Sunday, 2 March 2008

FO 2008: The Steeked Jacket

What's it like when a project takes up more than a year of your relatively young knitting life? What happens when you reach the end and you look back?

You think about who you were and what you were doing when it all began. You think about the things that happened in your life over the course of that long period. A lot happens in 14 months. Small and not so small life events occur. New friends are made who change your life. There are good days and bad but most of all, there is change and I enjoy change. I am someone who has always found a sense of wonder in being able to track the course of events and see progress.

When I look at my jacket, I see, not to put too fine a point on it, over a year of my life represented in every single stitch. It's quite powerful for me.

Here's the story.


The Steeked Jacket wasn't ever going to be made. Julie, aka The Samurai Knitter, put a call out in late 2006 to say she was going to run a Steek Along (like a Knit Along, except we'd all cut our project, or 'steek' it) and would we like to sign up?

I said no. It was the brink of summer and the thought of working on something heavy and stranded in 35 degree heat didn't appeal to me.

But Julie kept talking about it and one night in December, I dreamed that I walked into a pub somewhere in America and found Julie. I dreamed that I declared I would make the jacket.

That, it seemed, was a sign.

In January, I knit I swatch. Isn't it cute?

And then I was off.

Making the steeked jacket required me to learn many things, including knitting continental style (I worked with both my left and right hand, having only ever knit with my right hand). In the early days, I was brimming with enthusiasm.

I even knit my signature into the hem.

It says HCG 07, in case it's not clear.

I remember in March last year when the next photo was taken, I really believed I was making great progress and would have it done in a few months. A year later, I finished it.

All through the long winter, I soldiered on, regaling blogland and anyone who would listen with the trials and tribulations of what by then was becoming something of an albatross. When would it end? Would it ever end? Sometimes, I even asked myself if I could actually finish it.

I kept putting it down to make socks. In 2007, I made 18 pairs of socks. Clearly I needed the distraction.

In July, the body of the jacket went into an art show as a work in progress. I enjoyed being free of it for a while.

Eventually I made the sleeves and my God weren't they a a saga? I think I ripped out both sleeves at least twice. Julie, meanwhile, was a tremendous support. My fellow steekers in the US and UK, Cindy and Louiz, were steaming ahead and I was feeling more and more frustrated with my lack of ability to get it right.

In October, I put it down to concentrate on Southern Summer of Socks and my Christmas knitting. The break did us both good.

The anniversary of starting the jacket loomed. As 1 January 08 came and went, and people were prodding me gently saying, 'what about the steek?' I took it out of hibernation and thought, well, might as give it one more shot. There were other exciting things I wanted to do and I was never going to be able to leave it languishing in the Unfinished Objects Cupboard of Shame.

I mustered all the strength I could find (I kid you not, I really hated it by this point) and I Perservered. The jacket would be finished.

Eventually, I got to cut it. Wasn't that really the entire point? I knew I'd made it when I reached this point.

On 1 March 2008, I stitched the last hem (hemming is a bitch. I hated that part) and, as Georgie so delicately put it in an email yesterday, I drowned it.

The water, after about 40 minutes, was filthy. This has been dragged up and down the country, to endless Stitch and Bitch gatherings, outside, inside, to pubs, houses and numerous car trips. It was disgusting.

Then I blocked it.

And here it lies, even now. It's not dry yet so there won't be any modelling shots for a few days. But it's done. All it needs now is buttons. I'll find the right ones in time.

I think it's only right to make a few heartfelt thank yous. (Hey, I'll never get to give an Oscars speech, so humour me). There has been lots of amazing encouragement and support via the blog so to all the commenters, with your cheering and prodding, thank you.

To Sean. He is very proud of me. I don't think he had a clue what I was taking on when I said, 'there's this blogger in South Carolina who's hosting this thing called a steek along. I think I'm going to join in.' But the day we spent figuring out the maths on graph paper, I think he began to see. I really didn't want him to be disappointed in me, which is a big part of why I kept going. He'd invested so much time and energy in the project. I couldn't let that be wasted.

To Julie, obviously. Thanks for the opportunity to learn more in a single project than I may ever learn again.

To all the Canberra knitters and bloggers, many of whom I hardly even knew or hadn't yet met when I started it, thanks so much for being there. Even though once in a while when someone said, 'how's the steek?' and I wanted to slap the asker, the interest is in many ways what kept me going.

To RoseRed, who showed up relatively early on in the project. All those emails where we dreamed of what life in a post-steek world might look like really, really kept me going when I was ready to give up.

To Janette, who figured out half way through that I was really struggling. She offered support and kindness and incentives, being a fair isle knitter from way back. See, I made it!

And now, the stats:

Time: 1 January 2007 - 1 March 2008.
Yarn: Bendigo Classic, 5 ply. Ink and silver. 400 grams of each. I have exactly 200g of each colour left over.
Sticks: Addi Turbos, 3.75mm, all the way. From a 120cm circular down to a 30cm circular. I think there were three different lengths used.
Skills learned: Fair isle, two handed stranded knitting, hemming, steeking, lots of maths, provisional casting on, how to make saddle shoulders. I'm sure there's more but they are the main things. I may not use any of those skills again in the next little while, but I've got them now and know that I can do them. Sean says I should make a smaller steeked item so I can make the most of my new skills. I laughed.

So there you have it. It's finished. Now, I get to contemplate life without the jacket. I was still pretty damn productive last year, even when most of my energy was going into this. What I'm most excited about, is seeing how productive I will be this year when nothing I'll be making will take anywhere near as long as this did.

It's a whole new beginning!