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May 28, 2006

Terrifying

I don't proclaim myself a fearless knitter. To me, anyway, that seems kind of self-indulgent - what's there to fear? It's a hobby, not so precious that trying something new is sacrilege or an act of heroism. Cutting a steek is not like, say, needing to perform gravely risky surgery on the only astrophysicist left on Earth, with failure meaning the whole planet falls into the sun. Perspective, perspective in all things.

That is, I thought so until Friday, when the sleeves of the Nowegian Jacket reduced me to dizzy, squeaking hyperventilation. I'd outlined a cuff treatment I felt pretty good about - it involved a deeply-slit cuff, finished on either side with a turned-back edging. This was to be accomplished by working a narrow four-stitch steek, binding off and cutting when the notch was deep enough, working the edgings, then picking up along their top edges and continuing with the sleeve. Easy to dream up, easy to describe, and as it turns out, absolutely terrifying to execute.

The steek, cut, and looking quite docile and obedient. The unraveled half-stitch of gold at the bottom edge was to be expected; the blue steek stitch and gold border stitch appeared to be holding together just fine. I didn't reinforce in any way in order to minimize bulk at the edge - those stitches needed to go inside the hem, and thus needed to be kept clean and unencumbered. Besides - faith in Shetland wool was easy, glib nonchalance easier.

The reverse of the stitches picked up all along the gold border stitch. Notice that there's NO STEEK LEFT - it's unraveled completely. I say again, THE ONLY THING HOLDING IT TOGETHER ARE THE PICK-UP LOOPS. I didn't believe there was such a thing as scary knitting until I saw adjoining stitches, one by one, working free and coming undone as I picked up, totally helpless to stop it.

The picked-up edging knitted up, the loose steek strands waving and bristling and trying to escape with every tiny flex and twist of the needles.

Picking up the reverse-side loops for casting off together with the live stitches of the edging to make a folded hem. I say again, PICKING UP THE LOOPS THAT FORM THE ONLY BARRIER AGAINST COMPLETE RUIN. Even with a teeny needle, the mere act of picking them up loosened them dangerously, opening up their already-tenuous hold on those very short cut ends.

I didn't take pictures of the three-needle bindoff. It was horrible - stitches on both needles are stressed more than usual to knit them together. The cut ends were only 3/8 inch long or so - stretching the loops to put the third needle through freed them completely a couple times. The blindness caused by beads of sweat in my eyes (also: bloody, bitter tears) was not helpful in mustering the concentration necessary to keep fitful, spastic jerking and jarring at a minimum.

Was it worth it?

Because those ends are actually tightly encased inside the hem, they're held securely now. They'll start to felt with the first wash, but the whole shebang is already remarkably solid and stable. Lesson? Fragile relationships with sanity are best preserved by avoiding stupid mistakes - even Shetland wool won't hold if coning oil isn't washed off before cutting. Duh.

Even given all that, I might eat the yarn before I'll do it a second time. Please, someone tell me asymmetric looks are in this year?

May 26, 2006

Gifted

I bought myself a little present:

I've been a practically penniless freelancer for a long time, long enough that I haven't bought new clothes in years, long enough that glomming dinner off of my parents has lost its shame, and it's only with a lot of rearranging and giving up of old interests that I can buy yarn at all. You've noticed, maybe, that I tend to use economical workhorse yarns; no double-digit balls of luxury this and hanks of vestal-virgin-spun that for me. No fancy gadgets, either - it was a really big deal in my knitting life when Jeff bought me a swift for Christmas.

But now, I find myself in the peculiar and wonderful position of work and hobby becoming the same - it's been little things here and there that I've kept quiet about, all adding up to some big things I'll talk about eventually - and I figured I ought to celebrate. Champagne! Caviar! Yachts! Diamonds! Uh...dressforms!

Alright, so it's not exactly the most festive of celebrations. But it's tax-deductible, and will get lots of use, and it makes me happy. See how easy it is to rationalize?

It's also nice to be able to show you things I'm working on without awkward pinning and twisting to pose for the camera and asking you to trust that it'll look different when I'm wearing a different bra, and the front bands are on, and, and, and. The form is adjusted to my measurements, and I love the way the jacket looks and fits on it.

There was some interest during the planning stages in the princess-line shaping used. Here's a close-up of the front right side:

You should be able to see how a wedge of pattern down the centerline of a star has been "removed" with decreases and increases, just as it would be in whole cloth with a dart. Go back to the first picture - the interruption is hardly noticeable, really, but four wedges in the whole body add up to a pretty dramatic difference in the silhouette. Putting the shaping there instead of at the sides brings some fullness to the bust, an absolute necessity in cardigans to keep the opening from gaping unattractively (it's not closed right now because I'm afraid to fuss around with the cut steek too much before I put the bands on - it's only two stitches wide!). Overall, I'm very satisfied with the final effect.

Now - sleeves ahoy!

I started something new, too:

It's an experiment with that cabled bind-off before I start that wrapped shell. I'm calling it Torc - no sketch necessary to know what's going on. I think I might start over, though; I've got some soft Phildar crochet cotton right now, but I'm thinking more and more that crisp linen would be more appropriate on a bunch of levels. Does anyone out there have experience with Louet Euroflax (the 14/2 sport weight)?

Unraveling - A follow-up to Wednesday's post about blocking is probably in order. I didn't really set out to write a comprehensive guide to blocking, just how I like to do it, but I missed some pretty big things. UNfortunately, this afternoon is already kind of crazy - so, look for it over the long weekend!

May 25, 2006

To catch a sleeve

One little sleeve, barely begun.

I have been anxious about this, the look and the details and the mechanics thereof, debating and dragging and second-guessing and tapdancing before starting. It seems, though, that no amount of acrobatics can get around the need to eventually cast on and knit - I'm told it's a step rather necessary in making a long-sleeve sweater - so I have.

And I really like it.

I think.

In the comments to this post, there were ten squintillion excellent suggestions on how to handle the sleeves, all of them enormously appealing and many of them things I'm planning to shamelessly gank for future projects. The main variables:

  • Belled forearms in pattern - this was my first instinct. I kept thinking about the austerely graceful sleeves of the Union Square pullover, thinking about how pretty and feminine and clean they looked. But then, I started thinking about the combination of ornate fabric and exaggerated shape, and started having nightmares of looking like a drunk Renaissance Festival attendee, flower garland askew and loudly telling everyone that my costume is "medieval, or baroque, or whatever." Nix.

  • Ditto an undersleeve of oatmeal under a generous patterned cuff.

  • Ditto belled forearms in oatmeal, with the added non-bonus of visual amputation.

  • Tapered, close-fitting cuffed sleeves - I almost went with this one, too; I really liked the idea of a shirt cuff closed with a button or even cufflinks, maybe with the sleeve patterned and the cuff in solid oatmeal. But that would have put me squarely into "shirtwaist" territory, and while as I type I'm thinking that would be a fun thing to interpret in knitting, this is not that project. Also: there are lots of triangles in the pattern, and while I don't generally think of myself as superstitious, that just seems kind of wrong.

So here's what I've got:

It'll be an almost completely straight sleeve, only an inch of difference between underarm and hem, the way jacket sleeves are cut. There's the key - this is such a firm fabric, constructed in such a structured way, suiting lines and seamstress details belong to it, not soft drape and movement. There will be a simple deep notch without overlap, edged at the opening with narrow turned-under hems of the camel color, which will also hem the sleeve itself. Depending on my mood during finishing, I might install hook-and-eyes in the slits to close them, or maybe just let them lie open. All this will echo the finishing for the colorwork portion of the body - the front bands in the colorwork section will be camel-colored (oatmeal in the welt) - and the slit is being planned for in the same way, with a narrow 4-stitch steek to be cut and then enclosed in the casing formed by the hem. Like I said, I like it.

I think.

May 24, 2006

Block Me, Amadeus


VOLUME 1, NUMBER 6

So often when I see comments/instructions about blocking it seems to be assumed that the reader will understand what is entailed in 'blocking'. When reading about blocking in different sources I have become confused as to what is best for what type of knitted fabric. Should one wash with soap and rinse and wring out before blocking? Should one only lightly get the knitted fabric damp, no need to actually wash? Is there no need to get the fabric completely wet and only lightly steam? If one steams, how is the best way to accomplish getting the steam to the fabric? For how long? Is the steam before or after pinning/working the fabric? I know that I should block but when a completed project is ready for blocking I'm completely at sea as to what steps to do next.

Sincerely,
Ruby

Warning: Strong Opinions Ahead.

I block everything. I cringe when I see that something hasn't been blocked - and yes, most of the time, it is immediately apparent. I wonder why people put hours into the knitting of something, only to totally ignore an essential finishing element - it's copy without editing, sashimi thrown haphazardly on a plate, a ball club without a relief pitcher: incomplete, and sort of pointless.

You can't deny that there are some very good reasons to block handknits:

  • It make seaming easier, neater and more even by flattening edges and creating perfectly matched pieces;
  • It evens stitches out, creating a perfectly smooth, coherent fabric that drapes and moves beautifully;
  • It aids in finessing the fit and sizing of a garment
  • It gives a finished, balanced look to even the least flawed fabric, a look impossible to achieve otherwise.
Though there are lots of ways to go about blocking, I always wetblock, even when working with the most delicate fibers and the most textured fabrics. It's not just stubbornness: for me, a real washing (in exactly the way the garment will be laundered forevermore) is the easiest, fastest way to all the nice things listed above. It evens the stitches of any garment in any fiber more quickly than steaming does, and it best accommodates stretching and pinning. And of course, it cleans a project that I might have been toting around for weeks to coffeeshops and on subways. It does take a little longer to dry, of course, but I generally think it's worth it. Here's what I've done for every single non-sock item I've ever knit, whether silk lace or alpaca sweater or cotton Aran or wool colorwork:

1) Soak in a sink (or tub) of cool water with a dribble of shampoo (or wool wash) for 15-20 minutes, long enough for the fibers to be thoroughly saturated;
2) Drain the soapy knit, either in my hands if they can support the mass or in a colander if they can't;
3) Rinse without agitating in a fresh basin of cool water;
4) Drain again, squeezing gently to express most of the water and being very careful not to wring, twist, or otherwise abuse the piece;
5) Lay flat on a thirsty towel, cover with another towel, roll up and stand or lean on it to press out as much water as possible
6) Take the whole roll to my blocking surface, dump the knit out, and shape the now just-slightly-damp piece, whether by pinning to measurements or just patting it flat;
7) Walk away and leave it be for a day or two.

Notes:

  • I covet a blocking board deeply, but I've never quite found one that suits my needs. Instead, I block on a corkboard or a mattress - basically, any flat, firm surface that can have pins stuck in it - made non-porous with a plastic cover (a heavy garbage bag will do nicely). When blocking stranded knitting and cables, it makes a huge difference in drying time and threat of mildew (ew!) to keep water from soaking into the blocking surface.

  • I check that my lines and angles are straight with the mother of all t-squares, though lately I've been thinking about marking a large piece of oilcloth or vinyl with a permanent-marker grid (or buying a piece printed in a 1" gingham check) - voila, instant, non-porous, portable blocking surface!

  • I use lots and lots of rustproof quilter's t-pins - enough to keep a well-stretched fabric from scalloping at the edges, enough to pin necklines and armscyes into the exact shapes I think they should be. I've found it's always easiest, for any kind of knit, to pin a few major points around the perimeter first to get the size right and angles square, and then even it out by bisecting the unpinned sections again and again.
  • If necessary, I pinch and pull at texture elements to plump them up.

  • I try to block in pieces whenever possible - flat pieces are much easier, and quicker-drying, than a seamed garment. Later, after seaming and final finishing (collars and buttonbands applied), I'll gently steam the seams to get them to open nice and flat.

  • Pinning neccessarily stretches out ribbing along bottom hems and cuffs. To get it back into springy shape, after the whole thing is dry, I'll hold a hot, steamy iron an inch or so above the fabric and pull lengthwise to encourage the ribs to draw in again.

  • Though I think wetblocking works on most everything, there are some yarns that are specifically marked as "DO NOT SOAK." Believe them when they say that. Steam them into submission instead.

If you are in a hurry and prefer to steam, remember that steaming will kill manmade fibers. Remember, too, that the surface of the iron should never touch the knitting itself - pass the iron a half inch or so over the surface, letting the steam penetrate. When steaming, you'll want to:

1) Lay your pieces flat;
2) Cover with a damp cotton cloth;
3) Apply steam to one section at a time, just skimming the cloth and applying no pressure whatsoever. You can start pinning to size one section at a time, as each is relaxed by the steam bath.
4) If steaming seams, support curved ones on a rolled towel or pillow. Poke, prod and pat with your hands to get them to sit the way you want.

I consider spritzing to be pretty worthless. It's generally cited as the best way to deal with very delicate fibers, but I've found that a little care makes wetblocking work just fine. The major concern is that water-weakened wet garments will pull and stretch out of shape under their own saturated weight - just take care to support the whole mass of wadded-up knitting any time you move it, not allowing any one section to droop or spill.

That's it! It takes just a few extra hours - but I think it's the difference between a sweater that looks "homemade" and one that looks "handknit."

unraveling is an advice column for knitters, with fresh content every Wednesday and Friday. Send your questions, signed with your name, blog url, or psuedonym to unraveling@eunnyjang.com. Your question may be edited for style and space.

May 23, 2006

Torrent

I think I need to keep the details of this new project on the QT for now, but -

Are these colors spectacular, or are they spectacular?

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VOLUME 1, NUMBER 5

So, Sweaters That Fit, Part II. The current popularity of handknitting is certainly a good thing - wild demand encourages available patterns, instruction and materials to get better all the time. We have so many choices - technique and styling are no longer region- or function-bound; rare fibers and closely-guarded secrets of method and technique are available to any of us. There's a downside, though: as the industry of handknitting supply grows, swallowing intuition and knowledge with shortcuts and workarounds, the knitting itself becomes less and less personal. As we move away from custom-knitting the same utility garment over and over for one or two people whose measurements we know intimately, and more towards the "new" knitting - graded patterns with line-by-line instructions - understanding your knitting, making it to suit you personally, becomes more useful than ever.

Could you possibly help with an idiot's guide to the math of yarn
substitution?

For example, I have a pattern specifying a yarn which knits up at 4"=22 sts/30 rows, but I want to knit it at a gauge of 4"=16 sts/22 rows. Obviously it won't be anything like the same garment, but it's the shape I'm after and I think it would work well in a more robust fabric.

My haphazard guess as far as it goes is this: if the pattern specifies 'cast on 120 sts', for example, this should measure 22", so in my substituted yarn I would cast on 88 st. And if is this is right – where do I go from here? Do I just do the same kind of math to calculate how many rows I should knit before starting the shaping? And what about the shaping itself? If the patterns specifies a decrease every four rows, should I do it every three, over fewer rows? And what about the decreases themselves? Will I need fewer of them if I have thicker yarn, or maybe a different kind of decrease?

Please help! This has been worrying me for ages and if I had a walk-though tutorial I'd be much more confident about making yarn substitutions – and maybe even trying to design something myself.

Philippa

--

I believe in the power of the swatch and swatch faithfully but have been thrown off by row gauge. What should I do if my stitch gauge in right on but my row gauge is off? It seems reasonable to think that a different size needle might fix the row gauge problem but end up throwing my stitch gauge off. What I've been doing is going through the pattern, working the math (i.e. work 18 rows means knit 3 inches according to the pattern's row gauge) and then rewriting the pattern based on my row gauge. Is there a less complicated way to go about this?

Emily in VT
aka E to the M

--

I would like to knit the Soleil tank from Knitty, but am having issues figuring out what to do to ensure a good fit. I measured myself and length and the strap length are the same size (2nd size option), but the bottom and waist are a different size (4th size option). And I'm sure that there will be a size issue since I am a 38F cup size.

Basically, how does one go about adjusting a pattern to ensure a good fit all over, but especially in the bust and waist?

Reagan

(The discussion that follows is relevant whenever knitters want to modify a pattern - whether by substituting yarns/gauge or changing the shape lines. It's also useful when doing the math for a garment from scratch.)

When changing the yarn and/or gauge called for in a given pattern, take Philippa's lead and consider first what that'll mean for the finished look of the garment. Hopefully, the designer has put some thought into what kind of yarn and gauge would work best for that particular pattern -

if the instructions call for fingering-weight alpaca at a very fine gauge, it's because the sweater is intended to cling and drape.






Maybe a many-plied cotton in a gauge tighter than normal for worsted weight yarns is used because it makes the stitches really pop.






And so forth. I'm all for experimenting with gauges and yarns and in general personalizing patterns, but do think about whether it'll change the essential character of the garment, and whether you'll like that change or not.

Before beginning anything, of course, be like Emily and make a swatch. Yes, it might be true that over time you'll be able to predict gauge by looking at the yarn. Yes, it's true that some plans, like top-downs, can be tried on as you knit. Yes, it's true that swatching can be a major pain. It's also true that nothing is more useful to creativity: the numbers are absolutely necessary when trying to draft a structured garment or try a unique construction, and it's invaluable in deciding how to show off a given yarn. A generous swatch will show you the way that particular fiber at that particular gauge in that particular stitch moves, drapes, feels against the skin - probably not things you want to discover the efficacy of halfway into a pet project. Wash and block your swatches the same way you'll wash and block your finished project - there's no other way to get an accurate picture.

This isn't to say that I swatch for everything, all the time, but I do think it's important when you're trying something new or making heavy adjustments. Everyone's had the experience of trying to fudge a quarter stitch - and winding up with a sweater three inches too big. It matters, people!

If you're trying to get gauge but seem to be off, take the swatch that comes closest to the required gauge and see if you can wet-block it to the right stitch and/or row count without sacrificing the look of the fabric - you'll be shocked at how much give knits have (and how much better thorough blocking can make handknitting look). If you're having row gauge issues, try blocking it to the required gauge or adjusting to the next needle size - often, a quarter millimeter won't make much of a difference in stitch gauge, but a huge difference in row gauge.

Okay, maybe there's just no way you're going to get gauge, or you've got gauge but need to adjust parts of the pattern. I'm assuming everyone knows this, but just to get it all down:

So, if 22 stitches = 4", you know that there are 5.5 stitches in every inch (22/4). Your new gauge is 16 stitches = 4", so there are 4 stitches in every inch (16/4). Now set it up this way with your different gauge:

Balance it out, and you'll find number you're looking for - the number of stitches needed in a given place at the old gauge. Here, just as Philippa said, it's more or less 87 (120*4/5.5).

That "more or less" shows you the second important relationship: that between the written instructions and the finished measuremens of the garment. Because of relatively large units (individual stitches) used in handknit fabrics, the written instructions in any given pattern will almost never produce something exactly to the measurements given in the schematic. A little fudging is almost always done to preserve design elements and work with those awkward building blocks (this is why instructions always* say "Block to measurements"). So, you have a decision to make - use the lengths and widths of the schematic/finished measurements as your target, or the extrapolated lengths/widths from the written instructions. I tend to think that rewriting the pattern to the schematic whenever you can is more accurate, but it's usually only a loss of a fraction of an inch either way. It's not a big deal, as long as you block to the finished measurements: to let you do so, round your calculated stitch counts in a way that makes the piece slightly smaller rather than larger. In our example above, the calculations say that we should cast on 87.272727 stitches. Obviously, we can't do that - I'd round down to 87 stitches, and make up the difference in blocking. Then, too, you'll occasionally need to fudge one or two stitches to maintain a pattern - a multiple of four for ribbing, for example. Don't stress too much about being exact - as long as it's only a few stitches overall either way (less than .5" worth, say), it's not a big deal.

Now, you need to figure out increases and decreases. Using the above, we know that the old row gauge gave 7.5 rows to the inch, and the new one 5.5. Say the pattern says to decrease about 1.5" worth of stitches evenly in the 4" worth of rows between the hem and the waist - either you'll be able to see this in the schematic, or you can read the instructions and count 9 stitches decreased at each edge over a total of 30 rows. With the new gauge, you'll want to decrease the same width over the same length - 6 stitches (9*4/5.5) over 22 rows (30*5.5/7.5). Divide those decreases as evenly as you can - the quotient of 6 into 22 is 3, remainder 4, or 6 "groups" of 3 rows with 4 rows left over. All you need to do is spread those 4 extra rows out among the groups to make 2 groups of 3 rows and 4 of 4 rows, otherwise written as "decrease 1 stitch every 3rd row two times, and then every 4th row 4 times."

Increases and bindoffs can be handled in the same way.

Changing a pattern with the same gauge is even easier - just establish the measurements you want using the guidelines given yesterday, and with the very first formula, calculate the new number of stitches or rows you need to make that measurement happen. For specific thoughts on shaping at the bust, check out this post.

Boo to droopy, dumpy, frumpy handknits - huzzah for ones that flatter and fit!

May 22, 2006

Sheepish

I don't like knitting socks. In fact, I believe I made a rather public declaration to that effect. I don't wear 'em, have no use for 'em, no more, I'm done, finished.

I also don't like Magic Loop. It's awkward and ugly and inelegant and tough on expensive circulars. I'll never knit that way, it's useless, who needs it, case closed, over.

How can something so wrong feel so right?

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VOLUME 1, NUMBER 4

I haven't knit very many sweaters, yet, only having knit about two years, or less. My first, a short sleeve t-shirt published in MagKnits, was fantastic fitting (although the finishing left something to be desired). The next item was the famous Ribby Cardi from the famous Bonne Marie and I began to think "wow - this sweater stuff is pretty easy." I still thought that even after my Knitting Olympics project - a cabled trim cardigan from the Nashua North American Designer Collection book out of their Creative Focus worsted.

But then all hell broke loose. I tried "Starsky" from Knitty and although the body was great the sleeves were ginormous. And then Rosedale United - also from Knitty - and it would fit a small elephant. I got gauge on both - but the finished results just sucked.

I THOUGHT I'd knitted the size to fit my 38" chest - but perhaps I didn't. Can you provide a primer on how to choose the correct size?

Colleen

First, a crash course in choosing a sweater pattern at all. My general rule? Be really frank with yourself: you know what flatters, and what doesn't. For example, I love voluminous, flowing silhouettes, and would love to knit them - but I'm pretty sure that they'd make me look like a ship in full sail, and thus avoid them. Likewise, being fairly top-heavy steers me away from wearing plain high necklines and teeny cap sleeves (O! how I wish I could wear cap sleeves), and my lack of height makes me look twice before considering anything with large-scale motifs or in a very thick fabric. There's nothing wrong with being a process knitter (I'd put myself in the same category), but as long as you're knitting something, it's probably worth the effort to choose things that don't make you feel abysmally unattractive when worn.

On to fit. I'll go out on a limb, here: everyone looks good in fitted clothes (the main variable being whether the lines are very close to or just barely skim the body). Think of the classic drop-shouldered, generously cut sweater - amazing on athletic men and tall women with very straight silhouettes, and like swaddling clothes on everyone else. With that in mind, consider fit carefully before beginning.

Patterns are generally defined as close-fitting (with 0"-2" ease), "classic" fitting (with 3"-6" ease), and "exaggerated" or "oversized", with "ease" meaning the difference between the actual body measurement and the actual garment measurement (for sweaters, the bust circumference is usually used). Myself, I like just a little bit of ease, but you know what works best for you. Take a look at how the sweater is supposed to fit, the base fabric, the desired aesthetic - is it a drapey cowl-neck in a soft, relaxed yarn or a cozy enveloping cardigan? Leave plenty of room to let the sweater do its thing. Is it a structured jacket or funnel-neck pullover with architectural details? Make it fit closely, or those clean lines will look sloppy.

The human body, of course, is built of cylinders and cones with all kinds of odd bumps and lumps sticking out in inconvenient places. While sewn garments can take advantage of darts and complicated shaping to accommodate all those weird shapes, knitted garments are, by neccessity, almost entirely two-dimensional and symmetrical from front/back and left/right. There are a few things we can do, of course - short rows and simple shaping - but in general, the give and flex of knitted fabric creates the fit. To better understand how handknits work on the body, try reducing your own measurements to flat shapes on graph paper:

It's not perfect - the shape of the body changes even as you stand up, sit down, stretch, and breathe - but take the measurements standing up straight in your underwear (with arms fully extended), and you'll have a pretty good starting point. Hey, wait a minute, you say. That looks a lot like a pattern schematic!

Right-o. Now, you can take any given pattern and compare it against "your" schematic to spot potential problem areas. Scale it the same as your skeleton chart, of course, and butt the top of the sleeve cap wherever it needs to go (against the edge of the armscye for a set-in or dropped sleeve, with the neck for a raglan). Schematics typically aren't nearly as detailed as your body chart, but you should be able to guesstimate and extrapolate from the written instructions.

I can see here, for example, that this (totally made-up) pullover would fit well around my shoulders, but the sleeves would be really long, it would come all the way to the hip, and my waist would be totally lost in it. This is exactly why this exercise is useful - it gives you a visual, easy-to-use map that shows you, right away, the things that you may or may not want to address for a perfect fit.

But wait! you say. Even with all those fancy graphics, how do I know what fits well and what doesn't?

The answer? Knit lots and lots of garments that don't fit until you finally achieve a decent-fitting sweater (poor comfort, since you'll have been shipped off to the nuthouse long before), or the easy way: measure clothes you already own that fit you perfectly, however you define that, in the way you're aiming for. Say you're knitting a gently shaped crew-neck sweater: take one that looks great on you, pin it flat without stretching, and take some pretty detailed measurements with a rigid metal tape:

The key is to measure something that fits the way you want your project to fit. If you're knitting a loose shell, measure something comparable; likewise for a teeny little halter top (it's also best to measure knits to help you account for the way your project will stretch). Compare these measurements to your body schematic to see what measurements work on you, and then to the pattern schematic to see if you'll want to make any changes.

I encourage everyone to try this at least once - like readymade clothes, all patterns are sized for a generic set of body measurements. No one fits exactly into a "standard" size - we all have little idiosyncrasies of length and breadth. If you do this a couple of times, you'll start to be able to "see" whether a pattern will fit you well as written, just by glancing at the schematic. If you do it a few more times, you'll really have an understanding of what looks good on you and what doesn't, what fits miserably and what fits perfectly - well worth the effort, in my opinion.

I tend to prefer the beautiful, handspun, hand dyed stuff that's thick-and-thin, and I currently have an obsession with boucle. But once I have this delicious stuff in hand, I'm paralyzed with the question of what to do with it.

How do you decide what will make a good project for "bumpy" yarns? For fuzzy yarns (mohair gives me the same paralysis)? And "loopy" yarns?

Because I'm always nervous about this question, I tend to buy just one "experimental" ball of the yarn in question, and then never, ever use it. I have a small stack of single skeins of really pretty, really fun things, and no idea whatsoever what to do with them.

Any insight into how you think about projects and textured yarns would be greatly appreciated!

The Nerdy Knitter

Ahh, good question. I'm not generally one to use yarns with lots of interest - I prefer plain, workhorse yarns - but I can certainly see their appeal. I'd keep it simple: that is, when the yarn is the focus, keep it there with a very plain stitch and an even plainer shape. A simple top-down pullover in stockinette would be a great showcase for a really beautiful handspun. For novelty-ish fibers - I put eyelashes, boucles and other "textured" yarns in this category - I'd say you're on track with your single balls. A whole garment in these yarns can look kind of...well...novelty, so keep it to accessories that can provide a bit of punch against a simple outfit. Leigh Radford's One Skein> is a book that provides lots of these kinds of projects.

Mohair, on the other hand, can look really wonderful in a variety of situations. I think it looks great in simply-shaped sweaters, and that very open lace worked with mohair can be absolutely stunning. It works because the two textures - surface and structural - don't compete, they compliment.

Have you ever been to a trying-too-hard restaurant where every dish read like a laundry list of all the of-the-moment food trends? You know what I mean - "Papparadelle with duck ragu, garlic confit, Alsatian goat cheese, wilted arugula and pepper-crusted oven-dried tomatoes"? Or seen a girl wearing great jewelry, but you can't see any of it because she's wearing everything she owns all at once? Too much can be just that - too much. Let one thing shine at a time.

Part II - substituting yarns, adjusting for gauge, and making mods - tomorrow.

May 19, 2006

Secrets

That cabled bind-off is easy as pie:


All it is is a fat i-cord bindoff, with a cable twist and a purled edge stitch to provide the necessary recess for the cable to pop. It has a little bit of a tendency to curl forward, but only enough for the twist of the cable to show properly. Because of this, it won't add much length, but it does fall nicely in line with the body of the work.

To my eye, a six stitch round cable looks more or less equivalent to a four stitch flat cable. Be aware, too, that the difference between row gauge and stitch gauge will create a softly gathered effect along the cable, unless you compensate with a larger needle for the bindoff, or by attaching only three out of four rows (or whatever works). Or just block it out. Or plan to use it in a way that takes advantage of the slight ruching.

If, like me, you're going to pick up stitches and keep working vertically, just pick up the never-quite-perfectly-tight strands where the yarn was brought around to close the i-cord. Knit from those, twisting each strand as you work to tighten them up and force the cable to straddle the two sections of knitting evenly. For some reason, it's enormously satisfying to me that the neat, tidy back of the work hardly hints at all at what's going on in front:

I can think of lots and lots and lots of ways to use this - as an edging along lapels and hems (use a provisional cast-on and work this bind-off later), lying in heavy bracelets around a cuff, combined with short rows to spiral up a sleeve, as an edge for a structured, felted baguette...endless! (In all this, I guess I'll be pretty embarassed if this is already in, like, Knitting on the Edge or something. For the record, though the idea's probably not new, I did think through this version myself).

Unraveling will be up over the weekend. I have some really interesting questions, and am totally absorbed in writing my answer - a treatise on How To Personalize Knitting, with notes on choosing a pattern, making sure it will fit, adjusting for gauge, choosing a yarn, all kinds of interesting things. It's taking longer than I expected, though (I want to do the subject matter justice), and besides, there is a ballgame beckoning me. See you tomorrow!

May 18, 2006

Breathless

I've been thinking for a little while about a light, drapey shell in a soft cotton, wrapped around the body with long, sinuous ropes of cables. At first, I was thinking that they'd be worked along with the body and shaped with increases and decreases, but that method doesn't proved a cable as distinct as what I imagined - I wanted to evoke the clingy flow of the earliest Regency dresses, chiton-inspired loose muslin made dangerously form-fitting with twists of cord. Last night, chattering away with Amie, I fiddled around and came up with the bind-off you see above. It's perfect - it pops with wonderful three dimensionality from the plain fabric. It's also worked perpendicular to the direction of the knitting - the shell is going to become an interesting exercise in using short rows, and in constructing a piece out of many puzzle-like sections of knitting. Working theory: the difference between row gauge and stitch gauge will make the plain portions gather a just a little bit along the cable lines - a reminder of billowy fabric wrapped and tied.

Norwegian Jacket

The ideas for handling the sleeves on that jacket were really wonderful (thank you!!); so many of them things I could never have come up with on my own. I'm still waffling a little bit - I'm nervous, since I feel like this is where the mood of the sweater gets decided once and for all. The slightest bell, combined with that ornate brocade-like pattern, would feel awfully medieval, but a fitted sleeve with a turned-back cuff would give the jacket more shirt styling than I want. The aesthetic I want is confusing, even to me - I'm finding it very difficult to articulate what I want it to look like, or decide exactly how to make that happen. I guess I'm looking to temper the forbiddingly antique look with some youth: the historical source, a sensible Norwegian brocade blouse with no-nonsense drop shoulders and sturdy ribbed cuffs, hangs over my head and leaves a vauge sense of depression, but dozens of hook-and-eye closures up the front and a tall collar lined with a shockingly pink ribbon facing might go a long way towards sweet freshness.

Anyway, here's the body before cutting:

And after:

I blocked it as-is to make sure I'm on track with measurements, and tried it on a couple minutes ago - discovering thereby that the phrase like a glove dispells malaise pretty quickly, too.

May 17, 2006

Nature's first green is gold

Her hardest hue to hold.

If you're willing to tolerate the terrible disservice I'm doing to Mr. Frost, hear me now: gold really is the hardest hue to hold, for my Olympus, anyway. The perpetually grey light we've been having lately - a run of rotten weather - isn't helping, either. In person, the pattern is subtle but clearly visible, creating a richly ornate, parlor carpet-like effect; in pixels, it looks like a muddy mess.

At any rate, I'm almost done with the body of this jacket; only a couple more rows until the neck shaping starts. Then, we'll just have sleeves and finishing to go. Can I ask your opinion on something?

My first sketch had sleeves patterned all the way to a close-fitting wrist, finished with a cuff covered in the same small dice patterning the collar. I've been thinking, though, that maybe the colorwork should end below the elbow, and continue into a lower arm of plain oatmeal, echoing the body welt. What do you think? Then, there's the issue of shape - should it be a tapering, fitted sleeve with a narrow hem, or a slightly belled sleeve with a narrow hem, or a fitted sleeve with a wide turned-back cuff? Decisions, decisions.

--------------------------------------------


VOLUME 1, NUMBER 3

I have an idea for a spring sweater with cables on the bias, but first I need to teach myself how to do this. Can you help?

Thanks,
Irina

You're planning to knit the body straight up and down, crossed with diagonal cables as a design element, yes? If so, it's easy-peasy to make rope cables slant however you like:

All you need to do is create a section of biased fabric enclosing the cable, with decreases on one side and increases on the other. For the cable above, the chart would look like this:





The cable will slant towards the side with decreases, and away from the side with increases. As you can see, adding shaping on every row creates a fairly steep decrease. You could shape only every right-side row, or even less often than that, for a subtler slope.

Be aware that making a bias fabric in this way will cause the bottom edge of the fabric to scallop, and the entire piece to slope a little (unless you have a mirror-image slopes balancing each other). Both issues can be corrected in blocking - or they can become design elements.

If you mean a cable that runs truly horizontal, your best choice is to knit a cable panel first, and then pick up stitches along the sides and work perpendicularly from it. Check out this tasty pattern to see this at work.

When blocking Branching Out in Kid Merino, do you recommend the soak, spritz, or steam method? (I'm thinking soak, but I'd love your opinion.)

Many thanks!

Presbytera

I almost always recommend the soaking method for lace, but it depends on the finished effect you'd like. For a very flat fabric with nice drape, soak and pin aggressively. For a cushier, cozier piece, spritz it and just gently pull it into shape with your fingers.

I generally feel that lace worked in mohair or mohair-blend yarns really benefits from a very thorough blocking - opening up the yarnovers lets the pattern shine, and has the added benefit of showing off that gorgeous halo against lots of negative space. I'd recommend soaking the scarf in lukewarm water with a dribble of wool wash or shampoo, rinsing carefully in water of the same temperature, and rolling it up in a thirsty towel to get almost all the water out. Pin the four corners out first - use a big T-square to check your angles - to your target measurements. Then, place a pin bisecting each side. Place eight more pins, dividing each new "section" in half - and again, and again, until the whole thing has been satisfactorily pinned out.

If scalloping edges are a concern (as it is for me - I usually block lace so tightly it rises off the blocking surface as it dries and shrinks, like a drumskin), you might try running a very long length of sturdy cotton yarn all around the perimeter of the scarf before washing, making a running stitch close to the edge that catches every other row. Leave a loop at each corner. Pin it out as usual - you will find that drawing the string taut will help you create very straight edges without blocking wires.

I have been working up some different ideas for doing some colour/Norwegian/Fair Isle knitting (the obsession can be viewed on my blog), and I have a question about materials.

I live in the SF Bay area and do not necessarily want a heavy wool pullover as it's never quite cold enough for one, but would like to make one of the range of Alice Starmore/Poetry in Stitches/etc pullies in cotton or a silk blend. The book "More Sweaters" by Lise Kolstad and Tone Takle talks briefly about using fibers other than wool, but not in any great detail.

My question is regarding the steeking and fibers other than wool. I have never gotten up the nerve to do a steek, so I have a lack of knowledge there, but all the things I have read on others blogs and some books talk about the wool "sticking to itself", and thus it would be hard for it to come apart.

If I knit a sweater in cotton that requires a steek in it, do you think it would hold together once cut? Obviously I have a lack of knowledge about the steeking, but thought I would ask before
attempting, what are your thoughts are on knitting a colourwork sweater with non-wool fibers? What are the drawbacks? Would it even work?

Liz

Bravo on you for thinking outside the box! It's so easy to order a kit and whip out a (gorgeous) McFairIsle; I'm glad you're looking to put some personality into patterns, thinking about how to make them work better for you. A few thoughts:

The first thing I would encourage you to consider is the reason why stranded colorwork in wool works so well.

Source

The luminous, painterly shifting of colors in a well-planned pattern owes a lot to the properties of the yarn itself. Shetland wool is quite fuzzy, with a halo of hairs sticking out of the knitted fabric - he resulting fabric traps light, and the patterns have an organic depth. The contrast between light pattern and dark background (or vice-versa) becomes the knitted equivalent of chiaroscuro, hinting at countours with shadow and light.

A completely smooth yarn, as most cottons are, would create a flatter, more graphic effect (though the feathered lines created by knit stitch Vs blur the lines a little) - imagine a pieced quilt, or a cut-out. This in itself is not a bad thing (I hear some guy named Matisse made some cut-outs that were pretty good), but it's something to think about.

Then, make sure that the materials you'll want to use actually exist. Wools meant for colorwork - jumperweight Shetland and some nice Icelandic and Norwegian wools - come in dizzyingly expansive palettes of colors, but most other yarn lines have much smaller ranges. It will be difficult to get a, say, Starmore-style effect if the yarn you're using only has two shades of blue.

Last, some technical issues. You're absolutely right; cotton, silk, and other non-felting yarns aren't great for traditional steeks, which rely on the natural tendency of wool fibers to grab onto each other to keep from falling apart (for further reading on what will and won't work for different types of yarn, check out this series about steeks from the archives). With cotton yarn, you pretty much have two choices: machine-sew the steek before cutting (boo! hiss! In my opinion, machine sewing and hand knitting are never good for each other, though lots of people feel differently), or work a wound steek. You can either wrap the yarn several times around the needle at each steek, drop the loops on the previous row, wind some more on, and cut up the center of the ladders when you're done, or knit a steek all the way up the side and then ladder the stitches before or after cutting. Either way, you'll end up with a bush of ends (two for every row) that need to be woven in, braided, or otherwise dealt with:

and that's a royal pain. It's almost worth just knitting flat, in pieces, instead.

Cotton is also a lot less forgiving of imperfect execution than wool - almost any inconsistency in stranded knitting will block out with a good washing and pinning in wool yarns, but cotton stitches will more or less hold the shapes they were made in. Take care as you work to make sure everything already looks good on the needle.

The last thing: cotton is heavy. Remember that stranded knitting produces a double-thick fabric at a fairly dense gauge. Walking around in two layers of fingering weight cotton may not be too warm, but it might be exhausting!

All that said, I encourage you to swatch away. Colorwork in cotton and silk can look fresh and modern and very lovely - just take a second to think about how you'll handle those issues before you begin.

unraveling is an advice column for knitters, with fresh content every Wednesday and Friday. Send your questions, signed with your name, blog url, or psuedonym to unraveling@eunnyjang.com. Your question may be edited for style and space.

May 15, 2006

Epiphany

Self-discovery can be a disquieting, disturbing thing. Those suffocating moments when excuses, finger-pointing, I'll-think-about-it-tomorrows, and all the other carefully woven protective veils fall away, and you force yourself, for the first time, to look at things as they really are? Tragic, really - there are realizations that turn the world into a suddenly cold and shelterless place, that rock the very foundations of identity! For, how can you move on, if you never really knew who you were? All goes dark in one terrifying moment.

I don't think I like to knit socks.

I know, I know - it's even worse than you imagined.

I've started dozens of pairs of socks in my life, but finished only three. Three! For a long time, I blamed it on a perpetually missing tapestry needle, and thus no way to graft toes closed (never mind that they cost 80 cents). When that wore through, I shrugged, said "Everyone gets second sock syndrome," and knitted merrily on other things. When that excuse started to show its age, oh, sock knitting hurt my hands (curiosly, the only kind that ever did). I wanted to knit socks, I wanted to be a sock knitter! I would stop at nothing to preserve the illusion.

Lies, all lies, I see that now. It's time to stop hiding, to see the truth - I just don't really care for sock knitting. I hate the fiddliness of heel construction, the cramped canvas, the forcing of fit to make a pattern work. And besides, I hardly ever wear 'em - if I'm not in heels, I'm barefoot. What's the point?

Three single socks, socks I'm admitting here and now will never, ever see mates:

Embossed Leaves sock

Pattern: Embossed Leaves Socks, by Mona Schmidt for Interweave Knits Winter 2005
Yarn: Spirit Trail sock yarn
Yardage: about 150 yards
Yarn Source: Maryland Sheep & Wool 2006
Needles: 2.25mm (US 1) Brittany birch DPNs
Gauge: --
Modifications: needle substition

Raindrop Lace Sock

Pattern: Raindrop Lace Socks, by Evelyn Clark for Fiber Trends
Yarn: Claudia Handpaints sock yarn in Calypso
Yardage: about 150 yards
Yarn Source: All About Yarn
Needles: 2.25mm (US 1) Brittany birch DPNs
Gauge: --
Modifications: needle substition

Cabled Sock

Pattern: My own
Yarn: Claudia Handpaints sock yarn in Jungle; Dale Baby Ull
Yardage: about 125 yards each
Yarn Source: All About Yarn
Needles: 2.25mm (US 1) Brittany birch DPNs
Gauge: --
Modifications: --

I feel so free!

May 13, 2006

With Joy

My very first substantial length of finished handspun yarn, a little less than half an ounce that measures at 43 yards. More or less right for a light fingering weight of ~190 yards/50 grams, right?

The spun color is quite different from the deep clear garnet of the top - the yarn is almost rusty, a lot warmer than the cool unspun tone. The recipe? 2 envelopes of Tropical Punch Kool-Aid, plus a little more, for about 2 ounces of shaela (silvery grey) Shetland top.

May 12, 2006

Brighter


VOLUME 1, NUMBER 2

I would love to have the following explained once and for all:

What's the difference between sweater types:

Aran, Celtic, gansey, and fishermen's sweaters??

Thank you,
Sue

Ah! (rubs hands together) I love this question!

Source

A FISHERMAN'S SWEATER is, to put it simply, any sweater a fisherman would wear. It might come from Scotland, from the north lands, from Newfoundland - anywhere people knitted and fished, men at sea wore sweaters knit with their own hands and by those of their women at home.

A GANSEY, or GUERNSEY, is a particular type of fisherman's jumper with origins in the Britsh Channel Isles. Most prominent during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, it takes its name, of course, from the island of Guernsey.

Source

The most familiar form of the gansey is a very thick, densely knit sweater with a plain welt and a yoke patterned with geometric knit/purl patterns and simple rope cables in vertical and horizontal arrangements. Patterns and construction methods were borrowed and changed, improved and corrupted, in port villages all around the North Sea as boats (and the knitters on board) followed the fish. There are patterns peculiar to tiny communities, passed along from family to family - motifs of anchor and rope, nets and weather signs. Eminent practicality distinguishes the gansey as much as distinctive styling does: most ganseys are constructed for speed and ease of making up, and durability and utility during wear. The welt is knit as one piece in the round, then split at the armscye to work the back and front flat. There may or may not be a shoulder strap. Sleeves are picked up and worked down to the cuff, for a garment that may be made quickly, all in one piece, with no seams to unravel or burst.

The traditional yarn is a deep indigo 5-ply mill-spun, round and firm, knit very tightly for water-proofness and warmth. The cuffs often end well above the wrists, to keep out of the wet - knitting the sleeves top-down allows a worn-through elbow or cuff to be unraveled and reknit as often as necessary. The drop-shoulder shape, with a diamond-shaped gusset at the underarm, allows for the full range of motion a fisherman needs. The back and front neck are even, to allow for a completely reversible garment. All in all - a really wonderful example of human ingenuity, of the instinct to make what is utilitarian beautiful as well.

The ARAN SWEATER is a garment densely patterned with cables and traveling lines, most often arranged in vertical columns mirrored out from a wide center pattern.

It's not really a traditional Irish garment, any more than the fortune cookie is a traditional Chinese food. It seems to be a natural progression from the simple cables of the gansey, but the laborious (and less durable) seamed construction and lack of gussets in even the earliest museum pieces suggest that the "Aran sweater" was never meant as a functional piece for Aran fishermen, but rather a sale good, a product for export. There is no evidence that the "traditional" patterns are clan symbols, or have any time-shrouded meaning associated with them at all - they are simply beautiful patterns developed by skilled production knitters during the last two centuries. And that balderdash about patterns being used to identify bodies recovered from the sea? Is just that, romantic legend, since these sweaters were never worn by real fishermen at all (many sources point to J. M. Synge's play, Riders From the Sea, as the source of this story - a dropped stitch in a stocking identifies a drowned man).

The hallmarks of the Aran sweater are seamed construction (there are a couple reasons to this - first, most cable patterns alternate plain and patterned rows, easier to keep track of with back-and-forth knitting; second, the twisted stitches often seen in traveling lines and ribs must not be twisted in the same direction every row, or the whole tube will bias), dropped shoulders, and sleeves knit flat with a saddle or strap extension at the top. The standardized construction and pattern arrangement makes the Aran one of the easiest sweaters to "design" - this motif may be swapped for that one, that cable for this - and only a little math is required for a completely new-looking sweater. At the same time, the infinite variations on the cable patterns that may be used - split cables, ribbed cables, braided panels in all kinds of arrangements - make Aran sweater knitting one of the most satisfying creative exercises in knitting.

CELTIC motifs are just motifs inspired by the beautiful, intricate knots and braids of Celtic metalwork and art.

With a little patience and graph paper in hand, any knot can be expressed in cabled lines - I charted the motif above based on a beautiful knot glimpsed in a modern piece. The infinite line techniques taught by Alice Starmore in her book Aran Knitting come in handy here.

So there - sweaters debunked, demystified, and hopefully shown to be even more beautiful and inspiring for it.

unraveling is an advice column for knitters, with fresh content every Wednesday and Friday. Send your questions, signed with your name, blog url, or psuedonym to unraveling@eunnyjang.com. Your question may be edited for style and space.

---------------------------------------------

I finally got the needles I needed to work on the Norwegian Jacket:

Much better. I'd been using 3.00mm needles before, for the colorwork - hate that quirky European needle sizing - because they were the only wooden needles readily available to me, and I have the patience of, say, a 4-year-old. "Oh," I thought, "that quarter millimeter doesn't matter. I'm sure the slight compression stranding causes will compensate for it, and it'll be just like I knit it on a 2.75 mm needle."

Um, not so, of course. It was just wishful thinking - the colorwork looked sloppy and ugly, and my row gauge was disastrously off. So, doing what for me is harder than bearding a lion in its den - waiting - I ordered a Crystal Palace bamboo needle, the only wooden circular needle in existence that comes in 2.75 mm. The result is even, pretty fabric with a readable pattern and a nicely sturdy hand. Maybe there's a lesson to be learned here.

Probably not.

I've started working on a pretty pair of socks, too, with the yarn I got from Spirit Trail at Sheep & Wool, and the Embossed Leaves sock pattern from the winter IK:

And then, I've been thinking about this whole spinning thing.

"I should," says I, "I should spin some yarn, and use it for something. I should use it for something interesting, something nice enough to keep me spinning - maybe a pair of Norwegian mittens. A pair of Norwegian mittens in two colors. In two colors, grey and red. Red I should dye myself. I should dye and then spin 400 yards of fingering-weight wool on a drop spindle for colorwork mittens."

These are the conversations I have with myself.

I'm thinking this justifies it, though:

That beautiful garnet came from Kool-Aid, if you can believe it (I know, I know, I should use real dye - but remember what I said about the whole waiting thing?), the result of dyeing grey Shetland fiber. The fiber feels different after dyeing, though - it's not felted in the least, but it feels coarse and scratchy, the way Shetland wool should feel. The undyed top is silky and ridiculously soft, but the dyed top is suddenly crimpy and hairy. I wish I knew enough about fiber to know what I've done to it...right now, I'm thinking that the individual hairs are just going in different directions, no longer in the alignment the top's been combed into, but I don't know. It spins just fine, so I'm not going to stress about it.

The little sample I made shows that there are darker hairs scattered throughout, almost black, giving a wonderful depth to the finished yarn:

All this maybe isn't the best project for a very new spinner to jump into right away...but the goal is winter wear, so there's plenty of time to decide whether or not all this is moonstruck madness.

May 10, 2006

Get this party started


VOLUME 1, NUMBER 1

My question is that I am thinking of making a camisole that's lingerie, not for wearing out of the house, in some very fine silk lace, but I'm curious about how you would design the pattern for the cups. It would be for an A/B cup, so it wouldn't really bear much weight there, but if it were held up by straps halter-style, there would be a kind of crosswise pulling on the cup. I thought I might give this pattern a try, but I didn't really like the angular quality of the little in-between triangle, and I wanted to make a halter. It has the stitches going diagonally. Sorry my question isn't more specific, but I was just hoping for some open-ended thoughts before I start experimenting.

Thanks,
Mona

First, I have to give vent to a small rant. Knitted bikinis and knitted bras meant to be worn as real swimsuits and underthings? Are a distintly terrible idea. Handknit fabrics lack the structure functional lingerie and swimwear demand - the wires and seams and hooks and elastic of boughten lingerie are there for a reason, and I'd imagine that there's quite a bit of engineering behind their use and placement. Knit fabrics, without being knit at a VERY dense gauge (denser than most of us care to knit whole garments at), and without clever boning insertions or well-thought-out seams or sturdy facings, are simply too stretchy to make functional bra-tops without looking saggy and sloppy.

But. Your project - a filmy, floaty camisole, in a smaller cup size, that isn't really meant to do all-day duty - is the PERFECT kind of knitted lingerie. Swimsuits, too, that are meant more for sunning or showing off than for swimming, can be wearable and cute. All that said, there are a couple ways I can think of to handle the cups.

The first, easiest solution would be to do nothing at all.

You could just knit the cups as flat triangles, fairly tight across the breast, and let the stretch of the fabric create a supportive fit. If the cups are going to be of lace, this would be my preferred solution - allover lace stretches and opens marvelously, and you could get a skin-tight, peekaboo sort of thing going. In that case, I'd use a motif stacked in vertical columns, or a true allover pattern. An edging would definitely be in order, whether the cups are solid or openwork - you could pick up and knit all around the edges, working whatever edging appeals to you. I'd work it slightly shorter than the space it's meant to fill - this'll create an edge that lies flat across the skin, and a slight fullness to the cup.

Or, you could take this idea one step further, and sew the cups into the body with a shirred or gathered bottom:

Think of how a string bikini top is gathered along the bottom to create fullness in the cup. You'll want only a slight gather for an A/B cup - your flat cup piece should be somewhat elongated, like this:

I'd say start with a triangle an inch or two wider at the base than the space it'll go in, and experiment from there. You could avoid seaming, too, and simulate this with lots of increases all in one row just as the cup begins.

The next step would be a cup with decreases along a line that extends from the base to the nipple.

This, and all princess seam-style shapings, simulate cutting and seaming a piece of flat fabric with a dart to create a contour. Sort of like this:

The knitted fabric is made in one piece, of course, but the same kind of sculptural effect is acheived. You'd want to use centered double decrease, all along one line.

Or, use short rows to create a cup shape.

You can make the short row area as deep as you like, as round as you like, or as flat as you like, just by adding or taking away additional short rows and playing with the length of each one. Start wrapping and turning an inch or so into the cup, making increasingly shorter rows. Then, work across the whole length again, to create a rounded cup.

You can always play with the placement of the short rows, too, for different effects - moving the bulk of the rows to the inner edge, for instance, would flatten the outer edge and create a push-up bra effect.

More thorough instructions for short rows can be found in this nice Knitty article.

Remember that an A/B cup is usually considered to have betwen .5 and 2 inches difference between the measurement of the ribcage (just below the bust) and the fullest point of the bust. Don't go overboard with the shaping...err on the side of slightly-too-small, and the worst that can happen is that you'll look as if your cup overfloweth.

Opinions?

unraveling is an advice column for knitters, with fresh content every Wednesday and Friday. Send your questions to unraveling@eunnyjang.com.

May 09, 2006

Texture Shell

Otherwise known as, "The Adventures of Little Big-Head"

I am really fond of this one, though a high boat neck isn't exactly the most flattering thing in the world for a busty girl like me. I like the sweet little details, though - particularly the way the cables continue into the hem and cross at the turning row. It works both ways - under a jacket at the office, or on its own after hours, accessorized only with skin.

Pattern: My own (pattern available someday)
Yarn: Elsebeth Lavold Hempathy, in color 4 (White Beach)
Yardage: 3.5 50 gram balls (about 525 yards)
Yarn Source: All About Yarn
Needles: 3.25mm (US 3) Addi Turbo circular needles
Gauge: 6 st/inch over basket weave pattern
Modifications: --

See all entries on this project

Stay tuned for the first installment of Unraveling this afternoon!

May 08, 2006

Overloaded

It's sort of amazing - we had a gloomy forecast for the whole of the weekend, but the weather was absolutely glorious for both days of Sheep & Wool. At 6pm on Sunday, just as the doors closed on the festival, the sky promptly started spitting cold drizzle. I'm taking this as a sign that the yarn gods were well pleased.

The weekend was wonderfully educational, as out-of-the-ordinary exciting as a field trip and as pleasantly overwhelming. There's so much to learn, know, watch, wonder about sheep and sheepbreeding and fiber and spinning and weaving and dyeing! I really think my chiefest pleasure in the weekend was catching snippets of conversation between vendors - knowledgeable people talking, debating, confiding about what they love to do.

We saw all kinds of great-looking animals -


For someone who comes purely from a knitting background, a consumer background, it's immensely exciting to see the animals themselves. I loved seeing the bulky Bluefaced Leicesters, the hairy-faced, wrinkly Merinos, the dreadlocked Cotswolds, the short, stubby Shetlands with their ruff of silky neck wool. And like true city girls, we stood stock-still, fascinated, and watched the sheep being given a final brushing and clipping before show - baaaing at the indignity of it all - and the tiny lambs stumbling about their shaded pens (though, now, it's kind of troubling me that I apparantly don't have any sort of mental conflict between "What beautiful, perfect examples of Nature's deft hand!" and "Mmmm, delicious.")

I picked up Stephanie on Friday night, and the rest of the weekend went by in kind of a blur. I didn't take nearly as many pictures as I should have, but we tried wheels with Amie, stopped by Cara's sprawling, enormous meetup, drank beers and ate burgers and shouted over the music at Clyde's with Erin and Coleen and Eileen, and ogled and fondled miles and miles of yarn betweentimes. Brooks Farm was the most wonderful new-to-me discovery of the weekend:

I somehow managed to restrain myself here, but Stephanie walked away with a hank of Merino/Mohair in some really extraordinary shades of lavender and sage and old gold. I made only a couple purchases all weekend - a couple hanks of sock yarn from Spirit Trail, and some spinning supplies.

My interest in spinning is end-use based - wheel or no wheel, I'd like to eventually be able to spin a good, strong 2-ply cobweb weight, and 2-ply jumperweight Shetland. How wonderful would it be to be able to spin my own Fair Isle wools, maybe even learn to dye? For experimenting with motifs and coming up with new garment patterns, it'd be invaluable to be able to make just a few grams of yarn in perfectly realized color schemes. And, of course, I'd love to make my own cozy, bloomy yarns for shawls and stoles - threadlike-singles to ply together for Shetland lace, and to ply with mill-spun silk for Orenburg shawls. Intoxicating possibilities! To that end, I bought some beautifully prepared Shetland top, and a very wee, very lovely Golding spindle, on which I've been spinning up a storm of damn consistent and tolerably skinny laceweight.

Though I was worried the light weight of the spindle (scarcely three-quarters of an ounce) would mean a very short spin, it's a wonderfully balanced, suprisingly fast-spinning little thing. I tend to roll the shaft off my thigh, which gets it turning quickly enough - and for long enough - that I can do something approximating a long-draw. While spinning very thin singles, the spindle will spin, without losing speed and without a wobble, for a couple minutes straight. We are very pleased.

I also bought some Merino/Tussah silk top in a bright pink shot through with white, peppermint-like:

along with some pink no-name roving, in almost the same color, for practicing with when The Theoretical Wheel becomes The Actual Wheel. All in all, almost a pound and a half of delicious wooly goodness.

The one great tragedy of the weekend is that I ate very little at the actual festival. I am a connoisseur of fair food - the worst kind of fair food, the deep-fried, the cheese-slathered, the pit-roasted, the sugar-frosted, the oil-drenched. There were ribbon chips with sour cream and chives and cheese calling my name; funnel cakes and fried Twinkies begging me to eat them; lonely kernels of kettle corn beseeching me as I walked past, but I ate only one lamb gyro. What a gyro it was, though - properly horrible and delicious, a good tablespoon of orange grease showing in the empty cone of tinfoil after wolfing the sandwich down. I got to live vicariously through Stephanie, though:

The picture is horribly back-lit (proof of the good weather!), but you may be able to see her grinning and holding up the world's quickest-melting peanut-butter-dipped chocolate soft-serve.

Good times, good times.

Columbia Knit-Night

We're holding an impromptu knit-night tonight, at the Panera on Dobbin! If you can make it, we'll be there starting from 6:30. Hope to see you there!

Advice Column

Thanks for all the great suggestions- really clever, one and all. I really like "Unraveling" - I think Sumitra was the first person to suggest it (email me, and let me know the colorway of the Koigu PPPM you'd like). I have a really good, meaty question already for tomorrow - keep 'em coming, to unraveling@eunnyjang.com. I'll use your name and link to you when I quote the question - if you'd like me to do otherwise, just sign an advice column-style psuedonym, and I'll take it as a sign to leave you totally anonymous.

May 05, 2006

White Hot

I worked a little bit on the Texture Shell last night, finishing up the neck hem. I did consider snipping the stitch rather than ripping back, but decided against it in the end. The deciding factor was mostly the yarn itself - Hempathy is a cotton/hemp/modal blend, quite firm and slippery, and I was nervous about the ends getting away before they could be tacked down. Then, too, my bind-off edge included three stitches chained over the dropped yarn loop for width, and two hem stitches cast on over it - snipping and dropping would have created a ladder, but would have left me with a too-narrow left side of the shell. Just a small difference, to be sure, but trying it on while deciding what to do showed that even that two-stitch difference made the thing drape queerly and pull at the most unattractive point of the armscye.

I'm glad I ripped and re-knit - while I was at it, I re-worked the neck a half-inch higher for a prettier boatneck (it just barely exposes the collarbones and hollow of the throat now), and tried a different treatment for the corner at the small of the back:

A tidy miter, done with paired decreases on the front side of the hem and paired increases on the folded-back side. No floppy, sloppy juncture, that - the whole thing lies smooth and flat across the skin now.

The armhole finishing should go blazing quick, then a good wash to unkink the ladders and a pinning to tame those rolling hems - and we'll be ready to conquer the world. Because, verily, a world that won't be conquered by a drop-stitch sweater and Manolos is not a world I want any part of.

Maryland Sheep & Wool

Are you going to be in town this weekend for MD S&W? I'm going to try to swing by Cara's meetup at 1:30 on Saturday, and will definitely be at Mama-E's hang-out at Clyde's on Saturday night. It's my first time at the festival, but I've got big plans - I want to try out wheels (!), source Shetland roving in a big spectrum of natural fleece colors, meet people, eat myself silly, and buy enough yarn to outfit the Spanish Armada with self-striping sails. Hope to see you there!

Novelty is a good thing

The whole blog thing can get a little stagnant, sometimes - I love the wonderful discussions that blossom in the comments, and the totally selfish, preening part of me loves showing stuff I'm proud of, but I occasionally feel really dull. I mean, how many progress shots of one project can you show?

I get a lot of really interesting questions via email - in the last week or so, I've answered queries about the advisability of using black mohair yarn in a very dense lace; blocking alpaca lace; fixing a too-large sleeve cap, etc. I love thinking about these kinds of questions, and dealing with the knitty, knobbly little wrinkles that come up during knitting - I try to be good about answering questions in the comments and answering email, but maybe it'd be fun to turn it into a feature of the blog.

It would be an advice column, kind of, for knitters - the kind of issue that pops up while working, but isn't easily researchable. What kind of picot bind-off would be best for x body stitch? How should ends be dealt with in stranded knitting? Where can I source 8/0 beads for knitting? That kind of thing. I'm by no means an expert, but I do feel reasonably well qualified to answer a lot of these kinds of questions - with way more theory and detail and more illustrations and diagrams than anyone wants - and commenters will have a lot to say, too.

What do you think? Send questions to questions AT eunnyjang DOT com, and we'll deal with a bunch every Tuesday and Thursday. What should we call it? "The Lifeline"? That seems cheesy beyond belief - got a suggestion? Two skeins of any Koigu PPPM color are in it for the best contribution.

May 04, 2006

Illuminated

I do believe it could be called real yarn.

It's curious - I like to measure progress in things like narrowing a range of movement; shaving unnecessary seconds off the execution of a technique; understanding why each thing happens and how improving one will improve the other. . . but spinning defies those standards. I'm starting to think that improvement in spinning just sort of . . . happens. I can see, yes, that I'm starting to learn the approximate amount of overtwist I want in a single, but I'll be damned if I can explain how I think I know when it's just right. Likewise with pulling out the same amount of yarn with every drafting motion, with knowing just how much to twist during plying . . . the things that feel right often are. Some shadowy, cobwebbed corner of my brain is immensely satisfied by this.

Too bad knitting isn't the same. The neckline hem is almost done on my basketweave shell:

Which is all well and good, except, um:

I somehow completely forgot to drop one of the cable-flanking stitches. 10 nearly 300-stitch rows of hem will need to be pulled out, the shoulder picked open, and the neck shaping ripped to free it. Gah!

May 02, 2006

Unbearably Smug

Can you guess what this is made of? It's slubby and bumpy and generally ugly, but I am unabashedly proud of it - sort of like admiring your baby's spit-up, I'd imagine.

The lovely Amie (check out her article for Knitter's Review - wonderfully written and a must-read for anyone traveling to Sheep & Wool this weekend) came armed with tasty things last night: a drop spindle, her own excellent instruction, and more than enough fiber for me to spin happily, clumsily, obliviously, until it was suddenly much later at night than anyone had planned on.

From left to right: a little Dorset roving, a little Merino top, and an attempt at some mohair. Not pictured: the snarled, slubbly, broken, knotted, and tangled bits and gibbles my office is littered with.

What a wonderfully thoughtful gift (I've been meaning to learn to spin for months) - what a frighteningly effective way to lose hours! It's gratifying to know that you're making progress, of course, but to actually see that each attempt is a little better, drafting a little easier, thickness a little more even, plied yarn balanced a bit better? Completely addicting. The possibility of a wheel, of laceweight, of shawls knit in my own cobwebby yarn? Intoxicating. Thank you, Amie!

Summer sweater

The breather from last week is...still breathing. I knit hardly at all over the weekend, but I'm getting back to it - a light summer shell in Hempathy. The hand is quite soft, but the patterning is nice and crisp.

It'll have a high, very wide boatneck - demure and sweet over a camisole, except -

The back is cut to the curve of the spine. Worn the right way - over a backless, nude-colored bustier, with a businesslike pencil skirt and Serious Slingbacks - it will be incendiary.



TO BUY

GRATIS