Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Speak No Evil

An odd thing happened the other night.

I finished Azteca and went rummaging through my stash for a sweater's worth of cotton yarn.

I couldn't find any. There were bits of cotton yarn left over from various projects, but not enough to actually make anything interesting. For that matter, there were only 4 sweaters' worth of wool yarn in my stash, plus enough sock yarn for 5 pairs of socks or so.

My yarn diet has been successful. Too successful, in fact.

I got the shakes. I went into yarn withdrawal. I sweated at the thought of having to spend a whole evening without knitting.

When the going gets tough, though...

...the tough go shopping!

I picked up some Plymouth Kudo (55% cotton, 40% rayon, 5% silk).

When I got it home, my daughter said “It's lovely -- like a dark forest night all full of moths.”

“What did you say?” I demanded before I saw the evil twinkle in her eye.

I'm swatching for a poncho sweater, with some other dribs and drabs of leftover yarn that coordinate nicely.

Nothing left to do but knit knit knit.

And thank my lucky stars that I have so little stash that the m-word can't worry me.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Azteca: the Finish Line

When we last saw Azteca, the body was mostly done, it had no sleeves, and none of the finishing work was done.

Azteca was designed to use up dribs and drabs of Amazon cotton. As I finished the body, I was running out of green and blue yarn, so I decided to complete the sleeves and then decide how to finish the sleeves, body, and neck.

I'd wanted 3/4 length sleeves, but You Can't Always Get What You Want. There wasn't enough yarn for 3/4 length sleeves in pattern. I contemplated doing the sleeves in simple stripes of purple and variegated yarn, and decided to go for short sleeves instead.

The longer I knit, the more I think about finishing, and the more time I spend actually doing it. With the right finishing, a sweater looks beautiful, perfecto, impressive. Without it, it's just a fancy stitch pattern made into a garment.

I wanted an edge finish that flowed from the lovely syncopated stripes of Azteca but ended crisply. I wanted something that flattered my curves and sat easily on my body.

As I got to the end of the sleeves, however, I was fretting. Stockinette tends to curl up, and, occasionally, it stubbornly flips up the border pattern. The long slip stitches in Syncopated Tweed worsened the curling and would need a strong edge to tame them.

To counteract the curling on the sleeves, I knit 4 rows of 1x1 ribbing, added a picot row, and then worked 8 more rows of ribbing on the underside. The extra length on the underside should help to tame the edge, and the picots would give a nice crisp finish to the sleeves.

The body required more care. I wanted a longer border, because the extra width in the body would give the curling slip-stitch pattern more prancing room. I also wanted the body border to accommodate some short rows, because I think a shirttail edge is more flattering on a woman than a straight edge.

There's no rule that says that the sleeves and body need to have the same kind of trim, but it's nice when there's harmony between them.

I was also running out of purple yarn, so the variegated yarn was the only possible choice for finishing the body. Besides, with a longer border, the variegated yarn would make a softer transition.

So, 1x1 rib again, with 6 short rows to add a gentle curve, and the same picot border as before.

There remained a little crocheting around the neck (a row of single crochet and a row of crab stitch, a nice match for a picot edge) and, voila!



Finis, finis, finis.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Top-Down Design Tutorial 6: Figuring the Round Yoke

Let's walk through the design of the top-down Azteca sweater, a round-yoked scoop-neck sweater knitted of bits of different colors of Amazon cotton in the Syncopated Tweed pattern.

Here's the actual pattern I used to knit the sweater:

It really doesn't have to be any more complicated than that. I ordinarily put this stuff on the computer, but mine was broken when I designed this sweater, so I did the work longhand.

The first thing I wrote, on the upper right hand corner of the page, is the gauge of Syncopated Tweed on the size 4 needles I'm using: 5.12 stitches and 8 rows per inch.

I ordinarily make a little sketch of the sweater with all of the dimensions I'll be using written in. Sometimes (as in this case), I simply use a pre-made standard size sketch as a reference. Many knitting reference books contain standard size sketches for both raglans and set-in sleeve designs. For a round-yoke sweater, I use raglan dimensions.

You can also find standard sizing information online.

At the top center of the page, there's a little sketch of the back of the neck and the shoulders. The back neck of this sweater is 5" and each shoulder is 1.5". I therefore need to cast on 8" or 40 stitches.

My raglan line (the length between the neck and underarm) was 9 inches or 72 rows. I thus have 72 rows across which to space the yoke increases. In a round yoke sweater, the increases are bunched in a few groups rather than every other row as in a raglan. In this particular stitch pattern, the increases need to happen on plain rows. I decided to work my increases in 6 groups, every 12 rows, starting with row 9 of the pattern.

How many stitches do I need? I'll need 184 stitches for the body at the underarm plus 72 stitches for each arm. I'll need to subtract the underarm cast-ons from the sleeves and the body. (Here I notice a mistake; I only subtracted one underarm cast-on, or 6 stitches, from the body, instead of both underarm cast-ons or 12 stitches. This makes the sweater an inch wider at the body. Oh well. It worked anyway.)

I charted my neck increases on knitter's graph paper to get a nice smooth curve, so I'll just note here that I have 30 stitches total for the neck increases.

I've chosen 6 stitches for the underarm cast-on. I usually cast on between one and two inches of stitches at the underarm, fewer for small children and more for deep-chested people. The underarm cast-on should be about half of the underarm depth; more and the cast-on line shows around the edges of the arm, less and the wearer has restricted movement at the underarm.

Let me pretend I needed 192 stitches for the body so I can do the math right.

(192 stitches for the body - 12 stitches for underarm cast ons) + (72 stitches for each arm - 6 underarm cast ons) * 2 for two arms = 310 stitches

310 stitches - (40 stitches we cast on + 30 stitches for neck increases) = 240 stitches to be increased

240 stitches to be increased / 6 increase rows = 40 stitches to be increased per increase row

I then note that those increases are to happen on row 9 of my 12-row pattern. Since the neck shaping complicated matters a bit, I decided to count stitches right before each increase row and figure out the increase pattern for Azteca.

In general, for a round-yoke sweater, this is my formula for figuring out the increase pattern:

(number of stitches present / number of stitches to increase) = magic number

The magic number is usually something messy like 1.34. I take the decimal part of that number and find a pretty close fraction, in this case 1/3. 1/3 of the time, we'll add an extra stitch before increasing and the other 2/3 of the time, we'll knit the whole part of the magic number of stitches before increasing. In this case, our increase row would be:

* (k1, make 1) 2x, (k2, make 1) *

When you don't have neck increases changing your numbers on you, the increase rows keep the same pattern, simply increasing the number of stitches you knit before increasing. So subsequent increase rows would be:

* (k2, make 1) 2x, (k3, make 1) *
* (k3, make 1) 2x, (k4, make 1) *
* (k4, make 1) 2x, (k5, make 1) *
* (k5, make 1) 2x, (k6, make 1) *
* (k6, make 1) 2x, (k7, make 1) *

There's no rule that says all of the increase rows need to be the same. If the numbers come out ugly, you can move things around to make your life easier. You can do more or fewer increases in some increase rows if that works better. The knitting police won't come after you, I promise.

I've decided not to use short row bust darts in this sweater because of the slip-stitch color pattern with the long slip stitches. I am doing waist shaping, decreasing 30 stitches over 6". I'll be doing those decreases on row 1 of my stitch pattern, which is always purple.

I don't yet know what I'm going to do after the waist, nor what I'm going to do with the arms. I'm not sure how much yarn I have, exactly, and I want to see how the stitch pattern behaves towards the edges. One of the nice parts of top-down design is that we can delay these decisions until later in the process, when we have a better idea how the sweater will turn out and how much yarn we have.

Getting Azteca started.

Neck increases on the Azteca yoke right before the cast-on that closes the neck.

Azteca body knit to just above the waist, being tried on for fit.

Top-Down Design Tutorial 5: Necklines

When I wrote the post on choosing the basic garment plan, I omitted drop-shoulder sweaters. Drop-shoulder sweaters are essentially constructed of rectangles with no shaping. They fit horribly and I never knit them. They're easy to design, however, so you see a lot of them in knitting patterns and knitting magazines.

I'm going to similarly omit a neckline that I never use: the boat neck. It's essentially a horizontal slit at the shoulders big enough to admit the head. It doesn't fit well, shows bra straps, and slides around on the shoulders. It is the easiest of necklines to design, and so many beginner knitting patterns include it.

My advice: don't waste your time on drop-shoulder sweaters and boat necks. If you're going to put all those hours of your life into a sweater, make it a sweater that will fit and flatter the wearer.

For necklines, you have three basic choices: round, square, or triangular.

A square neckline is usually a poor choice for knits. Knit garments tend to stretch, and a square neck tends to bag and sag. Knit fabric does not have the crispness of woven fabric that makes a square neck a fine choice for many garments. You can sometimes get away with a square neckline in a lightweight, stiff, nonresilient (or very springy) yarn knit at a firm tension and edged with a slip-stitch, twisted stitch, or crocheted edging. Conversely, you can use a square neck in a very drapy fabric that makes the sagging and bagging a feature. In most cases, however, a square neckline in a handknit garment is a disappointment.

A round neckline is a much better utility player. Here the characteristics of knit fabric work harmoniously with the shape of the neckline. The stretchiness and forgivingness of knitting smooths over any irregularities in the round edge. Round necklines can be wide, narrow, high, or low. A high, narrow round neckline is the classic crew neck. A high, wide neckline is a portrait neckline. A low round neckline, whether wide or narrow, is a scoop neckline. All of these necklines work great for knit garments.

The triangular neckline also works well for knit garments. These appear as short sharp triangles in the classic V-neck sweater or as the long, graceful shawl collar in a garment that opens in the front.

When planning a neckline, you can either copy a neckline from a garment or pattern that you like or you can wing it from your measurements. Both methods work well.

For many years, my neckline placement was often surprising. I copied and measured, and the necklines were often inches shorter than I expected them to be. The fronts of my sweaters rode up.

What I didn't realize was that sweaters hung from the backs of my shoulders, not the middle of my shoulders. The front of the sweater thus started close to the back of my neck, rotating the neck of the sweater back and up.

To find your own hanger point, hang a towel over your shoulders. and feel for the line where the towel hangs. Measure your necklines from that line, and the depth will be close to right.

Another thing to think of when planning necklines is the width of the neckline trim. The neckline of the initial garment needs to be deeper and wider than the neckline of the finished garment in order to allow for the neckline trim.

If you're copying a neckline from an existing garment, measure the width of the neckline at the shoulders, the depth of the neckline, and the width of the neckline at the deepest point. Choose the shape of your neckline, and proceed as if designing the neckline from scratch.

If you're designing the neckline from scratch, choose the neckline width at the shoulders, the depth of the neckline, and the width of the neckline at the deepest point. Settle on a neckline shape, and you're good to go. You can use a string or ribbon around the neck to try various neckline shapes before taking your measurements.

In top-down sweaters, the neckline is shaped with increases at the left and right edges of the neckline. The total number of increases is equal to the stitch gauge of the knitted fabric times the width of the neckline at the shoulders. The depth of the neckline times the row gauge gives you the number of rows to space these increases across.

For a triangular neckline, the increases are spaced equally across the rows. Don't worry if the math on this (or any other aspect of knitting) doesn't come out even; just use the nearest whole numbers that make sense.

For a round neckline, the increases occur more frequently as you go down. For about a quarter of the depth, you don't increase at all. For the second quarter of the depth, you increase every fourth row. For the third quarter, you step it up to every other row, and then step it up again to every row for the last quarter. The final group of stitches are then cast on at the bottom of the neck. You'll need to adjust these sections so the number of stitches come out right, but what you're looking for is a progression in increases from the shoulder to the deepest part of the neck.

Faking it is a major part of sweater design. Get the numbers somewhere in the neighborhood of where you want to be and then juggle things so they work with the stitch pattern and the stitch and row gauge.