Turning a sweater into an adventure

Tag Team Sweater Project update

To no one’s surprise, I’m not in the best shape on my Tag Team Sweater Project sweater. One week from today, I’ll be in Seattle, where I’m supposed to have a finished sweater. What I should have had by Monday, when my beautiful sweater body arrived from Anna (thank you, Anna!), was two sleeves to attach it to. Instead, I had one sleeve. One very wretched sleeve, plagued with ladders, which is a problem I’ve never struggled with before. (Except for that one time I attempted to knit a hat on four DPN’s, but that was sheer foolishness.) So instead of having one more sleeve to knit, I have two more sleeves to knit. And I also have a total loss of patience for knitting sleeves. The last thing I knitted before we started all this was Casey’s mitts, so I’ve been knitting nothing but stockinette tubes for as long as I can remember.

I can’t take it anymore!

I had originally envisioned being done with my four sleeves well before the appointed parts exchange date and had daydreamed about starting the yoke as a separate piece, with the completed sleeves and body grafted onto it later. So that idea was lingering in my mind, even as the sleeve due dates came and went. Since I can’t deal with the sleeves right now and am desperate to move on with the FUN PART — and after consulting Instagram and Michele Wang — I’ve decided to take the approach Felicia describes on her Craft Sessions blog. To wit: I separated the body into fronts and back and, as of last night, am working the phantom arms upwards from provisionally cast-on stitches. And just like that, this sweater went from feeling like a chore to an adventure! Wish me luck as I try to make great progress on it this weekend.

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Speaking of Seattle next week, I don’t think I’ve officially announced this: I won’t just be at VK Live taking classes and making the rounds. Instead I’ve taken Brooke up on her offer to share her booth again, so the Cabinet of Curiosities is going to Seattle! What this means, most significantly, is lots of drive time to work on my sweater.

New at Fringe Supply Co

In shop news for the weekend, two new things have arrived: Taproot 9, which includes a Carrie Bostick Hoge shawl pattern, Lola, that made me gasp out loud, and … cookies! My favorite cookies (to put it mildly), which you can read all about on the cookie page. Also, great news, the wildly popular repair hooks are back in stock in all sizes, in both bone and ebony. So you can find all that and more at Fringe Supply Co.!

Have a great weekend, everyone! As always, I’d love to hear what you’re working on—

New Favorites: Ebony and ivory

New Favorites: Ebony and ivory knitting patterns

There have been two new knitting pattern photos this week that have made my eyes widen and my mouth fall open. Both happen to be near-black and off-white, which is a combo I find irresistible. And in both cases, used to exquisite effect. First came Joelle’s Diagonal Pinstripe Scarf, a simple garter-stitch scarf (free pattern at the Purl Bee) knit on the diagonal with randomly placed single-row stripes, which creates a sort of ticking effect due to the garter stitch. Or as she says, “in Heirloom White with fine lines of Dark Loam, the effect is like a graphite drawing on cotton rag paper, loose and mysterious.” Then came Michele Wang’s Alloy, part of the latest Brooklyn Tweed collection, BT Winter 14. It’s classic Michele — an impeccable set-in-sleeve pullover with contrasting textures — but in this case she’s added color-blocked panels in the sleeves and sides. Had it been knitted in anything other than Fossil and Cast Iron, it wouldn’t have been the same. As is? Want.

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By the way, I know there are several of you who’ve been studying my Pullovers for First-Timers post, trying to decide what you want your first sweater to be. If you’re leaning toward a drop-sleeve pattern (i.e, no sleeve-cap or armscye shaping) there are two great options in that new BT collection: Abbott by Michele Wang and Benton by Julie Hoover. Both manage the proportions well.

Someday vs Right Away: Bobbles

Someday vs Right Away: Bobble

It might seem like I blog about Trillium every week, but c’mon — it’s really only every other week. I do, however, think about this sweater pretty much every day. Unlike some of the others, this one isn’t a pie-eyed sort of maybe someday Someday; it’s a someday soon. You know, as soon as I finish the other half-knit sweaters I’ve got going. But one of the things I’m looking forward to is the bobbles! (I’ll really be looking forward to them once I’m working my way up through all that stockinette.) I find them strangely appealing, as decorative doodads go, and have never knitted one. But there are snack-sized opportunities to rectify that in the near term: Jenny Gordy’s Snöflinga hat takes a similar judicious-geometric approach to the bobbles, and I love Grace Anna Farrow’s subtle Bump Scarf kerchief. (And that yarn: swoon.) Unfortunately, Grace’s pattern is not available for individual download, but Mary Lawson’s Covert Operation could be easily modified to kerchief proportions.

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p.s. The great answers to my last Q for You keep on coming. If you haven’t read all the comments, don’t miss What’s your peak knitting experience. I love these stories!

p.p.s. Knitters Graph Paper Journal is back in stock!

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PREVIOUSLY in Someday vs Right Away: Nordic delights

2013: My favorite New Favorites and your favorite posts

Best of New Favorites: Sweater patterns

You know there has to be some reflection and projection here as the calendar flips over from 2013 to ’14, starting with the patterns that caught my attention over the course of the year. Pretty much every week, under the heading of New Favorites, I post about the patterns that I not only like or admire but that make my fingers twitch with the urge to cast on — whether it’s great new releases, a designer who’s caught my eye, or some gap in my wardrobe or skill set I’m thinking about filling. Clearly I’m fickle, and some are more passing fancies than others. But some of these picks burrow into my brain and simply demand to be knitted. Here are the ones I’m still fixated on — I hope to cast on at least some of them in 2014.

SWEATERS
top left: Stonecutter pullover by Michele Wang (Pattern of the Year, as far as I’m concerned)
top right: Dwell cardigan by Martin Storey
bottom left: Trillium cardigan by Michele Wang
bottom right: Rook pullover by Kyoko Nakayoshi

Best of New Favorites: Fingerless gloves

FINGERLESS GLOVES
Antiquity mitts by Alicia Plummer

Best of New Favorites: Scarf/shawl patterns

WRAPS
left: Flying Squirrel stole by Michiyo
right: Imposter’s Shawl by Amber Corcoran

Best of New Favorites: Sock patterns

SOCKS
left: Climb socks by Jane Richmond
right: Cream socks by cabinfour

The hats I am most persistently obsessed with were both mentioned on the blog, but neither of them in New Favorites. They are the Bray Cap by Jared Flood and Gwyneth by Leah McGlone.

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And speaking of favorites, here are the ten posts that attracted the most views over the course of 2013:

1. How to improvise a top-down sweater
2. Holiday knitting cheat sheet: A hat for every head
3. Best summer sweater knitting patterns
4. Double Basketweave Cowl (free pattern)
5. New Favorites: Simply Great Cowls
6. Scarves to start now
7. Wabi Mitts (free pattern)
8. Fast, easy and warm: Jumbo Stitch Cowls collection (free patterns)
9. Knitter’s Delight: Beautifully textured hats
10. Holiday knitting cheat sheet: Cowls all around

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Someday vs Right Away: Complex mixed cables

Someday vs Right Away: Complex mixed cable knitting patterns

As you may have noticed, my appetite for amazing sweaters is vast — cables, colorwork, clever construction … yes, please. Sadly, my actual allotment of knitting time (not to mention my yarn budget) is scant. I keep pointing out to myself that it’s not like I need all of those sweaters anyway, and besides, where would I put them? And if what I want is to knit them, there are smaller-scale ways of scratching that itch. So I thought this might make a good little occasional series — useful for me and others similarly afflicted. I’m calling it Someday vs Right Away.

At the very top of my list of not-gonna-happen-anytime-soons is Stonecutter, Michele Wang’s remarkable take on the fisherman sweater. If it’s complex mixed cables we’re longing to knit, there are hats galore that might appease us — including two great options from Wool People 6, the most recent Brooklyn Tweed collection: Gentian by Irina Dmitrieva (bottom left) and Bough by Leila Raabe (bottom right). I can only imagine the tremendous sense of accomplishment that would come with a finished Stonecutter, but either of these might provide a rewarding little dose of that. Right?

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QUICK NOTE: I’m happy to announce three new Fringe Supply Co. stockists: Apple Yarns in Bellingham WA, Seaside Yarns in Juneau AK and my first international store, Sunspun in Canterbury, Victoria, Australia! Hit ’em up for some Fringe goods, will ya?

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Test driving my sleeve-swatch

Slade cardigan in progress

This is a picture of me being more diligent than I have perhaps ever been about anything. Also: putting the slow in slow fashion. Toward the end of last month, I accepted the fact that all I have headroom for right now is stockinette. But you know how I like to always be learning something new, so I decided it’s time to make an old-school seamed sweater.

Last summer, my friends at Shibui sent me a big box of yarn, including a sweater’s worth of their Merino Alpaca in this artichoke color I love. I’d been looking for just the right thing to do with it, when along came Slade. It seemed to me the two might be made for each other. Knitted in this yarn, in this color, I suspected it would look like it could actually be Army-issue — if the Army had a taste for fine yarns. An officer’s sweater maybe, from the days when things were still made of wool. Right? On the one hand this a nice, relatively mindless project, being a whole bunch of stockinette. But on the other hand, since I’m changing the yarn (and with it the row gauge) and some of the shaping, and have never dealt with mods or discrepancies around a set-in sleeve before, it’s also a whole new experience. I told myself going in that I would not rush it. If I get it right, this is a sweater I will wear for years, so I might as well take my time knitting it and make sure I do, in fact, get it right.

I admit it might be taking a little longer than I intended.

I’m a big believer in the sleeve-as-swatch theory of sweater knitting. (The best swatch is a big swatch, so why not a sleeve?) So that first week I made this sleeve. And a couple weeks later, I blocked it. It blocked beautifully — I’m in love with the fabric. The widths are all exactly as intended. I intentionally made the sleeve longer and a little narrower at the wrist than the pattern calls for, but the armhole is deeper than the pattern dimensions, because my row gauge is bigger. So I did some number-crunching and pondering, and asked Michele Wang some noob questions. And it sat in its bag, waiting.

The other night, I was having a mild case of that out-of-sorts feeling that comes from not knitting for days — you know the one — so I took five minutes and pinned the sleeve along the eventual seam, so I could pull it on. (It’s kind of weird how much good that five minutes of interacting with yarn did me.) And then yesterday I pinned it to this shirt — a shirt of my husband’s I cut the neck and sleeves off of long ago — and wore it around a little bit to see how it felt. After a month, and all that due diligence, this sweater is officially a go.

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The reason for no knitting this week? The overwhelming response to the Yarn Pyramid. I have been shipping nonstop, all over the globe (and to a couple of new stores I’ll announce next week), and am so thrilled that you all love it so much. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, to everyone who has not only ordered it or visited one of the stockists to buy it, but who has blogged about it or shared it on social media or even just said to me how much you like it. It means so, so much to me. And if you’re someone who got a crazy international shipping quote from me in the first couple of days, I have better news for you and will be in touch.

By the way, if you’re not on the Fringe Supply Co. mailing list, you might want to pop over there and plug your email address into the sign-up box. Just sayin’.

Have a great weekend, everyone! Love to hear what you’re working on …

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Pullovers for first-timers: Or, an introduction to sweater construction

Idlewild blueprint

I’ve been promising this post on sweater patterns for beginners — or first-time sweater knitters at any level — for quite awhile, and it’s turned out to be a bit of a monster! But let’s get one thing clear right up front: There is nothing intrinsically hard about knitting a sweater. Don’t let the size of this post scare you! As I’ve said before, if you can knit a mitt, you can knit a sweater. Depending on the type of sweater, it may involve some combination of increases/decreases, casting on or binding off stitches mid-stream, picking up stitches, possibly even some short rows — some or all of which you’ve most likely done by the time you’re thinking about a sweater. It’s just knitting. But given the potential investment of time and yarn money, a sweater represents a bit of a mental hurdle for lots of knitters. I’ve met people who’ve been knitting for decades, who have all kinds of fancy knitting skills, but who’ve never felt confident about knitting a sweater.

I feel like in addition to the time and money, another hesitation for people is just not knowing how sweaters are made — what it is you’re signing up for. It’s less daunting to dive into a pair of fingerless mitts, say, without really knowing what it will entail. Embarking on something as big as a sweater when the process is a mystery can be doubly daunting. So this post is a set of patterns I think are good starter patterns, but which also provide an overview of the four or five most common* ways a pullover is constructed — along with some pros and cons for each — to help you decide which might be the best place for you personally to start. (Coincidentally, Hannah Fettig and Pam Allen just did a podcast on basic sweater types at knit.fm, so I’d suggest listening to that for their thoughts as well.)

NOTE: Since everyone’s skills are different, I’m suggesting one basic/beginner pattern for each construction type, along with more ambitious alternatives. If you’re perfectly comfortable with cables, lace, colorwork, or whatever, there’s no reason your first sweater has to be plain stockinette. But if you’re newer to knitting and doing your first sweater, you might want to keep it simple in that regard.

OK, here we go:

Drop-shoulder and dolman sweater knitting patterns for first-timers

DROP-SHOULDER AND DOLMAN SWEATERS

suggested pattern:
My First Summer Tunic — not pictured, but see this Knit the Look for more on this one (free pattern)

or if you’re feeling more ambitious:
Relax by Ririko — a bit of a hybrid with some eyelet interest
Idlewild by Julie Hoover — dolman with cables and shaping (see blueprint above)
Mix No. 13 by AnneLena Mattison — drop-shoulder with allover lace

The trickiest part of sweater design and construction is the “armscye” — the shaping of the joint where the sleeve meets the body. Drop-shoulder sweaters avoid the issue altogether by consisting simply of four rectangles (front, back and two sleeves) sewn together, with the body pieces being wide enough that the sleeves can just be a pair of tubes stuck on at the opening. Dolman-sleeve sweaters, similarly, are basically two big T shapes, one front and one back, seamed together, with an opening for the neck. Both are necessarily oversized to account for the lack of a sleeve cap.

pros: No armhole shaping to worry about; anyone who can knit a rectangle can knit four
cons: Drop-shoulder won’t really teach you any new skills (other than mattress stitch) or anything about true sweater construction

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Top-down sweater knitting patterns for first-timers

TOP-DOWN SEAMLESS SWEATERS

suggested pattern:
Ladies Classic Raglan by Jane Richmond — ultra-basic top-down raglan

or if you’re feeling more ambitious:
Basic Round-Yoke Unisex by Hannah Fettig — or even the colorwork version, Willard Fair Isle
Portside by Alicia Plummer — boatneck tunic shape with pockets

With top-down, your cast-on edge is your neckline. You knit the yoke in the round, shaping it via increases, and it can be raglan, round-yoked, saddle-shoulder, or a simulation of a set-in sleeve. Once the yoke has reached your desired armhole depth, you set aside the sleeve stitches on waste yarn, join the back and front in the round and keep knitting the body downward from there. Then you put those sleeve stitches back on the needle and knit each of the sleeves in the round. So you literally knit the entire sweater in one piece, seamlessly. (For step-by-step photos illustrating the process, see the Ravelry page for my top-down-tutorial sweater.)

Sweaters knit in the round — whether top-down or bottom-up — have their detractors. But I consider them the gateway to sweater knitting. With top-down, you can literally try on your sweater as you go, giving you absolute control over the fit. Whether you’re knitting from a pattern or making it up, you’ll find lots of information about how it works — and how sweater shaping works in general — in my top-down tutorial. Understanding the basic concepts will allow you to modify any pattern to fit your particular shape.

pros: No seaming; lots of control over the fit
cons: None of the structural support that seams provide (less durable); with certain yarns, the sweater may twist on you over time, having been knitted in a spiral, which is what “in the round” technically is; less portable; the one big piece may feel more cumbersome to work on as it grows into a sweater.

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Bottom-up sweater patterns for first-timers

BOTTOM-UP SWEATERS

suggested pattern:
Sweatshirt Sweater by Purl Bee — with or without the kangaroo pocket (free pattern)

or if you’re feeling more ambitious:
Bedford by Michele Wang — simple cables on the body only
Stasis by Leila Raabe — colorwork and a round yoke

Seamless pullovers can also be worked from the bottom up. In this case you knit three tubes starting at the hem: the body plus two sleeves. When all three of those pieces reach armhole height, they’re joined together on a single long needle, and the yoke is worked seamlessly upward from that point, shaped by decreases. It can be raglan, round-yoked or saddle-shouldered.

There’s also a hybrid category of bottom-up sweaters, where the body and sleeves are each worked and shaped separately all the way to the top, then seamed together at the arm joint, which can be either a raglan or a set-in sleeve.

pros: Can be seamless; the three separate pieces are relatively portable, and sleeves are always a nice place to start
cons: If seamless, same cons as for top-down, above; not as much control over the outcome as with top-down; no way to try it on until the body and arms are joined, so adjusting the length requires ripping back/un-joining.

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Seamed sweater patterns for first-timers

CLASSIC SEAMED SWEATERS

suggested pattern:
Breton by Jared Flood (with or without the stripes)

or if you’re feeling more ambitious:
Redford by Julie Hoover — unisex! sweatshirt detailing, including side panels
Belesama by Michele Wang — ribbing plus textured-stitch panels on front and back

There have been sweaters for centuries longer than there have been circular needles, so traditionally sweaters were knitted in flat pieces** — just like you cut pattern pieces when sewing a garment — and seamed together with mattress stitch. Lots of people hate (or think they hate) the act of seaming. But I believe people’s increasing preference for seamless sweaters is as much to do with the control issue as with the actual seaming. I could be wrong, who knows. A seamed sweater typically has set-in sleeves, but can also be raglan or saddle-shouldered. With thoughtful shaping, a seamless sweater can actually be sculpted to fit a three-dimensional body, but the conventional wisdom (and the reality of most patterns) is that a set-in-sleeve sweater will conform to the human shape better than, say, a raglan. Obviously, there’s a lot of room for nuance and debate there.

In some cases, the sleeves of seamed sweaters are worked in the round up to the armhole, then the sleeve cap (the upper part of the sleeve) is worked flat. That eliminates the need to seam the arms.

pros: long-lasting, as seams provide structural support; pieces are portable; no painfully long rows/rounds to knit; a long history of published patterns to draw on
cons: you don’t know how you did until you seam it all together

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Whichever type of sweater you start with, fit is always a concern. Nobody wants to spend a month or more making a sweater, only to have it not fit in the end. So taking measurements — of your body and also a garment that fits the way you like — is critical. Any good pattern will include a schematic, detailing the finished measurements of the sweater. (Which presumes your gauge is the same as that listed on the pattern. If your stitches are larger or smaller, your sweater will be larger or smaller.) Picking the right size is the first step toward a successful outcome.

Questions? Disputes? Let’s talk about it—

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*There are infinitely more than four ways to construct a sweater but we’re sticking with the basics here!
**I’m being corrected on this in the comments. Read on for further info