Swatch of the Month: Latvian cheer

EDITOR’S NOTE: My first exposure to Latvian mittens was when I won this amazing little boxed kit a few years ago. I don’t know much about Latvian mittens other than that I’d love to know more! So I’m especially happy about Jess digging in on the subject for her column this month—
—Karen

Swatch of the Month: Latvian cheer

For this month’s swatch, I wanted to do something festive. December is an intersection of many cultural and religious celebrations of light and color in the darkest month of the year (for the northern hemisphere, at least), and I thought this would be a perfect moment to look at knitting’s role in ceremony and celebration.

Back in college, I worked at a coffee shop owned by a Latvian woman. I didn’t really know much about the country, its people, or even where exactly Latvia was (in Eastern Europe somewhere, right? My international relations degree really strutting its stuff, guys). It wasn’t until I stumbled across Latvian and Estonian mittens for the first time as a knitter that I made the connection and picked up a copy of Lizbeth Upitis’ book Latvian Mittens to learn more about the region and its knitting traditions.

THE BALTIC REGION

The Baltic states of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania sit east of the Baltic Sea, to the immediate west of Russia, and quite close to Sweden and Finland. People of the region share common history and similar traditions, although regional dialects and tribal histories distinguish them. Latvians and Lithuanians are known as Baltic people, and their respective, archaic Indo-European languages are the only surviving Baltic languages. Despite these close ties, Lithuania generally identifies itself more strongly with its neighbors to the south in Central Europe, like Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic. Estonia, on the other hand, due to its linguistic and historical connections, strongly identifies with its Finnish neighbors to the north.

Although these linguistic and political differences have set them apart, the region shares a common history of being occupied and ruled by its neighbors for hundreds of years, most recently by the USSR. In 1989, more than two million people formed a human chain through Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, called “The Baltic Way,” to peacefully demand independence from the Soviet Union. All three countries achieved independence in 1991 and later became members of NATO and the European Union. Today, the three countries are part of the Nordic-Baltic 8, or NB8, which includes Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway and Sweden. While these countries have been closely connected for centuries, their closest cooperation began with the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s and continues today.

This brief historical overview serves as a reminder of the interconnectedness of this region, which of course affects its knitting and textile traditions. As I began riffling through images of Baltic knitting, embroidery, lacework and more, I couldn’t help but see the similarities in motifs and design from Latvian mittens to Fair Isle sweaters to Nordic stockings. And even though I’m a bit of a minimalist myself when it comes to knitting and my own wardrobe, I can’t help but want to cast on some brightly colored mittens or a complex colorwork cardigan when I look at these designs. I mean, c’mon.

Swatch of the Month: Latvian cheer

KNITTING AS CELEBRATION

Prior to the introduction of knitting, people in the region created fabric through a technique called nålebinding, also known as “knotless netting” or “needle looping.” This technique is estimated to predate knitting by 1,000 years! Instead of using two needles, the method required only one. Unlike crochet, it involved pulling through the full length of the working thread through each loop, which would make it difficult to unravel and adjust one’s work during the process. The finished work could be felted to make a more durable and cold-resistant fabric. If you’re interested in trying out the nålebinding process for yourself, there’s a tutorial in English here, or you can watch the process in action here.

Knitting likely migrated to the Baltic region during the Crusades, when knights brought the knowledge of knitting with them from the Middle East (Source: Nordic Knitting website). The oldest-known knitted object found in Estonia is the cuff of a mitten discovered in 1950 by archeologist Jüri Peets, which probably dates to the end of the thirteenth century. Other knitted textiles that have been discovered in the region include pattern knitting, indicating that more complex, two-color knitting has been practiced for a long time.

So, where do mittens come in? Aside from being highly functional and useful knitted objects, mittens in the Baltics also served as small capsules of information. The pattern, technique and colors in a pair of mittens could indicate where its wearer was from, and the patterns themselves could be full of symbols from archaic pagan mythology. A zig-zag, for example, represented the goddess Mara, whereas a sideway “S” represented an adder, a popular animal of the goddess Laima. Both motifs were and continue to remain popular in mitten design.

Latvian folk songs, or dainas, provide further clues about mittens’ role in ceremony. In 1880, Krisjanis Barons began to collect and document the folk songs of the Latvian people, a project he continued for the following 35 years of his life. Because of his work and dedication, nearly 36,000 dainas were preserved and provide a glimpse into the daily and ceremonial life of Latvians during that time. As seen in these folk songs, knit mittens were a critical part of weddings and were an opportunity for a young woman to display her skill and readiness for marriage. See this daina, written in the voice of a young woman eligible to be married:

Many mittens am I knitting
Putting in my dowry chest
When the rich girls have been taken,
Then will I come in their mind.

Young girls were taught to knit as young as four or five years old, and were knitting daily during or between their other tasks. By the time a girl had reached marrying age, she was expected to have accumulated a dowry chest full of over one hundred mittens and socks that were knit by herself and other women in the family. See this daina that’s written in the voice of a young suitor:

Good evening, maiden’s mother
As you see my hands are freezing;
All the while my mitten knitter
Snugly in your room is sitting.

During the wedding celebrations, which lasted three to four days, the bride gifted pairs of mittens to just about everyone. This included the minister, the groom’s parents, the driver of the wedding carriage, all brothers, sisters and remaining relatives, and the kitchen helpers. Even the barn animals received symbolic offerings of mittens, which were later retrieved by a member of the family. The married couple ate their wedding meal with mittened hands. Before entering the threshold of her new home, the bride laid down a pair of mittens, hung mittens above the hearth, tied them to doors. When I first read this in my copy of Upitis’ book, I couldn’t help but think of these mittens as magical totems, blessing the newly married couple and their community.

There is so much more I could write here about Latvian, Estonian and Lithuanian mittens, but instead, I’ll leave you with some resources to explore further. I’ve heard only good things about the book Mittens of Latvia by Maruta Grasmane, which I haven’t read myself but would likely be a good companion for Upitis’ book. Mary Neal Meador’s quest for an authentic Estonian mitten at the Mason-Dixon Knitting blog is definitely worth a read, as is Donna Druchunas’ guest post about knitting in Lithuania on Hélène Magnússon’s The Icelandic Knitter blog. And be sure to check out the eye candy that is the incredible knitting from the Estonian island of Muhu, as shared through the eyes of Kate Davies on her blog here and here. Adding this to my Christmas wish list, please and thank you.

Swatch of the Month: Latvian cheer

THE SWATCH

When it comes to picking a yarn for a project, I’ve gotten accustomed to searching for that elusive, perfectly woolly and perfectly crisp je ne sais quoi yarn – and I often overlook some of the most readily available and solidly good yarn on the market. Quince amd Co., case in point. Of all the projects I’ve knitted to date, the ones knit in Quince were a delight to knit and have reliably held up to time and wear. Plus, for an American-sourced and produced wool yarn, Quince’s broad selection is so well priced and comes in a generous (and ever-expanding) palette of colors.

For this swatch, I originally picked a pattern that called for three colors. I chose Quince & Co.’s fingering-weight Finch in Canvas, Poppy and Barolo colorways, but after ripping and redoing the swatch twice with dismal puckering and pulling, I admitted that my colorwork needed some practice. I switched to a two-color chart instead, using the Canvas and Poppy. I really love how the warm cream of the new Canvas color and the bright, orange-red of the Poppy play off of each other.

I also knitted this swatch in the round, and with a little more time probably could have finished a mitten. Since the swatch is so small and my colorwork skills still a little rough, I figured it would be easier in the long run to just knit it in the round rather than knit an “in-the-round” swatch, as I did for my Icelandic lopi swatch. While working the chart, I trapped long floats using a technique I learned from Andrea Rangel during the Cowichan vest knitalong last year, which is a method I’ve come to rely on to prevent uneven tension in my colorwork.
Jess Schreibstein

Yarn: Quince & Co. Finch in Canvas and Poppy colorways
Needles: US 1 / 2.25mm double-pointed needles
Gauge: 18 stitches / 20 rows = 2 inches in colorwork chart

Swatch of the Month: Latvian cheer

M E T H O D

For the colorwork chart, see Chart 29 in Lizbeth Upitis’ book, Latvian Mittens.

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Q for You: Are you a wardrobe planner?

Q for You: Are you a wardrobe planner?

Back in April of 2013, I asked whether you guys plan your knitting and sewing projects, noting in the post that I found it impossible to stick to a plan. That was the phase (a year-and-a-half into my knitting life) when I was bouncing all around with a major case of cast-on-itis, making a lot of things that didn’t get worn. After this week’s Winter Wardrobe Planning posts, I find myself now at the extreme opposite end of that continuum — planning my projects by being mindful and purposeful about my entire wardrobe, how things fit together and what would be useful to make. Watching how the right projects are adding up to a functional wardrobe has been the best possible motivator for both making and sticking to a plan.

But this is pretty new territory for me — at least on the level it reached this week. I’ve always had that three-outfits rule when shopping (don’t buy anything you can’t make three good outfits out of with things you already own) and it took me a while to start applying it to my project choices. But other than that, the most “planning” I’ve ever really done was maybe one season every three years or so, I’d sit down, try to think up outfits, and make a list of them — which I would then forget to consult. Or I’d find that when I went to put those items on together, they didn’t actually add up to an outfit I liked — either the lengths and proportions didn’t work together or it just didn’t feel like me. So as weird as it might feel to spend a few hours for a few days thinking about my closet out here in the open for everyone to see, I also can’t believe I’ve never done it before. It really really works. Using Fashionary templates to make sketches, I get the lengths and proportions right — whether it’s deciding what length to knit a sweater or how an existing cardigan and shirt layer over each other. And taking those flat shots of all my clothes on hangers turns out to be a mind-bogglingly great use of a few minutes. Instead of the tedium of trying on everything I own, I can just push the pictures around on my screen and voilà! And with all of the resulting outfits printed out, I’ll have saved myself who knows how many cumulative hours of standing in the closet door staring blankly at the contents, unable to get dressed. So a few hours of extremely fun planning time will save me hours of wasted time and agony. No wonder people dedicate whole websites to this stuff — it’s genius.

Several of you have semi-answered this in comments throughout the week, but it’s my Q for You today: Do you plan your wardrobe? To what extent, and what’s your process? And how does project planning factor into that? If you’ve got tips, please share them! And what are your favorite resources and websites on the subject?

Fringe Supply Co — Nice things for knitters

IN SHOP NEWS we’ve got two highly coveted items going up in the webshop at 9am CENTRAL time today: another small weekly batch of the Porter Bin and the second and final batch of my friend Handy Dandy’s beautiful little handmade poplar stitch marker bowls.

Also back in stock (available right now!)—
– The larger of the silver and brass safety pins, plus a new style in two sizes
– The undyed Double Basketweave Cowl Kit (an excellent gift, either in kit or cowl form!)
– All the beautiful Japanese needles in their little vials — tapestry, sewing, sashiko and hand-quilting varieties
– AND the latest issue of Taproot magazine has arrived!

Have an amazing weekend, everyone — thank you for all the great conversation this week!

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Outfits! : Winter ’16 wardrobe planning, Part 3

Outfits! : Winter ’16 wardrobe planning, Part 3

So this is the funnest game ever. I’m calling it Closet Rummy, and I could play all day! Pushing the images of these 25 garments around on my screen yesterday, I quickly put together 29 outfits — and could easily have kept going. And that’s without the two sweaters in progress, which will have exponential impact. So it turns out I was right the first time — I’m in pretty good shape, and apparently my struggle to get dressed in the morning has been simply a lack of attention or imagination, not any grave deficiencies. Also: this whole conscious and deliberate planning thing works!

There is one small problem here (apart from the very real but non-earth-shattering pullover dearth) which is the jeans shortage. Even if I could, in theory, get by on just these three pairs of pants, it’s not realistic to think I can wear the natural jeans to the studio as often as that would require. But if I mend the less dire pair of faded friends and pick up a new pair, I’m golden. And in the nice-to-have category, I’d like a dressier top that can be worn with either of the menswear-ish vests without the combo looking too mannish.

But meanwhile, after all of this, I feel good about my ability to get dressed! I’m seriously just going to print all of this out, tape it to the inside of my closet door, and check ’em off for the next two months! No further thinking required.

For the specific details and links for all of the individual garments pictured here, see yesterday’s Closet Inventory.

Outfits! : Winter ’16 wardrobe planning, Part 3
Outfits! : Winter ’16 wardrobe planning, Part 3
Outfits! : Winter ’16 wardrobe planning, Part 3
Outfits! : Winter ’16 wardrobe planning, Part 3

NOTES:
Fashionary panels are the best thing ever.
– Please pardon the WIP shot of the black cardigan — it is finished.
– I’m feeling the lack of camel in all this, missing my beloved old camel cable cardigan, more eager than ever to add my camel Channel to this mix.

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Winter ’16 wardrobe planning, Part 2: Closet inventory

Winter ’16 wardrobe planning, Part 2: Closet inventory

Here’s a thing I’ve never done before: Literally laid the contents of my closet out flat in front of me so I could see it all at once, albeit on my laptop screen in the form of tiny photos. Wow, helpful! This is not every single garment in my closet — it is only the items that are relevant to my getting dressed right now, in my current circumstances, season and frame of mind. Well, these things plus a handful of well-loved graphic tees that I do use for layering sometimes, plus a couple of dresses that may make an appearance once or twice this winter. But as I said yesterday, all I’m in the mood for right now is “jeans and a sweater” — the very rut I’ve been trying to break out of! But I’m trying to be realistic here. Not all of these things are being worn (or even up to being worn) at the moment, which I’ll address below, but this little exercise was immediately useful in the opposite way as well: I’m giving the hairy eyeball to anything that’s seasonally appropriate but didn’t make this cut. Those things need to find new homes!

So what do I have? Going across the rows from left to right, with an * indicating things that are either at end-of-life or not currently being worn for some reason. Store-bought garments are identified by origin. For the me-made garments, click through on any of the links for bigger pics/full details —

SHIRTS
– Denim shirt-jacket (J.Crew c.2003)
– Black-and-white plaid flannel shirt (Uniqlo c.2011)
– Denim workshirt* (Madewell c.2012)
– Grey wool button-down (Fischer)
– Navy-and-black plaid heavy flannel button-down (Fischer)

The two wool Fischer shirts are US-made, bought last year when I was desperate for shirts with sleeves. They’re men’s shirts, as is the b/w plaid flannel, so they have to be worn sort of carefully if I don’t want to look like a dude. (I’m all about androgyny but it’s a fine line, especially if you’re mannish like me.) The denim shirt is probably my most-worn garment, has reached a state of overall transparency, and desperately needs to be replaced. I love the idea of sewing a replacement, but realistically I should look for a good known-origins option to buy. The navy-and-black one is more of an overshirt or shirt-jacket. No real needs in this category, although I am wanting a white shirt/top of some sort.

UNDERLAYER TOPS
– Plaid cotton top (apparently never blogged)
Black hemp jersey muscle tee
Blue striped sleeveless top
Black silk gauze sleeveless top
– Chambray dot Endless Summer tunic (made by a friend)

These are all in heavy rotation, which makes me really happy since they’re all handmade — all good use of time and fabric. I also have the three Lakeside camisole tops I made over the summer, which are great layered under pullovers, but I’m short on pullovers to pull over them (see below). As I solve that, those will come into play. (Why not under cardigans? I prefer a higher neckline for that.) So I feel good about this category — there are things I’d like to add, especially the long-planned black/ivory stripe version of the sleeveless tee — but nothing I have to concern myself with between now and Spring.

VESTS/SLEEVELESS SWEATERS
Cowichan-style vest
Black Anna vest
Grey vintage waistcoat
Black sleeveless turtleneck*

I love all of these, but love vests best over sleeveless things, so I’m making more effort to wear these in other ways — like my natural jeans (below) with the Cowichan over either the grey wool shirt or the b/w flannel instead of, say, the sleeveless black tee; or the grey vest over the plaid top and under the black cardigan, which is a favorite combo. The Cowichan is probably my very favorite thing I own — in the sense that I’m super proud of the knitting, it’s a really fantastic and unique piece of clothing, and I feel really cute in it. The black and grey vests are both immensely useful; the sleeveless turtleneck is one I need to get more creative about since I almost never wear it and am not ok with that. So no needs in this category other than just making more use of what I have.

PULLOVERS
– Cotton fisherman sweater (L.L. Bean c.2010 but still available)
Black lopi raglan*
Blue Loopy Mango sweater*
– Grey cashmere fitted turtleneck (J.Crew c.2009)
– Grey men’s cable turtleneck (H&M 2003)

OK, so here’s the big problem spot, just like I thought. I love the cotton fisherman sweater and wear it constantly but it is not at all warm. I love the lopi sweater but it is very warm; the short sleeves offset that in the transitional seasons but make it not as useful as it could be in its more natural season. If I make the sleeves long, which I probably should, it’s a deep-winter-only sweater. The blue blob still amuses me but in addition to being superbulky (i.e. winter warm) it’s not the easiest garment to build outfits around, as predicted. And I love and wear both turtlenecks heavily, but only during the middle of winter, obviously. Of the things I’m itching to make, St. Brendan will be extremely useful but not wildly season-spanning, if I’m being honest. (I’m making it anyway!) And I mentioned yesterday also wanting another really big cozy turtleneck, but that is also of limited use. What I’m most sorely lacking are the few simple light- to mid-weight, three-season sweaters that make the most sense for my life. I’ll have ONE as soon as I finish my striped sweater, but this is a situation I need to take seriously and not get too distracted by heavier, cozier sweaters just because winter is literally breathing down my neck right now. A couple of good sweatshirts would at least help, and be far quicker to make, but thin/warm basic pullovers should be my top priority. OR, sew a couple of sweatshirts and knit a couple of very quick winter things, like St. Brendan or the big turtleneck! That might be the best plan for the near term. Then prioritize lighter pullovers for 2017 knitting.

CARDIGANS
Black wool-linen cropped cardigan
Charcoal shawl-collar Bellows cardigan
Ivory wool-cotton Amanda cable cardigan*
Purple Trillium cardigan*

The black cardigan is an obvious workhorse, and I’ve noted I wear Bellows in the studio year-round. If it’s not waiting for me over the back of my desk chair, it’s in the front seat of my car — always within reach. I expect my Channel in progress to be every bit as useful, and it will be good to have a cozier, woolier shawl-collar, since my Bellows is half cotton. So that will make it three good cardigans, at least two of which can be worn indoors year-round. We’ve talked about my struggles with Amanda; what I haven’t told you is I deliberately shrunk it a little to see what impact that would have on my actually ever leaving the house in it. As dirty as I get at work these days, I haven’t dared attempt to wear it, so it’s still taking up closet space without getting worn. As I’m typing this, I’m wearing my beloved but otherwise-neglected Trillium — that is, I’m wearing it at home with leggings and slippers. It is so light and warm, not stuffy, and I absolutely love the way it fits — plus there’s all the sentimental value — but I can’t seem to make outfits with it that feel like me right now. So that’s my challenge to myself: getting this back into regular rotation. I definitely feel like the cardigans I outlined in yesterday’s post will be very worthwhile additions, at whatever point I fit them into my queue.

PANTS
– Natural denim jeans (Imogene+Willie, made in US)
– Dark cropped jeans (J.Crew Point Sur, made in US)
– Camo pants (Gap c.2009)
– Faded jeans 1, visibly mended* (J.Crew c.2003)
– Faded jeans 2* (Old Navy c.2013)

The first two pair of jeans were both bought this year and I love both. The natural ones are hard to wear to work but my favorite thing to make outfits with! The camo pants are my oldest and all-time favorite pants — the fit of them is amazing — but they are worn to the point of having been mended once with more tears forming as we speak. The beauty of camo is the mending isn’t even necessarily visible! I’ll keep these alive as long as possible. The older of the faded jeans have been repeatedly visibly mended over the past couple of years but have a new very large rift across the left thigh, so they can’t be worn until I address that. The last pair are the ones I’ve mentioned are tissue thin and shred so so easily at this point. They’re in need of major shoring up, which I just don’t know when I’ll get to. So I’m out my two dearest pair of jeans. As was noted in the comments yesterday, these are both at the point that even if I mend them, I can no longer wear them in hardwearing circumstances, so I really need to break down and buy another pair of jeans. One day I’ll attempt to make some, but not likely in the very near future. I should note that I also have a pair of wide-cropped khaki pants that didn’t make it into the photo queue!

So that’s my inventory. Tomorrow: outfits. And then I’ll form a plan of attack.

(Can you believe 15 of these 28 garments are handmade? I never would have thought that possible a couple of years ago!)

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Winter ’16 wardrobe planning, Part 1: Wants and needs

Winter '16 wardrobe planning, Part 1: Wants and needs

Remember that thing I said about how I’ve reached the point of having a mostly functional wardrobe again? Wellll, then the weather finally turned and I was quickly reminded that I still have a very serious sweater shortage — especially in the pullover department. I am cold, and having a serious conversation with myself about why I knit so many sleeveless things. The only “silhouette” I’m interested in right now is “jeans and a sweater.” And on top of the sweater shortage, two of my three pairs of jeans are ripped beyond wearability, awaiting repair. In short: I am having a terrible time getting dressed in the morning.

Between those frustrations and my being too busy to think about it, wardrobe planning of any kind has not happened this Fall. But since I actually am required to get dressed before leaving the house each day, it’s a problem that must be solved. So I finally managed to clear out some headspace, get out my trusty Fashionary panels and pencil, and set about sorting it out. The result is what I’m calling Wardrobe Planning Week! Starting today with wants and needs, then taking inventory of what I actually have, and seeing where that leaves me in terms of what to do about it. Ready?

WANTS

I mentioned before that I had created a Fall ’16 Mood board at Pinterest, and that my striped sweater in progress grew directly out of that. I love mood boards but have never really made them for myself, and this one has proved incredibly useful. Really it’s my any-season-all-the-time mood board, as it’s the things I always love: neutrals married with stripes, plaids and texture; clean/classic shapes but with a bit of exaggeration or detail that makes them special; and a core palette of black, white, cream, camel, grey, cognac and denim/faded denim/baby blue. Things I will always find irresistible: faded denim with black-and-white; camel and khaki, camel and light blue; a perfect trench or camel coat; a simple grey or camel sweater with jeans. Looking at this mood board and at the projects in progress — namely the b/w striped sweater and camel shawl-collar (Channel) pictured up top — and the yarn and fabric on my shelves makes me feel really good about how well, lately, I’ve been sticking to how I actually love to dress. The challenge is still in identifying the remaining gaps in my closet and filling them smartly.

NEEDS

It might be more accurate to label this “things I think I need.” Once again, as I’m standing in front of my closet struggling to get dressed, I ask myself what it is I’m wanting that isn’t in there. My great challenge continues to be how cold it is in my studio, compounded by the fact that I also get quite dirty several days of the week, hauling assorted shipments of whatnot in and out of my car and to and from our factories, which is probably why the only thing I ever want to put on is jeans and a sweater. From asking myself what I’m looking for and not finding (in that department) I’ve come up with the following six things, which correspond to the set of six drawings above:

UPPER ROW LEFT: The most basic of pullovers — the sort of thing I wish I had two or three of, yet I have none. And I think it’s what I want to use my beloved grey Junegrass for. Role models include Julie Hoover’s new Addison (except drop-shoulder sleeves and I don’t get along) and this Everlane sweater, but mine won’t be quite that wide.

UPPER ROW CENTER: Nothing would make me happier than if every single day I could just put on an oversized, crotch-length turtleneck and know I would be comfy and warm all day. I have one such sweater in my closet — a 13-year-old grey cable turtleneck that I rely on — but I feel like a second one would be a very worthy addition. And since I’d like it to be aran or bulky weight, it would be relatively quick to accomplish. I love Carrowkeel. I also have this idea for a simple top-down, compound-raglan job with a big ol’ neck and ribbing just in the sleeve tops, but I also tried on Norah Gaughan’s Riptide last month and loved it. That would be more fun to knit, but the sketch is probably more me.

UPPER ROW RIGHT: St. Brendan, of course — in a duplicate of the black/neutral colorway of the sample — which I’m becoming a broken record about. This will add some needed pattern to my wardrobe; it’ll be fairly quick to knit at aran gauge; and it goes with every pair of jeans and pants I own. So it’s a no-brainer.

BOTTOM ROW LEFT: Vidje, which I’m thinking of as my major undertaking of 2017, and there’s no way it will exist until at least next winter. But no discussion of what I’m thinking of adding to my queue can exclude this one. It will be grey.

BOTTOM ROW CENTER: I just finished the black cropped one, but I still want another super basic cardigan like this in the mix. It might be a b/w marl (to replace a Madewell sweater I miss having) or might be pale blue, not sure. This one is high desirability but lower priority.

BOTTOM ROW RIGHT: I can’t get that Jenny Gordy outfit out of my head — it’s super close to how I dress (in fact, my Bellows plus plaid top and jeans is one of my go-to outfits), just with the cardigan greatly exaggerated. The version of it that has set up camp in my brain is reined in just a tiny bit, also top-down raglan (again, no drop-shoulders for me), bulky gauge, with a generous foldover ribbed shawl collar. Big enough to go over everything — including my turtleneck sweater(s)! — and as useful lounging around the house as in the studio.

I’m saying “things I think I need” because my next step is to look very systematically at what I do in fact own, and thus which of these “needs” are the most and least pressing. But there are non-sweater items I need as well:

• A white top of some kind for layering, despite what I said a minute ago about getting dirty.

• A presentable sweatshirt or three. That wool gauze pullover I made last January to help fill the pullover gap shrunk to the point I gave it to an 8-year-old, so I’d like to repeat the pattern with some charcoal melton I have. I want to make a basic grey Linden sweatshirt, too, plus I have some grey wool-knit remnant pieces that I’m hoping are enough to make a sort of dressed-up version. That would take some of the pressure off the knitting list.

• A replacement for my now-threadbare denim workshirt. You can literally see through it. Might be time for me to take a deep breath and try to tackle an Archer.

• A woolly headband or drawstring-top hat or something that can be worn on the trail with my hair in a wad on the top/back of my head.

• Some wool footie socks.

OK, so that’s it for the fantasizing and scheming — tomorrow I’m taking inventory of what I actually have!

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Q for You: What’s your favorite edging?

Q for You: What's your favorite edging?

Edge treatments — cuffs, hems, neckbands, selvages — are one of the easiest things to tamper with as a knitter and also one of the most important details there is. And geez, so many options. You’ve got your ribbing. (1×1, 2×2 … twisted rib, garter rib, cartridge rib, corrugated ribbing …) You’ve got garter stitch and seed stitch. Folded hems. Stockinette roll. Slip-stitch selvage. And there are a million ways to get fancy with it. Any really good pattern designer will have put a lot of thought into what happens at each edge of knitted piece and how it relates to the rest of the fabric — getting the ribbing properly centered or lined up with other elements (e.g. raglans), or how a cable pattern transitions neatly into the edging — as well as what the yarn does or doesn’t want to do. But not all designers are that thoughtful, and edge treatments are ultimately up to you anyway!

I remember once hearing a knitting designer say he always uses 1×1 ribbing because it looks the most professional to him, most like ready-to-wear knits, but I find a lot of yarns don’t like it. My black cardigan, for example: The Linen Quill (held double) looked terrible in 1×1. That yarn wants to be stockinette, and when I switched from 1×1 to 3×2 — more knit surface than purls — it breathed a visible sigh of relief. But I don’t always love a picked-up button band worked in ribbing, and didn’t think the 3×2 here would be firm enough for that purpose, so that sweater got a garter stitch band for a little more firmness and contrast.

Generally speaking, I like 2×2 ribbing. I’m a simpleton — the less decorative the better — so when it’s up to me (or there’s no good reason not to depart from a pattern), that’s my default. And that’s my Q for You today: What’s your favorite edge treatment? 

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PREVIOUSLY in Q for You: Flat or in-the-round?

Pictured is my Top-Down Knitalong sweater in progress, in Shibui Pebble held double

Top-Down Knitalong FO No. 2: Brandi Harper

Top-Down Knitalong FO No. 2: Brandi Harper

Good news! Our second panelist from the Top-Down Knitalong has finished her sweater! Here’s the eternally sparkly Brandi Harper of purlBknit to tell us about her truly improvised cardigan—

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You were the panelist being the most artistic and improvisational about this whole thing, literally making it up as you went. As you said in the introductions “No swatch, no planning, no sketches involved.” You were working on a scarf when I announced the knitalong and decided to turn the scarf into a cardigan. Then at the midway check-in, you were changing the sleeve length and side panels, and even talking about converting the cardigan to a pullover. Tell us about the shape the sweater eventually took.

Hiiii guuuuys! I fell completely and totally in love after I did the final fitting. It was a cardigan through and through. I was worried it was going to be too “busy” and detailed to be a cardigan. So wrong. The color and shape makes for the perfect layering piece and I can dress it up or down!

After the last panel update I had to rip back to where I separated the yoke from the sleeves. The decision to cast on 8 sts under the armhole to create a gusset was not rooted in any math — it just felt good in the woo woo sense. I have a thing for certain numbers. Lesson to all my knitters out there: check that gauge, baby! I don’t know why I’m being so stubborn, but I still haven’t checked my tension. Everything you see is literally the result of me just winging it, trying it on, ripping out, taking educated guesses on shaping to fit my body and doing what looked right.

In the end, it is a cardigan with no official closure yet (and I am in no rush to make those decisions since I want to wear it NOW), slightly belled sleeves, A-line shaping to accommodate my hips and a large shawl-like collar.

The sweater began with traditional raglan shaping, correct? But then you got creative with the rest of the construction. What are some of the less traditional (or more inventive) construction methods you employed along the way?

The neck, body and sleeves up until the underarm are knit in one piece from the top down, using traditional raglan shaping. I increased 8 sts every other row using yarnovers. The rest of the body and the sleeves are knit flat. I like the structure and look of mattress stitch seaming.

I picked up hundreds of stitches around the fronts and bottom edge, going two needle sizes down and *picking up 3 sts, skipping 1 space; rep from * till all stitches were picked up to avoid buckling. If you look closely, you’ll see a ridge between the body and border. That’s 2 garter stitches! When you pick up stitches, sometimes there will be a seam on the wrong side. I instead picked up behind those stitches to add an extra detail to the right side. I worked about 2 inches of border before starting the short rows to construct the collar. After I bound off, I accented and reinforced the entire trim with a row of twisted slipstitch created with a crochet hook.

On the side panel of the body along the increases, I picked up and made a stitch between the reverse stockinette and lace pattern using a small crochet hook. I use this technique often in my patterns to neaten up areas. It also affects the overall structure of a piece and sometimes creates a wavy edge at the bottom!

I played around with a few sleeve trims and really liked the look of a few rows of single crochet topped off with crab stitch.

Top-Down Knitalong FO No. 2: Brandi Harper

How do you feel about your process — listening to where the sweater seemed to want to go rather than trying to impose an idea on it? Good times? Good results? Did it leave you wanting to knit that way more often, or just the opposite?

I tend to have a love/hate relationship with many of my ideas during the design process. I play around a lot with construction and rarely follow patterns, so there is a lot of trail and error. It can get annoying to have to keep ripping out, but that is what I love most about knitting too. I can fix and learn from my mistakes. I had a lot of good times with this piece — especially since it started off in Portugal, followed by the Netherlands in celebration of my birthday —but there were also times when I literally threw it to the side mad like “just look nice already dammit!!!” LOL. I’m looking at it now and I couldn’t be more excited about it. Looking forward to more freestyle knitting definitely.

Our friends at Purl Soho provided the yarn for your sweater (thank you, Purl!), which is their Flax Down, and you’ve knitted it into a beautiful allover lace. And you wound up knitting more sweater (more yarn) than you originally envisioned. Do you feel like the yarn has turned out to be the right match for what the sweater grew into? And for the stitch pattern you employed?

Give me all the Flax Down give it to me now! Thank you Purl! I ended up using about six and a half balls. I am totally impressed with the yardage given the size of this sweater. After blocking it and steaming the border, I was literally hopping on my toes with a very giddy ahhhhhhh!!!!! I love this yarn so much. Knowing it will wash and wear well is the best part. The drape is really flowy (that’s a word for sure spell check) and silky. ADORE.

I know you’ve got holiday knitting to do for purlBknit, but you mentioned in the intros that this was the first sweater you’ve designed for yourself in four years. Will you be doing it again soon?

I definitely won’t be selling this sweater, since I’m really excited about writing the pattern! It won’t be published anytime soon due to all the details and the time it takes to scale for different sizes, but it’s on the to-do list. In the meantime, I am doing research on macramé techniques that will make for a sturdy belt to close it up when needed. Also envisioning three dusty pink mother-of-pearl post buttons to bring the collar up into a turtleneck. The eyelets will make for great buttonholes. I have another sweater already in the works that came about during the proofing of my Shawl Collar pattern, so yes yes yes, sweater knitting is definitely in my near future. Thank you so much, Karen, for making this piece possible! You are made up of unicorn magic.

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Aw, shucks. ;) Thank you so much for joining the panel, Brandi! For more photos (and a teaser video!) of Brandi’s killer cardigan, follow @purlbknit on Instagram.

Jen and I are still knitting — as are lots of others on the #fringeandfriendsKAL2016 feed — so stay tuned!

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PREVIOUSLY in Top-Down Knitalong: FO No. 1 Jess Schreibstein