Nervously, hopefully, I set out to crochet my oval rug from yarn and clothesline.
The instructions as presented in the vintage booklet were less than straightforward. Oval Rug No. 305 ostensibly begins on page three; but immediately refers you to the instructions for Oval Rug No. 300, which begins on page five. You flip to page five and locate Oval Rug No. 300. There you find the first round (only the first round) and a terse note directing you to page eleven for the rest.
The type is vanishingly tiny–far smaller, even, than many of the nineteenth century needlework books I’ve consulted. Rounds two through nineteen occupy one choked paragraph, crammed cheek-by-jowl like prisoners in the Black Hole of Calcutta.
I was already exhausted and I hadn’t started yet.
In a situation like this I find it useful in the long run to stop and copy out the instructions so I can read them.
Often this has another, added benefit: I begin to understand the nature of what’s to be done, and how, in advance of the actual work. Instead, as I scribbled line after line with the aid of a magnifying glass one thought began reverberate in my head.
Something seemed off. I couldn’t put my finger on it. There were straight sections and increase sections. Clearly the increase sections were the two ends of the oval, the straight sections the flat sides. Fine. But as I copied more and more, I felt increasingly befuddled by the nature and location of the increases. There was no orderly progression from one round to the next.
I reminded myself that I am new to crochet, and that the person who wrote the pattern very likely knew a lot of things I didn’t. Maybe the thickness of the rope had something to do with it?
Just do what it tells you, I thought.
Here are the fundamental skills required to crochet the rug. There are but three.
One. You must know how to single crochet over the clothesline, as described in the last installment.
Two. You must know how to join the current round to the previous round. It’s quite simple.
- Round 1 is built by working first into the left half of the foundation chain, turning the first corner (by increasing, described below), then working into the right half of the foundation chain.
- All stitches in all subsequent rounds are worked under both threads of the stitch below in the previous round. You can see the little hole beneath the threads in this photograph.
Three. You must know how to increase–and that’s nothing more than working multiple stitches into the same hole.
That’s it. How hard can this possibly be?
Let Me Tell You
“How hard can this possibly be?” must have been the motto of the psychotic, cocaine-addled sadist who wrote the pattern for Oval Rug No. 300.
The designer–let’s call him Kenny, because in my childhood I was mercilessly bullied by a drooling oaf named Kenny–sat down, scrawled “Oval Rug No. 300” at the top of the page with his own excrement, and thus began a pattern so awful, so perfectly awful, so mesmerizingly, heartbreakingly awful, that it is the veritable Mona Lisa of the International Museum of Awful Patterns.
Please keep in mind that we are making a basic geometric figure–an oval. The usual fashion for growing a basic geometric figure in crochet or knitting is to increase (or decrease) at regular intervals according to a simple formula.
Kenny doesn’t like that sort of thing. Kenny likes to hold his victims in a perpetual state of hyper-vigilant suspense.
Kenny will allow you one (1) stitch marker, to indicate the beginning the round.
You start with 67 stitches. They multiply rapidly. By the end of round three, you have 186. Do you have 186? You’d better have 186, or your rug won’t work. Kenny suggests that you count all stitches at the end of every round. But stitch counts are provided only at random, so after finishing most rounds you’ll need to do the math yourself to find out how many you should have.
And please concentrate, because if you get distracted while counting you have to go back to stitch one. Maybe you should count every round twice, just to be sure.
Kenny hopes you love to count stitches, because you’ll also need to count your way from increase to increase all the way around. If the increases were distributed regularly, you might place additional stitch markers to indicate where they fall. But no. Kenny prefers to scatter his increases as he scatters the heads of decapitated squirrels in the woods behind his house. He follows a pattern only he can comprehend.
So as you work each round, take care to count every single stitch, absolutely all the time.
It’s 77 stitches to the next increase. Off you go.
One, two, three, four, five…was that the doorbell? Did I have five stitches or six? Better pull back and start again. Haha, no problem. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve…sixty-eight, sixty-nine, seventy, oh I love this part of that song, la la, wait…how many did I do? Shucks. Better count again. One, two, three…
And just for that extra quelque chose, now and again Kenny moves the first stitch of the round backward or forward for no good reason. Whee!
Four Rounds with Kenny
I am new to crochet, but no stranger to complex patterns. I love complexity. I prefer it to simple repetition. Complex patterns keep my brain engaged enough to fend off boredom on long-haul projects.
On the other hand, simple repetition has certain fine qualities. Repetitive fabrics like garter stitch or double crochet are great for knitting in company, or while reading or watching movies. Your fingers are at work, but your mind is free to play.
What Kenny achieved with Oval Rug. No. 305 is the Platonic ideal of a terrible pattern, because it is simultaneously fiendishly complex and mind-numbingly dull.
It is no more than round after round of single crochet, punctuated by increases that are also single crochet. Nothing exciting ever happens, so this should be a rug you can work on while binge-watching a season of The Real Housewives of Schenectady and sipping a Moscow Mule with your coterie of fellow fans.
But the need to count every stitch means you can never, ever take your mind off the work. You cannot watch television. You cannot listen to music. You cannot answer the door, the phone, or the child in need of immediate medical attention. You cannot bring it to knit night or the guild meeting, you cannot keep it in the car to work on at odd moments. You cannot take a sip of tea or a bathroom break in between increases.
Oval Rug No. 305 requires you to retire to a windowless, soundproof vault with only the terrifying void of your own mortality for companionship.
I kept losing my place, and pulling back, and trying again, and losing my place, and trying again. To say progress was slow is a gross understatement. The work itself was painstaking, and opportunities to do it were few–I couldn’t pick it up unless I knew I wouldn’t be disturbed for at least an hour.
This was the result of, no joke, about twenty hours of work.
I was on round four of nineteen rapidly increasing rounds. I can knit a moderately complicated lace shawlette in twenty hours.
Do you call that a “jiffy,” Kenny?
Because I don’t think it is.
I was desperate for novelty. In a moment of madness, I pulled out all that work and started over with a different color of Simpliworsted (665), hoping in a hopeless sort of way that now, with multiple false starts behind me, I could make it work.
Maybe I was suffering from an excess of perfectionism. Maybe I needed to relax about making every round come out just right. So I did relax. I still counted, but not as obsessively. When I was off by one stitch, I threw in a compensating stitch somewhere nearby and moved forward.
Another six hours later, here’s what I got:
A buckled mess. Unacceptable.
I was about ready to quit and admit defeat, but then
Oh, gosh. Look at the time. Gotta go. See you in two weeks.
Tools and Materials Appearing in This Issue
AddiColours Crochet Hook (from set of nine color-coded, comfort grip hooks), size 3.5 mm.
Wellington Light Load Economy Clothesline: Nylon core, braided cotton exterior; 42 yards.
About Franklin Habit
Designer, teacher, author and illustrator Franklin Habit is the author of It Itches: A Stash of Knitting Cartoons (Interweave Press, 2008) and proprietor of The Panopticon (the-panopticon.blogspot.com), one of the most popular knitting blogs on the Internet. On an average day, upwards of 2,500 readers worldwide drop in for a mix of essays, cartoons, and the continuing adventures of Dolores the Sheep.
Franklin’s varied experience in the fiber world includes contributions of writing and design to Vogue Knitting, Yarn Market News, Interweave Knits, Interweave Crochet, PieceWork, Twist Collective; and a regular columns and cartoons for Knitty.com, PLY Magazine, Lion Brand Yarns, and Skacel Collection. Many of his independently published designs are available via Ravelry.com.
He travels constantly to teach knitters at shops and guilds across the country and internationally; and has been a popular member of the faculties of such festivals as Vogue Knitting Live!, STITCHES Events, Squam Arts Workshops, Sock Summit, and the Madrona Fiber Arts Winter Retreat.
Franklin lives in Chicago, Illinois, cohabiting shamelessly with 15,000 books, a Schacht spinning wheel, two looms, and a colony of yarn that multiplies whenever his back is turned.