Bassackwards

I have an odd relationship with my Featherweight. I have an odd relationship with all of my handknit sweaters, actually. Even though I want to knit myself all the sweaters, I am reluctant to do so until I am at what I consider to be the correct weight. I don’t know what the correct weight is, but it seems to be some nebulous, unattainable goal that is always about 20 pounds lighter than whatever I weigh at any given moment. It’s partly because I, like any good red-blooded American woman, have body-image issues, and partly because I don’t want to risk running out of yarn, or of losing interest in the project itself.

As a result, my seven years of knitting has yielded only five sweaters knit for myself (really, four sweaters and a short-sleeved top). Three of them have been discarded or abandoned somewhere between their point of origin and my current location. I still have my NaKniSweMo sweater, but I rarely wear it because a) aforementioned body-image issues, and b) I live in Southern California. In a Venn diagram of those two factors, the amount of time I could spend wearing this particular sweater would be best represented by the purple slice:

Actually, in the interest of accuracy, it would look a little closer to this:

My other three sweaters have been banished to Goodwill or even garbage bins, except for the Featherweight. I still have it but I never wear it, mainly because I got a little too bind-off happy with it, and it ended up short – fashionably so, fortunately. The reason I bound it off early was because I was just completely and utterly tired of working on it.

The sweater is made of laceweight alpaca. It’s basically stockinette with ribbing at the collar and cuffs, but unlike typical stockinette projects, it’s completely resistant to being placed on cruise control. It may be that I’m too unused to working with laceweight, because I have no trouble zipping along when I’m knitting fingering weight. And the rows are so. Freaking. Long.

I think I bound it off as soon as I could get away with it. I wore it once, to an interview for a job I didn’t get, and then never saw a reason to wear it again. But I couldn’t bear to just get rid of it, because it really is a gorgeous yarn, and I put a lot of work into it.

At some point within the past year, I decided that if I insist on hanging onto it, I should make it into something I’ll actually wear. Since I had a fair amount of the yarn left, I wanted to lengthen it. I inserted a lifeline, cut off the last couple rows of the ribbing and unraveled until I was in the stockinette section. And then I just left it there, waiting for a time to come along when I was bored enough, had enough free time, and wanted to get back to the misery of purling endless rows of stockinette.

I’m not against purling, per se. I originally started knitting English style and switched to Continental after about a year, which meant I had to relearn how to purl. But try though I might, I never figured out how to do it without getting hand cramps. Turning a sock heel doesn’t bother me, but doing a return row of 100+ stitches is definitely uncomfortable. The discomfort is enough to deter me from even picking it up.

The sweater has been calling to me lately. I want to wear it, because it’s the perfect color for fall and the perfect weight for fall around here. It’s also taking up needles I could be using for other things, and that’s starting to become a problem. So much so that I marched out to the garage and dug through a couple of bins to find it and start working on it again.

After one purl row, I was considering discarding it for real. The thought of having another sweater to wear was just not enough to counterbalance the spectre of all that purling I’d have to do. So I decided to learn another technique: backwards knitting.

I was aware of backwards knitting years ago. I originally read a Knitty article about it, but never really saw a need to do it. Now that I think about it, it’s entirely possible that I first looked it up during my previous go-round with this exact sweater, only to deem it too difficult and not worth the effort.

Whatever the reason, I decided to give it another try. Again, I found the technique wanting, because with the orientation of the yarn (coming off the left needle instead of the right), it wouldn’t really work with the way I knit and the way I hold my needles:

I tried the technique with both hands, but I still wasn’t entirely satisfied with the process. Then Norwegian purling occurred to me.

Norwegian purling is a little bit like taking three right turns to avoid making a left. It takes longer than standard purling, but it allows the knitter to purl without having to switch their hand position or flip the yarn back and forth between knit and purl stitches, so there’s definitely a use for it.

The way I knit backwards isn’t like Norwegian purling as far as raw technique goes, but it’s similar in that it allows me to maintain the hand position and yarn tension that I’m accustomed to. Instead of doing a twisting figure-8 motion with the right needle tip, I use it as an assistant to help me bring the working yarn over the needle. I made a video to illustrate it. (I started in the middle of a forwards knitting row, so skip to about 8:20 to see the actual technique demonstrated.)

Ultimately, this is a method designed for comfort, not speed. Which, for this project, and for this phase in my life, is perfectly okay by me.

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