An elephant in a day?

A couple of weeks ago, I set myself a challenge. You see, I really wanted to make Ysolda Teague‘s Elijah to send up to Canuckia with The Nephew’s birthday sweater. The sweater took too long, alas, and other commitments prevailed, but that day I realized that a) the sweater wouldn’t get to the post office until the next day, and b) it was Sunday, which I have declared watch-eleventy-mysteries-and-knit-what-you-want day. (Midsomer Murders is my current series of choice, and it looks like that well may never run dry.) So, the question was, could I make an elephant in a day? I had to find out. For SCIENCE!

Step 1: A strong cup of tea. Well, actually, a pot.

This may be a two-pots-of-tea kind of job.

Step 2: Convince Chicken-Leg Al the Wonder Cat to relinquish the yarn.

My yarn. Mine.

It being Sunday, I was hardly up with the birds, and this idea didn’t occur to me until I was two cups into the day. Thus, at the civilized hour of 10:37am, my needles and I got to work. I knit like the wind. Like the wind, I say. Took a break for lunch at 1:15, and was back to work by 1:40, with a second pot of tea. Green this time; my black tea is like rocket fuel, and two pots of that would leave me a gibbering idiot. Or more of a gibbering idiot.

The head was not quite done, which sounds discouraging, but it took me about half an hour to correctly execute the cast on (an ingenious one for centre-out projects that I had not previously encountered). I figured I still had a chance. By about 2:15 I had me an elephant head, and by 5:15, the body was finished.

The tea was all gone, and I'd earned a reward. Plus, I needed something for scale.

At around 8:30, I bound off the second leg. Great day in the morning, I might actually pull this off.

An hour for dinner, then I started the arms. Halfway through the first arm, my dad called. I briefly considered answering with, “Can’t talk; making an elephant,” and hanging up, which is when I realized that I may have lost perspective on this thing. I talked to my dad, then went and had a nice, hot shower to work the kinks out. Then back to work, with only 1.5 arms and an ear to go.

Now here’s the thing: you look at those arms (see below) and think, “That’ll take no time! Look at them. They’re tiny. It’ll be a doddle.” However, each part of this elephant is worked by picking up stitches rather than making it in pieces and sewing it together, and you stuff each piece as you go. This is smart, because it means that the toy has no weak points that will give way to tiny but incredibly strong hands. The tradeoff is that with each piece, you add to the weight and awkwardness that will be hanging off your needles when you work the next piece. So those arms? Not as much of a doddle as you’d think. (I should point out that this pattern is not designed for high-speed competition knitting, and under normal knitting circumstances devoid of ridiculous self-imposed time restrictions, this awkwardness would not really be a problem.) At any rate, I bound off the second arm at 3 am.

And you thought 'e was 'armless.

Exhausted and achey, I realized that poor Mr. Olliphaunt would have to remain earless for the night. Or, as it turned out, for several nights. After about 16 hours of almost constant labour over this thing, it was a couple of days before I could pick Ollie up again. He did get finished in the end, though, and was last seen being dragged about by one of those ears, clutched in the hands of a loving toddler who would shout “OLLIPHAUNT!” at the slightest provocation.

Caution: elephant may be far less pink than he appears. Alas, I have no photo of Sir Olliphaunt, Esq. with said toddler.

Thus we learn that should the occasion arise when the swift production of a small, stuffed pachyderm is all that stands between humanity and imminent destruction, I may not be your gal, but I’ll give it a good, solid try. Also that self-imposed olympic-style knitting challenges are a bit silly.

Tutorial: Stick a leaf on it

So my car knitting shawl/scarf thingy is coming along nicely,

and I was thinking about how useful the embossed leaf motif is. It’s easy: a series of increases at the bottom, some straight rows if you wish, and a series of decreases at the top. It’s adaptable: you can change the appearance, shape, and size by changing the type and placement of your increases and decreases. It’s self-contained: an embossed leaf grows and shrinks independently of the rest of the piece, so that you can keep doing whatever you were doing for the rest of the stitches, and at the end of each leaf you’re back to the same stitch count you had at the beginning. If you prefer your leaf to be flat, rather than raised, you can use corresponding decreases and increases outside the edge of leaf, keeping the overall stitch count constant. Continue reading

Maybe a Dahlia

There’s this cardigan. Her name is Dahlia. I loved her as soon as I saw her, but I let practicality stand between us and I filed her away on a wish list entitled Things I Shall Make When I Have Time. My friend Susan and I joked about how, beautiful as she was, we would probably never get around to making her. Susan even started a Never Get It Done-Along for Dahlia, a sort of ongoing online party where we could talk about her loveliness, waffle about yarn choices, and dream of what our versions would look like, without any pressure to actually make her. In my stash was a yarn that I was sure would be perfect:  some merino/bamboo/silk heavyish fingering weight by The Plucky Knitter in the delightfully-named colourway Mildred Pierce. I even made a gauge swatch. It was perfect the first time. The yarn was a dream to knit with. I was sunk.

Behold! The swatch of perfect gauge!

As of Saturday night, I could resist no longer. Whistling past the designs-in-progress pile, shielding my eyes from the spectre of a thousand unfinished objects, I cast on for Dahlia. I worked on her as we watched Last Life in the Universe, and well into the night. Sunday at around dawn, when Chicken-Leg Al, Prince Among Cats summoned me to door duty*, I brought Dahlia outside to knit while drinking my morning gallon of tea. As the chilly early morning gave way to a warm, sunny afternoon and then cooled into evening, the central lace motif expanded and unfolded in my hands until it became this:

Somewhere in here I wanted to wax poetic about how Last Life in the Universe was the perfect film to go with Dahlia; how the story reveals itself to you slowly, quietly, occurring mostly between the lines, as the petals of the lace pattern unfurl until much to your surprise, you have created a beautiful, delicate thing. Everything I came up with sounded much too purple, though — too clumsy and obvious and sledgehammery for such a subtle satisfaction — so I won’t. Except that I just did. Ah, well. But really, this is one of those patterns that you look at think, “Oh! How pretty!” Then you work on it and realize just how clever it is: how carefully all the increases and decreases — the type, the placement — were put together to make this intricate design. The way the rest of the garment grows out from the lace panel is equally interesting, and I look forward to that part almost as much. Dahlia is even more clever than she looks, and I’ll be watching for more designs from Heather Zoppetti.

Now it’s Monday, time to get back to more worklike knitting. Come evening, though, I may pull Dahlia out of the basket and work on her some more. Just a couple of rows. Just to finish the next piece.

*Chicken-Leg Al has a new trick to ensure that I do not neglect my duty as dawn doorperson. It’s called ‘Mum’s Lower Abdomen is My Parade Ground.’  It’s marginally less irritating than its predecessor, ‘Metal Blinds are Satan’s Xylophone’, and at least as effective.