Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The 6 Year Pillow

Anyone who's a little bit crafty (or just imagines or wishes themselves to be so) has a whale project. You know, the one that gets started and pulled out maybe once a year. Then, every time you sit down to do a new project or activity, its the one that has you thinking, "Gee I should really finish X first....". But some how it just sits (in a closet, cupboard, drawer, corner of the bedroom) and never seems to get finished.

Six years ago, while I was pregnant with my first, I was feeling very nest-y and maternal and thought that learning how to knit would be a great idea. After all, since I'd be leaving my full time teaching job to stay at home, I'd have plenty of time to keep up the house, care for a baby and knit thoughtfully while he napped or played quietly. (I think I must have watched too many episodes of Little House on the Prairie growing up).

So a few months before he was due, I signed up for a beginning knitting course at my local craft store. I dutifully paid attention to the instructor and followed all the instructions and thought that I had the basics (casting on, knit stitch, purl stitch and casting off) at least marginally mastered. I wanted to make beautiful baby products-- hats, booties, blankets ,etc. but thought I'd better start with a smaller, simpler project. And so, that Christmas, I asked for a knit-your-own-pillow kit that I had seen in the local Target. I thought it'd be a perfect starter kit-- after all it was supposed to be a teach yourself to knit kit.

I cracked that thing open a few days after the holidays and I attempted to read the pattern. I just couldn't seem to remember what I'd learned in class and everything seemed really complicated, so I broke out the helpfully included DVD. I watched it over and over and over. In the end, I had about an inch of knitting that looked like a blind monkey had done it. Frustrated, I put it to the side.

For the next 6 years, every time I opened my craft cabinet (a lovely Ikea based product), it glared at me. This past school year with #1 starting full day kindergarten, I FINALLY started having enough time to do sewing and other crafts (that didn't involve mending, repairing or making necessities). So, it was time to face the whale. This past winter, I gathered my courage and signed up for another beginning knitting course. This one being offered by a local yarn store that regularly offers classes.

What a difference! This time when I finished my 2 week course, I knew that I understood the basics. It was time to get back to that pillow!

When I opened the kit, I knew the directions for each patchwork square were pretty minimal and definitely beyond the "I just learned how to knit" stage. Thankfully with today's access to technology I was able to surf the net and find blogs, tutorials and helpful you tube videos to help me when I just didn't know how to do what they wanted.

The pillow consists of 9 patchwork squares. With each square I learned something new-- how to change colors, how to decrease or increase, how to slip stitches, weave in ends, and I cemented my knowledge of basic knit and purl stitch. While it may have taken me 6 years to finally be able to finish it, I did enjoy the challenge of completing each square. I breezed through the squares in about a month and then I got to learn how to (and how not to) join pieces of knitting. Finally all that was remaining was knitting the back piece. Made of one solid piece of stockinette (knit one side, purl the other). The sheer repetitive nature of it had me bored almost instantly. I put it aside and there it sat again

Each summer we try to take a trip, camping usually for a week or two depending on everyone's schedules. We do not watch videos (except on the car ride to and from) and use the time to disconnect with tv and technology and reconnect with each other and nature. My husband and I often pack oodles of books and enjoy the time to just sit quietly and read while the boys are playing in the dirt. This year I decided that I would also pack my knitting stuff. It is, after all, very low tech. And, as long as I had the instructions and materials for what I was working on, I'd be all set.

I started off with finishing up that pillow back piece and FINALLY it was done.  I can't explain the sense of satisfaction and relief to know that the pillow was completed! I also had the time to do some experimental hat making (as these are my first, I've deemed them "lucky fishing hats" and really they are only suitable for camping/fishing trips.)

We got home this past weekend and after getting caught up on the unpacking, cleaning and laundry, the first thing I did on Monday was pull out my pillow. I had sewn the front and back pieces together leaving a small opening, so it would be ready for stuffing. I stuffed it and sewed it closed and then did a few of the recommended button decorations. I decided to skip the pocket and tassels to make it more utilitarian and less fussy. All in all, while I'll never win any home d├ęcor awards for it, I'm glad it at least looks fairly similar to the guide photo.

Project Guide Photo from Kit

My Finished Pillow!!!

If you are a beginning knitter like me, I could see a patchwork pillow being a great first project (after the requisite scarf, of course). You are certainly free to follow the below instructions if you like the look of my pillow but what about making a true sampler? You could try out different stitches-- garter, stockinette, rib, basket weave, etc. in each square. Using a combination of colors you like, you'd have a great project! 

Knitted Patchwork Pillow:

While I can't in all honesty recommend the pillow pattern as particularly reliable or helpful, here are the basic patchwork instructions. This used a fairly cheap, thin yarn that you used 2 strands as one for all the squares and back. The three enclosed colors were 3 skeins of chocolate/brown, 2 skeins of caramel/tan & one skein of cream/white. There were small amounts of leftovers in each color. The needles enclosed were size 9's but I tend to knit a bit tight so I used 10's mostly.

Square #1: Tweed seed stitch
Use one strand of caramel and one strand of brown held together cast on 19 stitches.
Seed stitch pattern: Row 1- k2, (p1,k1) until end, k2
                                Row 2- p2, (p1,k1) until end, p2
                                Repeat rows 1 & 2 until piece measures 4 2/3". Bind off

Square #2: Tricolor Garter stripes
Using white (2 strands as one) cast on 19 stitches.
Knit every row until there are 6 ridges on the right side, end after completing a right side row.
Change to brown yarn & knit every row again until there are 6 ridges on the right side and end as above.
Change to caramel yarn & repeat.
Bind off. Weave in ends

Square #3: White boxes on Brown (note: I've adjusted these directions as they were very incomplete and required a lot of row counting from the picture. This square ended up being MUCH smaller than the others. Watch your size carefully)
In brown (2 strands) cast on 17 stitches.
Stockinette stitch- knit front side, purl back side. Repeat until you have 4 rows total.

Boxes- row 1 & 3: (k2 brown, k3 white) x3,  k2 brown.
            row 2 & 4: (p2 brown, p3 white) x3, p2 brown

Brown stripe: stockinette stitch 3 rows (knit frontside, purl backside)

Repeat boxes and brown stripe as above 2x. Check finished size compared to squares 1 & 2. Add brown row if necessary. Bind off.

Square #4: Caramel Basket
In caramel (2 strands), cast on 18 stitches.
Basket pattern:
     row1-5: k1, (k4,p4) x2, k1
     row 6: knit all
     row 7-11: k1 (p4,k4) x2, k1
     row 12: knit all

Repeat above 1-12.
Bind off.

Square #5: Broken Rib
In white (2 strands) , cast on 17 stitches.
     row 1: (front side) knit all
     row 2: (back side) k2, (p1, k1) x7, k1

Repeat rows 1 & 2 until square measures approximately 4 2/3". End on an even row.
Bind off.

Square #6: Caramel & White Triangles  (had to do some adjustments here as well, since directions called for stockinette but increases ended up making a lumpy lopsided triangle-- here is for garter which is what I actually did AND they never included instructions for the brown center stripe)
In white (2 strands), cast on 1 stitch
Increases:  row 1: knit front and back (you have 2 st. total)
                  row 2: knit front and back (you have 3 st. total)
                  row 3: kfb x1, knit to end
                  repeat row 3 until sides of triangle are about 4 inches.
Change to brown yarn (2 strands) . Repeat row 3 pattern for 4 rows.
Change to caramel yarn (2 strands).
Decreases:  Row 1: knit 2 together, knit to end. 
                    Repeat row 2 until you have 1 stitch left. Cut yarn and pass tail through the last stitch to secure.

Square #7: Quartered tri-color patch
In brown (2 strands), cast on 18 stitches.
Row 1: knit 9  brown, join white (do NOT cut) and k9 white
Row 2: purl 9 white, change to brown & p9 brown.

Repeat rows 1 & 2 until you have approximately 2 1/3" of knitting. Be sure to wrap one color around the other when switching to prevent holes!

Row 3: knit 9 caramel, change to brown & k9
Row 4: purl 9 brown, change to caramel and p9.

Repeat rows 3 & 4 until you have a 4 2/3" square. Bind off. Weave in any cut ends.

Square #8: Pinstripes
In caramel (2 strands), cast on 29 stitches. Knit one row, purl one row.

Pattern: Add in white yarn (2 strands). Using white (k1, slip one stitch)x 14, k1
              Still with white, (p1, slip one stitch) x14, p1
              Change to caramel and k2, sl 1,  (k1, sl 1) x12, k2
              Still with caramel, p2, sl 1, (p1, sl 1) x12, p2

Repeat pattern until square measures almost 4 2/3".
Knit one row in caramel and purl one row in caramel.
Bind off.

Square #9: Diagonal garter rib
In brown (2 strands), cast on 19 stitches.
Row 1 (an all odd rows): knit all
Row 2: p2, (k3, p2)x 3, k2
Row 4: k1, (p2, k3)x 3, p2, k1
Row 6: k2, (p2, k3)x 3, p2
Row 8: (k3, p2)x 3, k3,p1
Row 10: p1, (k3, p2) x 3, k3

Repeat rows 1-10 until square measures 4 2/3". End after any even row.
Bind off.

Assembly: Using a joining stitch (mattress or the like), join all 9 squares as in the picture. Weave in all ends.

Back of Pillow
In brown (2 strands), cast on 50 stitches.
knit one row, purl the next until piece measures 14" or the same as your assembled patchwork squares.

Sew pillow front to back, leaving a 4-6" opening for stuffing. Fill to desired fullness with stuffing or leave one side open and use a pillow form.

Sew closed and add decorative items-- buttons, tassels, etc.


As always, feel free to leave any questions/comments below. I'm certainly no knitting expert yet, but I'll be happy to help if I can!

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