Here’s the thing about knitting: A finished object is a destination, and a pattern for that object is a map describing one route for getting there. You always have the option of choosing your own route! In the case of the Sólbein Cardigan — the featured pattern for the upcoming Fringe and Friends Steekalong — the route described in the pattern includes a sewing-machine reinforced steek with a full tutorial for how to do it (partially glimpsed above). There have been many people wondering if that method is a requirement, and it absolutely is not.
I’ve put the following few questions to Mary Jane Mucklestone about the Sólbein steek and what alternatives are available, so you A) are not scared off if you don’t have a sewing machine and B) can consider your options even if you do! We’ll dig a little deeper once the knitalong is in full swing, but I wanted you to have this information before you cast on—
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The Sólbein pattern includes instructions for the sewing machine method of reinforcing the steek before cutting. Is there any particular reason why you wrote it for that method — is it your personal favorite?
I chose the sewing machine method because it’s what you see most often in Iceland. A line or two of machine stitches nails down all the strands without creating any additional bulk, another reason I chose it. I actually love to reinforce with crochet, a slip stitch catching 1/2 of two adjacent stitches. It’s really pretty and it helps the cut ends fold under. It does cause additional bulk, so for Sólbein I might use a finer yarn, maybe fingering weight. I’d choose a color to blend with the selection you’ve made, anything super different could possibly show through to the front. Personally I’d use whatever I had lying around that matched, which would be Shetland wool or sock yarn.
For those who don’t have a sewing machine, what are some of the other steeking methods they might research? And is any/every method an option here, or is there anything about Sólbein that would rule any of them out?
You can do the crocheted steek like I mentioned above, or hand stitching with sewing thread is also an option, I find I have to be really careful to make it pretty, but it works. I know it’s hard fitting a sewing machine into your knitting bag!
Does Léttlopi really even need any reinforcement for the steek, or could a brave soul just go for it?
I think because we’re knitting at such a loose gauge it’s a good idea to reinforce the steek. If we used a tight gauge and more stitches for the steek, just leaving it and doing nothing could possibly be an option.
Having asked that, and having read the pattern, I will confess I’m actually slightly nervous (by which I mean excited!) about there not being more of a “bridge” of stitches to cut through. As written, one is literally cutting straight up the gutter between two columns of stitches. Would you counsel against anyone who might feel tempted to throw a couple of extra stitches in between?
Well in Iceland they’ll often just have a single purl stitch as a steek. So I was being cautious using two. I’ll admit it makes me a little nervous too, but like you, at the same time thrilled. It’s nice because there is really no bulk, just enough left to be a tidy little selvage. I wear my Sólbein a lot and nothing bad has happened to it. All those Icelandic knitters can’t be wrong! But that’s not to say you can’t add more stitches if it helps you feel safer and more comfortable.
I’m thrilled at all of the enthusiasm over the upcoming Fringe and Friends Steekalong featuring Mary Jane Mucklestone’s Sólbein cardigan — kicking off January 1st. Several questions have been raised about color and yarn choices, which obviously need to be decided before casting on, so I’m doing a couple of advance Q&A’s with Mary Jane this month, starting today with those concerns. (We’ll talk about steek method alternatives next.)
To recap, Sólbein is designed for Léttlopi Icelandic wool yarn which is both unique and affordable — I’ve written about the yarn before here. In this case, it’s also knitted at a larger gauge (which works due to magic discussed below), the result being a sweater that knits up quickly, is somewhat less warm than if you knitted the same yarn at a more typical gauge, and is even less expensive, using less of an already affordable yarn. If you’re unsure about the lopi fabric, I highly recommend buying a few balls to swatch with, especially given the price point — knit a swatch, soak your swatch and get to know what the fabric is really like. If then it is not for you, we talk about the challenges and options for substituting yarns below. And you can use your leftover Léttlopi to make some Giving Mitts.
So with that, here’s Mary Jane — and if you have other yarn questions not answered here, please ask them below!
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First, let’s talk about picking colors for Sólbein. I did the big roundup of palette suggestions that were mostly based on your model of using light/medium/dark shades of a single color. Can you talk about the effect that has, and why you chose it over a more contrasty or colorful approach?
When I designed the sweater it was based on the prompt “lines.” I love a simple prompt. I started thinking about radiating lines and eventually about light streaming through my windows on a winter’s day, and sunbeams. I wanted an ethereal kind of shimmer. I design on the needle and knitted the light one first. To get the effect I saw in my mind’s eye, I chose a group of three colors that were fairly close in value, with the white acting as a bold color … if that makes sense.
When thinking about a second colorway, charcoal seemed a great choice for the main body color, so different from the first version. Choosing such a dark dark allowed different spacing between the values, but still in the same sequence: darkest for the body, middle for the ribbing and lightest for sunbeams. The medium color also become beams, when they progress into the darkest color.
So that was just my personal thinking about a knitted way to describe lines and my interpretation of lines being light. I’ve seen some really cute bright versions of Sólbein though — some even in candy colors, still arranged in a value sequence — and they are super cute!
Léttlopi is not like any other yarn I’ve ever used, and I find it impossible to describe to anyone — it’s so incredibly light and has such a halo that the fabric is more like a puff of wool-infused air or something. You’ve compounded that by knitting on a larger-than-usual needle: It’s aran-gauge yarn (or heavy worsted) knitted here on chunky needles, but the resulting fabric is not loose stockinette because of the way the lopi fleece blooms to fill the would-be gaps. I’d never seen that done before your Stopover pattern (and I wound up trying it with my little black raglan sweater). Is that a trick you’d seen before with Léttlopi?
I love Léttlopi. I love the fuzz and the loft and the lightness of it. And the shine — it glimmers. We traveled to Iceland in the ’70s and my mom got a lopapeysa which I’ve always always loved. It was so thick, but still so light in weight, and that’s the thing for me — lopi produces a warm but lightweight garment. So the memory of the utility of that sweater has never left me.
I came to knit Léttlopi at a loose gauge because I was in a hurry. I always wore my favorite storebought lopapeysa I got a few years ago, and a friend pointed out that I had it on in every picture and I needed to be wearing my own designs. Realizing that I had a week before my next trip, I consulted my stash and thought … why not? I didn’t have regular lopi, only had Léttlopi, and I figured I could use a bigger needle for a faster knit. I also wanted a warm sweater that wouldn’t weigh a lot because of airline weight restrictions, and that could take a beating being squished and compacted in a suitcase. I did a little swatching and I kept pushing the needle size, seeing how big I could get away with. Léttlopi is magical; once washed, the loft of it fills in the gaps of the loose gauge.
All of those lopi traits and gauge trickery are what makes it difficult to suggest yarn substitutions. A typical aran-weight yarn would not do well being knitted at such a large gauge, and especially with colorwork involved. Substituting here would require using a chunky yarn, which would result in a heavier, denser sweater. It might be more or less warm than the lopi, depending, but it would not be the same light-as-air sweater. On top of which, not all yarns are suited to either colorwork or steeking. It needs to be a woolly wool with some grip. (Nothing super smooth, slippery or superwash.) Which doesn’t leave a lot of options! Do you think it would work with any of the lighter, more roving-y wools like Turbine and Puffin and Quarry? What’s your best suggestion?
Hmmm … yes. You can substitute, but I can’t think of any yarn that will produce a sweater that is as light in weight as Léttlopi. But not everyone needs a sweater to cram in a suitcase, or that weighs next to nothing. So swatch! Swatching is fun. It’s like an experiment — like you are a knitting scientist or a knitting explorer charting new territory! Test out a potential yarn and decide if you like the knitted result. Wash the swatch to see what happens. See how much larger you can make it with blocking. Léttlopi has a lot of leeway — when it’s wet you can make it grow if you want it to grow, or just pat it into place if you don’t want it to.
But you want answers! I’ve used Puffin when I’m swatching for design and I want a yarn where I can rip things out without much harm… so I know the gauge will work and it will be pretty. But it will be different, it will be more solid and weigh more. Quarry is kind of like roving, so it will probably work, and be fairly light. It won’t have the glossy sparkle that Lettlopi has, but it could be nice. So yeah. Everything will be a trade off, but that’s fine, and can be an adventure of discovery!
Among those not averse to using lopi wool, several people have also asked whether the unspun Plötulopi would work? And I’m wondering the opposite — any reason someone couldn’t use the bulky-gauge Alafoss Lopi? In which case you’d be knitting it at standard gauge, for a more typical Icelandic outerwear sort of garment, am I right?
I think Plötulopi stranded double will work, in fact I’ve seen it done on Instagram. I wouldn’t use a single strand because I don’t believe the edge will be strong enough to support a button band. Standard Lopi will be fine, and it will make a more traditional lopapeysa. It will be heavier and warmer and can function as a jacket. It could be fantastic now that I think about it. Not for my international flights maybe, but as outwear it would be great.
Obviously, whatever one is considering potentially substituting, as you’ve noted, it would be exceptionally important to knit a big swatch, make sure it’s suitable for the colorwork and gauge, and also potentially cut the swatch to confirm the steek will hold. How do you advise swatching for this sweater, in any case?
Well, ideally, you swatch the way your garment will be knit, so in the round, with the needles you’ll be using … so a hat-sized swatch. I’d practice both plain stockinette and do some of the colorwork lines. Really get a feel for the fabric you are making. I hear some groans … . If you really really don’t want to do that, you could also knit flat, utilizing a Shetland technique called “brak an eek”, or break and join. On a circular needle you knit flat, joining yarn on the right edge, and breaking it on the left edge, sliding the stitches back to the right, and repeating. You knot the broken yarns after a couple of rows. Keep in mind if you’re new to this, it might take a bit of practice, and you also won’t be able to reuse the yarn. In either case it’s a bonus if you want to try out your steeking method on the swatch, great preparation!
Interesting — I just leave a long loop across the back of the swatch for each row, and cut the loops at the end.
The other option for anyone wanting to substitute yarn but not wanting to go the bulky route would be to knit aran-weight yarn at aran gauge and to do their own gauge math. Any caveats for anyone thinking of going that route? (Other than “don’t ask Mary Jane to do your math!”)
I say go for it if you want to. Since it’s knitted top-down, you can easily knit it to the length you want. A friend of mine has had great success knitting Sólbein at a 4.5 stitch gauge. She’s had to fiddle with things and ripped a bunch out but her finished sweater is divine.
I had the good fortune of being at Tolt this weekend, where I got to spend some time at the Istex Léttlopi wall along with Andrea Rangel, picking out possible color pairings for Sólbein and the Steekalong. (That sounds like a band name!) As I mentioned in the announcement, Mary Jane designed this cardigan to be knitted in tonal shades of a single color (light, medium and dark), and lopi comes in lots of great colors, but pairing them up is not so easy a thing to do if you’re ordering online. So I hope you’ll find these suggestions helpful. (Thanks so much for my friends at Tolt for letting me do this in the middle of their anniversary madhouse!) These are, of course, on top of the two colorways already pictured in the pattern, both of which are gorgeous.
Some of the combos above are perfectly tonal (such as the pumpkin pie and chocolate combos, 2 and 3); others rely on a pale grey for the lightest shade where no pale version of the color in question exists, and you could also use the (off) white the same way, as we did for the purple combo, 7. Combos 9 and 11 represent the idea of a light/dark neutral motif on a colored field, which would be a different look but possibly quite pleasing.
PLEASE NOTE that I have not actually swatched these so I can’t vouch for how they would hold up — I definitely recommend buying a ball of each and swatching to see — but I think these are all fairly safe bets.
I’m using the Istex color designations here, which are numbers. Sometimes you also see them with name names, but the official color numbers seem like the safest way to label them here since that’s what’s on the ball band:
1. 1700 + 9419 + 0005
2. 1419 + 1704 + 9427
3. 0085 + 0053* + 0052
4. 0086 + 0085 + 0058
5. 0054 + 1700 + 1701
6. 0054 + 1417 + 1416
7. 0051 + 1702 + 1414
8. 0054 + 1406 + 1407
9. 0086 + 0085 + 9418
10. 0054 + 1419 + 9431
11. 0054 + 0057 + 1703
Andrea reminded me I’ve been talking about wanting and black and navy sweater forever, so I think I’m probably doing that top combo myself! (Especially since I have a sweater’s worth of the heathered black leftover from my little quick black raglan.)
*I didn’t get that one into my list, but I’m 95% sure that’s the right color number.
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I also just got an email from Berroco, the yarn company that distributes Istex Lopi yarns in the US and Canada, and they offered up a prize of a sweater quantity of Léttlopi to one of you, dear readers. (Open to knitters with a shipping address in the US or Canada.) To enter, leave a comment below saying which three colors you’re thinking of using for your Sólbein, and I’ll pick a winner at random from all comments received by 5pm CST tomorrow, Nov 8. I’ll update this post with the winner’s name at that time, so check back Thursday evening to see if you won!
UPDATE: Chosen at random, the winner is Jo who posted “Although your color combos are amazing, my choice would be 0052 for the body with 0056 and 1701 as the accents. Thanks for the opportunity!” Congratulations, Jo! Please email me <email@example.com> for instructions on how to collect your prize. Thanks to everyone who entered, and I’m so excited to see all y’all’s sweaters come January!
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MORE TO COME
There have been questions since Monday about yarn substitutions and alternative steeking methods (as opposed to the sewing machine approach) and we will cover all of that along the way, I promise! But the short answer to the latter is no, you do not have to use the sewing machine approach.
Last year when I was teasing you all about the next Fringe and Friends Knitalong (“fafkal” as they’ve come to be known), I no doubt planted the seed in some of your minds that it would be about steeking. Which was true at the time! But it got pushed back a year, for various reasons (making way for the Logalong), so I’m just that much more excited to let you in on the secret today, which is that yes, next up will be the Fringe and Friends Steekalong! My partner in crime this time will be my pal Mary Jane Mucklestone, a colorwork legend in our own time, and the featured pattern will be her exquisite Sólbein Cardigan, which I’ve been dying to knit since first laying eyes on it on the dock at Squam last year. It’s among the most beautiful uses of colorwork I’ve ever seen, with that fluttery featheriness that comes from the tonal stranding, plus I’m so excited to knit my first steeked garment along with all of you and Mary Jane.
For anyone new to the term, steeking is cutting your knitting. Most people prefer to do colorwork only in the round, but that would rule out anything that’s not a tube. So for instance, to get a cardigan you knit a seamless pullover with a couple of extra stitches up the front where the opening should be. And when the pullover is done, you cut straight up through those stitches to create the opening, then add your button band or other edging. I KNOW! I’ve only ever done it on a swatch, but it’s going to be thrilling.
NOTES ON THE SWEATER AND YARN
Sólbein is one of Mary Jane’s brilliant instances of knitting Léttlopi at a looser than traditional gauge — lopi being a yarn with an unparalleled character and halo that magically fluffs to fill — which means it knits up quickly and creates a fabric that is light as air and also not quite as warm as a typical Icelandic lopapeysa. You can read more about lopi yarn here, but it comes in an incredible array of colors (find it online at Tolt, Fancy Tiger and others, if your local doesn’t stock it) and is quite affordable.
What makes the Sólbein colorwork so effective is the use of tonal colors, so to preserve that you want to choose light, medium and dark shades all in the same family. If you decide to go with three totally different colors, you’ll get a completely different effect, which could be differently stunning. Have some fun with the swatching for this!
If you are thinking of substituting yarn, take that into account about the gauge — most aran-weight yarns will not knit up so nicely (especially with colorwork) on larger needles, so you would want to substitute a bulky yarn, and make sure you’re using one suitable for steeking. It needs to be yarn with grip, definitely not anything slippery smooth or superwash.
Technically, you may knit any steeked garment you like for the kal, and we’ll also talk about how to add a steek to a pullover to make it a cardigan. But I hope you’ll knit the gorgeous Sólbein with us! Just look at the excitement on Mary Jane’s face!
OK, she always look like that. ;)
Like the last one, I’ve decided to save this to enjoy during selfish-knitting season, after the holidays, which means you have from now until the end of the year to dream, swatch, and think about any modifications you might make. And we’ll cast on January 1st.
That’s also when I’ll announce the rest of the panel, but obviously MJM is on it!
HOW TO PARTICIPATE
To knit along simply use the hashtag on Instagram or wherever you post: #fringeandfriendssteekalong. By all means, please share your swatching and planning between now and then, but try to refrain from casting on until the official start date. And meanwhile, make sure you’re following @mjmucklestone on Instagram!
LAST SUMMER, I was smart enough to invite other people to do the final-round judging for Summer of Basics, and I’ll be sure to do that again next year because choosing winners from the 140-ish submissions on the #sob18finisher feed was beyond difficult. (Y’all, in two Summers, we’ve racked up over 5000 posts on #summerofbasics!) In the end, I could only narrow it down to 6 Grand Prize winners (instead of 5) of a $100 Fringe Supply Co. gift certificate*, pictured above and listed below in order of appearance, top to bottom. Make sure you click through and check out each one’s reflections, pattern details and additional photos —
– @lana_and_lino Such gorgeous pieces, and the way that she has styled them all into a micro-capsule speaks to just how effective they’re sure to be in her closet. If you only read one caption out of any of this, please make it this one! I’m applauding every word. “I bought my sewing machine in January and I could only sew straight lines …”
– @the_german_edge was a front-runner and crowd favorite from the word go, with her ambitious and stylish plans, and following along with her has been pure delight. And yes, she made her clogs.
– @francespaki contributing from down under, challenging herself to make some more tailored garments and hitting all three pieces out of the park. “I really feel they are true basics that reflect my style and will be worn winter after winter for years.” If you don’t wear them, Frances, I will!
– @nomadiccharacter made six things for herself and three for her daughter, all of which demonstrate that basic doesn’t mean boring. And come on with that toddler lopi!
– @teamajwarren Her whole recap is just pure joy, which is how I would love for us all to feel about the clothes we’ve made ourselves.
– @aunthoneysestate I feel like she manages to convey so much about herself and her personal style with these three lovely garments, which she describes thusly: “Each fills a specific gap in my summer wardrobe. 1) A pretty embroidered top that goes with everything. 2) A dress that I can “put on and go.” 3) The camisole that I need at least two times a week but never made!” This is also one of many instances like this throughout the feed, which melts my heart every time: “The embroidered center panel is a vintage piece that I’ve been saving for a long time.”
Congratulations to all of you! Job amazingly well done. Please email me at <firstname.lastname@example.org> to collect your prizes!
If you missed the round one and round two winners, do go take a look at those, too, and click through to see how their plans shook out!
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Through it all, I was blown away by @ninaninawhy’s attention to detail; @blakandblanca’s jet-fueled output, tremendous style and willingness to just go for it (and omg that personalized Field Bag to match her tote); and just how many people made SHOES this year! I loved @hobbsfunk’s striking mirror selfies; melted at @clairemadeit’s mini-capsule for her baby on the way; and cheered @reddamzel’s attitude about her white-for-now sweatshirt. Then there’s @notaprimarycolor who is in a league of her own. And I want to give a special shoutout to @thestoryclubpdx, one of our first-round winners, just to say that I so enjoyed following along with her efforts all summer in such depth, and appreciated how generously she shared both her struggles and her victories.
If I could borrow garments, there’d be a lot of them: @sv_azimuth’s Twigs sweater, @malinerogne’s slip dress, @jessandhen’s back-pleat box top, @mwmmpls’s little yellow top, @megthegrand’s cheerful yellow pullover (I know: I keep saying I’m craving some yellow!), @rachelbeckman’s cardigan, @maloriehall’s … well, everything, but especially the knee-length kimono jacket, and so many other killer clothes!
As I was methodically combing through the finishers, I also made a folder for posts I wanted to refer to or quote from — so many incredible remarks and insights!. When I was done and went to see how many there were, though, I’d saved 35 posts! Which is a bit much to try to cull and link. So what I really want to encourage you to do is go read through the #sob18finisher feed — it’s truly so remarkable and inspirational, and I think every single one is a winner! Along with everyone who finished even one garment. As I’m always saying, it really is the clothes you make, the friends you meet, the skills you build that are the real prize in all of this.
Thank you all so much for making this another exceptional event! I can’t wait for 2019.
*Shipping fees will apply. Non-US winners will be responsible for any duties or taxes on their shipments. Packages cannot be marked as gifts. No substitutions, and prizes cannot be redeemed for cash value.
Yay, today’s the day! Or, well, technically tomorrow is the day, but it’s time to kick off the Fringe Marlisle Knitalong, aka #fringemarlislekal! I’ve been obsessed with Anna Maltz‘s clever technique — as explored in her book Marlisle: A New Direction in Knitting — since her pre-book Humboldt sweater pattern hit the airwaves, and I’m so excited to finally cast on. Anna is traveling all month but will be following along and co-judging with me!
$75* Fringe Supply Co. gift cert:
– best rendition of an Anna pattern (could be use of color, beautiful knitting, suits you beautifully, etc)
– best modification of an Anna pattern
– best original use of Marlisle
2) Make at least one additional post about your work in progress along the way. Be sure to tag all of your #fringemarlislekal posts, for all to see!
3) Make a final post of your finished object with the same tags as above, stating which category you’re entering by including whichever additional tag is appropriate: #bestmarlisle #bestmarlislemod #bestoriginalmarlisle
Anna and I will begin judging on Sept 30 and the winners will be announced here on the blog shortly thereafter!
NOTE: For your posts to be visible and thus eligible, they must be made from a public account. If you have a private account, either switch it to public or make a new account to participate.
*Winners are responsible for shipping fees and duties
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For my part, I’m making the Hozkwoz hat! In the spirit of Anna’s text in the book about how she chose the yarns all for personal reasons, I dug into my stash and I’m using luscious wools made by two good friends: Sincere Sheep’s Covet (CA Rambouillet/alpaca/silk) and Kelbourne Woolens’ Scout (100% wool). Black-and-natural is always my favorite marl, and this duo will make a fantastically soft and warm hat for the coming winter, so I’ve decided not to think of this so quite literally as a swatch for my sweater idea, which will call for a different mix of fibers.
I know, it’s barely even August and we’re still in the thick of #summerofbasics, but in my world it’s November already (I’m up to my eyeballs in Fringe Supply Co. holiday plans!) and Fall is not only in between there, it’s right around the corner. Official knitting season! So I wanted to take a minute to talk about the big blog events of the coming months, so you can get excited AND get planning—
—Fringe and Friends Knitalong—
The first few FAFKALs were each held in September, but I postponed the most recent one (the Logalong) to January instead. While I liked being able to concentrate on it with the holidays behind us — and feel like you did, too? — I missed having a knitalong going in September. So this time around, I’m doing both! The big FAFKAL will be in January again, and I’ll announce the specifics on that in the next couple of months — it’s such a good one!! — so you’ll have plenty of time to swatch during the holidays. But in the meantime …
For September, I’m thinking something less sprawling, quicker and still tons of fun. Since trying my hand at Anna Maltz’s brilliant “marlisle” technique is high on my list for this year, and I want to do a smaller project as groundwork for my pullover idea, I think a marlisle knitalong sounds like just the thing! So between Sept 1 and 30, that’s what I’m hosting. The challenge is simple: Just knit any of Anna’s marlisle patterns or invent one of your own using her technique. There will be prizes and further details, which I’ll post at kickoff, but meanwhile, pick your pattern!
The bulk of the patterns can be found in her book on the subject, Marlisle: A New Direction in Knitting, and there are several small-scale options very easily doable within the space of September, from fingerless mitts and mittens to hats, scarves and shawls — you can see all 11 of the book patterns here. There are also sweaters in the book, which you’re of course welcome to tackle, and another one available through Ravelry, called Humboldt.
Again, I’ll post the nitty gritty about prizes and categories and quals at kickoff, but feel free to start using the hashtag #fringemarlislekal to share your plans at any time! Sept 1 will be here in no time.
—Slow Fashion October—
Following the Marlisle fun, we’ll dive right into our fourth annual Slow Fashion October. I’ve got some special plans and people and a little bit of a format shift in the works for this go-round, and I think it’s going to be amazing. So I’ll tell you more about that as time approaches, as well, but for now know that #slowfashionoctober is coming back around!