Friday, February 27, 2009

A Sleeve Too Far...

Look! It's a sweater! With sleeves and everything.

I made a few modifications from the original design: it's a couple of inches longer in the body, I made the sleeves full length, and I worked the front edging in the same cable pattern as the body and sleeve edgings, and without a buttonhole.

The sleeves turned out to be a huge challenge, but not because of the pattern. It was all about the yarn. (Well, and my lack of time. Busy at the moment.)

The yarn is, shall we say... inconsistently spun, and I found partway through a new ball that it was significantly thicker than the previous ball, and I had a sleeve that suddenly got much wider, even though the number of stitches hadn't changed.

So I pulled back, started a different ball, and then 4 inches later, I realized I'd pulled back so far I was short a decrease.


So again I started, and although it was slow going due to various other things grabbing my attention, it ran smoothly enough, and I finished it Wednesday night.

It's just dry, after a quick dunk in the sink.

(Very runny, the dye on this yarn. The water looked incredibly muddy.)

But yes, a quick dunk in the way of a casual block, and 24 hours lying flat to dry, and it's good to go. (Yeah, ok, there's a whole whack of ends to weave in. More so than you'd expect, because there were knots in the balls, and the yarn broke a couple of times, too.)

I do really appreciate that it was done once the second sleeve was complete, no finishing required at all, other than the ends to weave in.

I'm not thrilled with the fit of the sleeves below the elbow -- a smidge too loose -- but that would be easily modified, and it's got nothing to do with the essential nature of the raglan construction.

The design is definitely a success, and it's the sort of thing I'll wear often.

Not sure I'd use the yarn again, though.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Coraline Sweater Pattern

LOVE this. A pattern for the Coraline sweater has been published. Available for download from the movie website.

Little blurb about it on the EW site.

I think what I love most of all is that the stars aren't worked in intarsia as I feared -- they're cut out of fabric and stuck to the finished garment!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Body Done

Ok, so the main portion is done. I do like that I was able to adjust the length on the fly -- I went a bit longer than the pattern called for, based on what I want to wear this with.

What next -- sleeves or edging? I think I'll try for the edging first, as my reading on top-down raglans make me think that the sleeve might need some adjusting to fit me well.

I'm going to use the same accidental modification that Jen did for the edging, and work it in the same cable-and-rib pattern (rather than plain old ribbing), without a buttonhole.

My last posts have spurred a fair bit of discussion... TracyKM agrees with me that although short-row shaping can often be a solution to the fit problem, they are not easy to add to a top-down one-piece raglan. And Kirsten remarks that although she's confident making them work when sewing, she's less confident about how they work in sweaters.

TracyKM also made me laugh by commenting that things were much easier in the 1980s, when all sweaters were big boxes with sleeves that started somewhere around your elbow.

Me, I've started researching and noodling on a top-down set-in sleeve. Short row shoulder shaping! Easily modified armhole depth! Excited about the possibilities...

Monday, February 16, 2009

Progress on the Top-Down Raglan/As I Was Saying

See -- fits beautifully around the shoulders.

The front? Not so much.

Now, this is a cardigan with a deep v, so it's not supposed to meet above the bust-line, but it *is* supposed to meet at the bust level, where the original design has a button.

I plan to skip the buttonhole entirely and use my trusty kilt pin to fasten it lower, if at all. I use a kilt pin to fasten pretty much anything that needs fastening. Not that I have a kilt, it's just that I like the giant safety pin nature of it.

The original design calls for it to be about 12 inches long from the armholes -- I might work it longer, we'll see. I do love how the cable and rib combo are providing waist shaping without requiring decreases and increases. Clever.

When I started on this little tirade about the fit of the one-piece raglan, the observant/mathematically inclined/experienced designers in the crowd may have thought to themselves... "but hey, if your main complaint is that you need some bust shaping in the garment, can't you just do some short row shaping or something?"

Yes, absolutely, this is also an answer. But show me a one-piece raglan pattern that explains this, and provides specific instructions.

My issue isn't with the design itself; my biggest issue is with those knitters and designers and yarn shop staff who proclaim this particular design to best place for a beginner to start, and the magical solution for all your sweater needs.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Adventures in One-Piece Raglans & Contrariness

Any knitter who knows me well, or has attended one of my project classes knows that I have very mixed feelings about raglan designs, particularly those constructed in one piece, whether top-down or bottom-up.

I appreciate the cleverness of the construction, absolutely. But the fit just plain doesn't work for me. I've said this before, but a standard raglan fit absolutely doesn't work for me. Either they fit around my shoulders, or around my bustline, but never both.

And, if truth be told, I think I'm coming to resent the propagation of this construction as the One True Way, the panacea, the Grand Unified Theory of sweater construction.

Yes, it's nice to not to have to do much (or indeed any) sewing. And yes, it's a fun and satisfying way to see a sweater emerge from your needles. And yes, I like that you can make modifications on the fly, especially if you're working top-down. Running out of yarn? Just make it shorter! Making it for a taller person? Make it longer! And so forth.

But (gasp!) one-piece raglans do have their drawbacks.

The standard raglan fit does not work for everyone. Let me say this again: THE FIT DOES NOT WORK FOR EVERYONE. I have a narrow-shouldered curvy figure, and to get a standard raglan to fit me nicely around the shoulders means that it's stretched across my bustline like something Jayne Mansfield would wear. Or if it fits me comfortably around the bust, it droops horribly around my shoulders. And they often don't work for the broad-shouldered but thin - tall skinny men in particular. Me, I care about fit and tailoring of my sweaters. If I'm going to the trouble of knitting something, it damn well better look good on me.

And if you're using a particularly heavy (weighty, as in lots of mass) sort of yarn, then having a seam where the sleeve joins the body is actually helpful, to stabilize the garment, and reduce stretching.

(Update: take a look at this design... in particular, the picture of the back, where the model's arm is bent. Seems to me that the seam where the sleeve meets the back would serve this design better with a bit of reinforcement. If it was reinforced, you wouldn't see the sagging. Not a criticism of the designer or the concept -- it's terrific overall.)

And, I've found, that one-piece raglans aren't necessarily the best project for a newer knitter, either. This isn't necessarily due to the construction, but due to the way the patterns are written.

A one-piece raglan pattern is very customizable, in many ways. You can tweak the lengths of the body and sleeves. You can add shaping to the body and sleeves. You can adjust the raglan length. You can change the position of the increases to change the fit of the sleeves, or to adjust the style of the yoke (viz old-style circular Lopi Fair Isle sweaters vs. a simpler "rectangular" yoke with 4 distinct increase points).

And the patterns are often written fairly generally, to allow a confident knitter to make these adjustments. And this is where a newer knitter runs into problems.

I encountered an example this week, a woman working a top down one piece raglan for her swimmer son -- tall, mostly skinny, but with broad shoulders. A helpful LYS employee had made a couple of adjustments and some notes on the pattern, and said that when she gets to the sleeve division, she should have her son try it on to check the raglan length. All well and good, but she confessed to me that she had no idea how to know if the raglan length was good -- and worse, what to do if it wasn't.

So, in the spirit of being a better teacher and pattern-writer myself -- and more to the point, hoping to be better able to guide a knitter who is struggling with such a pattern -- I decided to get more educated about this design.

So with the help of Barbara Walker's "Knitting from the Top" book, and loosely inspired by Amy's "Mr. Greenjeans", I cast on.

I'm using that SWTC Karaoke that I decided not to use for my Must-Have Cardigan. The first modification I made was changing the yarn over increases to EZ's backwards loop make 1. It might just be me, but I find that yarnover increases are rather at odds with the rest of a design for a dark-coloured cabled design.

I like the deep v of Amy's design, since I really don't have to worry about fit around the bustline. I'll likely not do a buttonhole, but rather use a pin.

It's going well so far. I've just divided for the sleeves, and it does fit. So that's nice. Updates as they become available...

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

New Design: Midnight Sky Socks

Late last year I fell instantly and unaccountably in love with a skein of sock yarn. Not just any sock yarn. This one was in what my style columnist friend calls "Prada blue" -- known to the rest of us as a very dark midnight blue -- with a delicate strand of silver running through it. Yes, that's right, actual sterling silver thread.

Look how beautiful it was, just in the skein.

I knew it wanted to be something special, something out of the ordinary.

I spent ages combing my stitch pattern books to find just the right thing. I wanted it to have both some knits and purls on the right side, to break up any stripes, and I wanted there to be some texture, so that the silver would catch the light and sparkle from various angles.

I found something called "Twilled Stripe" in one of the Barbara Walker books. It's a nifty slipped-stitch mock-cabley sort of thing.

And then because I have a sick sense of humour, for the second sock I decided to reverse the direction of the cable.

And here's what resulted.

I'm pretty happy with them.

The patterning looks good with plain yarns, too!

The pattern is available on Patternfish, Ravelry , and also at The Purple Purl.

(Thanks to Melinda for the great photography!)

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Further on Socks & Reinforcement

TracyKM makes a couple of excellent points in a comment on a recent post.... she suggests that the real way to inhibit wearing out of your hand-knit socks is to have a drawer sufficiently well stocked so that you don't have to wear any given pair too often... an admirable goal!

She also says that based on her reading of vintage sock pattern books, she thinks nylon first appeared in blends for sock knitting in the 1950s. That makes sense to me, based on what I've seen, and the age of the knitter with whom I had the original conversation.

And here's a question for my readers out there... does a separate nylon thread actually help, or does the wool wear down at the usual rate and just leave the nylon there? And is that comfy? Does the nylon thread rub against the wool thread and cause it to wear down faster? Interesting questions, that I don't know the answer to.

Perhaps a science experiment is in order!

Yeah, that's just what I need. An excuse for buying more sock yarn.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Reader Mail: On Nylon Reinforcement for Socks

Ella Kelly asks a great follow up question to my last post...

She describes herself as a yarn snob - she works with all natural fibres, all the time. She's just bought some 100% wool yarn for socks. The yarn shop recommended that she add nylon reinforcing thread to the socks, and she asks if I do that myself when I'm working with 100% wool yarn for socks.

The answer is a definitive "sometimes". It depends entirely on how I'm going to use the socks. Are they for boots? Will you wear them a lot, in active situations? Or are they for mostly wearing around the house in slippers, or while resting on the couch, or in your work shoes while your feet rest quietly under your desk?

In short, if they're going to take a lot of wear, yes, do reinforce. Reinforce both the heel flap and the heel turn itself, and I also suggest reinforcing the toe and the last inch or so of the foot before the toe.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Sock Yarn & Nylon: Things We Take for Granted

I had a brief conversation with another knitter a few days ago. She's an experienced and skilled knitter in her 60s. She remarked to me -- in the nicest possible way -- that although she found my sock designs nice, she thinks it's absurd to go to so much work for something that will wear out so quickly.

A few hours later I was thinking about what she had said, and a light bulb went on...

In my sock classes, I talk about the merits of using a sock yarn that's got some nylon in it, for better wear. I've always treated the 100% wool sock yarns as more of a luxury item - to be treated with more care, to preserve them.

So when did they start adding nylon to sock yarn?? Certainly, all those socks knitted as part of the war efforts during World Wars I and II would have been 100% wool. And I'm quite certain that very few people had as well-stocked a sock drawer as most people do now. And soldiers would have had only a very few pairs. Any hand-knitted socks must worn out in a matter of weeks. No wonder the oldest sock patterns often insist on a reinforced heel...

Monday, February 02, 2009

Pick Up Artist

As I mentioned before, I taught two classes this weekend at the DKC Winter Workshop. I had a great time, met some terrific new people, and spent some serious hours talking about knitting - an excellent way to spend the weekend.

The same topic came up in both of my classes - picking up stitches. It often does. It's one of those techniques that is not well understood, and many knitters simply don't feel confident about it. Like "block", it's a word that's often used in a pattern with no explanation, and it's not something you learn until you need it -- until you run straight into it, usually near the end of the first sweater project.

To confuse further, there are a couple of different ways of achieving the objective... Teresa gives an excellent tutorial on my method of choice here... In short, this method involves sticking a needle through the edge of the fabric, wrapping the yarn around the needle, and pulling it through to form a new stitch. Some knitters just grab a loop of the existing fabric, without requiring a working yarn. I don't generally recommend this second one, but I do know knitters who use it and produce satisfactory results.

Here's the problem: the terminology. Some designers and pattern writers - myself included - simply use the term "pick up" to describe the technique Teresa demonstrates. Others use the term "pick up and knit". I'd always treated them as synonyms. Some knitters don't.

We ran headlong into that in the Entrelac class. After all, Entrelac is all about picking up stitches. My written instructions say only "pick up". If you pick up using the second method, your working yarn doesn't travel with you. And the way I'd written out my instructions assumed that it did. Much lively discussion ensued.

(And of course, you could also interpret "pick up and knit" to mean a two step process: pick up the stitches using the second method, then knit across, which gets you to the same place, but rather oddly... )

I was left with the sense that using either version of the term wasn't clear enough.... I need to think about how to best explain and represent this in a pattern.