Saturday, September 26, 2009

It's Sweater Weather

As I have probably already mentioned, this year's Midwest Fiber & Folk Festival produced another good haul. First, I picked up some beautiful hand-dyed BFL top from Briar Rose Fibers that wants to become a Coraline. Then there were some assorted single skeins from Knitting Notions - always a treat - that will become gifts later in the year and so must remain incognito for the time being. But the best find of the day was a beautiful new worsted weight merino/alpaca blend from Frontier Fiber Mill, a family alpaca farm and mill in Indiana. You've seen some of their alpaca in the offerings at Briar Rose. As soon as I saw this particular yarn, I knew I wanted to turn it into a cabled sweater. Right then.

First, I was thinking of Demi - that favorite from Rowan's Vintage Knits book - but Lisa Lloyd's Staghorn was a close second. I went home and dutifully swatched. I even washed the swatch - this should let you know I was serious about the project. The sample I was happiest with was knit up on a size 8 (5.00mm) needle with a gauge of 4.5 stitches and 6 rows per inch, which was a bit small for both sweaters. Despite the gauge, the yarn itself kept pushing me towards Staghorn with its deep, subtle heather and very slight halo - perfect for fisherman sweater cables. And that got me thinking.

As much as I liked the design of Staghorn - and don't get me wrong, the design is beautiful - I wasn't a huge fan of the size and shape of the piece as presented in the book. That was just it - the sweater would have been huge on me as written. With the smallest size clocking in at 40" at the bust, I would have been swimming in that sweater. So, with the smaller stitch gauge, my new yarn just might be perfect.

I had my doubts here and there as I knit. After all, how flattering is a heavily textured rectangle? But last night, once the final seems were sewn and the ends woven in, all my worries were put to rest. What do you think?

The cable sections act like ribbing, pulling in at the waist and stretching as needed for bust and hip. Just what I was hoping for.

I was also a bit worried about how the saddle shoulder would look. The design calls for a basic drop shoulder with a saddle and in the wrong proportions, a fair amount of extra fabric can bunch up around the underarm on a fitted sweater. But no problems here either.

The sleeves are the perfect length, too.

The pattern itself isn't particularly difficult, but that doesn't mean this project went without its share of tinks and frogs. As others have noted on ravelry, if you don't pay attention to the direction of your crosses in the XO cables, they're pretty easy to screw up. I knit up the back uneventfully but had to drop down and fix cable crosses several time while knitting the front.

What do I mean when I say "drop down and fix"? This is my favorite way of fixing an incorrect cable cross without ripping back the whole piece. I cable without a cable needle (there are several ways to do this so run a google search and find your favorite, if you are interested) but this method works with a cable needle, too. Assume that you are working on a 4-stitch cable and you need to fix the cable cross 3 rows down. Knit until you have worked the last stitch before the cable. Then drop the next four stitches off the left-hand needle and unravel 3 rows worth of knitting on those 4 stitches. Most wools are sticky will and need a little help to unravel so don't worry about accidentally dropping those 4 stitches back to your cast-on row. You should have 3 long ladders and the four live stitches - this is your previous cable row (the one you want to fix). Place those 4 stitches back on a needle (it can be your left-hand needle or a spare DPN). Now re-work the cable in the proper direction. Then knit across the 4 stitches for 3 rows, using the ladders you formed when you dropped the stitches earlier. There's no limit to how far down you can drop but since it's a bit of a pain to re-knit like this, it's a good idea to keep an eye on your knitting so that you can catch the problem when you only have to go back a few rows rather than 50 or 60. The Yarn Harlot had a nice tutorial on various ways to fix cabling mistakes a while back, so go take a look in her archives if you want to see some other options.

My other mini disaster with Staghorn came as I was finishing up the last shoulder saddle. The saddle is worked over a 22 stitch staghorn cable, which includes a purl stitch on either side, plus 2 selvedge stitches. Come to think of it, that might not be what the pattern calls for but it is what I did on the first saddle and what I needed to do on the second. However, I forgot about keeping the two purl stitches when I was binding off the top of the sleeve and didn't notice the mistake until I started to sew in the saddle. Unfortunately there is no way to drop down 40 rows and add two purl stitches to each row so I had to frog the whole thing. Just the saddle, not the whole sleeve, thank goodness.

Well, that's been a lot of text without any more pictures, so I'm going to shamelessly stop and distract you with another pic:

Ok, one more.

Here are my mods and specs in case you, too, would like a more fitted Staghorn:

Yarn: Frontier Fiber Mill 50/50 Merino/Alpaca

Needles: size 8 (5.00mm) for the body and size 7 (4.5mm) for the ribbing on the cuffs and neck

Gauge: 4.5 spi and 6 rpi

Bust: 34"
(Note that you will lose about an inch of bust circumference when you sew the pieces together. I had blocked the front and back pieces to be 17.5" wide but the finished measurement is 34".)

Length to Saddle: 20.5" from cast-on to bind-off.

Sleeve Length: 21" from cast-on to bind-off.

Collar Length: 2.5"
I ignored the pattern instructions, which call for a 72-stitch neck, and instead picked up what looked like an appropriate number of stitches (96). I used a ratio of 3 stitches out of every 4 on the cable sections When picking up from cables, it's always good to remember that a cable pattern uses more stitches than stockinette over the same width. This means that you probably don't want to pick up one stitch for every stitch bound off.

The neck on this sweater ends up being pretty big, so I decided to knit a much longer neckband than the pattern calls for. A 2.5" length seemed proportionate with the length of the sleeve and bottom bands and was long enough to ensure that my t-shirt wouldn't peek out the side of the neck opening (always an important consideration).

Mod: other than the collar, the biggest modification that I made to the pattern itself was in the sleeve width. The pattern calls for increasing every 4 rounds, which will produce the sort of big, baggy sleeves that many of us associate (for better or worse) with traditional fisherman's sweaters. I wanted a much more fitted sleeve, so I started increasing on the 17th pattern row (the first row of the 3rd staghorn repeat) and increased once stitch at each side of the sleeve every 16 rows. This produced a final circumference of 11.5" unstretched. There was no great calculation involved - I just kept holding the sleeve-in-progress up against my arm and increased until the fit was right.

While I was sewing the pieces together, I kept asking myself why I didn't just convert the pattern for knitting in the round but I am very glad that I didn't. This is a heavy garment: I used somewhere in the ballpark of 25oz of yarn. A garment this heavy really benefits from the structure and security of a sewn seam. The drape of the alpaca combined with the weight of the yarn would have caused the sweater to begin to sag almost immediately without the reinforcement of the seams. I suppose this means I should be glad that I sewed the saddles onto the front and back pieces, rather than knitting them together, despite the fact that I ripped and reworked the seams several times to make sure the pieces attached evenly.

That's all I've got for now. I hope you're all enjoying this lovely fall weekend. After all, it's sweater weather!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Cut the Steeks!

Come to think of it, I've actually cut steeks on two projects in the last couple of weeks. The first project had the more challenging steek but the less nerve-wracking cut, oddly enough. I believe EZ famously recommended the benefits of a dark room and a stiff drink after cutting steeks. Happily, neither were needed here.

In just under a week's time, Lismore went from this:

to this:

For the steeks, I alternated the colors as the pattern called for, ending up with a checkerboard-type pattern. Then I did something I've never done before: just cut. That's right, I didn't reinforce the steek before touching scissors to fabric. I'll tack down the edges once I've knit up the sleeves and the collar but for now it's just a raw edge.

Of course, I haven't touched this sweater since snapping that picture since I've been distracted by other things.

This little Wisp scarf (Ravelry link) is a fantastic way to use that stray skein of malabrigo lace.

While others have complained that the simple lace pattern gets a bit mind-numbing, I've yet to see it because of how much I adore this particular yarn. Even the garter stitch sections are delicious. I'm omitting the buttons and buttonholes but am otherwise knitting the pattern as written.

My current evening tv knitting is Staghorn (Ravelry link) from Lisa Lloyd's lovely book A Fine Fleece.

I'm using a lovely merino/alpaca blend worsted weight yarn from Frontier Fiber Mill that I picked up at the Midwest Folk & Fiber Festival in July. My stitch gauge is a bit smaller than the pattern calls for, which will be nice since I'd be swimming in the smallest pattern size. So far, I'm knitting the pattern as written, although I plan to make the sleeves narrower than the pattern calls for.

What was that other steeked project? No, I haven't forgotten (nor did I count the Starmore twice). The last project worth mentioning today is a little experiment I've been working on:

This is a simple striped pullover knit with seamless, simultaneous, set-in sleeves using Barbara Walker's fantastic book Knitting from the Top Down. That picture is a bit misleading since I've been working on the bottom ribbing while uploading the pics for this post, but you get the idea. What a great technique! (More on that later when I've finished the sweater.) I wanted a v-neck but didn't like the idea of knitting flat more than I absolutely had to so I decided to steek the neck. To do this, I just increased along the neck edges outside of the steek stitches. Once the body of the sweater is done, I'll pick up and knit the ribbing from the edge stitches.

Unlike Lismore, which had two colors in each row and yarn fibers that really liked to stick together, this sweater (made from Nature Spun Worsted) uses yarn that is smoother and has only one color in any given row. Because of this, I decided to sew a reinforcing line of backstitching on either side of the center line the steek to keep the edges from unravelling when I cut. If I wanted to be really careful, I would have waited to cut the steek until I was finished with the rest of the garment. But the whole point of a top-down sweater is to be able to try the piece on as you work and cutting the steek at the end would have defeated the purpose of this construction. So snip, snip I went. Everything looks safe and secure for now and I'll tack down the edges after I knit the neck band.

I've got to run but I'll leave you with evidence that my spinning wheel has seen some good use this summer. 1050 yards of 2-ply merino/silk heavy laceweight spun from 8oz of fiber: