31 March 2008

More Than One Way to Skin a Sweater: Aran

This was my first sweater. It wasn't knitted from a pattern, but it wasn't my own design. It was copied -- cloned -- from a commercial sweater that a college friend had handed down to me. I had worn the original until the cuffs were becoming threadbare and I was wondering if it could survive one more trip through the laundry. I decided that, well, it was knitting not brain surgery, right? With my trusty Reader's Digest Complete Guild to Needlework, I cast-on with practice yarn and knit until I thought I knew what I was doing. Today, I'd recommend Priscilla A. Gibson-Roberts & Deborah Robson Knitting in the Old Way expanded edition from 2004.

Like the yoke sweater, this one is cast-on in the round at the bottom and worked upwards with little or no shaping. Were I to knit it again, I'd put the patterning on both the front and back. As this is a copy of a commercial sweater, the back and sleeves are all seed-stitch. I'd also drop down onto a smaller needle for the cuff or work it on fewer stitches, but what did I know back then?

I reverse-engineered and charted out the patterns. I worked happily in the round until I got to the underarms. Then I stopped and thought and read and learned a little more. I cast-on at the sleeve cuffs and knit the sleeves round and round until I thought they were the right length. I worked back and forth for the fronts and backs, working two stitches together at each end in order to join the sleeves to the body. I grafted the shoulder seam at the top. I picked up and knit the collar. The back of the neck has a little pucker because it was too loose and I knit a bunch of stitches together on one row in an attempt to tighten it up. The final collar is just a little tight and my overall gauge is very tight -- this is a stiff cotton sweater that can nearly stand up on its own!

Remember the sleeve length? In my attempt to have a sweater that really did reach all the way to my wrists I over-compensated. For a few years, I wore the sweater anyway, although the sleeves were way too long. Then a couple years ago, I decided it was time to do some knitting surgery. I found a place in the sleeves without increases and I unpicked a row of stitches. I carefully counted the number of rows I took out, and then I grafted the whole thing back together in seed stitch. Then I did the same for the other sleeve. It took about two hours total. Well worth it.

17 March 2008

More Than One Way to Skin a Sweater: Roll-neck Raglan

The top-down approach to a sweater is wonderfully and thoroughly covered by Barbara G. Walker in Knitting From the Top, originally printed in 1972 but widely available in the Schoolhouse Press reprint from 1996. A top-down yoke sweater is just a bottom-up sweater in reverse. Depending on the pattern, one direction or the other can be a better choice. In this case, you'd cast on at the neck, and work a few short rows. Then work round and round, increasing an average of 4 stitches each row (8 stitches every-other row). At the underarm, the stitches are divided. Extra stitches are cast-on at the underarm, and the body and sleeves progress individually to the end. Cast off is at the cuffs and bottom ribbing. Underarms are seamed or grafted.

On my example, I've worked raglan increasing at the corners -- i.e. double-increase every-other round at each of four points. I established a small braid at the raglan lines and worked the increases behind the braids to create a lovely, decorative little line. There is also a small underarm gusset because I couldn't quite figure out an elegant way to end the braided raglan line. This is just a doll-sized sweater knit in Lion Brand Microspun so that I could learn the top-down technique.

The downside of this approach is that increases -- especially double increases -- can be harder to execute nicely than decreases. Lace might be an exception to this, since increases in lace can sometimes be achieved by making the requisite yarn over but not fully following through on the matching SSK or k2tog. On the plus side, a top-down garment can more easily be tried on as you knit. For the sleeves, you alternate knitting and trying it on until the sleeves are long enough. For the body, again you keep knitting and fitting until a length is reached that you like. Tape measure not required!

14 March 2008

More Than One Way to Skin a Sweater: Bottom-up Yoke

Remember that beautiful snowfall a couple months ago? Well, my North Georgia Knitting Guild presentation was supposed to be the following evening. As the name implies, that guild meets north of the city. It was a wee bit cooler there and the snow a bit heavier, so the meeting was cancelled. I'll be doing this presentation at the April meeting instead. In the meantime, I thought I'd post most of it here. This is a series of illustrated examples of how to make sweaters without knitting separate flat pieces that are then sewn together.

My first example is a yoke sweater. This particular yoke sweater I knit maybe five years ago for my gaming friend Karen. Karen was going to an anime convention and wanted to dress as a particular character, Yukari. I started with a picture of the character and a little knowledge about yoke sweaters. (For more reference on this type of sweater construction, read Elizabeth Zimmermann Knitting Without Tears, reprinted 1995 or Susan Mills & Norah Gaughan The Best of Lopi, 2002.)

Yoke sweaters are easy. Typically, you cast on in ribbing at bottom and work around in a circle. At the underarms, stop. Cast on one sleeve at the cuff and work to underarm. Stop. Repeat for other sleeve. Now put everything except a few underarm stitches on one circular needle. From this point, the yoke is worked smoothly to the top, usually by decreasing eight stitches every-other row. A few short rows across the back to bring up the back of the neck, a collar around the top, and all the finishing that is left is a little Kitchener stitch under each arm.

This example knit with Takhi cotton classic was a little more complicated. The cotton was chosen for its cost, the proper range of available colors, and comfort in Atlanta's environment. A sweater like this would probably work better in a light-weight wool. I started at the cuffs with a very wide ribbing. I should point out that I was mimicking the drawing -- the anime artist made certain drawing simplifications that I copied into the costume sweater. A more functional sweater would have a better ribbing at the bottom and cuffs. The wave pattern was done in short rows and, since it began in the sleeves, had to be carefully calculated to join the pattern smoothly. Also, I started with the mistaken belief that the yoke was a simple Fair Isle pattern. Uh, no. When I got to the diamonds in the yoke I realized that I couldn't work them in Fair Isle because the elements are too wide. Thus, I worked the yoke in circular intarsia. There are reasons you can find commercial patterns written for Fair Isle but not for circular intarsia. Still, it can be done! The neck and collar weren't difficult because they were all in the same color. Working most of the sleeve in plain stockinette without increases was a blessing, because I badly estimated the sleeve length. After Karen tried on the "finished" sweater, I was able to unpick a row in each sleeve, knit a couple extra inches, and seamlessly Kitchener each sleeve back together.