I'm ready for spring. We have had a shockingly mild winter in Chicago, by Chicago standards. Mild, in our case, means there have been multiple winter days during one has been able to step outside without bursting into tears which immediately freeze to the side of your face.
Listen, you want to know how crummy winter is in Chicago? Winter in Chicago is so crummy that when I told a bunch of Icelanders what our January is like, they gaped at me.
"No," said one of them. "I think we are not calculating this correctly."
I repeated our average January low, and he whipped out an iPhone to confirm the converstion from Farenheit to Celsius. There was a collective gasp.
"This is inhuman. This is like Greenland. How do you stand this?"
Yup. A typical Chicago winter is shockingly cold to people from Iceland.
And please don't start in with the "Oh, but you can wear all your wonderful sweaters and hats and mittens and...". One of the reasons I love being a knitter is that making my own winter gear gives me a false but comforting sense of being in control of the season, but I hate, hate, hate being buried under 16 layers of clothing. Do you know 16 layers of clothing do to a short, broad man? Do you? They make him look like a laundry pile with boots, that's what.
When it's time to retire, kids, I'm moving to the desert and I'm never going to wear anything with a #@$*! sleeve on it, ever again.
So, as I was saying, this is a blog post about the Spring 2012 issue of Knitty.
My contribution is an antique pattern, as usual. Voilà.
It's a bag in the shape of a pineapple. Of course it is.
Pineapple purses were a bit of a fad for part of the 19th century, probably because the fruit–being tropical and therefore exotic–fit perfectly into a more general mania for All Things Oriental, with the "Orient," in this case, encompassing pretty much everything from Japan to North Africa.
One of the most pleasing things about knitting a pineapple is that it's like knitting cables. The whole world thinks you've pulled off the most amazing feat of virtuoso yarn-based legerdemain, when actually all you've done is have a whacking great time with a very bewitching pattern.
Believe it or not, there's more going on in a plain vanilla sock than there is in this pineapple. The whole thing is based on one stitch motif, 16 stitches wide. Once I got going, I absolutely flew through the leaves and the fruit.
Then came the bottom, which is written out thus in the original:
P6, A all around.Plain, all around.Repeat these two rounds till the bag is almost closed, then draw it together with a needle.
Translated, this means:
Round 1: (Knit 6, sl1-k2tog-psso) around.
Round 2: Knit.
Repeat rounds 1 and 2 until you have a bag instead of a tube.
But there's a wee hitch. You're starting out with 320 stitches, and the first round is asking you work a repeat of 9 stitches evenly around it.
320 divided by 9 = 35.555555555555556. For those of you non-knitters reading this,* that's a big negatory.
So what to do?
In this case, we have to find a way to close the bag that a) works and b) will be as close as possible to what Jane Gaugain intended.
However, we cannot call, text, e-mail, Tweet or otherwise harass Jane Gaugain to find out what she intended, because even the worms that devoured the worms that devoured her mortal body have long since gone to dust.
We cannot reverse-engineer from the picture, because there is no picture.
We can have a look at a few photographs of extant examples of pineapple bags, though frustratingly few show the bottom and all are obviously knit from patterns that, while similar to hers, are by no means identical.
And we can guess.
We can consider the practical requirements of a bag, such as that a flattish bottom will be more practical than a long, conical bottom.
We can consider the aesthetics of the bag, which is heavily sculpted for three-quarters of its surface and would probably look best with a bottom that matches.
So, we begin by listing theoretical solutions.
- What if, instead of beginning with 320 stitches, we began with a near-ish number of stitches into which 9 would divide evenly?
- What if the use of "A" (for the double decrease) in Round 1 is a typo? Did Jane mean to put in a T, her symbol for for k2tog? The repeat would take up 8 stitches, and 8 stitches does fit evenly into 320! Ooh!
- What if the "6" in Round 1 is a typo? If we substitute a 5, the motif uses 8 stitches, and 8 stitches does fit evenly into 320! Ooh! Ooh!
As it turns out, no there isn't. Or if there is, somebody who is not trying to meet a Knitty deadline will have to find it. Some of the test-knits did begin to close up the bag, yes; but the closure looked like ass. (In this case, "ass" and "bottom" are not synonymous.) The math never worked, either. There always came a point at which the number of stitches in the repeat no longer fit evenly into the number of stitches remaining. Further adjustments could be made at that point, but it would have meant a set of decrease instructions so convoluted that they seemed way out of step with the succinct nature of the rest of the pattern.
Plus, did I mention it looked like ass?
The next option is drift further from Mrs G's two-round instructions. They look so elegant on the page–but if they don't work, they don't work. Hey, it happens. Then, as now, sometimes the instructions aren't just a little off, they're completely broken.
I decided to see what would happen if I had another shot at both Theory 2 and Theory 3–but instead of maintaining the same number of stitches between decreases, I'd have 1 (or 2, in the case of double decreases) fewer stitches between them in every decrease round. This is, of course, the common method for decreasing the tops of hats.
I started with Theory 2, and yup, the bag began to close. Slowly. Slooooowwwwwwwwllllyyy. I looked at the theoretical numbers again, counted the number of rounds they required, and realized I'd end up with a plain green cone, three inches deep, at the end of my pineapple. Not pretty, not practical, and way out of line with the look of the rest of the piece.
Finally, Theory 3, plus consistently reducing the number of stitches between decreases, yielded this:
If that ain't what she meant, she's welcome to come back from the dead and tell me so. I love it.
I don't love her final finish, though, with the bunch of green silk satin ribbon.** That's coming off and I'm replacing it with a tassel–Lisa Souza's yardage in a hank of Sylvie is so generous that I have plenty left.
I may even knit a mini-pineapple with the leftovers. (It's easy. Pick a multiple of 16 as your cast-on and go for it.)
*I'm not fooling myself. There are no non-knitters reading about how to troubleshoot the decreases at the bottom of a pineapple. I know.
**I dyed that flippin' ribbon myself because it was hard enough just to find silk ribbon, let alone silk in a green that matched. I want extra credit for that, dammit.