Time to Knit

To everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)

There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)

A time to run,

A time to sit,

A time to sew,

A time to knit…

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Sorry; I couldn’t resist.

But this Saturday, October 1st, I suddenly felt like Knitting Season had opened.

I don’t know whether it was because the temperature was cooler, here in southwest Virginia, or because the calendar said, “It’s October now: time to get serious about winter coming on.” I suspect it was because the light has changed so much. Living in the woods, I am acutely aware of the angle of the sun, now that it never quite clears the treetops, and the yard is full of shadows all day long. In summer, the sun is fully overhead, and the yard never gets a break from full sun from dawn to dusk. As I write this, it’s 11:AM, and I’m looking out my window onto shadows which just two months ago would have been there just after sunrise, and completely gone before 8:AM.

So, on Saturday, I got out my Saxon Braid project and we got reacquainted. I looked over all my notes, and found where I was and what I’d been up to. I worked a few rows and checked my progress. It all looked good, but something was off.

I am starting this thing at the shoulder seams. I’ve read that higher-quality blouses usually have their seams slightly forward, because it’s a more attractive look, or something. I forget why. Maybe it was because they make the shirt fit better. Whatever it was, when I read that, I decided that this sweater would have its seams slightly forward, too.

I have an old hand-me-down robe that, I was surprised to discover, has forward-looking shoulder seams. So I put it onto my dress form, and have been using it to determine how to do the shaping of the sweater Fronts. I held my little growing sections up to the seams, and decided how many stitches to increase as they work their way toward each other.

It all seemed to be going well when I stopped in July. But when I picked it up again in October, I discovered that it wasn’t going as well as I’d thought. In June & July, I positioned a piece on the robe’s shoulder seam, then focused on how well the section toward the center was expanding in that direction. In the beginning, the section near the arm was right up against its seam, and all was right with the world.

This Saturday, I held the knitting up to the robe, and couldn’t figure out how to position it. If I held it up straight, so the outer edge lined up with the armhole seam, and the cable looked like this | |, then the center shaping was way off. If I aligned the cast-on edge to the shoulder seam, as I knew I had been doing, then the shaping was pretty good, but the cable looked like this  \ \   (or  this  / /, depending on which piece I was looking at). Oops.

Everything looked fine and lined up nicely for the first inch or so, which is why I hadn’t noticed it earlier. But now that the pieces are getting longer, my mistake is becoming more obvious.

There’s a reason why sweaters worked from the bottom up usually bind off their shoulder seams step-wise. It’s to take the slope of the shoulder into account. But it’s been about thirty years since I knitted a sweater by following someone else’s pattern, and I forgot that (ahem) little detail.

If I’d ever designed a bottom-up sweater, I’d have known to take it into consideration. But all my previous sweaters have been top-down, following Barbara G. Walker’s methods in Knitting from the Top. Actually, my first design was an adult raglan based on the baby raglan in Maggie Righetti’s book, Knitting in Plain English. (She went on in great length in the book about the benefits of knitting top-down, but then provided only one top-down pattern in the book. I adapted this baby sweater into a full-size one for my husband. It didn’t turn out TOO badly, but it fit me better than it did him. I still wear it occasionally.)

So I got out my trusty Fishermen’s Wool* and spent the rest of the day making swatches for various ways of casting on sloped shoulders. I do know why professional knitting designers almost always work from the bottom up. The hassle of writing a top-down pattern is just too bad to bother with. But I really, really want to do this sweater this way, so am struggling through the hard part, knowing how happy I’ll be with it later. But for now, I have to re-invent the wheel just to get started. I will persevere, but it looks like I’ll be wearing the craft-show sweater for a while longer.  : – (

Maybe I should put this one on hold and start the Cestari sweater, which I’ve been considering working from the bottom up. OTOH, since I’ve never designed a bottom-up sweater before, I’m sure to run into snags with that one, too, and will probably end this winter shivering, with frostbite and two UFOs.

—————

* Good news about this! I’d written (here) that I hoped Lion Brand would provide more natural-fiber yarns, since I don’t like the look or feel of acrylic yarns. (They’re fine if you like wearing plastic bags, I guess.) Recently, Franklin Habit posted something on Instagram about Lion Brand Organic Wool. Yippee!! (Not only mentions it, but praises it.) I haven’t been in the yarn section of a store where Lion Brand is sold in a very long time, due to the still-huge size of my stash, so I hadn’t seen this, but will have to give it a try! This move of theirs in the right direction must be encouraged. And not just wool, but organic wool! I can’t wait to see it.

And I highly recommend reading Franklin’s blogs and attending his classes, if you are so lucky as to get that chance. I could write an entire post about him, but this one is already too long; maybe another time.

Dilemmas

I knitted up a swatch of the Cascade 220 in the Saxon Braid pattern, a featured cable on my sweater, and discovered two things.

First, that this yarn behaves well, although it is a bit inclined to split, and the color is light enough to show off the cables nicely.

Second, that I have a new decision to make. While the swatch came out the right size, I might have to go up to a bulkier yarn if I want this to be an outerwear sweater.

To explain this, I’ll have to describe my design process for this sweater.

I like working top-down. It makes it much more difficult to write patterns, but it fits with my design style better, and gives me the opportunity to make adjustments as I go. I find it frustrating to knit a sweater from the bottom up, then try it on and decide that it should be a few inches shorter or longer, or wider, or … whatever. In the case of my alpaca bed jacket, it will be a relatively simple matter of ripping up to the desired length, then binding off again. It would be much more difficult to fix if I’d started from the bottom.

But (WARNING: I am about to utter blasphemy) I have never liked Barbara Walker’s methods for starting sweaters. I’m not talking about the raglans here; her method for starting them is terrific. I am talking about her short-row invention.* It has never made sense to me (it’s great for creating the shoulder slopes, but it  makes a bulge where there should be more of a “scoop” for the neck)** and has never worked out well on all the tops I’ve tried (including the alpaca bed jacket). So, in this sweater, I am going to try something different. This is the idea that came to me a little over a month ago, and wouldn’t give up until I’d tried it.

I’m starting at the shoulder “seam” with the Saxon Braid, and working down the Back, then casting on stitches to span the Back, and joining up with the Saxon Braid I’ve done for the other shoulder. After I’ve worked down to the underarms, I can pick up the stitches at the shoulder cast-ons, and work down the Front. Then I’ll join at the underarms, and proceed from there. As I’m working down the Front, I will add width at the appropriate times, incorporating new cables as I go.

So, all I need at the outset is the Saxon Braid. I have no particular gauge to aim for, except for whatever seems to give a nice fabric. I tend to knit a bit loose, so am using US5 needles to firm up the cabled fabric. My swatch seems to be a nice blend of firmness and flexibility.

Saxon Braid in Cascade 220

Saxon Braid in Cascade 220

The dilemma is this:

While the fabric seems firm enough, it is still rather thin, looking like it’ll make a light, indoor cardigan. I might be able to move up to a thicker yarn without making the sweater too bulky. But the Saxon Braid is just the right size right now. If I go up to a thicker yarn, the Braid will probably be too wide for my shoulder.

I can make a thinner cable for the shoulders, and move the Braid to the central part of the cardigan Fronts, but here again, the Braid is already the right size.

A song from Oliver! seems appropriate here:

“I’m Reviewing… the Situation…”

* Walker, Barbara G., Knitting from the Top, Schoolhouse Press, 1996, p. 75.

** I believe that there is a relatively simple way to fix this. Maybe I’ll elaborate some day when I’m looking for something to post.