Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Up, Down, All-Around

Wendy Bernard gave me hope. I first discovered her in 2008 when she published her first book, Custom Knits. Her patterns were beautiful, but I loved her philosophy even more: knitters needed to make the modifications necessary to make sweaters that really fit. This made complete sense to me, especially since there wasn't a pattern in the world that fit my shall we say, unusual, form. Wendy Bernard set me off on a journey of knitting discovery (that sounds a little nauseating, but it's true).

Wendy is now back in print with Up, Down, All-Around, a stitch dictionary of pattern motifs that can be knit from any direction. Why is this important? Because you can take any motif and knit it top down, bottom up, or in the round. For every motif, she provides:

  • A large, crisp photo of the knitted motif 
  • Written directions for knitting flat
  • A chart for knitting flat
  • Written direction for knitting in the round
  • A chart for knitting in the round
She offers a tool box of knitting possibilities, giving you you the ability to swap out stitch patterns, cables, and lace in any garment regardless of how it is constructed. Take that plain-Jane pullover that you know fits well and make it again, this time with a cable or a fancy hem. Or swap out the cable in your favorite sock pattern with one of Wendy's. 

The book offers 11 patterns. The sweater and vest unfortunately only go up to size 50, but the hats, cowls, and mitts will work for anyone of any size. She will be doing a tutorial on how to use the dictionary to design your own custom cowl; if you're brand new to design, this would be a great place to start. To learn more, check out Wendy's blog at

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Socks the Fit KAL

After two dozen cardigans, I can honestly say that I've mastered the art of sweater knitting. There's always something to learn and tweak and try, and I will forever call myself a sweater knitter. But it's high time to learn how to make socks that fit. I mean really fit. Not kinda sorta. But really.

Beautiful Leyburn Socks knitted by EverythingOldEm

So I'm starting a new knitalong on the Knitting at Large Rav board called, appropriate enough, Socks that Fit KAL. The rules are simple:
  • Knit whatever sock pattern you want
  • Use whatever yarn you want
  • Start around June 1 or whenever you want
  • Just make it fit
I'll be blogging about what I learn regarding knitting socks for ample bodies and I hope the plenitude of sock knitters will chime in with knowledge, tips, suggestions, and warnings. Guidance about yarn and patterns are also heartily and gratefully requested.

To join, just go to the Socks the Fit KAL topic and start yakking. Get your yarn, your patterns, your needles, and get going! It's been a while since we've done a KAL and this sounds like the perfect summer project to me.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The perfect buttonband

I've made over two dozen sweaters now and have learned a LOT, I'm proud to say. One of my greatest discoveries: the twisted stitch buttonband from Julia Farwell-Clay's Hiro. I think she got it from Elizabeth Zimmerman, the font of all knitting wisdom. Regardless, it is now my go-to buttonband for any cardigan.

Hiroic - my version of the Hiro which uses this buttonband
The problem with most buttonbands is that they are too flimsy, allowing the buttons to pop out of the buttonholes. They also stretch and sag. With this perfect buttonband, the stitches in the middle of the band with are knitted with twisted knit stitches which strengthens the band. It's almost like adding interfacing to a buttonband in sewing; you get the extra fabric strength you need to support both the buttons and the buttonholes.

Here's how it goes.

First, let's begin with the end: you have to seam. For all the sewing loathers reading this blog, if you don't want to seam, you can't have this fabulous buttonband. There's no work-around. But if you can get past your distaste for or phobia of sewing, you will be handsomely rewarded.

These instructions assume you are using worsted weight yarn; adjust your stitch counts as necessary for your yarn weight. Assume also that you have already knitted the body of your sweater.

Springbrook Cardigan - made with CustomFit
software, but I swapped out the buttonband and
used this technique instead
The general idea is that you knit the band and leave the stitches live on the needle or a stitch holder. After your seam the band to the body, you can knit or remove additional rows to make the buttonband the just-right length.

So for the left band:
  1. Using smaller needles, CO 10 sts.
  2. RS: k1, p1, (k1 tbl, p1) 3 times, k2.
  3. WS: p1, (p1, k1) 4 times, k1.
  4. Repeat these 2 rows until band matches length of sweater edge, with band slightly stretched. 
  5. Leaving live sts on holder, sew band and body together. Place markers on button band for desired placement of your buttons.
For the right band:
  1. Using smaller needles, CO 10 sts.
  2. WS: p1, (p1, k1) 4 times, k1
  3. RS: p1, (k1tbl p1) 4 times, k1.
  4. Repeat these 2 rows, checking for length against left band, working button holes as you come to markers in this way:
  5. RS: p1, k1, yo, slip first st without working to right needle, slip 2nd st tbl and reseat on left needle as a twisted st, pass 1st back to left needle and k2tog, (p1 k1) 2 times.
  6. WS: p2, (k1, p1) 2 times, k the yo tbl, p1, k2.
  7. Work band incorporating buttonholes until band matches length of sweater edge, with band slightly stretched. Leaving live sts on holder, sew band to body edge.

Memories of Maine - my rendition of
Marilyn King's Cape Code Cardigan, but
I swapped out the buttonband here, too
After you get the buttonbands exactly right length-wise, start at right side and work your buttonband stitches  in pattern as established, purling the last stitch of the band together with first stitch of the body. Work all body sts in k1 p1 rib pattern (or the ribbing of your choosing) to last body stitch. Work that stitch together with first stitch of left button band, and then work the remaining stiches of band in pattern as established.

Work the neck until you reach the desired ribbing length. Bind-off. That's it!

One of my other button tips is to use a lot of them. Buttonholes will gape far less if there isn't a lot of stress on the buttonhole. Having a lot of buttons helps keep the band from stretching out of shape and popping out the buttons.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Circling back

Four years ago, I started my Early Bird Cardigan, got very waylaid, and went off to knit 15 other sweaters. I recently found my way back to this project, a sweater I've always loved.

Back then, I started with a stunning cable from Kathy Zimmerman. She also turned me on to the perfect yarn, Vintage Alpaca DK from Kraemer Yarns. A softer, more glorious merino and alpaca blend does not exist. It is truly the perfect match for this sweater.

At the time, I finished the sleeves - aren't they beautiful?

And then started on the back before I got waylaid. I wrapped the original back around my beloved pug and took this picture, one of my absolute favorites of Moosie.

That was then - this is now. I've spent several years envisioning and re-envisioning this cardigan and have started again in earnest. I gutted the back - I've earned a four-year degree in sweater shaping since I first began and know much more about how to make a garment that fits my complicated (yeah, that's the correct adjective!) body. This time, I made it in the shape of my shape. That means it will fit.

Because of the all-over patterning, I can't do my favorite princess-seam shaping - there's no way to put the decreases in a third of the way in on each side without breaking the cables, so I have to make do with side shaping. It's turning out pretty well thus far - we'll see how the sweater fits at the end.

In this go-round, I added more of the main cables to the center of the garment and added more of the little cables at the sides. This give me a strong vertical up the center back. 

Unlike the first rendition, my plan now is to make this a modified drop cardigan, but with significantly greater decreases at the crossback than usual. This crossback is only going to be 17 inches wide - most modified drop sleeve sweaters are much wider. I want this to fit my shoulders almost like a set-in sleeve. I used a similar approach with my Memories of Maine cardigan and it fits great.

With this new approach, I am also adding a saddle shoulder, again drawing inspiration from the Memories of Maine cardigan. Note that the Maine cardigan was knit top down - my Early Bird is knitted from the bottom up, but it's using a similar construction.

This means I need to unravel the sleeve caps back to the widest part and then to knit straight up. When the new sleeve cap is the proper length, I'm going to continue the center cable to create the saddle shoulder, as shown in the mockup below. Everything will be seamed together at the end.

I will finish the back tonight and then maybe fix the sleeves so I can noodle some more on the fronts. I have this vision of a very interesting and beautiful button band and neckline treatment, but I have to cogitate some more on how to actually make it work. Stay tuned...