Of all the years, this is one where I feel most dramatically like WAIT! I haven’t even knitted anything from last year’s Favorite New Favorites yet! I’ve gone back to the patterns on that list over and over this year, and several I’ve continued to go on about during 2018, and yet somehow it’s already time to look back through this year’s and pull out the ones I most fervently want to not lose track of.
It was a really good year in knitting patterns, better than I even realized. To scroll back through the year’s New Favorites (which I recommend!) is to witness a lot of ingenuity and beauty, and yet there are loads of things I saved on Ravelry that haven’t even made it onto the blog. (Yet.) Trying to narrow it to the ones I simply admired the most, I was at risk of putting about 40 or 50 patterns into this post. So I decided to limit myself to just 12 patterns for the year: the ones I’d most like to actually knit and have. Which also means this could function as a queue for the coming year — if only people would stop with the new distractions!
Simply based on how many times I’ve typed the words Carbeth Cardigan this year — and the fact that I did cast one on during my flight to Palm Springs last week — it’s clearly the pattern that bored the deepest hole into my brain this year. And then there are the ones I actually made: Grete and Hozkwoz.
Here’s the thing about knitting: A finished object is a destination, and a pattern for that object is a map describing one route for getting there. You always have the option of choosing your own route! In the case of the Sólbein Cardigan — the featured pattern for the upcoming Fringe and Friends Steekalong — the route described in the pattern includes a sewing-machine reinforced steek with a full tutorial for how to do it (partially glimpsed above). There have been many people wondering if that method is a requirement, and it absolutely is not.
I’ve put the following few questions to Mary Jane Mucklestone about the Sólbein steek and what alternatives are available, so you A) are not scared off if you don’t have a sewing machine and B) can consider your options even if you do! We’ll dig a little deeper once the knitalong is in full swing, but I wanted you to have this information before you cast on—
. . .
The Sólbein pattern includes instructions for the sewing machine method of reinforcing the steek before cutting. Is there any particular reason why you wrote it for that method — is it your personal favorite?
I chose the sewing machine method because it’s what you see most often in Iceland. A line or two of machine stitches nails down all the strands without creating any additional bulk, another reason I chose it. I actually love to reinforce with crochet, a slip stitch catching 1/2 of two adjacent stitches. It’s really pretty and it helps the cut ends fold under. It does cause additional bulk, so for Sólbein I might use a finer yarn, maybe fingering weight. I’d choose a color to blend with the selection you’ve made, anything super different could possibly show through to the front. Personally I’d use whatever I had lying around that matched, which would be Shetland wool or sock yarn.
For those who don’t have a sewing machine, what are some of the other steeking methods they might research? And is any/every method an option here, or is there anything about Sólbein that would rule any of them out?
You can do the crocheted steek like I mentioned above, or hand stitching with sewing thread is also an option, I find I have to be really careful to make it pretty, but it works. I know it’s hard fitting a sewing machine into your knitting bag!
Does Léttlopi really even need any reinforcement for the steek, or could a brave soul just go for it?
I think because we’re knitting at such a loose gauge it’s a good idea to reinforce the steek. If we used a tight gauge and more stitches for the steek, just leaving it and doing nothing could possibly be an option.
Having asked that, and having read the pattern, I will confess I’m actually slightly nervous (by which I mean excited!) about there not being more of a “bridge” of stitches to cut through. As written, one is literally cutting straight up the gutter between two columns of stitches. Would you counsel against anyone who might feel tempted to throw a couple of extra stitches in between?
Well in Iceland they’ll often just have a single purl stitch as a steek. So I was being cautious using two. I’ll admit it makes me a little nervous too, but like you, at the same time thrilled. It’s nice because there is really no bulk, just enough left to be a tidy little selvage. I wear my Sólbein a lot and nothing bad has happened to it. All those Icelandic knitters can’t be wrong! But that’s not to say you can’t add more stitches if it helps you feel safer and more comfortable.
Sunday afternoon, while forced to exercise indoors (rather than be out on the greenway where I belong!) I was also forced (or so I’ll claim) to rewatch “Love, Actually” while I did it. The high point is definitely the moment just past the 46-minute mark when a shawl-collar cable cardigan joins the ensemble cast. Worn by Aurelia, the Portuguese maid in my favorite of the storylines, it’s a deceptively simple little sweater. Chunky. Heather grey. Little patch pockets on the front. A single toggle closure. And it’s pure stockinette, including the shawl collar itself, except for the presence of some … cables. I don’t know if there’s a proper name for this sort of cable, but in my head I call them stockinette cables, which is an oxymoron but still feels accurate to me. You’re just knitting stockinette and suddenly decide to cross a large number of stitches — like 8 or more. There are no purl stitches to set them off or anything, they’re just like waves in the stockinette. On this sweater, there’s one running up each side of the front and back, and up the center of each sleeve.
To emulate it, you could use Lion Brand’s free Autumn Afternoons cardigan pattern, which has all the basic traits including the integral stockinette shawl collar. The key difference is that this collar has a facing, so it winds up being a double thickness. To make the collar more like Aurelia’s, you could omit the facing stitches (clearly described by the schematic) and either slip the edge stitches or work an I-cord edge.
Apart from that and some 1×1 ribbing at the hem and cuffs, all you’d need to add is the pockets, the toggle closure, and the cables. For the latter, you’d want to swatch and see what such a big cable would do to the gauge, and adjust your stitch count to compensate. Since the sweater is worked flat in pieces, it would be quite simple to experiment with one of the fronts to get those details sorted out!
The recommended yarn for the pattern is listed as aran weight, but it’s knitted on US 10.5 needles at 3.5 stitches per inch. Sound familiar? Lopi would be a beautiful choice, although I’ve never attempted to cable with it. (Even “stockinette cables”!) I’d try something like Harrisville’s Turbine. Which I just realized I also recommended in the last Knit the Look! Clearly I have this yarn on the brain — might need to get it onto the needles.
I’m thrilled at all of the enthusiasm over the upcoming Fringe and Friends Steekalong featuring Mary Jane Mucklestone’s Sólbein cardigan — kicking off January 1st. Several questions have been raised about color and yarn choices, which obviously need to be decided before casting on, so I’m doing a couple of advance Q&A’s with Mary Jane this month, starting today with those concerns. (We’ll talk about steek method alternatives next.)
To recap, Sólbein is designed for Léttlopi Icelandic wool yarn which is both unique and affordable — I’ve written about the yarn before here. In this case, it’s also knitted at a larger gauge (which works due to magic discussed below), the result being a sweater that knits up quickly, is somewhat less warm than if you knitted the same yarn at a more typical gauge, and is even less expensive, using less of an already affordable yarn. If you’re unsure about the lopi fabric, I highly recommend buying a few balls to swatch with, especially given the price point — knit a swatch, soak your swatch and get to know what the fabric is really like. If then it is not for you, we talk about the challenges and options for substituting yarns below. And you can use your leftover Léttlopi to make some Giving Mitts.
So with that, here’s Mary Jane — and if you have other yarn questions not answered here, please ask them below!
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First, let’s talk about picking colors for Sólbein. I did the big roundup of palette suggestions that were mostly based on your model of using light/medium/dark shades of a single color. Can you talk about the effect that has, and why you chose it over a more contrasty or colorful approach?
When I designed the sweater it was based on the prompt “lines.” I love a simple prompt. I started thinking about radiating lines and eventually about light streaming through my windows on a winter’s day, and sunbeams. I wanted an ethereal kind of shimmer. I design on the needle and knitted the light one first. To get the effect I saw in my mind’s eye, I chose a group of three colors that were fairly close in value, with the white acting as a bold color … if that makes sense.
When thinking about a second colorway, charcoal seemed a great choice for the main body color, so different from the first version. Choosing such a dark dark allowed different spacing between the values, but still in the same sequence: darkest for the body, middle for the ribbing and lightest for sunbeams. The medium color also become beams, when they progress into the darkest color.
So that was just my personal thinking about a knitted way to describe lines and my interpretation of lines being light. I’ve seen some really cute bright versions of Sólbein though — some even in candy colors, still arranged in a value sequence — and they are super cute!
Léttlopi is not like any other yarn I’ve ever used, and I find it impossible to describe to anyone — it’s so incredibly light and has such a halo that the fabric is more like a puff of wool-infused air or something. You’ve compounded that by knitting on a larger-than-usual needle: It’s aran-gauge yarn (or heavy worsted) knitted here on chunky needles, but the resulting fabric is not loose stockinette because of the way the lopi fleece blooms to fill the would-be gaps. I’d never seen that done before your Stopover pattern (and I wound up trying it with my little black raglan sweater). Is that a trick you’d seen before with Léttlopi?
I love Léttlopi. I love the fuzz and the loft and the lightness of it. And the shine — it glimmers. We traveled to Iceland in the ’70s and my mom got a lopapeysa which I’ve always always loved. It was so thick, but still so light in weight, and that’s the thing for me — lopi produces a warm but lightweight garment. So the memory of the utility of that sweater has never left me.
I came to knit Léttlopi at a loose gauge because I was in a hurry. I always wore my favorite storebought lopapeysa I got a few years ago, and a friend pointed out that I had it on in every picture and I needed to be wearing my own designs. Realizing that I had a week before my next trip, I consulted my stash and thought … why not? I didn’t have regular lopi, only had Léttlopi, and I figured I could use a bigger needle for a faster knit. I also wanted a warm sweater that wouldn’t weigh a lot because of airline weight restrictions, and that could take a beating being squished and compacted in a suitcase. I did a little swatching and I kept pushing the needle size, seeing how big I could get away with. Léttlopi is magical; once washed, the loft of it fills in the gaps of the loose gauge.
All of those lopi traits and gauge trickery are what makes it difficult to suggest yarn substitutions. A typical aran-weight yarn would not do well being knitted at such a large gauge, and especially with colorwork involved. Substituting here would require using a chunky yarn, which would result in a heavier, denser sweater. It might be more or less warm than the lopi, depending, but it would not be the same light-as-air sweater. On top of which, not all yarns are suited to either colorwork or steeking. It needs to be a woolly wool with some grip. (Nothing super smooth, slippery or superwash.) Which doesn’t leave a lot of options! Do you think it would work with any of the lighter, more roving-y wools like Turbine and Puffin and Quarry? What’s your best suggestion?
Hmmm … yes. You can substitute, but I can’t think of any yarn that will produce a sweater that is as light in weight as Léttlopi. But not everyone needs a sweater to cram in a suitcase, or that weighs next to nothing. So swatch! Swatching is fun. It’s like an experiment — like you are a knitting scientist or a knitting explorer charting new territory! Test out a potential yarn and decide if you like the knitted result. Wash the swatch to see what happens. See how much larger you can make it with blocking. Léttlopi has a lot of leeway — when it’s wet you can make it grow if you want it to grow, or just pat it into place if you don’t want it to.
But you want answers! I’ve used Puffin when I’m swatching for design and I want a yarn where I can rip things out without much harm… so I know the gauge will work and it will be pretty. But it will be different, it will be more solid and weigh more. Quarry is kind of like roving, so it will probably work, and be fairly light. It won’t have the glossy sparkle that Lettlopi has, but it could be nice. So yeah. Everything will be a trade off, but that’s fine, and can be an adventure of discovery!
Among those not averse to using lopi wool, several people have also asked whether the unspun Plötulopi would work? And I’m wondering the opposite — any reason someone couldn’t use the bulky-gauge Alafoss Lopi? In which case you’d be knitting it at standard gauge, for a more typical Icelandic outerwear sort of garment, am I right?
I think Plötulopi stranded double will work, in fact I’ve seen it done on Instagram. I wouldn’t use a single strand because I don’t believe the edge will be strong enough to support a button band. Standard Lopi will be fine, and it will make a more traditional lopapeysa. It will be heavier and warmer and can function as a jacket. It could be fantastic now that I think about it. Not for my international flights maybe, but as outwear it would be great.
Obviously, whatever one is considering potentially substituting, as you’ve noted, it would be exceptionally important to knit a big swatch, make sure it’s suitable for the colorwork and gauge, and also potentially cut the swatch to confirm the steek will hold. How do you advise swatching for this sweater, in any case?
Well, ideally, you swatch the way your garment will be knit, so in the round, with the needles you’ll be using … so a hat-sized swatch. I’d practice both plain stockinette and do some of the colorwork lines. Really get a feel for the fabric you are making. I hear some groans … . If you really really don’t want to do that, you could also knit flat, utilizing a Shetland technique called “brak an eek”, or break and join. On a circular needle you knit flat, joining yarn on the right edge, and breaking it on the left edge, sliding the stitches back to the right, and repeating. You knot the broken yarns after a couple of rows. Keep in mind if you’re new to this, it might take a bit of practice, and you also won’t be able to reuse the yarn. In either case it’s a bonus if you want to try out your steeking method on the swatch, great preparation!
Interesting — I just leave a long loop across the back of the swatch for each row, and cut the loops at the end.
The other option for anyone wanting to substitute yarn but not wanting to go the bulky route would be to knit aran-weight yarn at aran gauge and to do their own gauge math. Any caveats for anyone thinking of going that route? (Other than “don’t ask Mary Jane to do your math!”)
I say go for it if you want to. Since it’s knitted top-down, you can easily knit it to the length you want. A friend of mine has had great success knitting Sólbein at a 4.5 stitch gauge. She’s had to fiddle with things and ripped a bunch out but her finished sweater is divine.
The world is full of people hawking superbulky sweater patterns, and they often lead to garments that appear to have swallowed the wearer. Plus who has the closet space for some of those?! But what T-L gets so right is the proportions. Yes they’re superbulky (you can knit one in a day!), but the scale of them is wearable (even in my climate!) and every detail is just right — the yoke depth vs body length and sleeve proportion … they just work. And the way she’s styled them here has my name written all over it. Cozy sweater + slippery little dress + knee-high boots is one of my all-time favorite combos, and these pics are making me not only want to knit one or two of these sweaters to wear with pants and jeans right now (it’s 31 degrees as I type), but to actually dust off some of my dresses to go with them on our seasonal dissonance days. So yes, I’m slightly rethinking my day-old Queue.
I did that thing where I convinced myself I was going to come home from my Thanksgiving road trip with nearly finished front and back pieces for Bob’s sweater vest. (Details on the pattern and yarn here.) Instead, of course, I knitted about two inches on the drive to Atlanta, an inch on the drive back, and not a stitch while we were with my family. Too many meals to prepare, kids to fling around, dominoes games to lose. But I have, at least, done my alt-gauge math and made it into the armhole shaping on both pieces, so it’s downhill from here!
Which means it’s about time to decide what I’m casting on for myself when this is done. As you know, I’ve been deliberating. And deliberating some more. Based on the notes in my mood board post last week and an assessment of my stash — as I continue to make slow but steady progress on my cleanout — I’ve got three yarns vying for my attention.
LEFT SKEIN: While I was at Tolt a few weeks ago, I bought a skein of black Luft to swatch with for another Grete, and when I got home a box arrived from my sweet friends at Woolfolk with enough to finish the job. This one is pretty much a sure thing, so very likely the next project on my needles. All there is to think about is the mods I want to make this time, beyond what I did with my first one.
MIDDLE SKEIN: The Our Yarn I’ve been saying I want to use for a Carbeth Cardigan, amplified by my trying on Shannon’s on that same trip. Shannon’s was knitted in the soft black Quarry and it really felt like a sweater that belonged in my closet, so as confident I am that I would absolutely love it in the toffee, I’m questioning whether I’ll regret not making a replica of the sweater that felt so entirely perfect to me. Especially since I also have other ideas for the toffee.
RIGHT SKEIN: The other sweater quantity in my stash that’s crying out the loudest is the YOTH Neighbor I bought at Stitches West back in February. I really love this nubbly, heathery wool and am dying to knit it up, but I’m also being mindful about my quest for less warm sweaters, which led me back to Kram, which has been on my shortlist for three years. I’m leery of these kinds of sweaters (basically triangular garments meant to sit on a square frame), so I still regret not trying on Tank’s when I had a chance at Knitting With Company two years ago, but it looked great on her and the fact that I’ve had it in mind for so long is a good sign. I’d probably need to hold this yarn triple, and believe I have just enough to pull that off, but I’m also considering holding an ivory or lighter blue with it to brighten up the color, since this is a pretty grey blue.
And then there’s the sewing queue. Writing about my wool muscle tee the other day made me think I might want to make another with the toffee-colored wool I have in stash, which was actually woven from the same yarn above. And fueled by the winter mood board, I pulled this purple fabric off my shelf. It’s a gorgeous deep eggplant with patterning in a lighter shade of lilac, woven in Thailand. I bought it a few years ago at Craft South when they had a pop-up with a woman who buys indigenous textiles on her global travels. (I can’t remember her name or brand!) I’ve been waiting for it to tell me what it wants to be, and I’m now thinking a pretty little sleeveless top of some sort. This fabric will go with every cardigan I own (including the to-be-steeked purple lopi) as well as my army and denim shirtjackets, and a little sleeveless top is of course useful year-round. I don’t know what exactly, but I’m picturing something feminine, with maybe a little gathering or pleating at the waist? If I can find the right pattern, I might have the time next weekend, and it would be my idea of a perfect little #sewfrosting project, just in time for the holidays.
Here’s the thing about knitting (or sewing) your own clothes: You have the opportunity throw in any sort of details and accents you like, when you like, whether it’s a subtle finishing detail like a folded neckband or a pronounced design feature like elbow patches. In the past 24 hours, I’ve run across two different sweaters (top and bottom left) that reminded me of a third (bottom right), all of which employ an incredibly simple but wildly effective trick: a bold stripe of randomness that makes an otherwise simple sweater memorable. At the top is the new kit from Wool and the Gang, the Little Honey Pot Jumper, which poses a wide stripe of rust stockinette against a field of persimmon seed stitch. The origins of the bottom left image are unknown to me (it’s floating around the Internet without context; I happened to see it most recently here), and bottom right is the Chloé Resort 2013 sweater I fawned over back in 2012., both of which use a wide red stripe to make an impact. I particularly love that they all employ a change in texture as well as color, and how bold the size of the stripe is. This goes hand in hand with what I love so much about basic patterns — they’re excellent canvases for pulling fun tricks like this out of the bag and making any garment your own.