New Favorites: from Rugged Knits

New Favorites: from Rugged Knits

I had the pleasure of interviewing my friend Andrea Rangel awhile back for the Spring 2016 issue of Knitscene, and got to hear a little bit about the patterns she’d been developing for her upcoming first book, Rugged Knits. Last week, the pattern preview hit Ravelry and you can see the book is chock-full of cute and useful cardigans, pullovers, vests, hats and shawls. I’d like to knit all of the hats, frankly, but two of the sweaters in particular gave me the heart eyes:

TOP: Woolen Explorer is an Icelandic lopi-inspired oversized cardigan that borders on a coat. Knitted in Lettlopi (and you know how I feel about Lettlopi), it’s sure to be a weightless, warm and woolly dream of a thing to wear — and also fun to knit.

BOTTOM: Hazy Cloud is a simple saddle-shoulder V-neck, but I love the allover two-color colorwork with solid seams and edgings. I’d love this in black and ivory.

Rugged Knits will publish in July but is currently available for preorder at Amazon. Congratulations, Andrea!

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PREVIOUSLY in New Favorites: Flying Squirrel to the rescue

Idea Log: Cowichan blues

Idea Log: Cowichan blues

Here’s one last Idea Log for 2015, and it will be the first sweater I’m obsessing about in 2016 — Do I just have a heightened awareness of them or are Cowichan-inspired sweaters suddenly everywhere? I can’t open an indie boutique email or flip through a mainstream catalog without seeing them. The one that recently got torn out and taped to my wall is among the least authentic — that blue and white number up top, currently for sale at J.Crew. (It’s called Abstract Fair Isle Sweater, and has about as much in common with true Fair Isle as with Cowichan, but there you go.) I’m still dying to cast on another Cowichan-ish sweater after finishing my knitalong vest, and although it continues to be spooky 75-degree tornado weather here, I know we’re headed for that time of year when I’ll be wearing my Bellows every day and wishing I had another super woolly shawl collar cardigan to alternate with. Before casting on my vest, I contemplated doing it in black and navy or ivory and navy. As much as I love all-neutral colorwork, I also swoon hard for blue and white. (Some notable examples here.) It’s like Delft knitwear or something — so dreamy. So I keep gazing at this J.Crew cardigan and wanting a version, and over the weekend it dawned on me that it could be as simple and knitting Andrea Rangel’s Knitter’s Dude in ivory and navy (two colors instead of three) and perhaps doing the wide stripes as a pair of thinner stripes to play up the linework quality. I might want to bulk up the gauge, though — I’m thinking Lettlopi in colors 0051 and 9420 (as pictured via Tolt). And then of course with a zipper instead of the buttons, because zippers forever and ever amen.

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PREVIOUSLY in Idea Log: Perfect outfit No. 1

Cowichan-style Knitalong FO No. 1: Andrea Rangel

Cowichan-style Knitalong FO No. 1: Andrea Rangel

Andrea Rangel is the first of our illustrious panel for the Cowichan-style Knitalong to finish her vest — not too surprising since her swatch was two entire front panels of the sweater! She’s answered some questions for us below about how it turned out, and you can see additional photos on her blog.

For more from Andrea, follow her on Instagram and sign up for her newsletter. And I also want to let you know she’s on the brink of publishing a revised, unisex version of her Dude sweater as well as a kids’ version! Would you look at this photo? So keep an eye on her in whatever venue for more news on that!

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You mentioned at the outset that you had chosen a yarn that was “not one bit” Cowichan-y. And you’ve also knitted this with a single strand at bulky gauge rather than superbulky. How do you feel about the weight and character of the fabric in the end?

This is the most important question about this project for sure. I used Rowan Brushed Fleece, which was just this frothy, fluffy puff of a super soft yarn. The gauge is great and the yarn was fun to work with, but I’m still not really satisfied. As I worked I felt increasingly ridiculous for using such an incredibly luxurious, soft yarn for outerwear that I would hardly have against my skin. I’ve decided that, while I do quite like the finished vest, the yarn would be much more suitable for a pullover or neckwear so I could take full advantage of the yummy softness. It would also be more sensible to have a more serious, rugged wool for a vest like this. At the beginning of this project my first impulse was to go with Imperial Yarns Native Twist or Quince and Co. Puffin, and for the next iteration of a bulky vest, I’ll go with one of those (or now that Brooklyn Tweed has Quarry, I might have to try that too). I’ll see how much I end up wearing this vest to determine whether the project was a success or not in the long run.

You were also unsure whether you’d be happy with your color choices — what’s the verdict?

I like how it looks, but I still feel unsure how much it’ll fit into my wardrobe. The colors are so bold! The next vest will definitely be in more earthy or natural colors.

I’m in love with the main motif you came up with — the starburst shape — and they way you’ve positioned it so there’s one centered off each side seam, rather than being centered in the back of the vest. Where did all of that come from?

My husband actually helped me brainstorm that one a bit and then we just charted it out. I figured that since I was objecting to the highly decorative look of the motif in the pattern I’d try something totally different.

The size also looks fantastic — did you hit your target proportions and are you happy with it?

Yes! The size turned out great, pretty much right on the predicted numbers. I expected that it would given my (excessive) swatching — thank you, math!

Tell us what all modifications you wound up making, apart from the gauge/size tweaks and replacing the colorwork motifs.

I forgot to knit pockets, so I decided I must not have wanted them that badly. But I did round the armholes and add short row shaping to give a nice slope to the shoulders. I also worked the edgings, button bands, and collar with a smaller needle after completing everything else to keep them neat. The collar was improvised rather than bothering with the pattern and it’s a bit slimmer, which I like.

For the edgings and button bands, I used a US9 needle to pick up stitches at about a rate of 2 sts for every 3 rows. Then I worked a few rows in garter stitch and bound them off. I made one-row buttonholes, which is my favorite buttonhole method. For the collar, I used the traditional method that I described in the Cowichan q&a. To keep the collar relatively slim, I worked the front collars just to about an inch below the shoulder seam. Then I picked up and worked the back collar with the front flaps. Because this method requires you to join the back collar stitches with front flap stitches until the front flap stitches are used up, the top width of the front flaps (how many stitches you end up with after working the front flaps) determines how tall the back collar will be. If you keep picking up stitches and working the front flaps all the way to the shoulder seam, you’ll have a more generous collar than I ended up with.

As you’ve watched other sweaters taking shape on Instagram and Ravelry, was there anything you wished you’d done differently?

I was definitely jealous of the Puffin, Native Twist, and Quarry I was seeing. I just love those wooly wools so much! It’s been really fun to see everyone’s take on this and I’m happy with mine, but not so happy that I won’t keep pursuing this idea in other ways. Bulky vests are fun!

They really are, and it’s already clear to me there there’s another one in my near future. Do you mind if I steal your starbursts?

Not at all! In fact, I just posted my charts on my blog so anyone can use them.

Awesome! Thanks for everything, Andrea!

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PREVIOUSLY IN #fringeandfriendskal2015: How to knit a Cowichan-style collar (full series here)

The Cowichan influence: a Q&A with Andrea Rangel

The Cowichan influence: a Q&A with Andrea Rangel

As promised, today I have a discussion with our Cowichan-style knitalong panelist Andrea Rangel about what a Cowichan sweater is and is not, pop-culture and mass-market appropriation of the style, and whether there’s anything wrong with knitting a sweater in the Cowichan style. There’s been a lot of discussion around all of this since the knitalong kicked off and I’m happy to see so much interest. Andrea is not Coast Salish herself, but has lived in the Cowichan Valley and spent time studying the Salish people and their sweaters, with their influence having made its way into her design work. Her most recent pattern happens to be a Cowichan-inspired pullover vest, Tokul, and she’s also the first panelist to have completed her knitalong vest — so I’ll have her FO interview and pics soon!

In addition to the links previously provided, Andrea has posted some videos on her Instagram feed showing how she traps floats, which she says is not 100% the Salish way, as they would typically hold both yarns in the right hand. But whether you’ve watched the videos mentioned in the links roundup post, take a minute to watch Andrea’s as well. And one more link to mention, shared by Eliana in the comments: Cowichantribes.com, with contact info for Cowichan craftspeople. For those who’ve wondered how to buy an authentic sweater directly, that might be another path!

I also want to say a big thank-you to fellow panelist Kathy Cadigan for the photos included in this post, which she shot three years ago when touring Cowichan Valley with Andrea (which you can read more about on Tolt’s blog). The photos were taken variously at the Duncan farmer’s market, Leola Witt’s weaving studio, and Hill’s trading post. Note that the photo up top is not of authentic Cowichans, but of a Sylvia Olsen vest design, samples knitted by Andrea (left) and Sylvia (right), which I thought you might like to see. (Sylvia considers her own design style to be a fusion of influences from her own Scottish/English ancestry and Coast Salish ancestry of her former husband.) The sweater Andrea is modeling above is a vintage Cowichan, likely from the ’50s, and belongs to Witt. Hopefully all of this will add to your understanding and appreciation of the Cowichan tradition!

The Cowichan influence: a Q&A with Andrea Rangel

What’s the most basic, one-sentence answer to the question “What is a Cowichan sweater”?

A Cowichan sweater is a sweater knit by a person with Coast Salish heritage that is generally made with undyed superbulky-weight yarn and often features some color patterning. Coast Salish people are a group of indigenous people from the Pacific Northwest Coast, including Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia, who are ethnically and linguistically related to one another.

What are some of the key characteristics that make a Cowichan sweater a Cowichan sweater?

Like most knitting traditions, Cowichan sweaters are a fluid form, so there are many exceptions, but some general characteristics are:

– undyed, often hand-spun superbulky yarn
– geometric or animal-motif color patterns
– often featuring three sections of colorwork — narrow bands at the hips and shoulders and a wider band across the chest.
– drop-shoulder or modified drop-shoulder construction (raglan and set-in sleeves are rare among Cowichan sweaters)
– usually seamless
– 3-needle-bind-off shoulder joins, often showing as a design feature on the public side of the work
– color patterns that often include sections with long floats — i.e, large pattern motifs
– a characteristic collar worked in three sections. After both front sections are worked, stitches are picked up along the back neckline. At the end of every row of the back collar section, a live front collar stitch is knit together with the last back collar stitch. When all the front collar stitches on both sides are gone, the collar is complete and can be bound off.

Also, in order to avoid long strands at the back of the work as well as to manage tension, floats are caught every other stitch. This is apparent on the inside of the sweater, and you can often see it a bit on the public side too — the contrast color will often peek through a bit. A blend of intarsia and this catching-every-other-stitch method is also frequently incorporated if there’s just one big motif – like an eagle on the back.

The Cowichan influence: a Q&A with Andrea Rangel

The sweater pattern we’re knitting for the knitalong is a “Cowichan-style sweater” because it doesn’t have the right ethnic or geographic origins to be called a Cowichan sweater, but what other ways does it deviate from the true Cowichans?

– using red as one of the colors
– being worked in pieces and seamed
– having a collar that’s seamed rather than progressively knit together as described above
– having shoulders that are seamed rather than joined using 3-needle-bind-off

Cowichans are a little like the lopapeysa in Iceland (aka lopi sweaters), where you have local guilds knitting these indigenous sweaters to be sold largely to tourists. Right? The lopi apparently only dates back to the mid-20th century. How old is the Cowichan sweater tradition, and also: Tell us how it is that you come to know so much about all this.

I’m not quite as familiar with the history of Icelandic knitting, so aside from the sweaters being knit for tourists, I don’t know how similar the traditions are. Historically Cowichan sweaters were sold directly from knitters’ homes (often hung in the yard so that passersby could see them), but I haven’t heard of that happening recently. It’s possible to get a genuine Cowichan sweater from Hill’s Native Art in Duncan, BC. These include a Cowichan tag and often the name of the knitter. During summer months you can also find knitters knitting on the waterfront with sweaters and accessories to sell, so in that case you’re buying directly from the knitter. There are a couple other shops in downtown Victoria that sell native art including Cowichan sweaters, but I don’t know how much of the profit goes to the artists and knitters or how authentic the products are.

Coast Salish people had a long tradition of weaving, but started knitting around the time that British Columbia was colonized, in the mid- to late-1800s. The current idea of the Cowichan sweater has been developing and evolving since then.

I’ve learned about this tradition mostly because I moved to the Cowichan Valley a few years ago and was very curious. I had the opportunity to meet and talk with Sylvia Olsen, the author of Working with Wool and Knitting Stories, who also lives in this region. She has a fascinating personal history with this tradition and has researched and written about it in a wonderfully poetic and scholarly way. Working with Wool should be the primer for anyone interested in learning about Cowichan knitting.

The Cowichan influence: a Q&A with Andrea Rangel

So what we’ve got here in our knitalong sweater is a Japanese take on the Cowichan sweater. It’s become a fairly common style to appropriate, but the Japanese seem particularly taken with it. I’m asking you to generalize here, granted, but how do the Coast Salish people feel about their knitting tradition being co-opted by other cultures?

I can’t speak for Coast Salish people, but as far as I know, they object strongly to anything being called a Cowichan sweater that isn’t one.

One thing that’s been mentioned a few times since we kicked off this knitalong is the collaboration between two Canadian companies — Roots and Mary Maxim, both of which are new to me — to produce “Cowichan” sweaters. (Mary Maxim was apparently founded in the ’50s on patterns for sports-themed faux Cowichans.) Whether or not either company actually calls them Cowichans, the sweaters are clearly indebted to the native knitters, who in no way benefit from this mega-brand collaboration. What’s your feeling about appropriation of knitting traditions, especially with regard to Cowichan? And is there anything wrong with non-Salish knitters knitting themselves a sweater that’s Cowichan-inspired?

I’m glad you raise this question. I think it’s an important topic and I think you could get a lot of different opinions. I wish we had a Coast Salish knitter here to speak about this because I’m not sure how she or he would answer.

Labeling a sweater as “Cowichan” or even “Indian” (a term that was historically used before Cowichan to describe the sweaters) when it isn’t is a violation of the creative and intellectual property of the Coast Salish. And we have to acknowledge the historical and current cultural oppression and racism that continue to have a negative impact on the Coast Salish community. That history and current reality have to inform our thinking about this topic, and I think it’s vital that we take special care not to exacerbate the disenfranchisement of that community by claiming their cultural property as our own.

But I also think that fashion is always in flux. We are all constantly inspired and influenced by what we see around us. In the United States, you can’t copyright a clothing design and I actually think that’s sensible – there are so many elements to a piece of clothing that it seems nearly impossible to boil down its essence and say that someone owns that. (Is it the pattern of the fabric? the fiber content? the cut? the techniques used to create it? the placement and number of pockets?) To say that any item of art or culture is 100% original or pure is nonsensical to me – all of our creations are iterations of something else. I find power and beauty in that connection back to our mothers and grandmothers and back and back. We are all interrelated and the huge variety and mixing of knitting traditions are a wonderful visual and tactile representation of that.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with knitting a Cowichan-inspired sweater. I’d love if there were patterns available from Coast Salish knitters so we could also be supporting that community, but I have yet to find any. And I think there would most definitely be something wrong with a non-Salish knitter claiming that their sweater was a Cowichan, particularly if they used that label as a sales tactic.

One of the most famous Cowichan-style sweaters in pop culture (along with Bob Hope and Marilyn Monroe) is the one worn by Jeff Bridges — aka “the Dude” — in The Big Lebowski. It’s not the most flattering portrait of a garment, and yet that sweater became iconic. (And you actually published a knitting pattern several years ago for the Dude’s sweater.) Do you think the fame or infamy of that sweater did anything as far as raising awareness of the Coast Salish people and their traditions, knitted or otherwise? Or do you think people even thought to wonder about it — it was just a cool sweater.

That is a great sweater and it was definitely heavily influenced by the Cowichan sweater tradition. I think it’s a great example of how fashion works — we’re influenced by what we see and like and then alter it to suit our own market, aesthetic, or to achieve other goals. Because it was called a Cowichan sweater (though there are so many ways in which it is not), I think it has generated interest in the Cowichan knitting tradition among knitters and people interested in the history of fashion. Most folks, though, probably just think it’s a cool sweater.

tk

PREVIOUSLY IN #fringeandfriendskal2015: Cowichan vest errata — and how to work those edgings! (full series here)

Photos © Kathy Cadigan

Cowichan-style Knitalong: Meet the Panel!

Cowichan-style Knitalong: Meet the Panel!

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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KAREN TEMPLER, of this here blog and Fringe Supply Co. (Instagram: @karentempler)

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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Cowichan-style Knitalong: Meet the Panel!

JARED FLOOD, creative director of Brooklyn Tweed (Instagram: @jared_flood)

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!

. . . . .

Cowichan-style Knitalong: Meet the Panel!

ANDREA RANGEL, independent knitting designer, Andrea Rangel Knits (Instagram: @andrearknits)

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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Cowichan-style Knitalong: Meet the Panel!

MERI TANAKA, editor of Amirisu Magazine (Instagram: @sparkle512)

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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Cowichan-style Knitalong: Meet the Panel!

KATHY CADIGAN, photographer/spinner/knitter (Instagram: @kathycad)

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!

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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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PREVIOUSLY : Fringe and Friends Knitalong 2015: Cowichan style

Colorwork patterns for first-timers

Colorwork knitting patterns for first-timers

OK! Picking back up with the Beginning to Knit series, let’s talk about colorwork — specifically, stranded or “fair isle” knitting. (I’m not going into intarsia in this post.) Just like cables, stranded knitting is a great thing to try when you’re still fairly new to knitting. But even or especially if you’ve been knitting a long time and have never done it, it’s time! Both seem really difficult and amazing and impressive but are actually insanely simple. In the case of stranded knitting, it’s just stockinette and it’s almost always done in the round, so you’re only ever working from the right side of the fabric. You can handle knitting in the round, right? There are only two tricks to knitting multi- rather than single-color stockinette:

1) Holding the yarn.
If a pattern row has you knit two white stitches, then two black stitches and repeat that to the end of the row, you could literally knit the two white stitches, drop the yarn, pick up the black yarn and knit two stitches, drop it, etc. Nothing wrong with that, but it would slow you down a bit. Depending on how ambidextrous you are and which hand your normally hold your working yarn in, you could hold both yarns in your left hand, both in your right, or one in each hand. (That’s my preference.) There are copious videos on the web demonstrating all the options.

2) Minding your floats.
Imagine what I described above: putting one yarn down and picking up the next one. On the wrong side of the work, that new yarn has to reach across the two (or however many) stitches you just worked in the other color, and that little bit of yarn carried behind the work is called a float. (You’ve seen floats on the back side of fair isle knitting before, no doubt, but here’s a pic for you.) The reason most people’s stranded work winds up being tighter than single-color work is that their floats are too short and it pulls on the back of the work. So for one thing, you have to be careful to keep your floats even — the same width as the stitches they float behind. And for another, when the floats get very long — longer than a inch or so — you need to “trap” them by simply twisting the two yarns in back.

Sample colorwork chart from Pine Bough Cowl by Dianna Potter WallaThe other key difference is that when you’re working stockinette in the round, the last thing in the world you need is a chart — you’re just knitting every stitch! But for colorwork, you pretty much always need a chart showing you which stitches are worked in which colors. As long as you’re knitting in the round, you read the chart exactly like you knit: from right to left, starting at the bottom and working your way up. If a chart seems daunting, keep in mind that you only knit one row at a time. Block out all but the first (bottom) row on this sample chart and you’ll see that all you need to do is knit 1 green, 1 blue, 1 green, 7 blue, then repeat that 10-stitch sequence to the end of the round. You can do that, right? Then take the next row as it comes. I borrowed this sample chart from Dianna Walla’s free Pine Bough Cowl pattern, which was a huge hit with you all in the big cowls roundup a few months ago — it would be a great introduction to both colorwork and charts for the moderately ambitious among you. (Note that in some cases on a colorwork chart you’ll see black dots in some of the squares. Those dots are just there to emphasize the motif that’s being created — chevrons or triangles or whatever it may be. It’s just a visual aid; you still just knit every stitch.) [See UPDATE below about Dianna and charts.]

So, in my mind, the ideal projects for first-timers are those that A) are knitted in the round, B) never use more than two colors within a single row and C) don’t involve any long floats. Some suggestions, pictured above:

TOP ROW: BASIC GEOMETRY
left: Dessau Cowl by Carrie Bostick Hoge — super-simple triangles pattern, maybe slightly long floats (See also: Flying Geese Cowl, Tolt Hat and Mitts)
center: Netty Cowl by Ien Sie — polka dots worked in a tube and grafted into a loop (See also: Herrington and Empire State)
right: Amira pullover by Andrea Rangel — just a little colorwork around the circular yoke (See also: Willard, Stasis, slightly more intricate Skydottir, or the Altair hat)

MIDDLE ROW: ZIGS, ZAGS AND CROSSES
left: Harpa scarf by Cirilia Rose — tube scarf with long ribbed ends
center: Muckle Mitts by Mary Jane Mucklestone — my first colorwork project, includes both 2- and 3- color versions (either way just two colors per round) (See also: the more ambitious Seasons hat)
right: Vega hat by Alexis Winslow

BOTTOM ROW: GETTING INTRICATE
left: Gloaming Mittens by Leila Raabe — there’s a slight chance there may be some 3-color rounds in here but I don’t think so
center: Selbu Modern hat by Kate Gagnon Osborn — like delicate Art Nouveau wallpaper for your head (free pattern)
right: Funchal Moebius by Kate Davies — clever play with lights and darks in a tube that’s grafted into a moebius (or a loop if you like)

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I personally put off trying colorwork for two years, and then decided to take Mary Jane Mucklestone’s beginner class to get me off my duff and so I’d be sure to learn good habits right from the start. If you’re at all nervous about trying stranded knitting, then by all means sign up for a class. As I always say, you never know what else you might learn.

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UPDATE: Dianna Walla left a comment below about her chart. She just did a post on her blog about working from colorwork charts, which you should definitely take a look at. See also her recent post about color dominance.

Down and back

Andrea Rangel

I’m back from two long days in the car for one action-packed one in San Diego. The trade show was a good time, although I don’t have a whopping lot to report. (You may have seen my little highlights reel.) I bought a load of amazing stuff for the webshop, saw some beautiful samples and some lovely new yarns, knitted with a bunch of my favorite knitters, and wore my one-armed Acer in the lounge at the Top of the Hyatt, where we — a very large pack of boisterous knitters — were surrounded by grown-ups in prom clothes. I’m not sure whether they were more puzzled by us or us by them. But the best part of the trip was getting to room with Andrea Rangel, who I first met at the June show, and who was a delight to hang out with. And this cardigan she’s wearing? It’s terrific — drop-shouldered but so beautifully shaped and proportioned, with great attention to every detail. She’ll be publishing the pattern in a few months, and I’ll be watching for it.

But at the moment, I’ve got an amazing discussion of stash sorting techniques to catch up on …

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