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.

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