Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Not Exactly A Sock

So, I have a finished object to share. Not a sock, alas because, as you may recall, after challenging myself to see how many of my socks-in-progress I could finish, I immediately rebelled against myself and began knitting a sweater. What can I say? I just hate being told what to do. On the downside, it's pretty obvious that I'm certifiable but, on the positive side, I've got a finished sweater so insanity is not without it's rewards.

This is the original Eliza. The pattern is from the book Simply Shetland 2. I think the book is still widely available. I happened to purchase mine from Elann, source of many things wonderful.

Eliza is a very basic cardigan, knit in one piece up to the armholes then divided to knit fronts and back separately. I like this method of construction because everything gets done more or less at once. When you finish knitting the body, all you have to do is knit the sleeves and you're home free. I'm not one of those knitters who hates seaming but it is nice to finish knitting and actually be finished. The thing I don't like about knitting a sweater mostly in one piece is that the project becomes bulky very quickly. You go from barely started to having a lap full of wool in very short order. Because you're knitting the whole body at once, each row can seem like a major commitment but that's soon balanced out by seeing how rapid progress is and the fact that it looks like a real sweater after just a few rows. For Eliza, in particular, it seems like the only reasonable method because it allows the row of lace diamonds to continue uninterrupted around the bottom of the sweater.

Here's a picture of the completed body. The shoulders are joined with a three needle bind off. It's a simple technique and gives a lovely, clean finish. I've heard rumors that it's possible to miss catching a stitch or three and, because the knitting gods have a sick sense of humor, the stitches might hang in place until the whole thing is done and the ends woven in and, just when you think you're a knitting success, you'd notice a really, really huge ladder running down the front of your sweater. Not that I know this from personal experience or anything.

I did make some changes to the pattern and this was one of those times when the knitting gods took pity on an idiot knitter. The pattern says to knit 17" before dividing for front and back. I got to 16" and decided that, since I'm short - 5'3" - and the pattern is presumably designed for someone a bit taller, I'd just lop an inch off that measurement and divide for the armholes immediately. It wasn't until I'd knit a couple rows on the left front that it occurred to me that the lace pattern is designed to complete at a certain point and chopping an inch out of the bottom might mean that I'd either have extra large armholes or a truncated diamond.

A sensible person might have reversed course, frogged a couple of rows and added that extra inch to the bottom but I never claimed to be sensible so I kept knitting. I held my breath as I began the decreases for the neck but the lace pattern moved inward just a little faster than the neckline decreases and I was able to complete the final diamond with a row or two to spare.

I got a second stroke of dumb luck doing the ribbing. The pattern said to pick up 90 stitches along each front edge. Since I'd cut an inch out of the body, I thought 85 stitches sounded about right. (No, I didn't do any calculations. I don't need no stinkin' calculations.) Then, because I wasn't already living dangerously enough, I decided to take Annie Modesitt's advice for picking up stitches and pick up 3 stitches for every 4 rows. This gave me 78 stitches. I pondered this, wondering if cutting one inch in the body length could possibly justify cutting 12 stitches from the button band. (You're not going to bring up the whole calculation issue again, are you? Good.) I stretched out my measly picked up stitches and squinted a lot, trying to envision the completed button band. Would it be too short? After three or four minutes of serious consideration, I decided to give it a try. Against all odds, the finished button bands are the perfect size.

I'd put this in the 'don't try this at home' category. I am not such an expert knitter that I can eyeball a sweater and make on the fly alterations. In this case, I succeeded through dumb luck, the mercy of the knitting gods and a certain comfort with guestimating. Also, I'm never afraid to frog. Particularly on a small thing like a button band, I wasn't risking that much time. If it looked awful, I could pull it out, pick up more stitches and try again.

The final alteration I made was on the sleeves. The pattern said to knit them flat, sew them into the armhole and then sew side and sleeve seams. Clearly, they plugged in standard instructions without considering the fact that there aren't any side seams. I really liked the idea of picking up stitches around the armhole and knitting the sleeve down from there but I've never done that and I just didn't feel I was up to the reverse engineering necessary to make it work. I was, however, comfortable with knitting the sleeves in the round and then switching to knitting flat when I got to the shoulder shaping. Then it was just a matter of setting the sleeve into the armhole.

So, a whole sweater with only two seams. Not bad. And here's the finished sweater. I went out this afternoon and found some pewter flower buttons that are the perfect finishing touch. They dress the project up a bit more than I had planned but they look so pretty that I couldn't reisist.

General thoughts on the finished project? I'm delighted with it. I wanted a comfy 'old' sweater and that's what I ended up with. After blocking, the fit is perfect - not baggy, not snug - just cozy.

I can't emphasize enough how important blocking was in this project. It looked decent in an unblocked state but blocking smoothed out all the decreases in the lace pattern and allowed me to adjust the fit from maybe-a-little-too-snug to just right. I had actually done a gauge swatch and blocked it so I knew the gauge was going to relax quite a bit after washing. That meant that I could relax when the sweater seemed to be coming out a bit too small.

The yarn is Elann's Highland Chunky. I like it very much. I used something like 13 balls and only found one knot which is more than can be said for a lot of high end yarns. It's very soft and the yarn itself is softly twisted. My guess is that it's going to pill but I've got one of those nifty sweater stones so I can live with that.

Changes to the pattern? I think I might make the ribbing just a little deeper. It looks all right on the body but the cuff ribbing looks a little skimpy to me. This is six rows of 2x2 ribbing. I think I'd go with 8 rows on the body and maybe even 10 rows on the cuffs. It's a minor complaint but it's something I'll keep in mind when I'm making sweaters with ribbing on the cuffs.

Would I make this again? Probably not but only because there are so many other sweaters I'd like to make. I love the lacework around the edges. It's simple and adds just enough interest to keep this from looking like I bought it at Target. It also kept the knitting from being deadly dull because there was that little bit of interest on both fronts. So, it's not exactly a sock but I can live with that.

And one last, gratuitous shot of the sweater, complete with cat. Meet Chloe, who loves to lie on any project I'm blocking. Unlike THE Lucy, Chloe is not declawed so her penchant for wet wool makes me jittery but she looks so content, I don't have the heart to move her. So blocking time is enlivened by my every minute, on the minute checks to see if she's accidently dug a claw into something. Needless to say, blocking is not exactly a relaxing experience for me.


Blogger Wendy said...

The sweater is gorgeous. I love the barefoot modelling shot. Seeing someone in a wool cardi and barefoot just makes me grin, because I do that too. Heh.

The length looks perfect for you -- congratulations on figuring it out so it all worked out perfectly.

Yes, I know you used the phrase "dumb luck." But I really think you should tell people that all your alterations worked so well because you are a master engineer. Really.

6:49 AM  
Blogger kshotz said...

I LOVE it!! I aspire to a sweater some day.....altho' at this point it still seems downright scary! Yours looks terrific!!


9:01 AM  
Blogger KarenK said...

Well done! And you deserve the credit for figuring out the alterations and carrying them out so beautifully. And Chloe looks so sweet.

9:08 AM  
Blogger Barbara Bretton said...

WOW WOW WOW!!!!! Dallas, I am officially awestruck. What a fabulous sweater. I like yours better than the model. And I agree with THE Wendy: this isn't dumb luck. This is skill and brain power at work. Fabulous fabulous job.

And barefoot!? Polished or unpolished. You know the rules . . (Or are they only in effect during en suite conference situations of yore?)

10:27 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth Allen said...

Dallas, your cardigan is FAB. So is your cat (mine are black and white, too. 3 of 'em. Things get a bit monochrome around here. And they also love snuggling on any knitted object.)

I agree with the others that you should take full credit for all the adjustments you made - you may call it 'dumb luck' but you only get that kind of dumb luck when you're really good at what you do! (That said, which particular knitting goddess are you affiliated with? I could do with her help right now...)

And, hey, nice to meet with another shorty (I'm 5').

10:51 AM  
Blogger Dallas Schulze said...

Thanks for the kind words on the cardigan. I have to admit that I'm really tickled with it and I think I'll actually wear it.

As for claiming master engineering status - I don't dare. This really was a matter of thinking 'oh, hell. What have I done?' and then knitting really, really fast in hopes that speed would somehow making everything work out right.

Chloe thanks you all for your kind words and agrees that she is sweet. (You know cats - modesty isn't high on their list of attributes.)

Barbara - Unpolished, sadly. It's been so long since I bothered with nail polish of any kind, I'm not sure I remember how to wield a brush anymore.

Kim - Sweaters are not as intimidating as they look. Choose something fairly simple in a yarn you love and think of it as a really big scarf with some shaping.

Elizabeth - I'm an equal opportunity disciple. Any knitting god or goddess willing to take pity on me has my undying devotion.

11:30 AM  
Blogger Barbara Bretton said...

I've said it many times before but it bears repeating: Dallas is a truly gifted needlewoman. You should see her quilts! You should see the teeny tiny little Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls she made for me. Or the beautiful padded box covered with a hot-air balloon print. Or my Fayna's Scarf or . . . or . . . or

There's something so damn cool about seeing a knitter wearing a sweater hot off the needles.

11:58 AM  
Blogger Barbara Bretton said...

PPS: Tell Art he's ready for Vogue Knitting!

12:01 PM  
Blogger Fran Baker said...

Dallas, I can only agree with everything everyone else has said. That sweater and your skill as a needlewoman ... what a fantastic combination. Enjoy. You deserve it.

9:42 AM  

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