Saturday, June 14, 2014

Thoughts On Sweaters

It’s been raining on and off today which is nice because it saves having to water the garden. I’m a bit “hung-over” from the migraine and not really inclined to do anything terrifically energetic. I still haven’t cleaned up all the kumihimo stuff! But I will. There’s a deadline.

Meanwhile I’ve been knitting away on my Rainbow Dark cardigan. I nearly forgot how much I love knitting with handspun wool yarn in all its slightly uneven but very lively glory. It’s pretty special stuff, each inch having gone through my hands many times before I even get to knit with it. Back in the day I would never knit with anything else but recently I’ve gotten out of the habit. I’ve made quite a few sweaters from stash yarns including sock yarn. I really prefer manufactured yarn for socks – although that might change if I could find a combination of fibre and spinning technique that would make yarn durable enough to pass the wearing test in my Blunnies. Plus there’s no way I was going to handspin anything for a Grandbeastie! Poor babies. A least not until they’re doing their own laundry and can prove to me they appreciate the work involved and know how to take care of knitwear. Yes, I’m a mean granny like that.

While I was knitting I was pondering. As you do. And I decided that not only was I going to strive to use handspun yarns in future but I was going to spin from stash fibres as much as I possibly can. It means that projects will take at least double the normal amount of time to complete but I really enjoy the many processes so it doesn’t matter. I’ve got a rather large collection. It needs to be utilised. All it takes is Actually Doing It. Right.

Also while the heavy pondering was going on, I realised that I really like cardigans the best. They are versatile garments and work with a lot of different outfits. Pullover sweaters are nice with some combinations and I particularly love my most recent Simple Tweedy Pullover. With its fine yarn and short sleeves it can even be worn on a cool rainy late spring day. Like today. I also love my sleeveless pullover tunics for layering. But a regular loose pullover sweater without shaping doesn’t really work for my body very well. If it’s loose enough to go over the tummy it can easily overwhelm my narrow shoulders. On the other hand a very close-fitting pullover sweater just makes me look blobby. Or pregnant. Not good. A trapeze shape is doable if the shoulders and arms fit well and the body isn’t too voluminous. But somehow a cardigan left partially unbuttoned seems best of all to me.

Some stats: out of the last 12 sweaters I’ve made for myself only 4 were not cardigans. Only one other one was handspun (though several were hand-dyed) and I specifically bought yarn for only 3 of them. The rest were scrounged from what was already in my stash. And before you ask, it took me 3-and-a-half years to make that many! I’m actually a rather slow knitter. Just very persistent. I knit on something nearly every day.

Back to Rainbow Dark. What I love best about knitting a sweater top-down is that you can try it on as you go. Here’s Debbie Double testing the fit so far:

RainbowDark_progfront  RainbowDark_progback

Obviously my size adjustments are working out fine. So far so good anyway. I feel I’ve learned a lot in the quest to make clothes for the body that I have – rather than the one I wish I had. It’s been hard work but very empowering! It’s finally getting a lot easier to figure out what size to start with and where and how to add width and length where I need it so I’m not locked into the designer’s choices. The only tricksy bit on this particular sweater will be working the pockets. Heidi Kirrmaier has written the pattern really clearly with enough detail, but not so much wordiness as to make it confusing. I am having a little trouble memorising the unfamiliar pattern for the 4-stitch front edges and have to look at the instructions every time. That could just be me though. It’ll probably sink in around about the time I’m finished the thing.

The top-down method has other advantages too besides the try-on. If you are short of yarn you can make the body slightly shorter or the sleeves can be 3/4 length instead. And you can make these decisions on the fly at the end rather than having to anticipate in advance or rip back to start again. I also really like knitting sweaters in one piece. I don’t mind seaming – and this sweater has a few to join the pocket pieces – but it’s just so satisfying to only have a couple of ends to sew in and you’re done and ready to block. I see no real reason to have side seams or underarm seams on the sleeves. Knitting is just as easy to do tubular as flat. Unless you have a stitch pattern that just doesn’t work in the round (and I can’t really think of any except maybe intarsia, though there is a round-about way to do that too). Fair isle or any two-colour knitting is actually much easier in the round because you don’t have to purl. I wonder if knitting flat pieces was a habit that extended from dressmaking? Traditionally, knitting was seamless. Another encouragement for knitting in the round has been the huge improvement in circular needles. I never use straights anymore even for flat knitting. Only double-pointed needles and circulars. Yes, I could avoid the dpns altogether using 2 circs or magic loop techniques but where would be the fun in that? I love my pokey sticks.

There’s been some debate about whether or not seamed sweaters are more stable, hang better or are more durable in the long term. I think with knitting completely in the round there may be some stretching and sagging issues if the yarn is very heavy, slippery or stretchy and the needle size is large for the yarn thickness. It’s helpful to stabilise shoulder seams with a seam or a 3-needle bind-off but you can’t do that on a circular yoke or raglan sleeves. I think something looking off is more likely to be due to fit issues rather than unstable construction. The better the sweater fits the more likely it is to keep its shape. I haven’t noticed anything terrible happening with any of my recent sweaters anyhow.

However, the one real drawback to knitting a sweater all in one piece is the bulk of the thing! As it gets bigger it gets harder to drag around and eventually outgrows being a portable project. I definitely need a larger tote bag for my sweater projects. I have plans. And fabrics. Just have to do it. Soon. This current sweater is getting larger by the day!

So why do I love sweaters so much? Our house can be quite cold! On purpose. We keep the thermostat deliberately lower than the usual room temperature. I’ve adjusted so well that I often feel too hot in shops or others’ homes. There are times when I’m not moving around (like right now while I’m typing!) where I need some woolies on to stay comfortable. In winter I often wear several layers of clothes. Knitwear is a big staple in my wardrobe. As Brenda Dayne of the Cast On podcast always says “If you’re cold put on a sweater. That’s what they’re for.”

Happy Father’s Day tomorrow! Thom & I sadly don’t have our fathers around any more but he is a father and our son and son-in-law are both fathers too so we’re having a wee family barbeque. And maybe a visit to Car Free Day on Main Street if the weather cooperates. I love walking down the middle of what is usually a busy 4-lane street along with thousands of neighbours all enjoying themselves. Music, food, merchandise, information, games, events and demonstrations. This year it extends 21 blocks. Fun.

More later!


Heather said...

Hope there was a little sun for Car-Free Day. And your sweater looks like it is coming along just fine. Makes me think about getting out the wheel and doing a little spinning.

Dixie said...

I'm liking the looks of your cardigan. It's so nice that you spun the yarn; it makes the garment all that much more personal.
I agree with most of your musings on knitting. Have to disagree with loving pokey sticks. I have a strong dislike for knitting with double pointed needles. Give me two circulars any day and I'll do the job!

Louisa said...

Oh spinning is fun! I'm wondering why it took me so long to get back into it.

Car Free Day started out with record rainfall, hail and overloaded sewers causing flash floods but cleared up and was sunny and everyone was having a ball by the time we got there. Just lucky I guess!