Category Archives: fearless knitting

When row gauge matters

So, you know what’s really fun to talk about? Gauge. Gauge, gaugegauge. Super awesome, right? Well, okay, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it is the opposite of fun, let’s be honest, but it’s the reference point that defines so much of what we do in knitting. There are knitters who always get gauge, knitters who never get gauge, and knitters who never even bother to swatch. There are knitters who will swatch several times until they get gauge, and there are knitters who will swatch only once and proceed to modify the pattern completely around the gauge they have achieved with that swatch. It’s all good. The goal is to get a finished knitted item that pleases you and fits you, and if you’re doing that, then you’re doing gauge right.

June4-StitchGauge

We’ve talked about swatches before around here. Swatches can be really useful pieces of knitting, especially once you get into knitting larger or fitted garments. Work them up as large as you can stand, because the larger a piece of fabric is, the more likely it is to mimic the way a full garment will behave. When you lay out your gauge swatch with your ruler or measuring tape to count stitches per inch (often we count over 4 inches, and then divide), you’re searching for that all important stitch gauge measurement. We put a lot of stock into stitch gauge (horizontal gauge – stitches per inch) because it’s what has the most impact on a garment’s width or circumference, and this really affects the fit.

(For example, if we are aiming for a stitch gauge of 5 sts/inch in stockinette stitch, and the intended bust circumference of the sweater is 40 ins, then we would expect a stockinette pullover would have about 200 sts. If, however, we’re getting a stitch gauge of 4.5 sts/inch and we knit that 40 ins size, it is in fact going to turn out to be closer to 44.5 ins around at the bust. Oh what a difference half a stitch per inch makes.)

June4-Swatch

A lot of the time, once we’ve achieved a stitch gauge that works for the pattern, we can easily stop there and not bother as closely with row gauge (vertical gauge – number of knitted rows per inch). This is because a lot of patterns (though not all) will give length indications in inches/cm rather than in rows, and in that case you can often skip the business of needing to count rows. Examples: if you are knitting a scarf and just need to knit until it is as long a scarf as you want, or if you are knitting a sweater from the bottom up with no waist shaping and can knit until X inches before the armholes or until desired length from armholes. In these cases you can pay less attention to row gauge because the more important thing is to decide the real physical length you want in inches/cm. (Also, I’ve not taken an empirical study of this, but I’m pretty sure matching row gauge is about eleventy million times harder than matching stitch gauge. I would bet money on this.)

However, there are some instances when row gauge does matter. Here are a few of them, regarding sweater knitting.

Sweater 1

1. When you’re knitting a raglan yoke sweater.

Raglan yoke sweaters (or, similarly, circular yoke sweaters)  require you to shape the top of the body and the top of the sleeves to the same height, either in one piece seamlessly or in pieces which are later seamed. The raglan yoke pieces then determine the total height from neckline to under-arm when worn, and thus also determine how the sweater is going to fit you around the shoulders.

Let’s say, then, that the raglan yoke decreases (if working from the bottom up) happen over a total of 56 rows (something that you can usually figure out if you count up how many decrease rows are involved in the yoke shaping), and that the pattern assumes a row gauge of 8 rows/inch. This means the total vertical depth of the raglan yoke will end up being 7 ins (56 rows divided by 8 rows/inch). Let us say, however, that your personal row gauge (that you know from your swatch) is actually 7 rows/inch. This means that your actual raglan yoke will end up being 8 ins high – a full inch difference.

Whether or not this is a good or bad result is up to you to decide, relative to how well you think those raglan depths will fit you. If you want your yoke to end up with the intended depth, then you’ll have to adjust your shaping decreases (if working bottom-up) or increases (if working top down) to be a little more frequent to compensate.

2. When you’re knitting a sweater with waist shaping.

3. When you’re working increases (from the cuff up) or decreases (from the top down) to shape sleeves.

Similar to the concern with raglan yoke depth, above, if you’re working a sweater with waist shaping, the amount of vertical space taken up by the series of increases and decreases at the top of the hip and just below the bust will be different if your row gauge is different. You can compensate for this, again, if you know in advance if your row gauge is slightly looser or tighter than indicated in pattern, and either alter the frequency of shaping decreases and increases, or place them slightly differently.

The same goes for sleeves, when you want to make sure the sleeve shaping still leaves a comfortable few inches of even length at the wide part of your upper arm. If your row gauge were significantly looser, then your from-the-cuff-up sleeve increases would stop much higher than intended, and if you were working sleeves from the top down, your sleeves might end up too long by the time you get to the end of the shaping.

 

Sweater 2

4. When you’re knitting a sleeve cap intended for a set-in sleeve.

Sleeve caps shaping is calculated so that the height and curve of the sleeve cap will fit correctly inside the shaped curve of the armhole where the sleeve will be ‘set in’ when attached to the body of the sweater. If your row gauge is different, then the height of your sleeve cap will also be different, either slightly too tall or too loose. This isn’t quite the emergency that a difference in raglan yoke depth might create, but it’s still good to be aware of in case you are finding your finished sleeve caps just don’t quite sit right.

5. When the pattern gives you instructions in terms of’number of rows’ or number of pattern repeats, instead of in length indicators like inches or centimeters.

A lot of contemporary patterns will give you length indicators to help you out – i.e. they’ll tell you the length from hem to waist, from hem to armhole, from armhole to shoulder, and so on. This makes it really helpful if you need to modify for length (to make parts of the sweater shorter or longer), because you can make those adjustments on each part of the pattern, safely comparing your own desired lengths with the ones in the written pattern.

However, you might encounter patterns that give these indications more obliquely by telling you to work a specific number of pattern repeats, or a specific number of actual rows. When they do this, they are assuming that you are working with pattern gauge, and that you will end up with the same finished size as intended in the written pattern. If your row gauge is different, it’s up to you to decide whether that difference will result in a better or worse sweater fit. For example, I tend to modify to add more length since I’m a bit taller size than most patterns are written for. So, if I have looser row gauge then I might be able to work the pattern as written and end up with the final size that I want anyway – it’s all a matter of knowing what you want and whether this is different than the result you will get by knitting the pattern exactly as written.

In other words, gauge is pretty great to pay attention to – you might be getting along just fine with gauge so far, but in case you haven’t been the best of friends, paying row gauge could help you out!

And in other news, this week I’m off to sunny (or perhaps foggy?) San Francisco for some getaway time, and I’m bringing knitting with me and look forward to some chilling out time, knitting time, drinking wine time. I’ll be sure to report back with some San Francisco photos next post!

Have a great Wednesday!

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On the Subject of Sweaters Part 2: Style, Construction, and Fit

This post is Part 2 in a series of weekly posts I’ll be doing on the process of sweater knitting: not exactly the nitty gritty details and techniques, but the opportunities and decisions you may encounter on the way to getting a knitted sweater that works for you.

Construction
Because this is the 21st Century, and because knitting has been going on for a while now and knitters are human beings, there is a great variety of sweater styles out there to choose from. A lot of knitters have a distinctive preference for certain kinds of sweater patterns – top-down seamless, for example, or cardigans instead of pullovers – and they will choose sweater patterns based on that preference. If you are a knitter who is relatively new to sweater knitting, this can feel a bit disorienting, as though you must suddenly declare your position on these things right away or be lost forever. (Spoiler alert: you don’t have to do this). In particular one of the biggest discussions amongst knitters (well, sometimes it’s more of a debate) is whether to work in the round or “seamless”, or to work flat or “in pieces.” I have done both and enjoy both, and you can rest assured that there is no “right” way to do this – but there are certainly advantages and disadvantages to both.

Sweaters constructed in pieces are usually ones with either set-in sleeves, raglan sleeves, drop-shoulder sleeves, or modified drop-shoulders, and may be either pullovers or cardigans. A sweater constructed in pieces (flat) allows you two distinct advantages: Portability, and structure. If you are the sort of person who carries knitting with you wherever you go, you may find it easier to work a sweater in pieces because you only ever need to carry a small amount of the project with you at any given time and it will fit easily in your handbag. (If you’re concerned about portability, you might also want to consider if the pattern calls for charts that need to be consulted in detail, whether you are comfortable working all of the necessary techniques while on the go, etc). I will often work on a sweater like this and keep the sleeves for portable knitting and the body for working at home. The structural advantage here is that the seams offer stability. This can be particularly helpful if you are working with a yarn that is itself less stable (blends with alpaca, or cotton, for example, will drape more heavily than wool and retain their shapes less easily), but also contributes to shape and “stay-put-ness” of the sweater while you’re wearing it. (The Gwendolyn cardigan, below, is worked in pieces with set-in sleeves and shaped sleeve caps. )

Aug30-Gwendolyn1

The disadvantages of working a sweater in pieces largely revolve around the fact that your finishing time is longer due to the fact that you will need to sew up those wonderfully structured seams. (Though it is worth pointing out that a lot of people like sewing up seams and take a lot of pleasure in doing this part well – your mileage may vary). Even though it feels like finishing the knitting part should mean that you’re “done,” you can’t actually wear a set of disassembled sweater pieces and call it a sweater. (Though many of us trying to rush-finish a sweater to wear to Rhinebeck have contemplated this many, many times). For me I usually have to mentally add on an extra day to do the finishing. You are also more likely to be working from the bottom up rather than the top down, which is a disadvantage if you prefer going from the top down to be able to measure fit as you go.

Sweater styles constructed seamlessly are likely to include bottom-up or top-down construction, raglan sleeve, some set-in sleeve (with picked-up sts and short row sleeve cap shaping), and circular yoked sweaters, and may be also used for pullovers or cardigans. These kinds of sweaters have seen a resurgence in the last decade or so, for knitters who like to be able to avoid seams. This is one of the main advantages of working seamlessly. This kind of style also lends itself very easily to top-down construction, which has also been recently popular for knitters who like to be able to judge fit and length as you work, because a seamless top-down sweater can easily be “tried on” by slipping it off the needle and onto some waste yarn or multiple circular needles, and this makes it easier to judge the length and modify accordingly (for example, sleeve length can be easily extended or shortened simply by ceasing knitting at the desired point). You will also have a clearer sense right away if you are going to run out of yarn or not, as you will be able to see the full progress of the entire garment all at the same time. (The Hourglass pullover, below, and yoked cardigan from instructions by Elizabeth Zimmerman, are both seamless sweaters worked from the bottom up).

Disadvantages of sweaters constructed seamlessly include the lack of structure provided by seams (which means you are best limited to yarn choices that include some structure and elasticity themselves, such as wool or wool blends, and plied yarn), and the fact that the project becomes more physically cumbersome the closer you get to finishing it. You need to mentally reckon with yourself that you will at some point have almost an entire sweater in your lap while you are still knitting with it, and this puts more weight onto your hands and wrists. If you are familiar with knitting blankets or afghans, consider the differences between knitting squares that are later pieced together, versus a blanket knitted all in one piece, and you will discover some similarities between knitting sweaters seamlessly vs. in pieces.

Aug30-YokedCardi1

In general, take a moment to look at how the sweater is constructed and how this fits into your own knitting preferences, along with considerations like whether the style pleases you and seems like something you would feel comfortable in. Always remember that you get to choose what you knit – breathe easy knowing that you can be in control of deciding what you like and don’t like.

Ease, Size and Fit
Construction method is important to think about when choosing a sweater pattern, because this can also sometimes lend itself to a particular garment style. For example, a drop-shoulder pullover constructed in pieces is probably going to have a fairly boxy fit, so as long as you choose a size that will fit you loosely, you can wear it comfortably. A lot of classic sweater patterns work like this, such as traditional Aran pullovers with lots of cables. These sweaters are meant to be warm and comfortable, more so than fitted and modern. Similarly, a circular yoked pullover is not ideal for a very fitted look, but is a classic when worn a little bit loosely. On the other hand, if you are making a set-in sleeve or raglan-sleeve sweater with waist shaping, you could more easily aim for a fitted style. A lot of contemporary patterns follow the fitted look, and these styles are becoming very diverse.

When considering fit and style, this is also the moment when you want to think about ease. Positive ease means the garment is larger than your body, zero ease means the garment is the about same size as your body, for a close fit, and negative ease means the garment measures smaller than your body, for a very fitted look. My Water St. cardigan (Ravelry link) is intended for positive ease, since it is relatively light and drapey, whereas my Royale pullover is more suitable for zero ease or negative ease, since it is a fitted pullover shape and because a close fit displays the Bavarian cables very nicely. Knitted fabric does have some stretch to it, so the potential for comfortable negative-ease garments exists in the knitting world. The kind of ease you want will depend on the garment style and your own personal preferences. Often, the pattern instructions will indicate what is intended with the original sample or what kind of ease is being shown in the photographs, but just as often you may need to judge this for yourself.

In terms of fit, one of the first pieces of information you will likely be looking for in any knitting pattern you are considering knitting is the range of sizes offered, and what size is closest to your own fit. This is a good place to start in deciding whether the pattern is for you – for example, if you are on the very-small or very-large end of the size range, you are more likely to encounter challenges in finding patterns that fit you, so if you’re new to sweaters it might help your comfort zone to choose a pattern that doesn’t require a lot of size modification (if you can help it). Having said that, though, size ranges do tend to be more expansive than they used to be (in the sense that they don’t always stop at a 42-inch bust, unlike many patterns of decades past), especially since the number of pattern sources out there is growing every year and more designers are aware of this issue.

Aug30-Hourglass1

In order to understand what size you want, you must consider the kind of garment ease you want (positive ease/loose fit, negative ease/snug fit), but also your own body size. This means that if you are going to follow pattern instructions based on a specific pattern size, you must, absolutely, 100%, no getting around it, measure yourself. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. Get a fellow knitter friend over to your place and help each other out with this if you must, but absolutely know what size your own body is and how you want your knitted sweater to be related to that measurement. This will allow you to choose the pattern size that is right for you AND perform modifications to the pattern if necessary.

There are a lot of measurements that are useful to take (and I’ll point out some resources for this, below), but the two most important ones off the top are: your bust circumference (measurement #1 shown here), and the width across your back between the ideal placement of the shoulder seams – also referred to as the cross-back measurement (measurement #4 shown at same link as previous). The bust circumference relates to how the sweater will fit around your body, and the cross-back measurement relates to how well the sweater will hang from your shoulders while it is worn. (Consider your shoulders to be the “coat hanger” in this scenario – and imagine what happens to sweaters in your closet if they are hung from a coat hanger that is too small or too large for the sweater that is hung on it. Pretty significant, no?) There ARE other measurements that come into play here, particularly if you are large-busted and want to add shaping with short-rows or vertical darts, but these two are important to start with no matter what your body size or shape is.

Related to measuring yourself, I cannot stress these two facts hard enough:

1. Your bust circumference is not necessarily the same size as the number on your bra band. This is partly because bra size isn’t just about band size but is also about cup size – just ask two women with 38AA and 38D bra sizes to compare measurements – and also because, well, a lot of us are just plain wearing the wrong bra size. Do yourself a favour and get the measuring tape out every so often. Remember, when working with knitting patterns we want to work from our own body size and shape, not from commercially established numbers. (If you want to go full throttle, you could also go ahead and get yourself an appointment for a bra fitting, but I digress.)

2. Your pattern size is not necessarily the same as your dress size or off-the-rack clothing size. This might seem like an obvious statement, but is worth pointing out nonetheless. When different sizes are indicated in the opening notes of a pattern, you may see a sizing note that looks something like: S(M, L, XL, 2XL, 3XL), and so on. Some patterns may even use dress size numbers like 6(8, 10, 12, 14), etc, but this is fortunately less likely to be the case in recent years. In any case: keep reading. Do not assume that because you buy Size L when purchasing clothing off the rack from your usual retail outlets that you are likely to need the Size L pattern size. These kinds of pattern references are most often used to track the pattern grading so that you the pattern instructions can later refer to notes like “when making sizes XL-3XL, proceed as follows”, or similar. To determine your own size, look closely in the pattern notes for a note like: S(M, L, XL, 2XL, 3XL), “to fit bust size 34(38, 42, 44, 48) ins”, or “garment bust size 36(40, 44, 46, 50), and so on. Armed with your own bust measurement notes and your desired amount of ease, you will be able to choose your pattern size accordingly.

Yarn and What it Means

In the next installment of this blog series, I’ll talk a bit about yarn, yarn subsitution, and (gasp) the dratted gauge measurement. Choosing pattern size is an important step, but putting it together with yarn selection is what makes the completed sweater come together.

Resources

Here are some great resources if you would like to explore further the themes in this post, both in print (always check with your Local Yarn Shop if you can!) and on the web:

Knitting Around, by Elizabeth Zimmerman, for a ‘first principles’ style discussion of patterns along with entertaining stories from her life and her knitting.

Knitting from the Top Down, by Barbara Walker; one of the earliest guides to knitting from the top down, and a great resource for all kinds of garments worked in the round seamlessly.

The Knitter’s Handy Book of Sweater Patterns, by Ann Budd; a comprehensive guide to customizing your own sweater, choosing from many different construction styles

Circular Knitting Workshop, by Maggie Righetti; an expansive manual for knitting skills related to knitting in the round, from cast-on to cast-off

Knitting Plus: Mastering Fit + Plus Size Style, by Lisa Shroyer; a guide for fit and pattern customization especially for women in the ‘plus’ size range

Big Girl Knits, by Jillian Moreno and Amy Singer; one of the earliest plus-size specific knitting books for women, including discussion of measurement, style, and fit.

Little Red in the City, by Ysolda Teague; Contains an expansive section on garment fit and measurement, including different methods of bust-dart construction and detailed measurements.

SweaterWise: Knitting a Sweater That Finally Fits You (Ravelry Links); This is an online resource by Sandi Wiseheart with a comprehensive worksheet and discussion of the kinds of measurements that can help you in achieving a sweater that fits you well.

Fit to Flatter, by Amy Herzog; This is a blog post series with discussion not just of measurement and fit but of how different sweater styles might be customized for different body shapes.

Happy knitting until next time!

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On the Subject of Sweaters Part 1: Choosing a Pattern

This post is Part 1 in a series of weekly posts I’ll be doing on the process of sweater knitting: not exactly the nitty gritty details and techniques, but the opportunities and decisions you may encounter on the way to getting a knitted sweater that works for you.

The Challenge of Choice
In my mind, there is only one real “rule” of sweater knitting, and here it is: You can knit whatever sweater you want. There are no “musts” in knitting. There are big advantages to knitting your own sweater – getting it to fit your body, for one. Sleeves can be as long or short as you want, you can control stitch counts and gauge to make the pattern smaller or larger if necessary, and your colour selection is limited only to the yarn colours available to you in your yarn shop or online retailers; Which is to say you can basically knit whatever sweater you want in whatever colour you want, whenever you damned well feel like it.

Knit a big classic Aran fisherman’s pullover. Knit a wispy drapey unstructured thing that looks like it belongs on a modern runway. Knit something from the magazine that just arrived in the yarn shop because you liked how it looked on the cover. Knit the sweater you just saw online this morning. Knit a sweater from a vintage book that you inherited from a friend’s great-aunt’s yarn stash even though you have to sift through modification after modification to get right. Knit the sweater all your friends are knitting. Knit a sweater none of your friends have even heard of. Part of the fun of knitting is getting to make these kinds of selfish choices when we knit things for ourselves. So really, the only thing you must do, is knit whatever the heck you want. For many of us, choosing a sweater pattern is easy because it’s an “I know it when I see it” sort of thing – one day you turn the page of a magazine or come across a website and gasp out loud a little bit and think “oh my goodness I need to make that.”

Aug23-Sweaters1

Still, a lot of us struggle over the pattern selection part because our brain often stops us from viewing a particular pattern as something that is desirable for us. For example, the colours yellow and orange are the least common colours in my closet (though I’m working on liking orange more, really I swear), and I also very rarely wear pale colours like pastels. So if a pattern sample is knitted up in yarn in one of these colours, I’m less likely to glance at it first when I’m flipping through the magazine. It’s absolutely nonsensical and something that any logical person wouldn’t let get in their way, but I guarantee you it happens to the best of us. It’s a rare day when someone at a knitting circle or on a podcast will be flipping through a magazine or reviewing a new knitting book without dropping a comment like, “well it could be a really neat sweater, but I don’t knit with red. It might work for me if I made it in blue instead.” Knitters are visual people.

There are a lot of other mental starting points you can train yourself to work from when you’re considering a sweater, aside from the colour (though colour choice does certainly matter in the final yarn selection, something we’ll look at in a later post). Not the least of these are: the sweater’s structure and construction technique, the sweater’s style, the fiber content of the yarn, the availability of the pattern, what kind of yarns you are best able to access or afford, and your own personal style.

Aug23-Sweaters3

Handknits and Your Wardrobe
A good general place to start is to go to your own closet and pull out the sweaters – be they commercially made or hand knit – that you enjoy wearing the most. They should be sweaters that fit you comfortably and would be pleased to be seen wearing in front of other people (which people, and where, is entirely up to you). One thing to pay attention to here is the measurements and fit – are they loose, fitted, short, long, boxy, belted, etc. But more than fit, look at these sweaters and ask yourself overall what it is you like about them.

Many people would tell you that your favourite sweaters in your closet are the kinds of things you should be trying to reproduce in your handknit sweaters, and I partially agree with this. These sweaters in your closet should tell you about what size feels good, what kind of materials feel comfortable, and what shapes and styles appeal to you. All of these are worthwhile to reproduce in your knitting. However, you should also take a moment to ask yourself this: Are these sweaters you like to purchase the same kinds of sweaters you would like to knit? Sometimes this might be the case. If you purchase a lot of buttoned cardigans but can’t ever find one that has sleeves that fit your arms, for example, knitting a buttoned cardigan is a way you can achieve a more satisfying result than what’s in your closet even if the overall style is similar. If this is the case for you, then by all means search for patterns that reflect the styles that already exist in your closet. A lot of my own knitting comes from this motivation, because as a 5’9” gal, I often have trouble in stores finding clothes that are the right length for me.

On the other hand, it might be the case that your favourite sweaters in your closet do not actually reflect the kinds of sweater you would like to knit. Your wardrobe might have gaps or vacancies that you need knitting to fill for you. For example, if the sweater you want to knit is an all-over cabled cardigan in dark orange wool, you might actually not stand as strong a chance of being able to find that in a store, and the reason you want to knit a sweater like that is because you can’t acquire one by shopping for it. Also consider the projects that bring you to knitting in the first place: what kinds of projects do you like to knit? A good reason to ask yourself this question is to find out if there is a difference between the kinds of sweaters you prefer to buy and the kinds of sweaters you prefer to knit. If you are the sort of knitter who prefers interesting techniques like lace or cables, this is likely to be the kind of vacancy in your wardrobe that knitting can fill for you. Much of my sweater knitting in particular also fills this niche for me, more often as I dive deeper into knitting world: I like knitting the kinds of garments that I can’t buy in stores.

We have a lot of options open to us in knitting pattern world because designers have just as much variation in style preference as knitters do. Ask yourself what you would like to wear AND knit for yourself, and you’ll narrow down the kind of sweater patterns you should be looking for.

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Materials and Structure: Thinking Ahead
If you are truly in doubt, start with the yarn. Choose a favourite yarn from your stash or favourite yarn shop and investigate what kinds of sweaters other knitters have made from it – in doing so you may actually discover some new patterns, or you may also discover that it is a less ideal yarn for sweaters, and you’ll end up steering yourself in a different direction. But chances are, if you start with a yarn that you love and work from there, you will take the care to get a garment that you love just as much. In a later post I’ll also get into considerations of yarn substitution and basic principles to keep in mind when working with a yarn that is not the one specified in the pattern instructions.

Knitters are inventive people. There are thousands upon thousands of sweater patterns out there, in many different kinds of styles, using many different stitch techniques. Something that can help you narrow things down is to consider how the sweater is actually constructed. In other words, is it worked in the round or in pieces, from the bottom-up or from top down. It’s entirely possible that you don’t have a preference or don’t know what your preference is: if that’s the case, just pick something that looks good or that closely matches the structure of the sweaters you already like from your closet, and you’ll likely discover along the way whether or not you have a preference or not in this regard. In my next post in this series next week, we’ll consider these qualities of style and structure along with fit and size.

Tomorrow, though, I’m going to follow-up with an interim post (I wanted to do it today but it is enough to have its own blog post space), on searching for patterns online, particularly through sites like Patternfish or Ravelry. There are a few search mechanisms you can use on these sites that often go un-noticed even by experienced users, so it’s great to have a few tricks like that up your sleeve when browsing for your next sweater project.

Happy knitting this fine Thursday! Until next time, knitting friends.

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Sweaters from my own closet seen above, from the top of the top photo on down:

Gwendolyn, pattern by Fiona Ellis, in Cascade 220 Heathers
Yoked cardigan, from instructions by Elizabeth Zimmerman in Knitting Workshop, in Cascade 220 Heathers
Hourglass Pullover, in Last-Minute Knitted Gifts by Joelle Hoverson (one in Malabrigo worsted and one in alternating stripes of Noro Silk Garden
Dusseldorf Aran (Ravelry link), pattern by Fiona Ellis, in Berocco Ultra Alpaca
Cabled Swing Cardigan from Knitter’s Book of Yarn, pattern by Norah Gaughan, in Berocco Ultra Alpaca

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Continue with Part 1 (Addendum): Browsing For Patterns

Or Part 2: Construction, Style, and Fit

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On the subject of sweaters

This is the introductory post for my 6-part post series on the process of knitting a sweater. Scroll down to the end of the post to find links to all of the individual posts. 

Because fall is quickly approaching – and with it, sweater knitting season – I’ve been doing a bit of thought behind the scenes here at Knitting to Stay Sane (me and my yarn stash are all very excited about it) and prepping a series of a few blog posts on the subject of sweater knitting. One post a week here for the next few weeks will be about a different aspect of the process: a sort of road map to the kinds of decisions that will help you get a sweater that you like. It won’t be an absolutely fully detailed explanation of every technique or step involved – a lot of people have written or published about different aspects of this, and I’ll be pointing you in the direction of many of them – but rather, is intended to be a bit of encouragement if you are a knitter interested in sweaters or figuring out how to approach them with some thought.

I often hear from knitters about the whole Sweater Knitting Thing. Among all the many possible choices of garments or items for knitters to construct, many people point to sweaters as being among the most challenging and intimidating. I think much of this is due to their sheer size. Compared to the ball or two of yarn that is normally required for a hat or pair of mittens, or maybe twice that for a scarf, it’s true that sweaters are a commitment of both yardage and time – and let’s face it, some days you don’t have much of either. But I don’t think that project size is always the true litmus test of challenge. Hold up a scarf worked in the Orenburg style of lace in one hand, and a stockinette pullover in the other, and then ask yourself if sweaters are always going to be more challenging than scarves. It’s true that larger projects do ask a commitment of you, but “challenging” or “easy” is often in the eye of the beholder.

Aug16-Sweater

However, I do agree that sweaters offer the knitter a sufficient – and often satisfying – amount of challenge, even putting aside the whole notion of size. Sometimes it is because we fixate on a particular technique that is used in the pattern (“Oh, that’s a beautiful cabled pullover, but I’ve never done cables before and I’m worried it’ll be too hard”), but it’s a rare technique that is applicable only to one kind of garment. Much of the real challenge with sweaters has to do with the fact that sweaters are garments that are going to be worn over a large portion of our bodies, and therefore need to fit us according to the many dimensions of those parts. The fact is that even if you choose a pattern which is a loose-fitting stockinette box (thus avoiding fabric-construction techniques which might be daunting), you still have to ask yourself how long you want it to be so as not to overwhelm your body, and how long the sleeves should be so as to not end up constantly tugging them down or rolling them up, and what colour it should be, and what yarn you should use, and so on. The challenge comes from the fact that we need to be in control of our relationship with the garment we are knitting, much, much more so than with other kinds of knitted objects.

If you’re a person who is already familiar with other methods of garment construction – for example, if you’re a sewist who also knits – you’ve had other opportunities to ask yourself some of these kinds of clothing-making questions. Still, knitting offers us the chance to ask different questions than other crafts. Not only are we constructing a garment, but we are constructing the very fabric that the garment is going to be made of. This fact results in a lot of agonizing over things like gauge, swatches, yarn substitution, fiber content, yardage, and so on. Put these together with the project of making a large garment, and, well. There is a lot going on with sweaters.

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For many of us, we are used to acquiring clothes by going to a store (or many stores), trying on clothes (possibly many many clothes), and buying the ones that fit and leaving the store with those specific items. Sometimes our knitterly approach to making sweaters mimics this – we choose the sweater size we think will fit, then knit it, then try it on and see if it fits. While this is certainly a way to get sweaters, it overlooks a lot of steps that are open to us as knitters to help us get the sweater we really like and will actually wear. When you knit a sweater, you have many possible decisions open to you, relating to pattern and yarn selection, fit, techniques, and so forth. Rather than viewing this as a series of little intimidations, I think it’s best to consider these as opportunities for you to be in charge and get the results that you want. You are the boss of your knitting, and even if you make mistakes they are your mistakes, not the mistakes that were made for you by some clothing manufacturer. YOU get to decide what results from the work of your needles.

If you are a knitter new to sweater knitting, or simply a knitter happy to learn more about the whole process of working a completed, satisfying sweater, this blog post series will definitely be you. Over the next few weeks I’ll be writing about the process of constructing a knitted sweater, from pattern selection and construction styles, to gauge, yarn selection, and finishing. I don’t intend this to be a comprehensive guide to all things involved in sweater knitting; I won’t, for example, be giving you step-by-step breakdowns of how or where to add short rows or demonstrating all kinds of increases or decreases – but I’m going to include links to resources along the way for things like that which might be helpful. While this will not be a comprehensive guide to every possible sweater pattern or every possible detail involved, it will help you find your footing in the land of sweater knitting if that is something you are interested in learning more about. I won’t tell you what sweater you should make or how much time you should give yourself to knit it, but I do hope that when you do arrive at making these decisions for yourself, you’ll be armed and ready to do it right.

Part 1: Choosing A Pattern

Part 1 (Addendum): Browsing For Patterns

Part 2: Construction, Style, and Fit

Part 3: Yarn Selection and Substitution

Part 4: Reading the Pattern

Part 5: Modifying the Pattern

Part 6: Knitting it Up

Looking forward to seeing you all next time! I hope you’ve got something fun on the needles, whether big or small.

30 Comments

Filed under fearless knitting, knitting knowledge, sweaters

Colourful progress

I don’t know if it’s the impending spring, or the crazy up-and-down-by-15C-every-3-days temperatures, or just a little bit of March Madness, but I’m starting to feel a bit of Start-itis coming on. I know it’s not just me – knitters in the Twitter-verse have been saying the same thing all week, which makes me feel a little bit better about rounding up big piles of pink, red, green, and orange yarn earmarked for various projects which, apparently, are all about to be “next.” Of course, they can’t all be next, but the knitter in my head has always had a rich fantasy life, and she never fails to provide the ambition.

I’ve been resisting (so far – i make no promises about the coming weekend) casting on All The Things in favour of making progress on the things already on the needles. The knitter in my head had sort of hoped that I would be done with my Velvet Morning cardigan already by now, but then I reminded her that it’s only been a week since I started it, and that perhaps having almost the entire body completed in that time is really nothing to sneeze at.

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I mentioned in my post about this last weekend that I’m modifying this cardigan to include a steek, so that I may work it in the round. A few of you had some questions about that and how it’s going to work. If you’re just tuning in here and haven’t heard me wax on about steeks before, or if you’ve never encountered this technique before or even heard the word ‘steek’ until you happened by my post the other day, I’m very happy to tell you more about it. As I work through this project I’ll be sure to keep you posted on what I’m doing, but here’s the basic gist of it.

In modifying Velvet Morning for work in the round, all I did was cast on as-written for the size that I wanted, in the appropriate needle size to get gauge, and add enough stitches to create a steek panel where the cardigan gap will be located at the front of the body. The rest of it will proceed as normal, with the exception that the body will be done in the round except for flat or ‘back-and-forth’.

The steek is a relatively old technique (exactly how hold, I’m not sure, but…a long while, let’s say. Norwegian knitters and Shetland knitters have been all over this for a long time), and all it is is a panel of stitches located in a spot where you want to have a gap, but avoid putting the gap in to begin with because you want to be able to work in the round. The steek stitches are not at all involved with the pattern stitches for the actual garment, except in the sense that you need to know where they are.

Mar30-Velvet2

So, essentially, this is a technique that allows you to only work “Right Side” rows by working continuously in the round, without turning back to do the “Wrong Side.” The times when you want to use this technique are the times when working in the round and later cutting a steek is a preferable option to working “Wrong Side” rows. The most obvious and frequent application of this is for stranded colour-work, and the place where you’re most likely to encounter this technique is for things like Fair Isle sweaters (where you want gaps for armholes, cardigan fronts, etc), colour-work blankets (where you want to make a square but knit a tube first, then cut it up one side), or intricately cabled cardigans (where the cable twists occur every round or 2/3 rounds, rather than neatly alternating between RS and WS rows).

There are many different ways to work with steeks, and to reinforce them (which is something I get into when I teach this ;) ), but it always involves cutting. It’s a bit scary the first time you do it, but generally everyone still lives to tell the tale afterward.

I’ll be sure to keep you posted as progress occurs, dear knitters – I wouldn’t want you to miss out on the final cutting and sewing up! Tomorrow I’m off to Collingwood to spend a day with knitters at Grey Heron Yarns’ Knit Fest, and teach some classes (no steeking, but there will be colour-work!). I’m sure it’ll be a great time.

Happy knitting this weekend!
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19 Comments

Filed under colour-work, fearless knitting, steeks

The finish line is worth it

It’s done! Gwendolyn is done! Guys, I can’t remember the last time I took seven months to finish knitting something. I mean, I did knit other things in that same seven months, so I can cut myself some slack there, but still. That much time between start and finish can mess with your head a little. And I had some gauge indecision in there, and changed sizes, and modified the sleeves a little bit, so by the time I got to the sewing up I think my brain was genuinely curious to see what was going to happen next. It also occurred to me that since I know Fiona, there was every likelihood that if I messed it up, I would personally have to tell her about it. (Kim even wrote me a note about it in case I ended up needing a permission slip, which I thought was really very considerate.)

As it turns out, I don’t think I messed it up at all.

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Cables, cables, CABLES. Gimme gimme.

What can I say but this is a lovely pattern – which shouldn’t be all that surprising, given that over 100 other folks on Ravelry have knitted it. I wanted it as a comfortable, wear-anywhere-you-want sort of sweater, and I am well pleased with the result. The yarn is Cascade 220 Heathers, in a nice turquoise colour. The trim (a detail included in the pattern) is also a Cascade 220 Heather in a brownish/purplish/reddish colour, leftover from a past sweater.

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In choosing the size, as it turns out, all I needed to do was choose the actual pattern size that I wanted as listed, and then just knit that size. (One needle size down, though.) It blocked out to the intended size after washing, but then over a period of drying actually sucked back up a bit of width, then somehow worked out just fine. I am very glad that I made the decision back in January to stop knitting the original size I had chosen and go back up one size. It lost me some knitting time in the bargain, but turned out to be the right move.

Mar11-GwendolynSleeve

I did, as per usual, do some modification.

I’d heard feedback from a couple of friends/Ravellers that their sleeves had turned out a titch larger than they wanted, so I modified the sleeves to be a bit slimmer by a few stitches, but also added in some ribbing at the inside of the sleeve. I accomplished this by simply continuing the ribbing from the cuff just at the edges where it wouldn’t interrupt the main cable panel, and gradually incorporated more ribbing as I increased.

Mar9-Gwendolyn1

I also added about 3 inches in length, which is a pretty typical modification for me since I am 5’9″ tall. Especially for cardigans, I like making sure it hits me just nicely over the hip. Modifying for length is one of the easiest modifications you can do for yourself, and I am a big fan – just take the tape measure out one day when you’re with a fellow like-minded knitter, and measure from your shoulders down to where you want things to stop. Or, measure a sweater that fits you really pleasantly, and measure how long it is. (also possibly how wide, etc).

Finally, I worked the button-band to be the same as the trim around the cuffs and hem, with just the outer 2 rows and bind-off done in the contrast colour, rather than working the entire button-band in the contrast colour.

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In conclusion, HURRAY I HAVE A NEW SWEATER! I’ve worn it the past 2 days and may well wear it again today to Niagara Falls, for Elspeth’s last day Canada-side. If wearing the same outfit 3 days in a row is wrong, then I don’t want to be right.

Happy knitting this fine Sunday!
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49 Comments

Filed under cables, fearless knitting, finished object: sweater

Event Horizon

You know, sometimes, when you start a sweater and then blink and discover that almost six months have passed since you started it and you still haven’t finished it yet, you then discover that you are actually pretty close to finishing it after all?

Me too.

Feb16-Gwendolyn2

I have started to feel a bit of unease with this project, because it’s been on my needles off and on for so many months now, and I’ve gone and changed the size I’m making halfway through, and then there’s the whole cable on the sleeve fix that I still have to go back and do, and (because I decided my 2011 self didn’t need to worry about that, and I’d let my 2012 self handle it instead)… and it actually occurred to me the other day that should I (stash forbid) end up running out of yarn and needing another skein, this will actually end up being a minor challenge since I’m pretty sure I neglected to keep any of the ball bands with dye lot numbers on them when I wound up all the yarn (self, that was not wise)…

But the thing is, and this is the most important thing, is that I am currently one front piece and one hood away from having a finished cardigan, and that is close enough for me to taste the sense of accomplishment. I have been loving working with this colour (it’s a Cascade 220 Heather, in a beautiful turquoise, edged in a dark reddish brown), and it finally hit me that, wait a second, soon I’ll actually be able to WEAR this colour, not just look at it on my needles.

Feb16-Gwendolyn

Come on, cardi, you and me – and I know I said this back in October, and then November, and then again in January, but this time I mean it – LET’S DO THIS. February is for finishing! (And hey, if Steph’s Gwendolyn can survive a little re-knitting as well as a little singeing in the oven, mine can survive a bit of neglect. Probably.)

What will you finish in February, dear knitters?
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34 Comments

Filed under cables, fearless knitting, sweaters