Knitting journal

February 27, 1999

For Christmas, my sister gave me yarn. She lives in the Hudson valley and works near Pattern Works in Ploughkeepsie NY. They carry a wide variety of yarns, including the fine yarns that are a pleasure to knit up with No. 2 or smaller needles. Yarn is the proverbial gift that keeps on giving.

Handwork is a tradition in my family, for instance my paternal grandmother was a prolific maker of quilts. The original plan was for one to be given to each grandchild on their marriage. Fortunately she relented and gave one to each of us despite marital status. Other family members crochet, tat, sew, and embroider. In college in the late 60's long, crocheted or knitted wool scarves were popular. I knitted a scarf in dark brown Germantown Worsted that I still have today. Sometime in the mid-70's I acquired Gladys Thompson's Patterns for Guernseys, Jerseys & Arans, Fisherman's Sweaters from the British Isles (Dover Publications, Inc., NY 1971) and Elizabeth Zimmerman's Knitting Without Tears (Charles Scribner's Sons, NY 1971). While both of these have patterns for what Elizabeth Zimmerman has called "blind followers" they also have served as a stimulus to make things my own way. My friend Linda Lorenz of Urbana IL, who is an prolific and excellent knitter in addition to many other accomplishments, introduced me to Knitting without Tears. Despite my initial stubbornness, mostly about doing everything from scratch myself, after reading the book, I felt like I knew Elizabeth Zimmerman better than most of my co-workers and that like her, I enjoyed "unventing" things. Another book that I go to often is a small volume, The Scotch Wool Shop book by Susanne R. Williams which I mail ordered from Meg Swanson's Schoolhouse Press, 6899 Cary Bluff Road, Pittsville WI 54466. I have the 12th edition (1969) reprinted from the original 1943 classic.

So I have eight 50 gram balls of 125 meters each of Stahl LIMBO which knits up at 23 stitches per 10 cm (4 inches). The color is subtle, basically off-white alternating with fawn and dove grey and their blends. To get inspired, I knit up a generous swatch on No. 5 sock needles, then go to the Milwaukee Public Library and browse through the Fall and Winter issues of Vogue Knitting among other books. There are a number of attractive sweaters in wide ribs, including one of a similar weight yarn that I can use to estimate yardage. Stahl's pictures, if I interpret them correctly, indicate that eight balls is appropriate for a woman's sleeveless vest in size 38/40, and that you need twelve and fourteen balls for a pullover or cardigan with sleeves respectively. But, it looks like they are being conservative. I know that ripping and redoing work is not a complete tragedy from my experiences working with my own hand spun yarn, but it doesn't hurt to see what is out there.

Having already said that I am an Elizabeth Zimmerman fan, I want something that I can knit in the round. I have over the years acquired round knitting needles in the common sizes in three lengths plus two sets of double pointed sock needles for each size. That allows me to cast on the body and both sleeves and work on them at the same time then join them on a single round needle to finish. I am convinced that knitting gauge depends on a number of factors besides the yarn characteristics including humidity and emotional state so working on both sleeves at the same time tends to make them match better. So I cast on 180 stitches to join and knit in the wide K4 P2 rib.

It is important to keep casting on and casting off loose to maintain the elasticity of the garment. I usually take a larger straight needle, make a loop, then pull the yarn through the loop for the second stitch, then from between the last stitch and the next to last stitch for a scrolled edge which wears well. Once I have 180 stitches, I take the round No. 5 needle and knit 2, purl 2, then continue around in knit 4 purl 2 ribbing until I come to the end. One advantage of this method of casting on is that when you are ready to join, there are two rows instead of just one, so it is easier to keep the work from twisting. If you get around a time or two and discover a twist, just twist it back at the join. You are going to do some needlework there anyway and it can be disguised. Also, if the pattern is off a stitch, just increase one or decrease one to make it come out right. I put a stitch marker between stitches 1 and 180 and between 90 and 91 to mark the sides.

I then cast on 36 stitches on both sets of No. 5 sock needles, join, and knit in K4 P2 rib increasing two stitches on either side of the join every six rounds. It takes one ball of yarn for each sleeve. It looks very skinny, but I join the three pieces and knit a raglan sleeve keeping the ribbing up to the neck.

OK, looks like there will be enough yarn for a pullover sweater with sleeves, but the combination of ribbing and the moire pattern resulting from the variegated yarn is too much texture. So, I unravel the work, the sleeves entirely and all but 11 inches of the body.

This time I pick up the body stitches then convert to all knit rounds. The ribbing will give a snug fit up to what now will be a yoke. Instead of joining sleeves knit from the cuff, I split the work onto two round needles after two inches of knitting, put 10 stitches on each side onto holders on opposite sides using the markers for centers, then knit and purl back on the round needles decreasing 4 times at each edge every second row at the sleeve edges for the front and back. The back is knit straight to about 8 inches above where the ribbing stops. The front is the same as the back. Now I cast on 10 stitches on one neck edge and do a Scotch shoulder, which looks really bad. Time to unravel the shoulder.

Now I take up the front stitches, put the center 30 stitches on a holder, then knit each side separately decreasing four times on the neck edge every second row. I knit the back to match the length of the tops of the shoulders of the front, about 9 inches above where the ribbing stops. Now I weave the front shoulders to the back putting the left over stitches on the back neck edge on a holder. This looks nice and smooth. One of the reasons I prefer to knit in the round is that I don't like bulky seams, especially under the arm. Now I have two balls left for the sleeves which I pick up and knit three stitches for every four rows and the underarm stitches on the holder, about 90 stitches total on each side. I keep four stitches for the underarm "seam" and decrease two stitches on either side of these stitches by knitting four rounds then a decrease round. I pair a "knit two stitches together" with a "slip slip knit" to make the decrease symmetrical. This looks much better than the increases in ribbing did, plus with every decrease round, there is a change in the moire pattern which is pleasing and gives a look of texture without overdoing it. I take another ball of yarn and pick up the stitches on holders and three stitches for four rows along the neck edge. I place a marker between the stitches 15 and 16 of the back neck edge when I pick up the stitches. The pattern I looked at called for a 60 stitch mock turtle neck in the K4 P2 ribbing for all sizes, but I am being more generous than the usual split of 1/3 each for the left shoulder, neck opening, and right shoulder. A high neck that is tight is uncomfortable to wear and difficult to put on, especially for people like me who have worn glasses since childhood and frequently wear them while dressing. Add doing up your hair in a bun or french roll before you change your mind and decide to wear the sweater to that as well. The ribbing is quite elastic, so the extra volume won't be a problem, as long as the yarn holds out.

I knit another round plain after picking up the neck stitches to do a count. They are evenly spaced, but it appears that I am three stitches off the multiple of 6 in the ribbing pattern, so I start at the back neck marker with K2, P2, then K4, P2 the whole way around knitting two stitches together evenly spaced three times to make it come out right. I now have 14 repeats of the six stitch pattern which fits well on a 16 inch No. 5 round needle. I work alternating with the sleeves. On the sleeves, I work the decreases on the 16 inch needle until I am down to 60 stitches, then switch to sock needles. I swap the 16 inch needle with the 24 and 29 inch ones when I want to work on another part. Once I get about six inches down each sleeve and an inch on the neck ribbing, it is time to try the sweater on. I split the neck stitches between the 24 and 29 inch needles, leave one sleeve on the 16 inch round needle, the other on four sock needles an pull it on. Its looking good this time.

As of today, I have knit up an entire ball for the one sleeve and am down to 48 stitches, ready to change to the rib pattern (which will come from the ball that I am using for the neck). The second sleeve has a few inches to go to get to where the first sleeve is, but I am working on it. The ribbed turtle neck is on the 16 inch round needle and I have worked it three inches. That is a respectable mock turtle neck. I will probably cast off soon (after one more try-on), then split the remainder of that ball for the ribbed sleeve cuffs. When I worked in a lab, we had nice electronic balances, so in this situation, I used to weigh the yarn to be split between the two cuffs. When it was half gone by weight, I would cast off and start the second cuff. This time it will be estimated by eye. If there is a bit left over, I can save it for patching. It is nice to have enough yarn left over to put on matching elbow patches when a well-loved sweater begins to show wear. Some of my veterans have that, but others, equally well-loved, have contrasting elbow patches. If you knit for a child, which is a great way to learn because you can get your shaping right on a smaller number of stitches, save those leftovers. I made a bright red raglan pullover sweater (Elizabeth Zimmerman classic, of course) for my son when he was in nursery school, then extended its life by snipping a thread and picking to detach the then worn cuffs and bottom of the sweater. I knit it down on both sleeves and the body and it was good for a few more years of hard wear. Yes, children will try to pull their arms out sideways if they can, with a seamless sweater, no problem.

Well, between doing things like this and writing programs, I keep busy and amused. If you ever meet me in person, maybe you will recognize this sweater.

See my current needlework pages.

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