Thursday, October 04, 2007

Let's Knit a Sweater

I'm not going to apologize for not blogging. I is what I is. Like many knit-bloggers, I've been sucked in by Ravelry and my blog suffers.

Before I go too far, let me just thank you for your comments on my FiFi. I wish I liked it better! I think I need to overdye it a different color for me to really like it. If you looked at the current state of my stash, you'd probably suggest Orange. Everything I buy seems to be orange.

I did, by the way, lengthen FiFi considerably. Lots and lots. Probably 4" longer. Since it is knit from the top down, it was easy to just keep knitting. I had to by the yarn in a bag of 10, so I had lots of yarn available.

Just for some project pron, here's what I recently finished:

AutumnRose-Headless with Green Lace
Pattern: Autumn Rose
Source: Simply Shetland 4
Yarn: Jamieson's Shetland Spindrift--exactly as specified in pattern
Size: 37"
Ease: 1" of negative ease
Needle: US 2 for most, US 0 and 1 where specified.
Gauge: 30 stitches over 4"
Modifications: Modified the colors used in the neckline ribbing to provide a more interesting gradient. The pattern says to use a larger needle size for the sleeves. I missed that and didn't do it.
Started: September 2007 (early)
Finished: September 2007 (late) Total time was about 3 weeks.
Techniques used:
Color knitting with 2 hands, stranded not woven.
Spit splicing at the color changes when I remembered.
Used a german twisted cast-on for the corrugated ribbing using two strands of yarn and a US 4 needle.
There's more pictures of this in my flickr stuff.

Here's what's on the needles:

Pattern: Lady Eleanor
Source: Scarf Style
Yarn: Noro Silk Garden Lite--I'll look up the color code before I'm done
Size: it will be around 23" x 72" without fringe
Needle: US 7 (I think, I need to double check)
Since my yarn is so much lighter than that called for and I'm using a much smaller needle, I started with 8 triangles rather than 7. I'll also do several more rows of rectangles to get the correct length.

Pattern: Bartholomew's Tantalizing Socks
Source: Cat Bordhi's new sock book!
Yarn: Handspun Merino Tencel from Abby Franquemont in the color Autumn Harvest
Size: Pretty darn small. I wear a size 5.5 shoe
Needle: US 1 or 0--another one to double check
This has been a weird and interesting story--I'll have to show you my sock surgery in another post. I knit the first sock, started on the second, and decided I hated the first sock and that it was too small. After finishing the second, I loved it, so I went back and cut up the first sock. I should finish this one today.

An Almanac Sweater Journal

I have an idea, let's knit a sweater together. The sweater I'm going to knit is the October sweater from Elizabeth Zimmermann's Knitter's Almanac. There are two versions of this sweater: top-down and bottom-up. While I'd like to do a top-down sweater, I don't really see the point for this sweater. Let's just do the bottom up. In typical EZ style, we're really going to design our own sweater.

The basic style of this sweater is a bottom-up raglan golf shirt. EZ shows it with short sleeves. I'm going to do 3/4 sleeves if I have enough yarn. If not, I can change my mind later. There's a nice golf-shirt style placket at the neckline and a typical collar. I suppose I could knit some fancy stitch pattern, but no. This is going to be a simple stockinette sweater suitable for my southern California life.

To start the sweater, we need to do 3 things before we start knitting:
· Choose our yarn
· Decide on needle size
· Sketch out a schematic with measurements.

Choosing the yarn
Here's two simple truths I've learned in knitting sweaters. First, bulky yarn knits up much faster than thin yarns. Second, I look like crap in bulky sweaters and never wear them. This is a sporty golf shirt. I'm going to opt for a fairly light yarn and face the reality that this means lots of mindless stockinette.

I really wanted to use handspun for the rest of my Almanac projects. I spun up some lovely pastel romney and plied it with corriedale. The result is a 800 yards of gorgeous light worsted weight yarn. No way is that 800 yards going to be enough. Off it goes to the stash.

My second option is to pick something from my stash. How about some Elsbeth Lavold Silky Wool? That would be nice. Or I could use the Rowan yarns I picked for an abandoned project and do something with stripes?

Ahh, but one of my favorite local yarn stores is having an anniversary celebration sale. Everything in the store is on sale. Off we go to the yarn store. Oooh, shiny! In a moment of impetuous abandon, I pick up 1300 yards of JoJoLand Melody. I later realize that's not enough yarn, go back, buy more. More, more, more! I'm still a bit worried that I may not have enough yarn, so I'm going to plan for that contingency as I knit.

Decide on needle size

Let's face a harsh reality, shall we? Gauge swatches are (as Harlot says) filthy little liars. I have no illusions about my ability to knit a perfect gauge swatch, calculate how many fractions of a stitch there are, etc. I just want to get a rough idea about what needle produces a reasonable fabric. Since I know swatches aren't sweaters, I also realize that the fabric I create in a swatch may be slightly different than the sweater. OK, I can live with that.

I also know, from past experience, that my circular knitting gauge is really close to my flat knitting gauge. Not that this makes any difference because gauge swatches are still filthy little liars. The "right" thing to do is to cast on something about the size of a hat, knit a bare minimum of 4 inches, but better yet, just knit the whole hat, wash it, block it, and then carefully measure in at least 3 different locations around the hat.

My usual technique is to make an educated guess, cast on for the sleeves and go for it. My sleeve becomes my swatch. If my educated guess is pure fiction, than it isn't a big issue to frog 4" of sleeve and start again. This is no more effort than knitting a swatch and it gets me started on my sweater. I'm not going to do that this time because I'm not sure how long I'm going to make my sleeves. I may end up with only enough yarn for short sleeves.

I look at the ball band. It recommends a gauge of 7 to 8 stitches per inch and US 1 to 3 needles. If this were handspun, I'd look at one of those charts that correlate wraps per inch and needle size. Let's aim for 7 stitches to the inch. I cast on 28 stitches (4 inches x 7 stitches per inch) on US 3 needles. I knit a couple of rows in garter, flat. Then I start stockinette. After about an inch, I grab my favorite measuring tool: an index card. This one is 4" x 6". I lay the card over my knitting and instantly see I'm nowhere near 4", probably closer to 6". I knit a row of garter using new needles (US 1) and continue on my happy way. After about another inch, I see that I'm much closer to my 4" and the fabric looks pretty good. I continue on for another inch and see that the fabric is something I can live with and my swatch is indeed 4" wide. I should probably continue on for another couple of inches, bind off, block and see if I still like the fabric.

I’d love to show you a picture of my swatch but I ripped it out. You may all point and laugh if this sweater ends up small enough to fit my dog or big enough to cover my car. I'm taking a risk here, but an educated risk. A wool sweater is easily blocked if I’m off by an inch or so.

Before we all panic that I’m knitting a sweater on US 1, let’s be smart. I wanted a gauge of 7 stitches per inch. If I got that gauge with US3 needles, I wouldn’t be having these palpitations. However, I’d still be knitting the same number of stitches, wouldn’t I? If you want to have a fit, have a fit about 7 stitches per inch, not the size of the needle.

Sketch out a schematic with measurements
I started by taking some measurements of a sweater I know I like.

Here's a rough sketch of my sweater. I used a CAD program to draw this because I use CAD programs all the time. A sketch on the back of a napkin would suffice. The key thing is to get the width and length measurements on paper so I don't cheat later. (I'm famous for deciding that I really like sweaters that are 10" from hem to armhole after several weeks of knitting mindless stockinette.) I took the measurements from a favorite sweater or two. I've added just a little bit of shaping--ever so slight. EZ's original pattern was straight and straight would be fine. I just want to break up my knitting with some detail to focus on. I've discovered that I look good in straight sweaters with negative ease at the bust. The sweater stretches over the bust and then snugs in a bit below to fit loosely around the waist--giving an illusion of shaping without actually clinging to my waist. So don’t hesitate to omit the shaping.

Since I know I want a 37" sweater and I'm knitting 7 stitches to the inch, I'll need 259 stitches. I'm only going in 2" at the waist, so I'll decrease down to 245 stitches. I don't really have to worry about that right now, so let's just move on and talk about the decreases when we're ready.

Casting On
As you know, I'm not sure I have enough yarn. I can entertain lots of creative options. I can add stripes. I can make the sleeves shorter. I can decide to make the whole sweater shorter. But the sweater will look pretty funky if I decide to add stripes only in the yoke because I ran out of yarn. I'm going to cast on in the middle and work my way up. If I start running short of yarn, I can use a contrasting yarn at the hem of the sweater, echo the contrast at the sleeves and the collar. Casting on in the middle is really easy--use a provisional cast on. This also gives me some time to think about what fancy hem treatment I want to use. I'll start at the upper hip level just before the decreases start.

I know of at least 3 ways to do a provisional cast on. EZ uses a very, very fast cast on. The only downside is I'm not EZ. When I do this cast on, I sometimes get some loose stitches when I go back and start knitting the other way. I really don't want a loose line of stitches accentuating my ample hip line. So I'm not going to use that.

Another way is to start with a crochet chain. I've used that before and it works. I still risk the line of loose stiches, but I could probably make it work.

My third way is the slowest and least efficient, but it is very neat and tidy. I just cast on with some scrap yarn, knit 3 or 4 rows, then start knitting with my real yarn. Later on, I carefully pick up the stiches and just cut out the scrap yarn. Since neatness is important to me, I'm going to use this technique. I want to make sure to use some slick yarn for this of a similar weight. I happen to have some Rowan Cotton Glace left over from an earlier project. It is a bit heavier that my Melody. I think I'll dig around and find some leftover sock yarn. I’ll just to a backward loop cast on—it is going to be removed later anyway.

I'm going to wrap this up, go cast on my 259 stitches and knit for 1". When I get to that point, I'll come back and we can talk about waist shaping.

Risk Assessment
As any good project manager knows, you need to know where the risks are and mitigate the risks. My risks, or nagging concerns, are:

Gauge: Always gauge. I’ll be sure to take the sweater off the needles and measure it frequently—both with a ruler and by trying it on.

Yarn Choice: This is a really fine yarn. I’m concerned that the resultant fabric will be too light and thin for a practical sweater. I’m also concerned because the neckline of my sweater is steeked. This is a superwash wool. I think I can mitigate this risk by using a sewing machine to reinforce the steek, but I need to know up front that this may not be the right yarn for my design and be prepared to abandon ship if I see problems once I start knitting.

I'm going away now to finish the socks and then cast on this sweater. I'll come back soon. Thanks again for all the great comments!


Jan in CA said...

How fun! I really, really want to make a sweater, but I have the sock class starting next week and a few things to do for xmas sooo no sweater for now. It'll be fun watching yours come together! Hmmm..this would be a fun project at YL on Fridays! Hehe..

karen said...

Your autumn rose is absolutely fantastic! Thanks for bringing my attention to it - I'm starting mine some day soon...just hoping to finish a thing or two first but we all know how that goes... ;-)And seeing yours doesn't exactly help this startitis of mine...