Basted knitting: Or, how (and why) to seam a seamless sweater

Basted knitting: Or, how (and why) to seam a seamless sweater

So as I mentioned yesterday, I seamed the seamless yoke of my Amanda cardigan, and I want to talk about both how and why I did it — about the the idea of including what I’m going to refer to as a “basting stitch” in seamless sweaters to combine the best aspects of knitting seamlessly with the best aspects of seamed garments.

SEAMED VS. SEAMLESS

This is the central conflict of knitting, as far as I can tell. Knitters love seamless sweater patterns, for a multitude of arguably legitimate reasons: ease, speed, increased control over the outcome. But what’s best for the knitting process might not be best for the sweater. In most cases, a garment will wear better — hold its shape longer, and look better doing it — if it has seams to lend it structural support. A sweater without seams is sort of like a tent without poles: you can still climb in there and it will protect you from the elements, but it’s a pretty different experience. I have a beloved, much worn, navy top-down sweater in my closet that, even though it was knitted with neck shaping and the neck band was picked up and knitted from the cast-on edge (that picked-up edge being the only undergirding in that sweater), the yoke has mushed around and settled enough over time that I can now barely tell the difference between front and back. In fact, when I wore it on a flight to Seattle in November, I became convinced I had it on backwards.

As we were working our way through the Amanda knitalong, a lot of discussion arose about the relative merits of seamed vs seamless knitting and, combined with turning that navy sweater around that day before realizing it was on right the first time, I got to thinking about this conflict pretty nonstop.

I love a top-down sweater. I’ve had this debate with numerous people, and I maintain that top-down knitting is the gateway drug to sweater knitting — certainly it was for me. Top-down or bottom-up, I’m not opposed to the act of seaming; I genuinely enjoy it, and it doesn’t even take that long. When I was a brand-new knitter, though, the idea of knitting four or five large pieces (a big time investment) and seaming them together (further investment) and only then knowing how I had done — whether it fit and whether I liked it — was unimaginable. It was just never going to happen. Through top-down, I learned how shaping works, how row gauge especially factors into it … in short, how to exert control over my own sweater. Once the notion of knitting a sweater was no longer daunting, and with that gained understanding of how they basically work, I felt more comfortable tackling bottom-up and pieced sweaters, and more confident that I could get the right fit. (Although even now, I have no idea how an armscye is calculated or how to tamper with it, so set-in sleeves are still not malleable for me. Yet. And since I’m apparently incapable of simply following a pattern, malleability is important to me.) I see real value in seamless knitting, in other words, even as I see the value of seams. So what’s a knitter to do?

THE IDEA OF A BASTED SWEATER

As I was nearing the yoke of my Amanda cardigan — having chosen to knit the pattern in pieces as written, prepared to seam the sides and sleeves — I became increasingly preoccupied with the seamless yoke on the horizon. Why would I put all that effort (and seaming!) into a glorious handknit sweater and have it lack that critical underpinning of seamed shoulder construction? And I kept thinking about that trusty blue sweater and pondering the notion of reinforcing it. First I thought about adding something simple and austere like a row of single crochet along the inside of the raglan to shore it up. But it got me wondering why you couldn’t knit a seamless garment in such a way that you built in stitches that were meant to be seamed out later, the way you design steek stitches into a garment you’re going to cut open. Or like in sewing where you baste pieces together temporarily knowing you’re going to go back and add the finished seam later. And, falling more and more in love with the idea, I pondered what the right combination of stitches would be for that built-in seam allowance. But then once I started knitting the Amanda yoke, I realized the answer was right in front of me.

Amanda’s raglan “seam” is a single stitch of reverse stockinette — 1 purl stitch, in other words. It seems to me too weak a stitch to hang a whole sweater on, but it’s the ideal basting stitch. The number one benefit of seamless knitting, in my opinion, is being able to gauge and adjust fit as you go. So if you’re going to work seamlessly and then remove stitches at the end, you want to remove as few as possible, since that’s going to be an adjustment to the fit. Four stitches — one per raglan — is the smallest possible number for a yoke. One stitch per side seam is a total of only two stitches removed for the whole body. A single stitch per sleeve. All you have to do to seam this basting stitch closed is pick up the running thread on either side of that stitch and work it just like standard mattress stitch. And in doing so, you’ve just given yourself the perfect seam in which to bury the ends once you’re done. As far as I can tell, it’s flawless.

Basted knitting: Or, how (and why) to seam a seamless sweater

HOW TO SEAM A SEAMLESS SWEATER

Here’s the blow-by-blow:

Step 1) Take a piece of yarn about one-and-a-half times the length of your seam and thread it through a tapestry needle. Start at the first stitch at the bottom of your basted seam. (I’m using my Amanda raglan seam to illustrate, so that’s the first stitch up from the underarm seam.) Pick up the running thread to the right of the basting stitch — see upper left photo above — and pull your yarn through, leaving a tail to weave in later.

Step 2) Pick up the running thread to the left of the same stitch — see upper right photo above — and pull your yarn through, but don’t pull it tight yet. Leave it just wide enough to reach across the basting stitch.

Repeat steps 1 and 2 — lower two photos above — picking up the right and then left thread on either side of each stitch, until you’ve worked about an inch of stitches. Gently pull on both ends of the working yarn to pull the seam closed. The adjacent stitches should nestle up against each other naturally — don’t pull them too tight or they’ll bunch. This is all exactly like standard mattress stitch.

Keep working your way up the seam, pulling the stitches together every inch or so, until you reach the top of the seam. When you’re done, run both ends through to the wrong side of the work and weave them into the seam you just created. (I did it just like I do on the wrong side of ribbing.)

Basted knitting: Or, how (and why) to seam a seamless sweater

This took me all of eight or ten minutes per raglan, and increased the appearance and the lifespan of my sweater exponentially.

As I said, I’m certain I’m not the first person to ever add a seam to a seamless garment — likely far from it. But for me personally, this is an epiphany. I recognize the benefits of knitting in pieces — namely the portability. But since I do 95% of my knitting on my couch (and because I like to change things to suit myself, and because I dislike starting back at the bottom again for each piece) seamless knitting has undeniable appeal. But I believe wholeheartedly in seams. Now that I realize all I need to do when knitting seamlessly is insert a single column of purl stitches wherever a seam should be, and seam it up at the end, I feel like my whole knitting world may have changed.

Can it really be that easy to have it both ways? I’ll be testing the theory ASAP.

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PREVIOUSLY in #fringeandfriendsknitalong: FO No. 4: Karen Templer

Knitalong FO No. 4: Karen Templer

Knitalong FO No. 4: Karen Templer

This is pretty silly, but since I’ve been doing all of the other #fringeandfriendsknitalong panelist FO posts as interviews — and to help me organize my copious thoughts on this — I’ve interviewed myself for today’s post! Please forgive me—

Your sweater looks a lot like the pattern photo but you actually made several modifications. Can you summarize them?

– Minor details: tubular cast-on, and I worked the diamond cables so they twist toward each other instead of all one direction
– Knitted it at a tighter gauge, so I knitted a larger size to get the finished dimensions I wanted
– Added a pair of reverse-stockinette stitches flanking each diamond panel (in other words, one stitch to the outside of each of those slipped-stitch borders) to give me a little more wiggle room in my final measurements
– Also added extra stitches in the lower back, to give me the extra width I need across the hips
– Because my row gauge was also smaller, I re-charted the yoke to give me more rows (to meet the schematic’s yoke depth) and re-charted the neck shaping while I was at it
– And I did not cast on the button bands along with the waist ribbing — I left that out and did picked-up button bands instead

Weren’t you hell-bent on doing vertical button bands with a ribbon backing and all that?

I was. Then I knitted this sweater — and nothing but this sweater — for four straight months, and to be honest, I wanted to be done. And specifically I wanted to wear it to TNNA, the trade show, and the only way that was going to happen in the time allotted was to pick up the bands rather than seaming them on. I can always pull them out and change them, but I’m actually really happy with how they turned out.

With all the stitch patterning, I thought it would be nice for the bands to have a distinctive edge, so instead of binding off in pattern, I bound off all stitches knitwise from the wrong side, so what you see is just the edge of that row of bound-off stitches. I love it.

What happened to that whole shawl-collar idea?

I’m super jealous of all the shawl-collar versions that came out of this knitalong — Meg really should lock hers up when I visit. But it became clear that this sweater was going to be somewhere between fitted and too small, and I think a shawl-collar sweater wants to be a little slouchy. Plus I thought back to the impetus for all of this and what I wanted was an ivory crewneck cardigan to replace a retired one, so that’s what I did.

You were knitting for Team Seam, yeah? Are you happy you chose that path?

Yes, I knitted the five separate pieces (two fronts, two sleeves, one back) and then, as written in the pattern, joined them at the underarm and worked the yoke seamlessly. Like Kate, I’m a little puzzled at this approach, since the raglan seams are maybe the most important ones, structurally. And if you’re seaming, why not seam the whole thing? But I was planning to rewrite the neck shaping and, if I didn’t get it right on the first try, it was going to be a million times easier to rip back and adjust if it was one seamless piece. So I went ahead and did that. But then I did something I’ve never done before (although surely someone, somewhere has) — I went back in and seamed the seamless raglan.

Sorry, you did what now?

The raglan “seam” for this sweater is just one stitch in reverse stockinette, which seems really vulnerable to me. It looks nice as you’re knitting it, but I could just imagine it stretching out and looking, um, less good over time. I think it’s more a concern with my fabric than for those who used light, fluffy wools at pattern gauge. Rather than go any further into how or why I did that, I’ll save it for a separate post, because it’s a concept I’m really excited about and will be doing some pontificating about.

But meanwhile, yes, I’m very happy the sweater is fully seamed because I want it to last and keep its shape as long as it possibly can, especially given the time I’ve invested. Like, I hope my great-nieces wear it someday.

You mentioned your fabric — you opted to knit this is in a wool-cotton blend, O-Wool Balance. Are you happy with that choice?

Totally! I wanted this to be a 3-season sweater, and I’m so glad I did that because I would hate to be limited to wearing this only in the depths of winter. It’s too good to be packed away! Cotton is weightier and less elastic than wool, and because I also knitted it at finer gauge, my sweater looks really different from the wooly ones. I might need a wooly one someday. But I love the Balance and how it turned out — the fabric is cozy and lovely without being dense or hot. Exactly what I wanted.

So is there anything you’d change?

If I had it to do over again, I would have been less impatient by the time I got to the neck. I specifically charted the neck shaping (see below) in such a way that the slant of the decreases could be maintained beyond the fronts and into the sleeve tops. So if I felt like the neck needed to be higher and smaller, I could just keep knitting and decreasing. I don’t like it when the back neck of a sweater is too wide — I think that’s when it slides around while you’re wearing it. I’m happy with my neck shaping — the actual curve of it — I just wish I had kept going for a few more rows to keep raising and narrowing it at the back. But it’s a minor complaint in the grand scheme of how happy I am with this sweater.

I learned to knit so I could make this sweater — this is what I wanted to be able to do. The fact that it was knitted in the virtual company of so many good friends and readers is icing on the cake. As I was binding off the neck in a hotel room in Phoenix, I became aware of the fact that the sweater started with Anna and me accosting a stranger at Midway last summer on our way to Squam, and ended with me knitting the neck while at TNNA again with Anna, with lots else in between. So I really don’t have words for what all is knitted into this sweater. The difference between it and some anonymous factory-made sweater is genuinely indescribable.

Knitalong FO No. 4: Karen Templer

There are more photos on my Ravelry project page. And Anna and Rebekka are still knitting, so stay tuned! (I can’t believe I’m not last!)

Bleached horn buttons and Knitters Graph Paper Journal from Fringe Supply Co., of course. Photos by my darling husband.

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PREVIOUSLY in #fringeandfriendsknitalong: A different way to shape a sweater

Study: the Wool Issue

Study: the Wool Issue

Every once in awhile I get wind of something that feels genuinely special — in a quiet, small-scale, uncommon way — and it gives me pleasure to be able to lay it in front of you all. Today that something special is the Wool Issue of a tiny little journal called Study, published by a pair of talented friends who are divided between Ohio and California. Study is a “single-subject nature journal,” a labor of love, and when I heard they were working on an issue devoted to the subject of wool, I jumped all over it. The way that I heard about it is that three of the people featured in the issue do their work within a few steps of Fringe HQ: my sweet friends Rebekka Seale of Camellia Fiber Company and Lisa Garcia of Soñadora Handmade, as well as Han Starnes of Josi Faye, who I’ve blogged about, long ago, but have never met. (I only recently discovered we’re neighbors and have been too shy to go knock on the door, but one of these days …) So I met Lily one day while she was here shooting photos for the issue, and she’s completely charming and the past issues are lovely and so I loaded up on the Wool Issue, and the good news is, it’s as good as I had hoped! And not something that will be repeated. You can read more about what’s inside over at Fringe Supply Co.

And if you haven’t picked up issue two of TAC yet, I’d suggest grabbing that while you’re there. The cover is nobody’s favorite color, I realize, but it really is a magnificent issue.

Here in Middle Tennessee, we’re promised a glimpse of the sun this weekend, along with temperatures that start with a 5 instead of a minus sign, so I’m hoping to get photos of a certain cardigan taken. What will you be up to?

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First of the Best of Pre-Fall 2015: Camel sweaters

First of the Best of Pre-Fall 2015: Camel sweaters

One of the things I believed about knitting before I learned to knit was that I would never again have trouble finding camel sweaters because I could just make them myself! And then, as I was lamenting the other day, I discovered that camel-colored yarn is harder to come by than it should be. There is truly nothing more classic, versatile or timeless than camel (not even grey!), as demonstrated by these very different looks from very different fashion houses for Pre-Fall 2015: Michael Kors sending out the epitome of the camel sweater over a long-cuffed white shirt and cropped dark jeans with the most amazing coat of all time, all of it very Mad Men; Chloé doing badass chic with a sleek camel turtleneck under a biker jacket with navy flares; See by Chloé showing us camel’s demure side in a simple pullover with an ironic toile skirt and matching handbag; and TSE putting together a more contemporary allover camel look built around a lattice-stitch funnel-neck sweater.

Anyone who doesn’t have a good camel sweater in their closet should knit one post haste, and there really are good camel-colored yarns out there — they’re just not in every yarn company’s palette like I might have imagined. The core, American-wool Quince and Co. yarns (Finch, Chickadee, Lark, Osprey and Puffin) all come in a seemingly perfect shade called Camel. (How did I not see that till now?) Most of the Fibre Company yarns come in some shade of camel — notably, Canopy Fingering and Canopy Worsted in Wild Ginger (a very light camel), worsted-weight Knightsbridge in Goldfirth and bulky Tundra in Larch. Woolfolk has a slightly light-brownish camel in Color 7 of both worsted-weight Far and fingering-weight Tynd. Blue Sky Alpacas fingering-weight Metalico in Gold Dust is one of the prettiest yarns I’ve ever seen. (I have a beloved super-bulky cable hat knit in Blue Sky Bulky in a nice camel that looks like it’s no longer available. So sad!) So they do exist — this is just a small sampling. And perhaps if we all knit with them there will be more added — and fewer removed — from the yarn palettes of the world.

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New Favorites: from Madder Anthology 2

New Favorites: from Madder Anthology 2

Nobody does “simple” like Carrie Bostick Hoge. And nobody has quite the same finesse in taking existing patterns and changing them up — flipping the construction, changing the gauge, etc. — to make you look at them anew. She’s just released her Madder Anthology 2: Simple Pleasures collection and, as with others before it, it’s a combination of new patterns and reimagined favorites. Eleven sweaters and six accessories, all of them in spare but gorgeous combinations of garter stitch, ribbing and stockinette. And like a good caprese salad, where those three ingredients better each be perfection, she’s pretty much nailed it. My favorites:

ABOVE
top: Lila Winter, a bulky, top-down version of her popular Lila
bottom left: Liv, making me rethink my position on open-front cardigans
bottom right: Lainey Cowl, in chunky garter rib

BELOW
top left: Charlotte Light Accessories, a finer version of her Charlotte set
top right: Lori Shawl, lovely asymmetric (I presume) garter triangle (named for the model’s mother?)
bottom: Lucia Hoodie, making me rethink my position on hoodies

New Favorites: from Madder Anthology 2

PREVIOUSLY in New Favorites: Mosaic scarves

Goodbye tools, hello Bellows

Goodbye tools, hello Bellows

This may look like a swatch, but let me point out that it’s the jumbo bento bag and size 11 needles you’re looking at. And that this is, in fact, about half of the first sleeve of my Bellows cardigan-to-be, knitted in about two hours on my flight to Phoenix on Friday. I was shooting this pic on the bed of the hotel room when I realized I had left my tool pouch in a hotel lobby chair after knitting a couple of rows while waiting for our room to be ready. By the time I ran back down there, it was gone, and despite putting out an APB on Instagram for other trade show attendees and checking with lost and found incessantly, it was not to be recovered. That makes two things I can remember losing in recent years: 1) my tool pouch and 2) the tool pouch before it, lost somewhere in Utah in July while driving from CA to TN. Nice work, KT.

Of course, tools are replaceable, but this pouch happened to have several of my most-used needles in it — including the needle I needed to finish the buttonband and neckband on Amanda. As previously noted, I had not brought a back-up outfit. But Amy Palmer loaned me a circular that night. Anna loaned me a tapestry needle at breakfast Sunday morning. And a kind yarn shop owner gave me a pair of teeny little snips when she saw me sitting on a bench outside the exhibit hall trying to sew on buttons without any scissors. (Thankfully, I had put the buttons and thread into my bento and not the tool pouch.) So in the end, through the kindness of knitters (in contrast with the one who made off with my pouch), Amanda got done and worn and highly praised. I hope to have photos soon.

But let’s talk about Bellows! I spent the first part of my flight studying the schematic and weighing it against my swatch. Once again, my stitch gauge is smaller than pattern gauge, but this time my row gauge is right on. I’m aiming for 4-5″ of positive ease, and I’ll get there by knitting the third size (43.25″) at my smaller gauge, which will come out to about 38.5″ in the bust. But once again again, that would give me almost zero ease at my 38″ hips, which I do not like. For the body pieces, I might cast on the fourth size (48.5″ would be 43″ at my gauge, about 4.5″ ease at the hip) and decrease down to the third size, which is my preferred way of giving myself the A-line shape I require. Or in this case, given the scale of the allover stitch pattern, I might just start out on a larger needle and then go down a needle size at the waist. Haven’t decided yet, so I started with a sleeve.

I only worked on Bellows on my flight out and back, plus about an hour in the airport — a grand total of six or seven hours — and I was just a few rows from finishing the first sleeve! After spending four months on my Amanda, you can imagine how I feel about this.

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Elsewhere

Yarny links for your clicking pleasure

I’m on a plane to Phoenix today, headed for the winter trade show. Last winter in San Diego was when I wore my one-armed Acer in the Hyatt lounge one night while drinking with a bunch of knitters. This year I’m taking my Amanda with me with the full intention of wearing it to the actual show on Saturday — and I haven’t packed a backup. So instead of doing a Monday blog post last night, I worked on my button bands. If it’s not done, will I wear it all day without finished bands or buttons? Let’s all hope/pray we don’t have to find out. And yes, that means there’s almost surely no blog post for Monday. Sorry! But hopefully these links will keep you busy for a bit—

Could use a scarf like this about now

Can’t wait to see where Carrie Hoge is going with this

Love. This. Girl. (thx, Anie)

–  The making of Clara’s cormo (I’m saving this to read on the plane)

Jen’s wardrobe plan makes me want to sketch again. Also: Mesmerizing

How is this even possible?

– and have you ever seen a more beautiful yarn cabinet?

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ON A SEPARATE NOTE: We’ve restocked the concave horn buttons, narrow-rim horn/bone buttons and soft concave corozo buttons and have expanded the size and color variations available in all three. DG will be shipping today as always! And I’ll do my best not to run off with whatever is left upon my return. That is seriously a whole lot of beautiful buttons.

Happy weekend!

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PREVIOUSLY in Elsewhere