Saturday, August 08, 2009

Amazing Grace Dishcloth

I'm a garment knitter. Twenty-three years ago when I sat down to learn to knit, I started with sweaters, lots of sweaters, nothing but sweaters aside from the occasional hat or two for, oh, the first fifteen years of my relationship with yarn and needles. Then there was the period of Very Little Knitting ("Sweaters are too hot, Mommy!"), which ended abruptly with the 5,000 bead linen-lace shawl and immersion in the Master Hand Knitting program.

From there, I dove into socks, was forced into scarves (due to several requests), dabbled in mittens/gloves/fingerless mitts/convertible glittens, did an afghan here and there (not my favorite thing, but sometimes necessary for surviving the Minnesota winter), a few felted slippers, a felted bowl (undertaken for its moebius-ness), a felted bag (meh), and a couple of toys (excessive amounts of finishing and shaping for such small items). I once started a Kitty Pi bed, but never finished it (the recipient would never show appreciation, I'm afraid). I made a string bag this spring and hated everything about it. I could write a poem about that bag. I would call it, "Rant to a Green Shopping Bag" and it would start out, "How do I hate thee? Let me count the ways..."

So what have I learned?

I have learned that I do not typically enjoy making non-garmenty things.

I have learned that a pattern has to have enough going on that I don't stab myself with my needles (scarves have to have an interesting pattern, or else 6 feet of it isn't happening). Garter stitch rarely fills that need.

A pattern can't be so futzy that I am chained to the chart (this is where toys really fall down for me -- too much shaping, sometimes every row, too many things to sew together, and totally not a garment. Also, if it's made with a novelty yarn...well, let's not go there).

There are exceptions.

This blanket buddy is a toy, of sorts, knit mostly with garter stitch, but there were YOs to keep me alert with simple shaping, and then the head was made using double knitting (which I had never done, so I got to learn something), and there was NO SEWING UP, unless you count drawing the tail through a few stitches at the top of the head, which I do not. Also, the yarn, while technically a novelty yarn (Wendy Velvet Touch), is easy to knit with, and the stitches were easy to read. I'm just waiting for a baby to give this thing to.

Other things I have learned

There can't be too much counting.

I once made a Petal Bib that turned out adorable, but tried my patience during the entire knitting process, because the short rows had to be counted and re-counted and re-counted again, and the gauge for the cotton yarn was sufficiently tight that my hands hurt. Counting is the hardest thing in knitting. A sad statement for a former math major to make, but true nonetheless.

Finally, the item has to be for a human. (The dog booties I knit this past winter -- that's not happening again, I don't care how pathetic the dog is when he limps in from the cold, and how adamant Michael is that knitting socks for the dog is "logical.")

Given all those knitting criteria, it's no surprise that there is one item I have persistently avoided knitting.


I use sponges to wipe the counters, and if I have to wash a dish by hand I prefer the skimpiest, thinnest dishcloths I can find. I don't know why. It's probably what we could get from the grocery store (and what we could afford) when I was a kid, and that's what I got used to. Also, the thick ones tend to smell sour the next day or two because they take so long to dry.

So there are three strikes against the dishcloth: cotton, not a garment, and smelly.

My brother and sister-in-law were here for a visit a few weeks ago and my SIL Kathy mentioned how much she likes knitted dishcloths. I asked her why and she told me. I explained why I couldn't understand them. She shrugged in a suit-yourself way.

I started noticing discussion threads on Ravelry regarding dishcloths. Threads remarkably similar to the "Why knit socks?" threads that come up every so often. I may have explained why, exactly, I refuse to knit dishcloths in one of those discussions. I'm not sure anyone cared. I did learn a few things, though. Apparently, sponges are the least sanitary things in the kitchen. They trap bacteria, so while I'm wiping crumbs off the counter, I'm smearing germs all over it. Considering the amount of Clorox Cleanup I use on my white Corian counter, I have my doubts, but still, that was a surprise.

There's more news. Shocking news. It turns out that other folks use a clean dishcloth every day. I know. Who knew? Raised in a barn, that's me. Get this: if you use a new dishcloth every day, you avoid the sour smell and you avoid smearing germs all over everything. What you're supposed to have in your kitchen drawer are stacks and stacks of fresh dishcloths.

All the love for dishcloths I kept reading about got me thinking. I didn't understand socks initially, either. I remember reading comments people had online about how wonderful socks feel on your feet, and how there's no going back once you put on your first pair of hand knit socks. I also remember thinking that commercial socks weren't exactly uncomfortable, so how great could the hand knit ones be? As soon as I grafted the toe of my first sock, I tried it on, and the journey toward Commercial Sock Removal from My Sock Drawer began. My mind had been changed.

A few months ago, I decided it was time to knit a Baby Surprise Jacket, for no reason other than to see what the 40-year fuss was about. I had never cared for the look of the BSJ, but I felt that it was worth knitting in order to understand the construction and perhaps to find out what its appeal was to other knitters.

It was garter stitch, but there was enough other business going on to keep me interested.

Check out those shoulder seams.

Nice, eh?

In the end, I enjoyed the process of knitting it, but I can't see myself knitting more of them. Socks changed my knitting life. The BSJ did not.

So a couple of weekends ago I decided to knit a dishcloth, specifically the Ballband Dishcloth, because that seems to be the BSJ of dishcloths. I came to realize that it's dishonest to disparage a particular beloved knitting project without trying it at least once. Turned out it was Dollar Days at Michaels, so lots of things were on sale, including Sugar'n Cream cotton yarn. I bought 4 balls for $5, Sophia bought a boatload of embroidery floss to replenish her friendship bracelet supplies, and that was that.

That night, I cast on for the dishcloth and I finished it the next morning.

I loved the way it looked, although it was even thicker than I expected. I really couldn't imagine using it. It was just so...big. And thick. I showed it to the family. Michael noted, "It's very bright." (He finds it safer sometimes to make an observation rather than to state an opinion.) Sophia liked it, but didn't think it should be dirtied up because I had "done all that work knitting it." Nina had no comment, because she was in her room. (She's 14. She's always in her room.)

A couple of nights later, when we were cleaning up the kitchen after dinner, I sent Sophia up to my office to get the dishcloth so we could try it out and settle the matter of The Hand Knit Dishcloth: Yay or Nay?


It goes against every knitting tenet I have, but I love it.

A few days later the girls asked to go back to Michaels to get more embroidery floss. (They're on a friendship bracelet making binge.) I obliged, because I am nothing if not an obliging mother, at least sometimes.

I may have picked up a few more balls of Sugar'n Cream. It was still Dollar Days.

And I may have knit a few more dishcloths.

I may have even knit a dishcloth with matching Swiffer cover.

...was blind, but now I see.


Cheri said...

How reassuring to know that I'm not the only one who's been assimilated by the dishcloth! I always swore I would poke my own eye out with a DPN before I knitted one of those foolish things... and then I did, and I was lost. Here's a tip: don't give any away... or you'll soon find that you've become the Official Dishcloth Supplier.

Rox said...

Too late, Cheri. Oops.

kayT said...

I thought you were never coming back to the blog (what with Ravelry and all) but now I see you were only knitting dishcloths.

Deborah (aka Mt. Mom) said...

Welcome to the dishcloth sorority! My husband is the hand-dishwasher in our family, and he is a total convert from sponges to knitted dishcloths (which I change out each evening, pretty much). They can also be a quick way to try out a new stitch pattern, like Berry Stitch.

lynnef said...

:-) I needed something that could be knitted on 2 and only 2 straight needles at Sock Summit. Guess what?

They sure are quick!

Strop said...

They're very pretty, but knitting tries my patience. I may have to find a crochet pattern.

adriene said...

I went through a phase when all I made were those dishcloths with all the clever purling patterns in them in all those cute shapes... and after reading this, I feel like rooting out all those balls of Handicrafter and making me a few of those apple dishcloths!

Julia said...

hello, this is Julia from Barcelona, Spain. I would like to ask you something about the wool you used.
would you please write me at ?
thanks so much in advance