When I first laid eyes on what is now our sweater for the 2015 Fringe and Friends Knitalong — the Geometric Cowichan-style Vest from Pierrot — all I thought was I have to have that. Once I realized it would make a great knitalong, I started asking myself who would I want to knit it with (in addition to, you know, everyone) and who would make for thoughtful contributors to the panel. As well as who might take this very basic pattern in interesting directions. My first thought was a friend and frequent collaborator, photographer Kathy Cadigan, who I knew also had vests on the brain and a lot of interest in Cowichan. My next thought was another pal, Andrea Rangel, who has lived in the native land of the Cowichan sweater and has a lot of first-hand knowledge, as well as being an interesting knitter and designer in her own right. What about the Japanese pattern angle on all of this? Well, Meri Tanaka, my editor at Amirisu, was the obvious choice. Andrea and Meri are both pretty petite, so I knew they’d have interesting ideas about resizing the sweater. And then of course I really wanted a dude on the panel this time, especially since it’s ostensibly a men’s pattern. When I got wind of the fact that Brooklyn Tweed was on the brink of launching a bulky yarn that would be perfect for this sweater, I knew I had to ask Jared Flood if he’d like to join the fun. Thankfully, everyone said yes! And a panel was born.
What you’re about to see are already five very different yarn selections and swatches, and a whole bunch of great thoughts and ideas about the challenges and opportunities with this pattern. It’s a long post! So take your time with it, leave any questions below, and we all hope we’ll have given you lots of food for thought before you start swatching for your own. Which I can’t wait to see! Don’t forget to post URLs in the comments and/or use the #fringeandfriendskal2015 hashtag when sharing your progress online. And be sure to follow the panelists on Instagram (all linked below), where they’ll be sharing as well!
And with that, let’s meet the panel—
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Yarn: I’m using Quince and Co’s Lark (100% wool) held triple. I think it’s just rustic enough to feel suitable for a Cowichan-style sweater, while still being soft enough for my annoyingly sensitive neck. I’ve chosen the heathery grey Kumlien’s Gull for the main color, with Crow (black) and Egret (ivory) for contrasting colors.
Swatch: I’ve debated whether I want to do this in three colors or just two but swatched in all three, so I started at the right edge of the back chart with the checkerboard stripe, working up into part of the main motif. This is my first time knitting colorwork flat — I’ve always read color charts from right to left on all rows, working in the round. In the photo above (and here) you can see I mindlessly read one of the purl rows from right to left instead of left to right and botched the swatch. So that’s what this swatch taught me — that I’ll need to remember to read back and forth as I work back and forth!
Size/ease: I knitted the solid army-green test version of this sweater at pattern gauge/dimensions and I like the slouchiness of it on me, but want this one to be a little more fitted. Ideally it would be closer to 36″ circumference instead of 39″, so I’m aiming for 10.5 stitches per 4 inches. To get there, I’m knitting the tripled Lark on US13s instead of 15s. This swatch blocked out to 11 sts/4 in, or 2.75 sts/inch, and I’m happy with the density of the fabric, but that’s smaller than I want the sweater to be, so I’ll try to keep it a little looser as I’m knitting the real thing. (Why is there no US14 when you need it?) My row gauge is actually right on pattern gauge: 12.5 sts/4 in. That would put it at the pattern length of 25″, but I want this version a bit shorter as well as more fitted.
My target length is closer to 21″, so I want the sweater to amount to 66 total rows instead of 80. Given that it’s a vest, I’m good with the armhole depth at 9″ (28 rows), plus I don’t want to mess with anything from the armhole up. (I wouldn’t want to have to rework the collar.) So I’m leaving the upper portion of the sweater untouched, and simply omitting the first 14 rows after the waist ribbing.
Mods: In addition to debating two colors or three, I had debated possibly leaving out some of the motifs and having the colorwork be a little more minimal. Once I realized I needed to cut 14 rows to get my desired length, that decided it. So I’ll be knitting solid grey up to the first checkboard stripe, then the main motif, another checkerboard, then solid grey again the rest of the way up.
For the army-green version, I bound off 3 sts instead of 2 at each armhole edge, to create a little bit wider armhole and less fabric across the shoulders, and I’ll probably do the same here, depending on how the size is looking once I’m knitting. (I like the square armhole on this.)
I considered knitting the body in one piece, with a basting stitch at the side seams, just so I don’t get start-over-itis at the beginning of each piece. But given the likelihood that I’ll mess up the colorwork a time or two, I think it’s better to stick to the shorter rows of smaller pieces rather than risk ripping out unnecessarily long rows. And besides, it’s 2 seams of 52 rows each (or in my case, 38 rows each) — it takes about 15 minutes to seam this together. So pieces it is!
There’s one other mod I’m contemplating. I kind of want to put a zipper on it instead of buttons, so I may leave out the button band stitches when I cast on the fronts, and work the bands/collar flaps separately, then seam them on, then sew on a zipper. I’ve never done a zipper and have really wanted to, and not only is this the perfect opportunity, it’s very little knitting to do over if I mess something up on the first attempt.
Concerns/trepidations: As noted above, I’ve never done colorwork flat before. I was really worried about doing the colorwork on the purl rows, but swatching showed me it’s super simple, so I think I’m over it. As long as I remember to read the purl rows on the chart from left to right!
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Yarn: I’m knitting with our new chunky-weight yarn at Brooklyn Tweed: Quarry. I got super excited about the idea of doubling the yarn to create something that felt similar to an authentic Cowichan. Quarry is similar in style to the traditional single-ply Cowichan yarns used in traditional sweaters only more softly spun, lighter in weight. Holding two strands together landed me exactly on pattern gauge (on my first swatch nonetheless … how often does that happen?) and the fabric has that lofty, rustic appeal that I love so much about traditional Cowichans. I can’t wait to get to work on the full vest.
I waffled about color for a good long while but ended up deciding on Hematite (a sort of black-pomegranate) as my main color, with Gypsum (warm white) and Flint (brown) colorwork accents. I loved the idea of a version with Navy and Greys (Lazulite, Flint and Moonstone) but I figured 90% of my wardrobe is already shades of grey and blue-grey, so I’d go for something with warmer tones.
Swatch: I worked up two swatches and hit my target gauge right out of the gate. It felt like a sign that this vest needed to happen!
My first swatch was worked on a US13 (9 mm) and tested out single-color stockinette with two strands of Quarry held together. Because I invariably need to go up one or two needle sizes when working stranded colorwork, I knit my second swatch (pictured) with US15 (10 mm) — those take some getting used to! — and got an appropriate gauge in stranded pattern that would match my single-color gauge on the 13s. I’ll plan to switch back and forth between these two needle sizes as I jump from bands of stranding to bands of single color in the body of the garment.
As for finishings, I’ll most likely use several needle sizes for working details on the collar, button band and armhole finishings. I like working trims and edgings at a much firmer gauge to create a more durable and professional looking garment. I’m entertaining the idea of trimming my armholes in a “finer” yarn (a single strand of Quarry, rather than double stranded) and potentially the collar this way too. I’m not sure yet, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. I should have a good idea of what the sweater “needs” once I have the meat and potatoes of the knitting done.
Size/ease: I’m planning on swapping out the colorwork patterns for those of my own choosing and tailoring the garment as a “made to measure” piece. Now that I have my swatches to take blocked gauge measurements from, I will make a custom chart with my measurements to map out how my motifs will be placed vertically on the body.
As for ease, I want a fit that will hit close to the body when worn over a long sleeve button-down shirt. Since the fabric is so incredibly thick, I’ll probably opt for about 6″ of positive ease, which I’m hoping translates into a flattering silhouette — not oversized, but not too fitted either.
Mods: I’ve already started poking at the pattern and I’ll probably end up slightly modifying just about every detail. I can’t seem to help myself when knitting from existing patterns … it’s just too tempting to add details that will result in a completely unique garment. Aside from swapping out the color motifs (you can see the large motif I’ll be using in my swatch—it’s the same motif I used on my Nehalem cardigan for women from our Fall collection at BT. I still have that motif on the brain and thought it would be fun to see it translated in a larger scale on this vest. I liked it enough to throw it into a garment for myself.) I also hope to do some fun ribbed shaping details on the shawl collar. Once the body is knitted, I’ll assess the weight and feel of the finished fabric before deciding how to proceed with finishing details.
I’m also going to knit mine seamlessly and steek the front opening and armholes. Since I’ll be knitting the cardigan in the round, I also knit my swatch that way (hence the “fringe” along the sides). I’ll be working my steeks with a sewing machine (rather than a crochet method) in order to decrease the bulk of the facings with such a thick yarn.
Concerns/trepidations: Working stranded colorwork with a chunky yarn held doubled does seem like a good recipe for knitting body armor … but because this is a sleeveless piece, I think that could work. I’m hoping to end up with something super warm and cozy, suitable for Fall and Winter camping trips to the Oregon coast! A Cowichan vest does seem like the perfect sweater for my first rainy-season back in the Pacific Northwest.
Working with fabric this thick is definitely a little out of my wheelhouse, so I’m wondering if the final fit will be exactly what I’m envisioning. There’s only one way to find out!
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Yarn: It’s not at all what I had planned, but I’m going with a new yarn that I found at my LYS, Beehive. It’s Rowan Brushed Fleece, a blend of wool, brushed alpaca and 5% polymide. It’s soft, fluffy, and I can’t help but describe it as frothy. I kind of want the vest to feel a little like a puffy vest, so the lightness and loft seem spot on. (It is not at all like a traditional Cowichan sweater though. Not one bit.) I did not think I’d do the red and black, but when I picked out the skeins, they seemed just right, so I’m actually matching the pattern colors.
Swatch: I knit my initial swatch (uh, also known as one vest front) with US10s for the plain St stitch sections and US11 for the colorwork sections. I generally have to go up about two needle sizes to maintain gauge across patterned and un-patterned work. I don’t normally knit an entire piece of a sweater as a swatch, but one front was only 25 stitches wide, so it seemed like the most sensible thing to do in this case.
I like the fabric that the yarn makes even though it’s an unusual choice for me (so fluffy!), but the colors felt way too bold and decorative. The more I looked at it, the more it reminded me of a very loud Christmas sweater. The snowflake motif is pretty, but it just doesn’t suit me. So I changed my plan completely – I came up with some different color patterns (and knit another swatch/front) and I’m feeling better about it. It’s still more graphic than I usually wear, but I think I will actually wear it.
Size/ease: I’m knitting my vest at a tighter gauge (12 sts = 4″) to get a bust circumference of about 34″, which is about 3″ of ease on me. I’ll have to adjust the way I work the patterns vertically too since my row gauge will be condensed and I don’t really want it any shorter.
Mods: As mentioned above, I decided to swap out the color patterns, so that’s the most obvious one. I’m also going to knit the button bands, armhole edgings and collar afterwards instead of doing them at the same time. I want to use a smaller needle for these sections and I feel like picking up stitches gives more structure to everything.
I’m planning to adjust the armhole shaping so that it curves smoothly, instead of sticking with the square bind-off. To do that I’ll bind off three stitches, then decrease every right side row twice to end up with the 5 stitches shown on the chart for the armholes. At the top of the shoulder I’ll do a little short-row shaping to bring the neck edge up a bit and use three-needle bind-off to join the front and back (with the seams on the outside).
I don’t know yet if I’ll actually do it, but I’m contemplating adding pockets. If I decide to go for it, I’ll knit some big squares for linings and sew them to the inside of the vest with the opening along the side seams. The soft fluffiness of this yarn seems like it would make divine pockets.
Concerns/trepidations: I’m not 100% convinced that I made the right color choice. The red and black seem so strong to me and I’m almost wishing I had neutrals or even something like burnt orange and brown. But red and black will add variety to my wardrobe, so I’m sticking with it for now. I’m also still hesitating a bit about the yarn itself. I really like it, but it doesn’t have the most “outerwear” feel to it. I’m pining for some more solid wool roving a little bit. But it’s fun trying something unusual, so I’m sticking with it for now. And maybe I’ll make another one that’s more traditional too.
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Yarn: Quince and Co Puffin. Puffin is one of my favorite yarns. Kyoto in winter is extremely wet and cold with very few sunny days. Last winter I wore my Puffin pullover almost every day, and I need a new one for this winter.
Normally, I tend to avoid brown/tan colors, but I have been dying to knit with Audouin and Caspian. Such beautiful heather colors! Poppy (dark orange) and Bird’s Egg (light blue) are added to brighten it up.
Swatch: The smaller of the two swatches was to see if I can get my intended gauge with Puffin, which is 12.5 sts per 4″/10cm, so that I could order the colors I wanted. Using US13 needles, I had thought my gauge was too tight because my WS rows were quite uneven. Once it was blocked, this turned out to be the right gauge for me.
For the larger swatch I used US15 needles to see the difference, and the gauge was too loose. Although, this second swatch is the color scheme I am going to use.
Size/ease: I am tiny even for a Japanese woman, and I don’t like bulky sweaters/vests to be too loose, so naturally, size modification is necessary. I will make the body narrower by 25%, while at the same time, I want to keep the original length. It will be like a tunic rather than a vest.
I had thought about modifying the chart in order to shrink the size, but could not figure out a good way without changing the pattern completely. Instead, I decided to change the size by increasing the number of stitches per inch. Which is why Puffin will be used only one strand, not two strands held together.
Mods: To make the body longer, I will modify the colorwork pattern slightly.
Concerns/trepidations: I found it quite difficult to do colorwork with such bulky yarn on wrong side rows. To maintain the tension is quite tricky. Luckily, after blocking, the swatches became much more presentable. I am hoping the same thing will happen to my vest.
I had also considered knitting the body in one piece, but I am not very confident working such a long purl row in colorwork, so I decided against it. For cast on, instead of the normal long-tail method, I am going to use an easy 1×1 rib cast on which I have found on Ysolda’s blog.
Overall, I am very excited about this project!
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Yarn: I’m using beautifully rustic Retrosaria Bucos held double. I fell in love this Portuguese artisan yarn the minute I laid eyes on it at my LYS, Tolt Yarn and Wool. Bucos is processed entirely by hand, then spun with a distaff and long hand-held spindle. I think the thick-thin, nubbly texture will lend a lot of character to my Cowichan-style vest. I’ve decided to go super-traditional with color choices, using just two natural sheep colors: ivory for the background and a marled brown as contrast. My inspiration for using a marled color instead of a solid comes from a vintage Cowichan sweater I saw three years ago on a visit to see Andrea Rangel in Cowichan Bay. It was designed and knitted for Canadian weaver Leola Witt. I haven’t stopped dreaming of that sweater since!
Swatch: I chose the chain-like border motif for my swatch because of its straightforwardness. Andrea taught me how to weave floats on the back side of the work on every stitch (the way Coast Salish knitters do) and I’m just starting to get the hang of it. My gauge is at 9 sts per 4 inches on US15 needles. The yarn is surprisingly lightweight even at this substantial gauge.
Size/ease: I’m following Karen’s lead and plan to knit a solid color (dark brown) test version of the pattern first, so I can decide how fitted I’d like the final version to be. I’d like the circumference to be about 36″, slightly fitted with about 2″ of ease.
Mods: I have a feeling I’ll have to modify and maybe even substitute colorwork motifs to accommodate my gauge. I will use the motif charts found in the book “Salish Indian Sweaters” by Priscilla Gibson-Roberts for reference.
Concerns/trepidations: My main concern has to do with the pattern motifs. I’m a little bit worried that my marled yarn choice may obscure the motifs but I really like the worn-in rustic effect of the marled color, so I’m going to give it a whirl!
For some thoughts and math guidance on tampering with the size through changes in gauge (especially making it larger), see my post in the comments below.
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