the road to acceptance, and to remembering with slowly lessening pain, but always and never diminishing, keenly-felt love. We did not even discuss this. 

Undoing the knitting and re-purposing the yarn was also rejected for the same reason.  The garment was the garment of that moment.  So, it had to be that garment.  And yet, here we were, decades later, with almost no pattern, and about 130 meters short of a full cardigan.  It was ribbed, remember, at the cuffs, and the start of the fronts and back.  Getting the same exact yarn was impossible.  We had no ball band, but we had the pattern so we had gauge.  I suggested:  un-do the shoulder seam.  Then, consider making the ribbing a different shade from the soft coral of the old yarn, but something that would go with it, so the cuffs could be in, say, cream, and thus, we would liberate enough of the old yarn to knit both sleeves.  This would mean un-doing both sleeves.  

That is what I would have done.  In fact, I would have un-done the whole thing and made all the ribbing say, cream, so it really did look like a design choice.  Key to this solution was finding a yarn that would knit to Jenny’s cardigan tension and which felt the same or similar.  But I only suggested the sleeve cuff option on the day, because it is daunting to undo the whole thing.

Jenny began slowly and carefully un-picking the troublesome shoulder seam, before beginning the un-doing of the sleeves.  I felt Jenny was perhaps disappointed – maybe a bit dis-heartened – but she is not a person easily deflected.  Nevertheless, I worried a bit about it. 

About 2 weeks after the event, I had an email from Jenny. She had come to the conclusion that she would undo the whole thing; buy a copy of the pattern that was old, but in better shape; and make all the cuffs a contrast shade to the coral.  With the detective skills worthy of Agatha herself, Jenny tracked down the pattern and also, the original manufacturer of the yarn.  They are sending her samples to ‘feel’.  Then she can choose one to go with the original project.

And that, aside from the fun, and positive feedback, and determined energy on the day, is why we will hold another WIP day.  It will certainly be in the 2020 event list and we may add one later in 2019.  


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