Knit the Look: Rachael Wang’s silvery cables

Knit the Look: Rachael Wang's silvery cables

You know my current obsession is slouchy dress-down sweaters over simple dresses, and I like ’em cropped, but I’m loving this long, all-platinum version photographed on Rachael Wang. To approximate her fisherman-cable sweater, all you need is Paton’s free pattern, the Honeycomb Aran pullover, knitted it in something luxe and silvery, such as Woolfolk’s Far in Color 03 or The Fibre Company’s Knightsbridge in Barley. Make it a size too big, and add a repeat or two above the hem.

If you’ve got the chops for sewing silk, you could easily make the dress to go under it. See April Rhodes’ Slip Dress pattern, which comes included with the Date Night Dress. Just cut it straighter and longer.

See Vanessa’s post for another look at Rachael’s outfit, head to toe.


PREVIOUSLY in Knit the Look: Alex Yuryeva’s plaid pullover


Street style photo © Vanessa Jackman; used with permission

Cowichan vest errata — and how to work those edgings!

Cowichan vest errata — and how to work those edgings!

This weekend, I sat down with my trusty Knitters Graph Paper Journal to rechart the Cowichan-style knitalong vest to my revised row count, try out some shaping tweaks, and see how it looks with the motifs boiled down the way I’m planning. (Will I really like it with just the main flower/snowflake motif and the two checkerboard stripes, or will it look too much like a wallpaper border? Still undecided!) In the process, I realized there’s a problem with the charts. Not necessarily an error, but a detail or discrepancy that requires a heads up—


The image above is of the left front and the back, with their selvages lined up, as if you’re about to seam them together for the left side seam. When you work standard mattress stitch, you lose one full stitch at each edge. The side seam should look just like the center of the back — with a vertical column of MC stitches and just those two little contrast stitches connecting the big flower shapes in the middle. If you mattress stitch these two edges together, the flower “petals” and the horizontal bars will meet. The fact that the needed joining row is depicted at both edges suggests to me that the Japanese would seam this differently — working through the center of each stitch instead of on either side of it, so you wind up with the left leg of the edge stitch from the left front panel meeting up with the right leg of the edge stitch from the back panel. If you knit it as pictured, that’s how you’ll have to seam it. Otherwise, you’ll need to add one stitch either at each edge of the back, or at the side edges of each front. (Augment either the front panels or the back panel — not both.) And if you do that, you’ll also need to invert the checkerboard stripes on one or the other so they match up correctly as well. The easiest/safest thing would be to seam through the centers of the stitches as they appear to expect you to do.


It’s also been pointed out (thanks, Francis) that in the page 2 diagram of the front panels, for the garter stitch button band, it says “4 rows” where it should say “4 sts.” That’s 4 stitches wide.


As noted on Instagram over the weekend, after watching the float-trapping videos Kathy shared for Friday’s links post, I decided to try it. I’ve been attempting to get used to a different way of holding my yarn anyway, and weaving floats like this meant learning multiple new tricks as well as purling continental, which I’ve never managed to do. I’m doing it! All of it. And having a blast. But like I said on IG, it felt like learning to knit all over again. It also totally looks like beginner knitting (more than my beginner knitting ever did) — it is a lumpy mess on the front, while being amazingly gorgeous on the back. But I’m fine with it. It’s fun to be a beginner, and blocking will no doubt help.

BUT, I have a different problem, which Meri also asked me about, which is how to work the solid-color edgings — the garter-stitch armholes and button bands — without the edging looking ratty. I polled the great knitters of Instagram and the consensus was that the best way to do it (other than skipping it and working the edgings separately!) was to do an intarsia-style twist when switching from the colorwork section to the solid edgings. You can see all of the input here, and I found this SweetKM intarsia twist video to be super helpful.


PREVIOUSLY IN #fringeandfriendskal2015: How to read a Japanese knitting pattern (full series here)

Cowichan via Japan: How to read a Japanese knitting pattern

Cowichan via Japan: How to read a Japanese knitting pattern

One of the funnest aspects of this year’s Fringe and Friends Knitalong is the fact that it’s a Japanese pattern. It’s my favorite kind of pattern — simply a chart with some notes. But the fact that it’s a garment (one size), and that the Japanese do things a bit differently, makes it just challenging enough to be interesting. Panelist Meri Tanaka and I had an enlightening conversation about why Japanese patterns are the way they are, what that has meant for knitting in Japan, and how to interpret the assorted unfamiliar markings on this one. I learned a lot and am sure you will, too!

By the way, there are already quite a few sweaters appearing on the #fringeandfriendskal2015 hashtag on Instagram. Take a look — and keep ’em coming!

. . .

Karen: First, can I ask you: The Japanese seem especially smitten with Cowichan-style sweaters, which hail from Canada — specifically the Vancouver area. Is it similar or related to the fascination with American sportswear (which I think you do better than we do), or is there something in particular that makes the Cowichan style so appealing in Japan?

Meri: Actually, Aran, Fair Isle and fisherman sweaters are equally popular in Japan. Many trading companies import sweaters from the UK and Europe for various fashion brands. For people who like more outdoor/camping-type clothes, it seems Cowichan style is more popular. Japanese men love “authentic” fashion items from around the world, learn about their histories, and love to wear them.

At the same time, many people seem to think that because Cowichan sweaters use very thick yarn, they are easier to knit (which is, as most knitters know already, not always true).

So this pattern is nothing but a collection of schematics along with a big chart of each of the three vest pieces, with annotations indicating assorted details the knitter might need to know. I have a couple of Japanese knitting books and they’re all like this — at most you get a detailed diagram with measurements and counts all over it, along with a chart for any necessary colorwork or pattern stitches that might factor in. Often the entire garment is charted like this one — stitch by stitch. Is this the standard/traditional form that Japanese knitting patterns take? Or is that a more modern approach?

What you described is a standard form of Japanese patterns, more or less. I am not sure if I can call it traditional, though. What I have learned is that during the post-war period, a few dressmaking schools created their own standards in terms of pattern writing, needle sizes and yarn thickness. As you can guess, it was based on sewing patterns. I am guessing that in those days most women went to sewing schools to learn how to draw patterns to fit their body, so that they knew how to adjust knitting patterns as well. That was regarded as part of their preparation to get married, because store-bought clothes were still very expensive, and it was one of the housewives’ responsibilities to make clothes for the family.

That knowledge is not common anymore, because very few people go to dressmaking or knitting schools these days.

Because it’s charted and not written out, it’s only one size. I know, on the whole, Japanese people tend to be comparatively petite (pardon the generalization!), but it’s not like you’re all exactly the same size. Are Japanese knitters simply more fluent or intrepid at resizing things? Or what’s the attitude and approach toward the sizing?

Most Japanese women are within the range of 4″ height difference, but body types are definitely diverse. I usually have a hard time finding clothes at stores because I am about 3″ shorter than the average, but my body is slightly thicker.

As I described earlier, when the system of knitting patterns was established in Japan, most people knew how to grade patterns to their own needs. It’s not the case anymore, which results in the majority of knitting patterns in books and magazines being loose and bulky, so that one size fits all.

With Amirisu, you take a more Western approach to the patterns, with graded sizes and written instructions. Would you do it that way if you were only publishing in Japan?

We feel that part of our mission is to make knitting more approachable to the younger generation. Having one size with minimal explanation in a pattern makes it extremely difficult to pick up knitting. Because the standards are different in Japan, the hurdle for non-Japanese products and patterns to enter the market has been extremely high — so people had access to very limited resources. (Still so, although the trend is changing.) The majority of knitters are not used to knitting from written patterns, and until we started our knitting workshops in Japan, and my partner published a book, there weren’t many places or resources to learn how to read them. We want to show people that there is a whole wide knitting world out there, with millions of choices and possibilities. In other words, we would like to continue publishing patterns as we do now, even only in Japanese.

How to read a Japanese knitting patternThe Japanese charts work just like English-language charts, because it’s how knitting works — you start at the lower right corner with the first stitch, building stitches from right to left, then (if working flat) you read the next row from left to right and invert the stitches (a knit on the right side is a purl on the wrong side, etc) as you’re now working from the wrong side of the fabric and back across the row. A translated pattern like the one we’re knitting from — Pierrot’s Cowichan-style Geometric Vest  — will have a legend showing what the various symbols mean — and the stitch symbols tend to be the same as ours. A blank box is a knit, a dash/dot is a purl (cables are the same, in cable patterns).

However, there are markings on this pattern that are not familiar and not translated, per se. (I want to emphasize to everyone that it’s important to read the Knitting Tips box on the first page of the pattern, which does explain several things.) Can you help us understand the unfamiliar marks? Let’s start with the diagrams on page 2, looking at the schematic for the back panel. There are marks above the “CO 49 sts” and below the actual diagram that look like |—|—, mirrored at the other end and below the fronts. What does that mark mean?

Those indicate ribbing patterns. For the back panel, cast on is 49 stitches, and the ribbing goes like (K1, P1) x 24, K1. | is a knit stitch, — is a purl stitch. This is important when you cast on for the front panels; the right front ribbing ends with ||, or two knits. The first row of the right front is a WS row, so the ||— would be read P2, K1 from the wrong side. Does that make sense?

Oh, interesting! Not only did I not get that those indicated ribbing (which is clearly depicted on the chart, so not a problem), I completely missed that the chart includes the cast-on as row 1 — that’s definitely different from Western charts, where row 1 is the first knitted row.

If studied, the page 2 diagrams tell us pretty much everything we need to know about stitches and rows and COs and BOs and needle sizes and so on — right down to how far apart to work the buttonholes. Then the charts on the following two pages show us the actual stitches — the placement of ribbing and garter stitch and colorwork. On the diagrams of the fronts, it’s noted that you decrease 1 stitch after the waist ribbing. On the chart of the front, where some people have thought the waist ribbing was knitted separately, that’s really just pulled apart to show you which two stitches to work together to get that -1 decrease. Right?

Yes, and this is very kind and easy to understand diagram compared to other ones I’ve seen in Japanese knitting patterns!

How to read a Japanese knitting patternAs we work our way up the diagram of the fronts, in the upper right of page 2, there’s a set of annotations that looks like this:

1 RE

This was totally cryptic to me my first time knitting the pattern. In the Knitting Tips box on page 1 it says “#-#-# = rows-stitches-times.” I get that this is tied to the increases for the collar flap shaping, but either I’m really not understanding what that means or the numbers are wrong — I couldn’t get it to add up to the same number of increases depicted in the chart. (So I ignored it and just knitted what’s pictured in the chart — increasing on any row where the chart got wider.) Do you have a better way of translating that, or helping us understand it?

Sure! This is one of the critical points to understand Japanese patterns. Please note that there are a few variations based on which (Japanese) standard the designer is using, but the basic idea is the same. This array of numbers should be read from the direction of your knitting. In this case, it’s bottom up, so the first set of numbers is 1-1-1.

The numbers read like this: Every # row(s), increase (or decrease) # stitch(es), # time(s).

In terms of the first increase, it’s really not “every 1 row”, but it simply means you increase one stitch, once.Whether to increase or decrease is often omitted from the diagram, and knitters need to figure it out themselves. (99% of the times it’s pretty obvious.)

As for the last one, “1RE”, this is something that the translator of this particular pattern came up with on his/her own. Usually it’s written as “1段平” in Japanese, meaning “1 row even”. When using Japanese knitting books, please do not expect to see “RE” here.

If you understand the above, I think the row counts add up to 18. What do you think?

Aha! “Every” is the keyword. Based on “rows-stitches-times” I was reading 2-1-2 as “On the next two rows, increase 1 stitch 2 times.” Which makes no sense to begin with (2 times on a row?), and explains why the numbers weren’t adding up. It’s really “every 2nd row, increase 1 stitch — and do that twice.” Every 2nd row being every other row. So that’s two increases over the next four rows. The “4-1-1” would be increase one stitch on the next 4th row. Got it! I hope that makes sense to our readers, too. Thank you.

I think there’s been confusion for a few people about the large black/white dot depicted on the collar diagrams. There’s nothing for us to do there, knitting-wise — it’s just saying match up the center of the left edge of the back collar to the center of the corresponding front flap and seam them together, and vice versa. It reminds me of the kind of mark you’d see on a sewing pattern. Is that a typical mark in Japanese patterns?

I can’t say these marks are typical. It seems the designer of this pattern is very kind to show which pieces to sew together.

Last but not least, I had someone ask about the V along the edges of the front charts, at the bottom of the last page. That one says only “slip stitch” and I’m assuming you work it just like I describe in this post. Is that correct, or do you do that any differently than I do?

The placement of the V is a little confusing, but it’s the same “slip stitch” as you describe in your blog post. (I love that turtleneck vest so much, by the way!)

Thank you! What’s the main thing you think people should know about trying to knit from Japanese patterns, especially those that haven’t had the annotations translated like this one has? What’s the best way to learn?

If you can overcome the fact that most patterns have one size only, usually the only difficult part is increase and decrease. Please keep in mind that cast-on/bind-off and increase/decrease methods, as well as a lot of details, are often not described in the patterns; it’s totally up to you. There are not many techniques used in Japanese knitting — for example, most cast-ons are done in either long-tail method or with crochet cast-on with waste yarn.

We’ve been publishing a series of articles on Japanese knitting patterns in Amirisu magazine, and they are available for free (online versions). Hope that will help a lot of adventurous knitters!


PREVIOUSLY IN #fringeandfriendskal2015: Elsewhere: Cowichan links (full series here)


Pattern © Pierrot Yarns; pattern images/details used with permission

Elsewhere: Cowichan edition

Elsewhere: Cowichan links edition

Although I picked it simply because I loved it and wanted to knit it, I had hoped the pattern pick for the Fringe and Friends Knitalong this year (Pierrot’s Cowichan-style Geometric Vest) would stir up some interest in Cowichan sweaters — despite the fact that it’s Cowichan-style and not an authentic Cowichan. Happily, there’s been even more questioning and discussion than I had imagined. I have a Q&A coming up with panelist Andrea Rangel about Cowichan Valley and the people and their sweaters, which has always been part of the plan, but I thought I’d preface that today with a special edition of the usual Elsewhere links list: a Cowichan edition. These links should offer some background as well as some specific guidance for those planning to knit along.

Note, too, that I have a conversation coming up on Monday with panelist Meri Tanaka in which we talk about Japanese patterns, how to read them, and specifically how to read this one. So if you’re nervous or having any difficulty interpreting the chart, look for that on Monday. For now, some links—


Cowichan knitting history at Wikipedia (somewhat flawed, as all Wikipedia entries are) which also talks a lot about the wool

The Story of the Coast Salish Knitters
PLEASE READ BEFORE CLICKING: Panelist Kathy Cadigan told me about this documentary before the knitalong kickoff, and it’s been mentioned both in the comments here and on Instagram. This is a pirated film — it was based on knitting designer Sylvia Olsen’s thesis and is on YouTube without the filmmaker’s permission, so it is a copyright violation. Sylvia herself is conflicted about this, as discussed in this blog post of hers, because it’s apparently the only way to see it. Follow your own conscience.

The Cowichan Sweater of Vancouver Island, a great piece on how things went terribly awry when the Vancouver Olympics committee tried to make a Cowichan the official sweater of their Olympics, shared by Alina in the comments


I am not in possession of any of these, but plan to rectify that asap! Some are out of print, but used copies can be found—

Salish Indian Sweaters: A Pacific Northwest Tradition by Priscilla Gibson-Roberts

Knitting in the Old Way by Priscilla Gibson-Roberts (pictured above, photo courtesy of Jess Schreibstein)

Working with Wool: A Coast Salish Legacy and the Cowichan Sweater by Sylvia Olsen

Knitting Stories: Personal Essays and Seven Coast Salish-inspired Knitting Patterns by Sylvia Olsen

Thanks to @kathycad and @thekitchenwitch for the recs.


Several of you have seized on Kathy’s comment in Meet the Panel about trapping the floats on every other stitch, which is how true Cowichan sweaters are knitted. We don’t know of a tutorial online that’s specific to Cowichan, but this technique is also called the woven method of stranded knitting, and Kathy sent me two fantastic links:

The first — the two-handed Fair Isle technique by Philosopher’s Wool — is a great intro to the two-handed method of stranded knitting, in which she also demonstrates trapping floats every other stitch when working from the knit side of the fabric.

The second — Weaving two-handed Fair Isle in purl and knit by Jodie Gordon Lucas — shows how to work the same technique from the purl side, which you’ll do if you’re knitting colorwork flat.


A few people have asked where they can buy authentic Cowichan sweaters — i.e., from the Coast Salish tribespeople — or how to make a donation. I have googled but don’t feel good about linking to anyone selling Cowichans online without having a way to say for sure that they’re dealing fairly with the Coast Salish knitters. If anyone reading this does know of a sure, reliable resource that sells online, please let me know or leave a link in the comments below. And that goes for any links you think are worth sharing! This list is certainly far from comprehensive, so bring it on!

. . .

Wabi Mitts kits are back in stock at Fringe Supply Co

IN SHOP NEWS: The time is right for my Wabi Mitts, and the kits are now back in stock in all 8 gorgeous colors of Habu’s incredible linen-wool roving. And if you’ve been looking for any of the sold-out sizes or colors of bone and horn buttons — either the narrow-rim or concave styles — look again! We got a bunch in this week. Get those and more at Fringe Supply Co.

Thanks for a great week, and please have an amazing weekend!


PREVIOUSLY IN #fringeandfriendskal2015: Meet the Panel! (full series here)

Queue Check — September 2015

Queue Check — September 2015

It’s colorwork season over here, y’all. (And knitalong season, obviously!) I’m finally sailing through my Laurus from the Fringe Hatalong Series — but I flubbed it! I was knitting while socializing the other evening, looked down at one point and realized I had knitted the final colorwork row all wrong. It’s just a few rows of stockinette back, so I’ll rip it soon and finish it up. I forgot how fast a plain ol’ stockinette hat knits up! Even with a few rows of colorwork thrown in.

And of course the big sweater on my needles at the moment is my Cowichan-style Knitalong vest, up top.

Honestly, I was a little perplexed about this vest. I chose grey, black and ivory for the “color” scheme because it’s my failsafe. But as much and as long as I’ve been wanting a Cowichan-style vest, I honestly wasn’t sure how I would wear it. (Which troubles me, given my “don’t make it or buy it until you know how it fits in” rule.) Over the weekend, I was plotting out some sewing projects, sketched a simple top-and-skirt combo for some plaid fabric I’ve been dying to sew up, realized the vest will look amazing with those two pieces — worn in various combinations with other things — and now I can hardly stand the wait. After casting on the ribbing Sunday night, I realized I don’t think I’ve ever been this eager to see a project develop. Fortunately, it shouldn’t take long!

I mentioned last month that I’m not planning a Rhinebeck Sweater, per se — this vest will be my Rhinebeck sweater. But there is one other thing I’d like to have for my Rhinebeck trousseau, which is that Linda scarf I’ve been talking about for months on end. I still want it in what’s left of my stash of camel-colored Shibui Merino Alpaca. So as soon as I finish Laurus, that will be next on the needles. I realize a whole scarf is almost as ambitious as a sweater (coming from one who has never knitted a whole scarf before) and Rhinebeck is only three weeks away — and I have a vest to knit! — but I’m fantasizing about it anyway. No pressure, Karen!


PREVIOUSLY in Queue Check: August 2015

New Favorites: Dress-down sweaters

New Favorites: Dress-down sweaters

My new favorite thing in the world is dresses. Sadly, at the moment, I only own one! Since finishing it while I was in Florida, I’ve worn my linen dress nearly every day. (Post about that coming soon.) But basically, all I want to wear is dresses right now, with other stuff layered over them. As we’re heading into fall, that means I’m thinking about those layers. What I crave — in addition to the sleeveless turtlenecks and vests I’ve been smartly lining up — is simple, boxy, slightly cropped, super casual sweaters. Sweaters with which to dress down a dress. A consult with my closet this weekend showed me this is a major void right now, thanks to my recent focus on cardigans. The two that are always on my list are Purl Bee’s Sweatshirt Sweater and Julie Hoover’s Sanford (along with Shellie Anderson’s new Trace, of course), any of which I want to knit a little bit wide and cropped. The same goes for these two newer additions to my list:

TOP: Element by Kirsten Johnstone, another classic sweatshirty shape

BOTTOM: Inscribe by Shellie Anderson, a perfect layering piece with that deep V


PREVIOUSLY in New Favorites: Crazy good colorwork

Hot Tip: Turn one strand into three

Hot Tip: Turn one strand into three

While we were at the trade show last spring, debating other points of the army-green test vest one night, Bristol Ivy taught me something so simple and so wildly valuable.  It’s a spinning trick called Navajo Ply or Chain Ply, and it may come in handy if, as one example, you’re swatching for the knitalong and have chosen the DK held-triple option.

Any time you’re knitting with three strands held together, yarn management can get tricky. You can wind three balls and pull a strand from each. Or you can wind three skeins together into one mega-cake. But what if you only need a little bit of yarn? Like for a swatch or a just a wee bit of colorwork? Winding three tiny balls is tedious — and either way, how much do you wind? With this trick you can turn a single piece of yarn into three strands, just like magic!

Step 1: Make a slipknot and pull out a big loop. (It can be much bigger than the one I’ve made here — I was trying to fit this all in the frame.)

Step 2: Reach into the loop, grab the working yarn, and pull out another big loop. Repeat step 2 as often as needed.

What you’ve basically made is the arm-knitting equivalent of a crochet chain, and when you put tension on that chain to work with it, you’ve got three strands of yarn. The little spots where each loop is bending back on itself are completely undetectable in the knitting. I’ve used this trick a few times since learning it, and I pull out BIG loops — like 10 or 12 inches each — so three loops are enough for me to knit across one row of the knitalong vest. I’m telling you, magic.

It’s a little hard to photograph, but if you pull out a ball of yarn and give it a go, you’ll see what I mean. Thanks, Bristol!


PREVIOUSLY in Hot Tips: Let the knitting remember for you