Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Owl wisdom

Remember this from my last post?

(I mean the owl. Not the tie...nor the book...nor the kitchen table. :)

This is the "Errol" pattern by Andi Smith, from Alison Hansel's book "Charmed Knits: projects for fans of Harry Potter". And I want to talk about this pattern extensively in this post, in the hopes that I might save even one person from the hell I went through trying to sew that damn owl up. The finishing instructions given in the pattern (and the errata...and the additional errata) are not, shall we say, the most helpful in the world. (They led to me almost weeping at midnight on Saturday as I was frantically trying to finish the owl in time for the party the next day. I tried to find someone on Ravelry who'd already done the pattern and experienced problems, but came up empty - which of course only increased my despair and the feeling that the problem was simply that I was really, really stupid.) This was a nasty surprise, as the pattern up until that point had been perfectly comprehensible.

The pattern is made up of a number of pieces: head, body, talon #1, talon #2, wing #1, wing #2, and base. The base was the root cause of my problems in finishing this thing. Where and how the base is supposed to be attached on the owl are never made clear in the instructions, and there are no visuals given to help you out. So if you are making this project, the thing you need to know first and foremost is that the base is supposed to go on the INSIDE of the owl. It's actually not seen at all from the outside, so heck, if you're running low on your yarn for the project, be assured that you can use a different colour for the base piece, and nothing awful will happen.

Secondly, you need to know that the body piece is knitted top-down. Yes, the pattern as given in the book clearly says that it is knitted bottom up - this is INCORRECT. This mistake is acknowledged in the second set of errata for the pattern, but that second set of errata is located on the pattern page on Ravelry, so if you don't have a Ravelry account, you would never see that crucial information. At any rate, the cast-on edge of the body is actually the TOP, where the head gets attached; and the bind-off edge of the body is actually the BOTTOM, where you attach the talons and the base.

Thirdly, there's no mention in either the pattern or the errata as to when and where to sew in the talons, or close up the bottom of the body, or when in all of this process you're supposed to attach the base.

Fourthly, the pattern tells you to do mattress stitch to sew up the back of the head and body when the head and body are inside-out. This makes no sense - you should be doing the mattress stitch when the pieces are right side out.

Fifthly, the pattern instructions tell you to sew on the beak and eyes after stuffing the head. They also tell you to attach the wings after you've joined the head and body together. These two instructions seemed to me a very backwards way of doing things.


Here is the everything I did to finish the owl, in order.

  1. Starting from the bind-off edge, with the right side of the work facing out, sew the back seam of the body, using mattress stitch, until you are about 2"/5cm from the top. (But don't cut the yarn yet, because you will be continuing the seam later on.)

  2. Turn the body inside-out.

  3. Sew talon #1 to the body. This is done by lining up the cast-on edge of the talon (i.e. the top of the leg) with the bind-off edge of the body. And when you do this, the talon has to be placed INSIDE the body (i.e. the right side of the body is facing the talon, since the body is inside-out at this point) and the talon has to be pointing UP towards the top of the body. Like this: (talon outline is done in dotted lines because it is inside the body)


    Sew the cast-on edge of the talon together with the bind-off edge of the body. Note that this seam will simultaneously attach the talon to the body AND sew shut that section of the bottom of the body.

  4. Sew talon #2 to the body just like you did with talon #1, except of course on the opposite side of the body bottom opening.

  5. The bottom of the body is now still gaping open in between the two talons. Sew this gap closed.

  6. Now you will attach the base. Remember that the body is still inside-out at this point. To start with, the base needs to be folded over so that its cast-on edge and bind-off edge meet. (The pattern tells you to fold it with the right sides together, but since the base is never seen, that detail doesn't really matter.) Like this: (dashed line is where you fold)


  7. Now you need to place the base and body together properly. This is going to be rather tricky to describe, but I'll do my best. You open the folded base a little bit, enough so that you can position the body a little bit inside it. Like this (the bottom bit of the body is done in dotted lines because it is underneath one layer of the base):


    Here's a side view, to make things clearer:


    You can see that the edges of the base are overlapping the bottom edge of the body by a little bit. The cast-on edge will overlap the bottom edge of the body on one side (let's say the front of the owl), and the bind-off edge will overlap the bottom edge of the body on the other side (let's say the back of the owl). Sew the base into this position.

  8. Turn the body right-side out. You will now see the talons poking out of the bottom of the body as they are supposed to do (there will be an eerie similarity to the characters in Chicken Run at this point); the bottom of the body is closed up; and the base is attached to the bottom of the body on the inside. The whole purpose of the base is to provide more structural support so that the owl will stay up when you make it "sit".

  9. Stuff the body from the opening at the top.

  10. Still using mattress stitch, sew up the rest of the back seam of the body.

  11. Attach wing #1 to one side of the body by sewing the cast-on edge of the wing to the appropriate section of the cast-on (top) edge of the body.

  12. Attach wing #2 to the other side of the body, in the same way as you attached wing #1 (cast-on edge to cast-on edge).

  13. Sew the beak and eyes to the appropriate spots on the front of the head.

  14. Ensure that the yarn running through the stitches at the top of the head is securely woven in so that the top of the head stays closed.

  15. With the right side of the work facing out, sew up the back seam of the head using mattress stitch.

  16. Stuff the head from the opening at the bottom.

  17. Graft the head to the body/wings structure.

  18. Weave in any ends that are still showing.



P.S. to Peyton from the comments - glad you liked the ensemble! Don't worry about being shy. :) I'm happy to help you out with the sock knitting question, but I don't have a hard-and-fast answer for you because it depends on what kind of sock you're doing and where in the sock construction you are. For example, if you're doing a toe-up sock, and the instructions say "start working the heel when the foot length is three inches short of how long you want it to be", then in that case, "foot length" refers to how long the sock foot is before you turn the heel. Similarly, if you're doing a top-down sock, or a heel-out sock, and the instructions say "start decreasing for the toe when the foot length is two inches short of how long you want it to be", then in that case, "foot length" does include the heel, but it doesn't include the toe. However, if the context is that you're talking about the whole foot once everything (toe, foot body, heel) is complete, then "foot length" would mean all of the foot. Does that make sense? Have I completely misunderstood you? Ask more questions if you got 'em!


Peyton said...

Yes, it does help! ^^ Many thanks! Perhaps now I will be able to finish a pair of socks.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, this does clarify the base attachment. However, sewing the eyes on in the method originally described enables them to appear more set back, giving it a more realistic look. You can also use a modification of that to make articulated arms and legs on stuffed pieces.