The Adventure of the Warm Puppy: Part One
For an introduction to what goes on in this column, click here.
I must begin this adventure by making introductions.
I would like you, please, to meet my dear companion, Rosamund Adelaide.
When Rosamund arrived, she was only eighteen months old; yet she had already suffered a life, as Lady Bracknell put it in The Importance of Being Earnest, “crowded with incident.”
Born into an “accidental” (read “irresponsible”) litter in downstate Illinois, she was taken from her mother far too soon and sold via Craigslist to an abusive brute.
When the authorities arrived to remove the brute’s wife and child to a safe place, they begged that the dog also be taken away, as he would likely kill her by way of revenge. She was emaciated, so much so that she was nearly dead already.
She was dropped at a shelter where, because of her breed (she is a bluenose pit bull), she was marked for swift euthanasia. In the nick of time, a rescue society claimed her and brought her back to health. A foster home cared for her until the happy day she left all that to be with me. She was re-christened, rather grandiosely, after a fictional duchess and an actual queen. In casual settings, she answers* to Roz.
In spite of all she suffered, she loves everyone–men, women, children, other dogs, even cats. She is polite, endlessly playful, and touchingly affectionate. Her sole aversions are pigeons and rats–a distaste we share.
It has only been three months. I can’t imagine life without her.
Winter Is Coming
She took up residence here in Chicago just as warm weather arrived. Our summer, though hot, is at best fleeting. Winter lasts for about nine months and is famously brutal.
One look at Rosamund’s short, sleek coat and nearly bare tummy told me that she would require a sweater. No. Many sweaters.
You can buy dog sweaters, of course. Quite nice ones, if you are prepared to pay handsomely. But for this tiny girl, I wanted only the very best–and if possible, I wanted to make it with my own hands.
Solid as a Rock
Way back when I first attended a knitting circle, there was a woman in the group whose specialty was knitting rock covers. By which I mean that she enjoyed knitting covers for rocks. She would trawl the lake shore or construction sites or public parks looking for odd-shaped hunks of stone about the size of her first, then knit little stockinette cozies that grew and shrank to snugly enclose each one.
What she did with them after that, I have no idea. Perhaps she hurled them through the windows of journalists who wrote things like, “Knitting–it isn’t just for grandmothers any more.”
I wasn’t tempted to try knitting for rocks myself, but when confronted with the wriggling bundle of compact, muscular curves that is Rosamund, I thought of it. The Rock Knitter had told me a bit about her method–measuring the difference between two points, making simple calculations, and doing some guesswork.
Rosamund, when stubborn, is very much like a rock with bewitchingly soulful eyes. Perhaps the same calculating and guessing could guide me to a sweater that would make both of us happy on a snowy day.
The Measure of the Mutt
Mind you, I’d never knit a dog sweater before. Not from a pattern, not at all. So I set out knowing that this first attempt might go cockeyed. In fact, it probably wouldn’t end in a wearable garment.
But that’s not unusual in made-to-measure, is it? A fine suit or gown requires multiple fittings. A couture design begins with a test garment called a toile–also called a muslin–that’s meant only to serve as a guide for making the real thing.
This first go would be my toile. Once the basic shape was established, I could vary it to my heart’s content.
I needed measurements. Lots of them.
Happily, Rosamund was wonderfully docile–even amused–during our little gavotte with the tape measure. She gave it a nibble, found it didn’t taste good, and decided to indulge me and my odd fancies.
She has all kinds of angles I’d never considered until I started trying to map her topography. I wasn’t sure exactly what I’d need, so I might have gone slightly overboard. Better too much information than too little.
These are the measurements I took, in no particular order:
A. Neck (with collar): 21 inches
B. Collar to end of ribs, measured along chest: 13 inches
C. Chest circumference: 27 inches
D. Waist circumference: 21.5 inches
E. Space between forelegs (across chest): 4 inches
F. Neck (at collar) to shoulder: 5 inches
G. Chest to waist: 10 inches
H. Circumference of leg: 9 inches
I. Outside width of leg: 5.5 inches
I hedged my bets with my choice of yarn.
HiKoo® Simpliworsted is a workhorse–soft, reasonably priced, and resilient; with wool for warmth, nylon for strength, and acrylic to keep its shape. It’s easily washable, too. So if the coat did come out well, it’d withstand the abuse Rosamund would inflict upon it. If it didn’t come out well, I wouldn’t have broken the bank and could try again.
This variegated colorway seemed a good choice, too. I didn’t plan any stylish details in this prototype, but the gentle color changes of the yarn itself would offer interest even in plain stockinette.
And Of Course…
This was more fun than you might expect, because I was using my first addi® Olive Wood circular needle. These needles are absolutely delicious, by the way: strong, smooth, and beautiful, with a nice, sharp tip. Soft in the hand. Isn’t the grain lovely?
I knit up a generous swatch to test the drape and density of the fabric, to decide between 2/2 and 1/1 ribbing, and to check my stitch and row gauge.
Many knitters only pay lip service to swatching for gauge, but for the kind of knitting I intended it was absolutely vital. Without accurate measurements, I’d be lost before I began.
I know it’s common to say, cynically, that swatches lie. I’ve said it myself. But even the most deceitful swatch tells you more then no swatch at all.
After all this, at last we come to calculating the cast on and getting down to knitting.
So much more about that in two weeks.
*Especially if you are holding cheese.
Tools and Materials Appearing in This Issue
Simpliworsted by HiKoo® (55% Merino Superwash, 28% Acrylic, 17% Nylon; 140 yds per 100g skein). Color: 611, Earth and Sky.
addi® Olive Wood circular needles size US 4, 16 inch (40 cm)
Designer, teacher, author and illustrator Franklin Habit is the author of It Itches: A Stash of Knitting Cartoons (Interweave Press, 2008). His newest book, I Dream of Yarn: A Knit and Crochet Coloring Book was brought out by Soho Publishing in May 2016 and is in its second printing.
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, the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, Squam Arts Workshops, the Taos Wool Festival, Sock Summit, and the Madrona Fiber Arts Winter Retreat.
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 Mason-Dixon Knitting, PLY Magazine, Lion Brand Yarns, and Skacel Collection/Makers’ Mercantile. Many of his independently published designs are available via Ravelry.com.
He is the longtime proprietor of The Panopticon, one of the most popular knitting blogs on the Internet (presently on hiatus).
Franklin lives in Chicago, Illinois, cohabiting shamelessly with 15,000 books, a Schacht spinning wheel, four looms, and a colony of yarn that multiplies whenever his back is turned.