Friday, November 4, 2011

Upsizing the Gnarled Oak

Thank goodness for oak trees, which provide delicious shade in the summer and autumnal beauty in the fall. I fortunately live on a street that has lots of oaks. I adore the glorious oak tree on the corner that turned as scarlet as a maple leaf - and still drops acorns, too.

But the oak trees I grew up with yielded brown leaves and acorns every October. In 1964, when I  first walked to school, every step between Cresthaven Elementary and my house was ankle deep in sienna oak leaves. While the squirrels remained fascinated with the little nuts, I adored the little hats - a harbinger of knitting things to come.

When Coastal Knits showed up in my mailbox, I instantly wanted to make my own Gnarly Oak Cardigan. I loved the green Pigeonroof Studios Cassiopeia DK Alana Dakos used for the model garment, but I knew mine needed to be brown.

Quite frankly, I lost my mind looking for the just-right color. I shopped like hyper-focused hound dog in search his prey. I wanted a warm handpainted brown yarn that wasn't too dark or too orange or too expensive. I finally stumbled onto and the perfect oak-leaf brown wool. An entire sweater's worth of yarn for less than $75, including shipping! I know this is expensive if you're looking for yarn on sale at Joann's, but if I bought a similar yarn from Malabrigo or Madelinetosh, it would be more than twice this price.

While I waited for the yarn to make its way to Maryland, I searched for acorn buttons. It didn't take long. I found the just-right pewter oak leaf and acorn buttons on eBay. Sold!

Then I figured out my mods. The best thing about Coastal Knits (as I blogged about previously) is that all the sweaters are at least 60-inches wide. Bless those designers! Given this, I know the top of the sweater and arms will work perfectly without changing a thing. But I still need to accommodate the mighty derriere.

Knitted from the bottom up, the Gnarled Oak is written with straight sides. As we've discussed at least 100 times before, I don't have straight sides, so I'm making mine with a wider bottom and princess shaping. So how exactly do I figure out how to make this change?

First, I know from experience that I need a 74-inch hip if I'm going to make a longer cardigan (the Gnarled Oak is 29.5 inches long). I'm figuring in six inches of ease at the hips because that's what I'm comfortable with. I also know that the pattern's largest size (61.5 finished bust size) will fit me perfectly above the waist and will give me 3.5 inches of ease at the bustline.

So my task is to cast on additional stitches at the bottom of the sweater and then do decreases to the bustline. My goal is to end with as many stitches as called for in the pattern when it's time to divide for the sleeves.

Warning: here comes the math. First, I need to know the gauge, which  is 6 stitches per inch (and yes, I swatched!). So, if I need to cast on 72 inches worth of stitches, I multiply 72 by 6 stitches per inch:

72 X 6 = 432
This means I need to cast on 444 stitches. Then I checked the pattern to see how many stitches I need to have when I'm ready to divide for the sleeves: 369 stitches. So, from the cast-on at bottom of the sweater, I need to decrease 75 stitches:

432 - 369 = 63
I'll round down to 62 to make things even.

Next up, I need to figure out the length of area over which I'll do the decreases. The pattern schematic shows that the sweater length from hem to underarms is 18.5 inches. But I don't want the decreases to go from the very bottom to the very top of the cardigan, so I give myself two inches of room at both the top and bottom of the sweater (see the schematic above). The bottom of the sweater has two inches of ribbing, so I'll start the decreases after the ribbing, and will go until two inches below the underarms. This means I'm going to have 14.5 inches of space over which to do decreases.

To sum up, I'm going to:
  • Cast on 432 stitches
  • Knit two inches of ribbing
  • Start the decreases
  • Decrease 57 stitches over 14.5 inches
  • Knit two inches of stockinette
  • Divide for the underarms
Okay. That's the plan. In my next installment, I'll tell you how to do the math to figure out those decreases, and how to figure out the placement of princess darts, too. In the meantime, here's a photo of my sweater in progress and in the perfect handpainted oak leaf brown, too.


  1. which yarn and which colorway? I love the slight tonal variations.

  2. Great explanation of your mods, Julie. Bookmarked for my future.
    Thanks for blogging this.t_a

  3. Woohoo! That's the sweater that called to me from that book too. Nice to see it show up here, and you're already well on your way!

  4. Love the yarn, and I am looking forward to your next post.

  5. Two words...Freakin Gorgeous!!
    Eagerly awaiting your next update, and pattern you're going to release, and class you're going to teach and book you're going to write! ;D Maybe by then I'll be able to knit my first sweater and have it fit!!

  6. Ahhh! Fabulous color. I'll watch your progress with interest. Thank you for sharing your knitting enthusiasm and experience.

  7. I just discovered your blog today! I am just now getting into knitting sweaters and realize fit is important. I'm a plus sized gal myself. I think I'm going to be a very happy reader. Thanks!

  8. Cast-on 444 stitches huh? I think that's the worst part of the whole sweater!! I'll be watching this one as you wend your way up . . Lovely shade of brown!!

  9. Absolutely gorgeous. That makes me want to run out and buy beautiful yarn! Must..... Not.... Buy..... More..... Yarn......! Yet! ;)

  10. Julie -- The brown yarn for your Gnarly Oak is gorgeous . . . but I have a question / comment / complaint. I assume from your blog that you ordered this yarn rather than buying it "face to face" (eyeball to skein!). I've been so consistently disappointed in the color variance between photo and reality that I've almost stopped buying yarn via internet or catalogue.

    Most recently, I wanted to make a chemo blanket for my son, and it needed to be a quick, washable project, so I chose Jiffy. In both their paper catalogue *and* website, the colors I chose looked like paprika (for the solid) and Indian corn -- yellow, orange, red, brown (for the variegate). What I got was burgundy and and a muted mishmosh that can best be described as autumn leaves on the ground after a rainstorm. Actually, they worked pretty well together and made a nice masculine afghan (see my Ravelry page if you're interested), but they *weren't* the happy cheerful colors I wanted.

    Any tips about how to come closer on color when ordering from catalogues or websites?

    --Lynda in Oregon

  11. thank you so much to all you nice people!

  12. Thanks for this wonderfull tutorial!! Now I can knit a garment for my mom.

  13. I love that sweater, and the chosen yarn for the sweaters are really super! I would like to make this one but first I need to get the pattern and then think about the yarn color. I look forward to your page, I find you very helpful and I have learned a lot.
    Keep up the good work!
    Thank you,