Make Your Own Basics: The fisherman sweater

Make Your Own Basics: The fisherman sweater

If you know me at all, you know that A) I believe no closet is complete without a good ol’ ivory fisherman cable sweater, or “aran sweater,” and that B) I’ll take any opportunity to blog about my favorite fisherman sweater patterns, even if it means repeating myself somewhat. So obviously, sooner or later, the fisherman sweater installment of Make Your Own Basics was bound to happen. (As is my knitting one! One of these days.) I put together a roundup last year of a whole big bunch of favorites, and there are new ones all the time, but for the sake of Basics, I’m boiling it down to just the truly classic—

TOP: Honestly, all the best aran patterns I’ve seen are in vintage pattern booklets, and the crème de la crème is Bernat 536-145 (aka 4106-145), from the Bernat Book of Irish Knits, 1967. With this Basics series, I’ve tried to stick to easily accessible/downloadable patterns, but given the number of people who pipe up every time to say “I have that book!” it seems like it must not be terribly hard to come by — and regardless, well worth effort. This particular pattern is written for four sizes, but it’s unisex — meaning a deep yoke and wide upper sleeves to accommodate a manly-man physique. I have a huge yearning to create charts for this old pattern and rework it a bit in the process, but I would also very happily knit and wear it as is.

BOTTOM: For some random reason, I think of Steve McQueen’s aran sweater as the one by which all others must be judged, and the Honeycomb Aran by Patons comes pretty damn close. Regardless of how Steve it may be, it is utterly timeless and happens to also be a free pattern. For a very similar set-in-sleeve alternative, see Grit by Kim Hargreaves.

For me, for it to be truly classic and iconic as a wardrobe staple, it does need to be undyed/natural yarn. But obviously what feels most basic and building-block-ish to you may vary.

For more, see:
• Aran sweater legends
• Best fisherman sweater patterns
Cable sweater amazement of the 1960s-80s
Quest for the perfect aran sweater
• and the Amanda knitalong

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Swatch of the Month: Beginning a design

EDITOR’S NOTE: This month Jess highlights one of the most fundamental reasons a knitter might knit a swatch — as the basis for a coming design!
—Karen

Swatch of the Month: Beginning a design

I’ve been working on a design for awhile. As I figure out the specifics, it’s kinda secret – okay, it’s totally secret. But while I can’t tell you what exactly it will become, I do want to share a big part of that development process with you, which begins with (you guessed it) a swatch. Actually, a lot of swatches.

THE PROCESS

When I come up with a knitted garment idea, it’s usually a conflation of several sources – inspiration I see on Pinterest and Instagram, as well as objects I see in the world. Sometimes, these might be actual garments or fabrics that spark an idea of how those elements could be executed differently. Other times, I find architectural elements, pattern and nature to be just as informative. I’ll collect a bunch of photos on my phone, in Pinterest, in my head – a vision board would be ideal for this – and then start sketching.

In designing this piece, I have a vision of the kind of fabric I want to create and work with. Imagine a woven fabric, smooth but a little nubbly. The fabric is stiff enough to provide some structure, but still retains a soft drape that will relax against the body. The yarn will be cream-colored (I’m clearly on a neutrals kick) and crisp to show some stitch definition. The right yarn also won’t have too much sheen, instead veering to a matte finish. To achieve that kind of look and weight, I imagined I would need a fingering or sport-weight yarn executed in some kind of slip-stitch pattern. I took a look in my stash to find some likely yarn contenders.

Now, to be clear, I’m not a professional knitwear designer. I don’t make a living from designing knitting patterns, and to date, I’ve only published one, the Beach Tank. So my creative process and approach are completely my own and informed by my knitting experience, conversations with established knitwear designers, and some math and common sense. They don’t reflect any “right” or “wrong” way to design a knitting pattern. I’m relatively new to this, so if you design your own knitting patterns (professionally or otherwise) I’d love to hear what your own process looks like in the comments!

THE CONTENDERS

Swatch of the Month: Beginning a design

TN Textile Mill: OUR yarn
I began swatching with the truly gorgeous OUR yarn, a mulberry silk noil yarn from Allison of TN Textile Mill (formerly Shutters & Shuttles). I fell in love with the texture and palette of this sport-weight yarn when I first spotted it on Instagram, and couldn’t get it out of my head. Over the summer, I ordered a few skeins to have on hand, and once this design began to come together, I reached for it immediately.

This might sound overly poetic, but this yarn feels organic and alive in your hands when you’re knitting with it. I feel that way sometimes about some wool yarns I’ve come across (the Hudson Valley Fibers yarn from my Rhinebeck post checks the box), but other cotton, silk or plant-based yarns I’ve worked with don’t always have that quality. I think it’s a combination of color, texture and some unpredictability in knitting that reminds you that you’re working with a product of a living, breathing organism. And those silky nubs!

When developing a stitch pattern that mimicked the look and feel of a woven fabric, I turned to the woven transverse herringbone stitch pattern of my previous Churro post, as well as the chevron pattern of Michele Wang’s Abbott (which I finished knitting earlier last year) for inspiration. I wanted to try a slip-stitch that I hoped, in scale, would look unrecognizable as a knitted fabric. On size US2 needles, I cast on an even number of stitches and worked the following:

Row 1 (RS): *Knit 1, Slip 1 stitch purlwise with yarn held in front; repeat to end
Row 2 (WS): Purl
Row 3: *Slip 1 stitch purlwise with yarn held in front, Knit 1; repeat to end
Row 4: Repeat Row 2

The result, unfortunately, was a no-go. The yarn didn’t have the density and structure I’m after, and the stitch pattern looks like a bunch of dash marks across a field of stockinette. With my next attempt, I would try a yarn with a little more elasticity, so it would form a tighter fabric more easily. I would also try slipping stitches on every row, not just on the right side.

. . .

Swatch of the Month: Beginning a design

Shibui: Staccato
Next up was another yarn I had in my stash, Shibui’s fingering-weight merino-silk blend, Staccato. Unlike the subtle sheen of the silk noil in OUR yarn, the silk in Staccato shimmers a little more brightly, likely a result of its tight, worsted-spun quality. When I held it together with Wool and the Gang’s Shiny Happy Cotton for my all-white beach tank, that shimmer was a perfect complement to the matte look of the cotton. Time to try it on its own.

On size US2 needles, I cast on an even number of stitches and worked the following:

Row 1 (RS): *Knit 1, Slip 1 stitch purlwise with yarn held in front; repeat to end
Row 2 (WS): *Purl 1, Slip 1 stitch purlwise with yarn held in back; repeat to end

I was pretty thrilled with the result, which got much closer to the woven look I wanted. But then I had this idea – what if I were to create a knit fabric on the bias? I think that concept bubbled up from some of my adventures in sewing earlier last year, specifically A Verb for Keeping Warm’s Tendril Dress, which is sewn on the bias. I haven’t sewn this dress yet, but I remember conversations with my grandmother about this pattern and the ripple effect that a bias drape could lend a garment. Sounded intriguing. Here’s what I did:

Swatch of the Month: Beginning a design

Cast on 2 stitches on size US2 needles.

Row 1 (RS): Increase 1 stitch by knitting front and back (KFB), Knit 1 (3 stitches on needle)
Row 2 (WS): Purl 1, Slip 1 stitch purlwise with yarn held in back, Purl 1
Row 3: K1, KFB, K1, KFB, K1 (5 stitches on needle)
Row 4: *Slip 1 stitch purlwise with yarn held in back, Purl 1; repeat from * once; P1
Row 5: K1, KFB, Slip 1 stitch purlwise with yarn held in front, K1, Slip 1 stitch purlwise with yarn held in front, KFB, K1 (7 sts on needle)
Row 6: *P1, Slip 1 stitch purlwise with yarn held in back; repeat from * until 1 stitch remains; P1

It looks pretty messy, but here’s the gist – I increased 1 stitch at the beginning and end of each row on the right side, and alternated slipped stitches on the right and wrong sides to create a hatched, or woven look. Once the swatch became as large as I wanted, I began decreasing at the start and end of each right side row with K2tog or SSK, instead of increasing with KFB. Ta-da! A square swatch, knit on the bias.

There is still some tweaking to do, particularly on the edging. (Do I try a garter stitch edge? Or maybe finish the edges with rolled stockinette? Jury is still out.) But I feel like I’m really close to what I originally envisioned. The other plus was that the wrong side (lower photo) is just as beautiful as the right side (upper photo) – looks like a pebbly seed stitch knit on the diagonal. But I still wasn’t sold on the yarn. The Staccato has the fullness and stitch definition I was dreaming of, but the fabric didn’t look as matte as I hoped. I did some research and bought a skein of one more yarn to try.

. . .

Swatch of the Month: Beginning a design

Purl Soho: Linen Quill
Karen has gushed about Purl Soho’s Linen Quill before (here, here, oh, and also here), and I’m proudly adding my name to the Linen Quill Fan ClubTM. This fingering-weight blend of highland wool, alpaca and linen is remarkable. It has the elasticity of wool, the softness and halo of the alpaca, and the structure and subtle wiry quality of the additional linen. I loved knitting with it, and love the final swatch even more.

For this swatch, I followed the general slipped-stitch bias pattern above, but played around with the edging throughout, so you’ll see some irregularity on the edges in the photo. I also opted for Oatmeal Gray colorway, which on Purl Soho’s website looks like a scuffed-up cream (in the best sense), but actually is more of a true, light heather gray than a cream. For my final swatch, I’ll likely pick up a skein of Linen Quill in Heirloom White and give it a try. The only downside of this yarn is that it doesn’t have the same linear definition that the Staccato has, so I’m still undecided between the two. Do you all have a favorite?

At this rate, the pattern will be available in 2020… stay tuned!
Jess Schreibstein

Swatch of the Month: Beginning a design

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FO-2016.21 : Striped pullover

Striped Pebble sweater (2016 FO 21)

All of my thoughts and knitting process notes for this fantastic pullover (my last finish of 2016) are covered in my Q&A post about it, but for those of you who want all of the stitch counts and other nitty-gritty details, those are below. And in addition to “modeled” shots for FOs this year, I’m making an effort to do outfit ideas for them too — so here’s the first round of that (below)! For these photos, though, I opted to throw it on with my oldest and dearest.

The only thing not noted previously, I think, is that my starting point was that I wanted the neck and cuffs and hopefully the waist band to be black. Ideally, the underarms would also have been black, but there was no way for that to work without some less acceptable compromise on another factor, so I just kept the armholes deep enough that the fabric is not up against my underarms at all. Also, technically, I should have been switching to an ivory stripe at the point where the cuffs happen, but decided to just extend them in the black, and I love the way that worked out. I wish I had gone a tiny bit longer on the final waist/hem stripe to lend a little more visual weight there, but it’s all good!

I want to say thank-you one more time to Shibui for giving me this yarn for the Top-Down Knitalong (plus one of the WIP of the Week prizes). This fabric is just incredible — light and thin and soft and warm all at the same time — and I am thrilled to have this sweater in my closet.

You can scroll through all of my posts on this sweater here, Instagram posts here, and fave it on Ravelry if you’re so inclined. Again, process notes are here, and stitch counts and other blow-by-blow details are below.

Pattern: Improv (top-down tutorial)
Yarn: Pebble from Shibui, held double; approx 6 skeins Ivory and 6 skeins Abyss
Cost: free pattern + complimentary yarn = $0
(yarn would have been $228 had I paid for it; the most expensive sweater in my closet, and I would consider it money very well spent)

Striped Pebble sweater (2016 FO 21)

GAUGE

5.75 sts and 8.5 rows = 1 inch (measured over 4″ = 23/34) knitted on US6/4mm

TARGET MEASUREMENTS

42″ chest = 242 sts
13″ upper arm circumference = 74 sts
9″ yoke/armhole depth (76 rows)
12-stitch underarms
13.5″ body length (includes 2″ hem ribbing)
22.5″ total length
16.5″ sleeve length from underarm (includes 2″ cuff ribbing)
8″ cuff circumference

DETAILS

— Co 68 sts divided thusly: 1 | 14 | 38 | 14 | 1

— On row 1, increased one stitch at each raglan marker for a basting stitch

Increased (kfb) at front neck and in pairs at each raglan on every other row

Worked neck shaping until 2″ of depth, cast on to bridge the gap and join, then worked a few more rounds so first stripe was 2.5″ at the back (and neckband would be fully enclosed in a black stripe)

Continued increasing sleeve and body sections to 12 sts short of target counts, worked even to intended yoke depth, then cast on the 12 sts at each underarm

— Each yoke/body stripe (in the round) is 21 rows; but sleeve stripes are 22 rows each — to add some length and because sleeves were knitted flat

— Increased a few times along the side seams for A-line shape (and included basting stitch at each side seam)

Decreased sleeves gradually from 74 to 68 sts, then on final row before starting the cuff ribbing decreased to 50 sts

— Picked up 88 sts for neckband (approx 3 out of 4) on US5/3.75mm, worked to double length for foldover band; to ensure no tightness due to fairly small neck hole, worked final two rib rounds on US9/5.5mm then did sewn BO, before loosely whipstitching to the cast-on edge on the inside

Striped Pebble sweater (2016 FO 21)

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Elsewhere

Yarny links for your clicking pleasure

Happy Friday and Elsewhere day — I’ve got a little light but delightful clicking around for you:

– Great post about how to mend knits

– plus beautiful darning sampler

Heart-melting (top right)

– I’m excited to watch the #leighsidemittskal2017 (details here) but I especially love finding out about this Generic Norwegian Mitten Chart via @resurrectionfern (who is knitting mittens inspired by Karen Barbé! So many of my favorite ladies tangled up in there.)

– Also wishing I could fit in the #fancykal, a sweater that’s been on my list for ages

– And just wow (top left)

Have a magnificent weekend, everyone!

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Knit the Look: Perfect grey turtleneck

Knit the Look: Perfect grey turtleneck

Oh hey, what a happy accident! I’d forgotten all about this photo from Vanessa’s blog last year, and just rediscovered it on the heels of Tuesday’s post about funnelnecks and midiskirts. This one, spotted outside the Miu Miu show last March, is more of an upturned turtleneck, which I personally prefer to a funnel, and this proportion is also a bit more wearable for those of you who were concerned about that. To emulate this gem of a sweater, all you need is Julie Hoover’s Veneto pattern, which, if you take away the color-blocking, is the perfect basic.* It’s a classically proportioned, well-shaped, set-in-sleeve pullover, knitted flat and seamed — which means it’s also highly adaptable. To turn it into something more like the sweater above, all you’d need to do is go up one size (for the slouch factor), extend the hem ribbing to more like 3″, continue a few stitches of ribbing up both sides of the front and back, leave a split hem when seaming the sides together, and knit the neckback to your desired turtleneck/funnelneck length. (You might find you want to pick up a few more stitches for the neck, as well — try it and see.) Veneto is written for two strands of lace-weight mYak held double, at a gauge of 5.5 sts/inch, so you could also sub a sport-weight yarn. Ysolda’s Blend No. 1 would be perfection.

Now if only I could help you with that amazing skirt. You can see more pics of both garments in Vanessa’s original post.

*Veneto really should have been in the pullovers installment of Make Your Own Basics — I’ll rectify that.

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Street style photo © Vanessa Jackman; used with permission

Hot Tip: Postpone the sleeves

Hot Tip: Postpone the sleeves

I know the last Hot Tip was about knitting the sleeves first, but this time I want to talk about the exact opposite! This is my St. Brendan-in-progress, and it’s a perfect example of a case where deferring the sleeves makes more sense. With bottom-up-seamless construction, you knit three tubes — one body and two sleeves — then you work a join round where you knit across the front of the body, across the stitches of one sleeve, then the back of the body and the other sleeve, and voilà, you’ve got them all joined together on one circular needle, ready to proceed with the seamless yoke. But sometimes, you might not be ready to commit!

Sleeve length is a function of two factors: the depth of the yoke it attaches to (shoulder to underarm) plus the length of the sleeve itself (underarm to cuff). In the case of this sweater, I don’t know exactly how deep the yoke will be, so how could I know how long to make my sleeves before joining them at the underarm? What do I mean I don’t know? The schematic in this case is not quite as detailed as I like a schematic to be, but even if it were, that’s not enough information. I already know my row gauge tends to be more compact than everyone else’s, so working the prescribed number of rows might very well leave me with a shallower yoke than the pattern writer’s. Plus I’m planning to change the neck a bit — working some short rows to bring the back neck up a little, and making a smaller neckhole. So I’ll be adding rows that the pattern doesn’t call for, and don’t know how many (I’ll be experimenting), which means I can’t know precisely how my finished yoke will sit.

That’s when this trick comes in handy. (That, or you aren’t certain about the fit or styling or color or something, and want to see how it plays out before investing sleeve time. Or you just really want to get on with the yoke because that’s where all the fun is!) I learned this one from Felicia of The Craft Sessions a few years ago and find it invaluable. As noted above, when you get to the point of joining the body and sleeves, you have the body on one needle and the sleeve stitches on another. It doesn’t actually matter whether those stitches on the other needle are literally sleeve stitches — you just need stitches to work into. In this case, I am meant to have a sleeve composed of 54 sts, 8 of which have been set aside for the underarm, and the other 46 of which are to be joined to the body. So I need a needle with 46 stitches on it. To get them, I’ve simply taken a length of waste yarn, cast on 46 stitches (plain old long-tail), then worked the join row into them exactly as if they were the sleeve stitches (repeating for the second sleeve). When my sweater is done and blocked and I know exactly where the underarm falls, I can measure exactly how long I want my sleeves to be. At that point, you carefully unpick the waste yarn and put those live stitches back on a needle, and you have a couple of choices about how to proceed:

  1. Knit the sleeves from the top down, either picking up or casting on for the necessary underarm sts, and reversing the sleeve shaping so you’re working decreases instead of increases. You can even knit them top-down flat, if you like. (Note that in a case like this one, where there is colorwork involved, you’d need to work the chart from the top down as well. Not all charts are readily invertible.)
  2. Knit the sleeves from the bottom up, exactly as described in the pattern, then graft them together with the live stitches from the yoke.

Of course, to get sleeve length (or any length) right, in any case, you need to have blocked your swatch and measured it carefully, before and after blocking. If the fabric grows or shrinks with blocking, you always need to take that into account when knitting your sweater/parts. As always, a blocked swatch and precise measurements are the key to nailing the fit.

p.s. If anyone’s concerned about the shape of this sweater, remember the bottom 8″ or so have been blocked and the rest has not, which is why it’s so much wider at the bottom right now.

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First of the Best of Pre-Fall 2017: Funnelnecks and midiskirts

First of the Best of Pre-Fall 2017: Funnelnecks and midiskirts

The Pre-Fall 2017 collection images are gathering slowly, but one silhouette trend I’m already loving is the combination of hip-length, funnelneck pullovers with midiskirts and killer boots. Seen here at Adam Lippes (top) — my always-favorite skirt length there, hitting just at the bottom of the kneecap — Protaganist (bottom left) and TSE (bottom right).

Definitely fueling my slouchy turtleneck fantasies

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