My grandfather liked to go to the track. He also liked to wear a hat. You always knew if he was losing if he came home, and tossed the hat on the floor, never to touch it again. The hat was bad luck, bad news. It was a weight on his head, and it had to be lifted. And it therefore, was cast out. Sometimes, it sat there for days, a grim reminder, before my grandmother picked it up and tossed it.
I tossed aside my Starmore on May 19, 2008 – and I know that, because today, when I dug my unfinished vest out of its hiding place in my basement, and uncrumpled the very crumpled chart, I had written, “May 19 – Row 2 – wrong color.” Wrong color – and the wrong stitch count, if I remember correctly. And at that time, at that moment, I put the Starmore down. Oh, it sat around in plain sight for days, weeks, before I bagged it up and put it in the basement, where it wasn’t laughing at me, taunting me. Was it bad luck, bad news, like my grandfather’s hat? I think, after all of the work that went into just getting it on the needles – securing the pattern, substituting the colors, casting on, ripping, casting on again – and then the maniacal, obsessive knitting that followed, I think it had the potential to be crippling, and ultimately, just may have broken me. Maybe I saw the end of my knitting days on the horizon if I had continued on at that point, maybe I was just lazy (and maybe this is complete bullshit, and I just got bored with it and wanted to knit something else – the thing I most vividly remember, is just being exhausted by it, and the thought of taking out a row was unbearable), but whatever the reason, I am now convinced that putting down the Starmore was a necessity, and the insanity free knitting that followed was just the therapy I needed to maybe, one day, pick it back up again.
So, here is that state of my Mount Starmore – all of those balls of yarn with no ball bands. Oh, I wrote down my color substitutions – its on my well marked up chart – but that doesn’t mean that I remember what color name is what actual skein of yarn. Some of these colors are really not that intuitive. For instance, while I haven’t begun to decipher my notes, I know for certain that the cherry bing Rowan that’s in the pile will not have a name that has anything to do with cherries, or reds, or anything remotely resembling it’s color. But, with a little patience, I’m sure I’ll figure it out.
So, how do you avoid Starmortis – when your Starmore turns to rigor? Prevention is the best medicine. So, if you are inclined to climb your on Mount Starmore, these are my suggestions:
1. If you are really really concerned about knitting, completing and wearing an authentic Starmore – order one of her kits from Virtual Yarns. Do not poo poo the price – by the time you’ve tracked down a vintage pattern on ebay, purchased yarn, needles, etc., it’s going to be the same thing, if not less. And the kits are fantastic – here is the one I ordered:
This is Roscalie – a vest, which to my sensibilities, seems modern, and extremely wearable. Of course, you may wonder why I would buy a kit when I have perfectly acceptable Starmore on needles – and the reason, really, is that I was so obsessed with what I was knitting at the time, I felt like all I ever wanted to knit was Starmores, and for my next trick, I was going to knit a real Starmore with her yarn. And then, pfft – Starmortis sank in.
Which is a shame – because the pattern that accompanied the yarn is clearly written and charted, and eminently knittable. The yarn is fabulous. I’ve never held Scottish Campion in my hands, and I can’t compare the two, but I can compare her current Hebridean 2 ply with Jamieson, the go to yarn of substitution, and I can tell you, there’s really no comparison. The Hebridean rocks.
I think you can see the Starmore magic in this picture – the colors are not copyable.
Are there limits to what you can knit on the website – of course, most of the Tudor Roses are not kitted up, with the exception of Henry VIII. But, really, that’s ok – there is so much to choose from.
And another thing about the website – from reading about people’s finished projects on Ravelry, it is clear to me that along with ordering the patterns, comes support. Virtual Yarns is completely customer friendly – and having that support when you’re knitting one of these things is really important. I noticed on several people’s projects they said things like, “I liked this sweater, but I liked the color in such and such better – and I called them, and they made me my own kit.” You can’t beat that.
You get what you pay for. I think the prices on Virtual Yarns are reasonable, all things considered. A Starmore is an investment. Invest wisely, and buy the real deal.
2. Pick something you are going to wear. Not everyone can wear a drop shoulder. If you are going to knit a small, and the sweater is not going to resemble a tent, you may be able to get away with the drop, but otherwise – its a matter of taste – and if it is not to your taste to wear a drop shoulder, then do not knit a pullover or a cardigan; knit a vest, or one of her wraps, or perhaps a scarf. They are beautiful, and difficult, and if you may actually wear them, satisfying.
And while we’re on the topic of wearability, really do some soul searching – do you want to knit a Starmore or do you want to just knit a crazy Fair Isle sweater? If you’re just intrigued by Fair Isle, and not by a color story, a theme, her attempt to evoke an image (for instance – my Thoroughbreds – when I changed the colors, I no longer see a chestnut mare. Any feel of a champion horse is gone – the mahagony undertones are gone, replaced by pinks and purples – and this difference is huge), then maybe you should knit someone else – like a Eunny Jang or any number of modern Fair Isles, with really beautiful patterns, but with waist shaping and either a set in or raglan sleeve. These are just things to keep in mind when you’re deciding whether to really really make the commitment.
3. If you are going to ignore the above, and fill the void in your knitting life with an out-of-print pattern, just accept the reality that it is not going to look like the picture when you are done. You can pull any numbe
r of color substitution charts off the web, but the bottom line is that it’s going to be off. My vest, Thoroughbreds, was originally knit in J & S – which you can still get. But, my lys carries Jamieson Spindrift, and I decided that I was ok with that. My Starmore looks nothing like Thoroughbreds, the pattern I found in an old Vogue Knitting. And, truthfully, I like mine, but I like the original better. But, I did the best that I could with what I had. And, you can be happy with that – it’ll be a fine, beautiful sweater that if it fits, you will love. It will be your sweater. And, also accept the fact that it’s probably going to be more expensive than going the easy route of buying one of her kits. Buying the out-of-print Tudor Roses will cost you more than $200 easy. You could do what I did – that is to find out what issues of what magazines published what patterns, and look for those on ebay. I got lucky – whoever was selling my issue didn’t know it’s true value, and I think I paid $12 or something like that. I kind of felt like I had stolen it. But, a Vogue Magazine with a Starmore pattern in it will run you potentially over $40 – there are 2 listings now on ebay for the Vogue Knitting containing Thoroughbreds, and they both start at $49.95. So before you even buy the yarn, you may have spent what it would cost to simply buy one of the above kits.
But, who knows – don’t write off your normal resources – someone in your knitting circle might own a copy of what you are looking for, your local library or one of it’s affiliate branches might as well. Putting together a Starmore from scratch can be a lot of fun, but it’s also a pain in the ass – and you may be sick of it before you even cast on your first stitch. And, the pickier you are, the more obsessed with replicating the original can signal the future onset of Starmortis.
The bottomline – do whatever is going to make you happy. If happiness is a warm snuggly Hebridean 2 ply sweater, go with Virtual Yarns, and climb Pocono Mountain. If happiness is the struggle, go for the uphill battle, and climb Mount Hood. Just keep in mind what a time commitment knitting this thing is going to be – and decide where you want to put your time – in the gathering, or in the knitting? And, considering the commitment, and the exclusivity of this project (because if you put it down – Starmortis!), make sure you make something you potentially could wear. Or else you will wrap it in plastic, put it in your bottom drawer, and every time you open that drawer, you will look at it wistfully, and you will have had a process, but that’s about it.