Sunday, January 13, 2013

The life cycle of warm, fuzzy things

Back in June of 2009, I bought some yarn. My friend Stephi custom-dyed it for me in my favorite shade of gray. It was a super-soft laceweight singles merino--a lot like Malabrigo lace, but obviously better because it was made just for me!

Graphite merino lace singles

In July, I started a new sweater project to keep my hands busy during a fascinating symposium on noncommercial film in a small town in Maine. I was experimenting with new construction methods, and particularly fascinated with seamless, top-down, and reversible garments, and with a little bit of tinkering and tinking I came up with something I really liked.

Agatha - FO

Soon thereafter, Knit Picks launched their Independent Designer Program, and asked me to join their initial roster of collaborators. Although first executed in a laceweight yarn, Agatha was a great candidate for adaptation to heavier gauges, and it became my first IDP submission.

 Just being invited to distribute my designs through Knit Picks was a huge deal for me, but seeing the Agatha pattern in the pages of the catalog was really a kick. It was the first time a real model had worn one of my sweaters, and also the first time I'd seen my work in print. Prior to that, I'd published a pattern in Knitty, which was an equally major accomplishment, but this was the first time I had something I could send to my mom for her to brag about to her friends. (She's got an iPad now, and is totes web-savvy, but back then she was all about the paper media.)

A few months later, when I was in Washington state to visit family, I took a day trip down to the Knit Picks offices and met the whole gang down there, including Stacey, the IDP coordinator. I wore the original Agatha to meet them, of course, knowing I'd get props from them as fellow knitters...


That day was especially exciting because it just happened to be the day that Agatha became the first IDP pattern to pass the milestone of 1,000 copies sold! It's still one of their top sellers, I'm happy to say--and remains firmly in the top 3 for my patterns on Ravelry, both for copies sold and total number of projects from all users. Given that Knit Picks reaches a lot of non-Ravelers through their web site and mail-order business, I strongly suspect that more people have made Agatha than any of my other designs.

Over the years, that original Agatha was my go-to sweater on a daily basis. Being reversible was a major factor in that, I'm sure; I could strip it off one day and toss it on the next with a minimum of fuss and bother. Of course, that meant it also saw a LOT of was my favorite thing for pulling together an elegant outfit with a skirt and camisole, and also the perfect all-purpose extra layer on days that were a little too cool for a t-shirt but a little too warm for a fleece or a heavier pullover. This was how I eventually learned that singles yarn, while awfully soft, is also really pill-prone. My Agatha held up manfully, but it was inevitable that age and use would start to tell on the fine yarn I'd knit it with.  About a year and a half ago, Agatha made the transition to "evenings and weekends" status--OK for wearing to the Farmer's Market on a Sunday morning, or throwing on when I changed into jeans after work and before heading out to a casual dinner, but no longer something I'd want to wear to present a paper at a conference or teach a class. As the pills continued to multiply, and the elbows and underarms and center back got increasingly thin and felty, Agatha stayed soft and eminently wearable, so soon she was got further downgraded to my "geez it's chilly in this bedroom!" choice. She went great with my gray flannel pajama pants and my cat-hair-covered black fleece pants, or occasionally with my yoga pants when I biked to the studio on a breezy day for a Restorative class.

I should note that this transition has always been hard for me to make with favorite garments, and that it is an interative and gradual process, not an immediate one. I once had the following conversation with a coworker about my then-favorite black wool cardigan:

ME: Oh, crap, my button's coming off again.

Co-Worker: Yeah, it looks like you have a little hole there, too.

ME: I know. This sweater is totally my favorite, but I guess it's getting kind of ratty. I'm probably going to wear it until someone pulls me aside and tells me to stop.

Co-Worker: .....

ME: I should just stop wearing it now, huh?

Co-Worker: Yup.

So I will admit that I more than likely wore Agatha out in public for much longer than my normally acute shame-o-meter might have allowed. (I really gotta get that thing recalibrated...)

About nine months ago, after nearly three years of cat-hair accrual and continuous, year-round, and enthusiastic wear, after which it was often tossed on the foot of the bed, Agatha made a further step, this time to "cat nesting sweater." Our kitty Totoro has always been irresistibly drawn to anything sweaterlike left anywhere on the surface of the bed. In the time it takes to walk out of the room and come back in, he will be ON that sweater, feet firmly tucked under him in fresh-baked-loaf-of-cat position, showing no inclination to move. Who could fight something that cute? I'd just have to pull a different sweater from the pile on the shelf so he could stay put. And it made me feel better to not be giving Agatha UP for myself, but giving it TO my cats so that they could get the same enjoyment I had.

Last week, Totoro went to the vet for a check-up after having lost a noticeable amount of weight. His blood tests came back with wildly elevated creatinine levels, which along with some additional tests pointed to congenital (and incurable) kidney dysplasia. He spent the next several days in the hospital, getting his itty bitty kitty kidneys flushed with IV fluids and a course of antibiotics, while we waited to see if his numbers would respond to treatment and the crisis would pass. I brought Agatha with me to visiting hours so he'd have something that smelled and felt familiar in the midst of what was probably a very scary and stressful experience. You can just see the IV line leading off his leg at the bottom left of the picture below.

We brought him home again on Tuesday, and he's perking along, as my mom would say. We'll see how he does with periodic injections to keep him hydrated, continuing antibiotics, and some antacids to counteract the effects of his impaired kidney function. Our effort is to keep him relatively comfortable and interested in eating and living normally for as long as possible. Sadly, the damage that this renal crisis did (or just alerted us to) is progressive and irreversible. His kidneys are going to work harder and harder, with less and less effect; he'll get tired, drink and pee a lot, and lose whatever weight we do get back on him. Eventually--and who knows exactly when--we'll have to help Totoro have a peaceful and painless end.

Sweaters wear out, and so do living things. In the long run, it makes no difference how much we love them, nor whether we use them gently or harshly--there will come and end to it. Totoro's warmer and softer than any sweater I've ever knitted, obviously, so I'm expecting it to be much harder to say goodbye to him, and there won't be the same opportunity to move him progressively through everyday, "go-to" use to "evenings and weekends," either. I'm trying hard to accept the fact that he'll have to go straight to "cat nesting" status, and recognize that moment when it comes. After all, he's ALREADY covered in cat hair, which makes it a lot harder to tell...


Alicia Landi said...

Awww! What a touching way to write about your cat. I do hope he hangs in there for a while.

Also, Agatha is very very high on my "to-knit" list once I get over my fear of knitting sweaters, it is absolutely gorgeous.

Steven said...

So sorry to hear about Totoro's problems. I'm glad you (and Agatha) are there to keep him safe and warm.

Anonymous said...

Hi Snowden - Agatha actually brought me to your site! I saw it in the knitpicks catalog and immediately earmarked it as my next sweater (I do about one per year).

I was read to hear about your kitty. I hope your sweater helps him to stay comfortable.

Would it be very difficult for you to modify the design to include a hood? I'd love a hood on this sweater with the lovely lace around the face.

Maybe you could email me on Ravelry at motezuma?

Thanks for contributing to the world of knitting! Those of us who can't comprehend design really appreciate you!

Rosie said...

I fell in love with the Beverly cardigan and I'm really enjoying knitting it up. I love your designs - so happy gthat a lovely sweater pattern drew me to your blog. Now I have to go knit the Agatha.
Good luck with Totoro. Poor kitties - their little kidneys take a beating!