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Reinventing a Must Have Sweater

This knitting story begins with the yarn.

Worsted weight wool, to my thinking, is not unlike rice or pasta. While perhaps not the most exciting gauge or fiber, it nonetheless provides the makings of many a substantial, satisfying knitting project. I like to keep a certain amount of worsted weight yarn on hand in much the same way that rice and pasta are always stocked in the pantry; they are my staples. Two years ago now I ordered a sweater’s worth of an admirable staple yarn from the WEBS annual sale. I like the combination of softness, sturdiness and stitch definition of Berroco Vintage, and the warm, autumnal color Chana Dal. It’s a nice yarn for cables. I am sure that there was a clear plan for this yarn at some point, but I’ve thoroughly forgotten what that might have been by now. Almost two year later, though, I have landed upon a sweater pattern/yarn combination that feels like a good fit.

Well, I got at least one decent knitting picture in.

Well, there was at least one decent knitting picture.

It has been some time since I last made a sweater for myself, so I wasn’t in a rush to use any old pattern. But late this summer, I got the itch for cables for some reason – densely knitted, complicated, twisty cables. At some point in my Ravelry trawling for a good, cable-heavy sweater pattern, I came across fibrenabler’s “On the Bandwagon with the Must Have” sweater and fell in love. I adore a clever saddle-shoulder construction in a sweater; they always seem to fit better across the back and to hang nicely without shifting around. The saddle-shoulder means that the cable pattern on the sleeves can continue up the shoulders to the neckline and even along the back of the neck.

... and then this happened.

… and then this happened.

One advantage of using this particular sweater for inspiration is that I already have the referenced patterns on hand. This lovely sweater is an adaptation of the Paton’s Must Have Cardigan pattern which was released way back in 2002. I suppose it tells you something about how long I have been knitting that I picked up a copy of the Paton’s pattern booklet way back then. According to fibrenabler’s project notes, she also used Elizabeth Zimmerman’s “Seamless Hybrid with Shirt Yoke” sweater recipe. I say “recipe” because Elizabeth Zimmerman doesn’t really do knitting patterns in the way that most patterns are written – they are closer to recipes with notes on appropriate ratios and suggestions for variations depending on the preferences and available materials of the knitter. EZ (as she is sometime affectionately referred to by knitters) wrote several brilliant, practical, and helpful “knitting theory” books in the 1970s and 1980s that I was fortunate enough to stumble across relatively early in my knitting career. If you have any interesting in knitting at all, I cannot recommend them more highly.

My polite request that she move has given great offense.

My polite request that she move gave great offense.

But anyway, back to the sweater! Knitting takes much longer than your typical sewing project, so this is very much a Work-In-Progress. Working in the round and from the bottom up, I have knit the torso to where the armholes should begin… I think. It looks kind of short the longer I look at it? I need to measure the length against some sweaters that fit me well. I am currently working on the first sleeve and knitting it flat. Most of the particulars of adaptations and the mechanics of how this thing will fit together will need to wait for a later post (once I figure it all out!). But for now, I will be giddily watching each cable crossing slowly form.

And here we can see the cat has settled in with no intentions of moving ever again. This peasant understand she only knits by the generous forbearance of her Cat Tyrant.

And here we can see the cat has settled into her new nest with no intentions of moving ever again. This peasant understands that she only knits by the generous forbearance of her Cat Tyrant.

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Miette Cardigan, un-Penelopied

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As my apartment only recently regained internet access after the first significant thunderstorms of what promises to be a beastly DC summer, a wool sweater has never seemed more seasonally irrelevant. When I began knitting my version of the Miette Cardigan, I suspected that it would be completed just as the weather got warm enough to make wool layers ill-advised. In fact, the cardigan was entirely knit in mid-May, just as the spring semester ended. A brief jaunt back to PA meant that there was time to block it and wear it once or twice before it got intolerably warm.

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Because the cardigan is made with worsted weight wool (rescued Cascade 220 in Vermeer Blue) it is warm, substantial, and cozy. Yet the loose gauge (16 stiches in 4 inches where worsted weight yarn is often knit to 20 stitches in 4 inches) makes the cardigan light, drapey and airy, and extends the usability of the sweater into somewhat warmer weather. I found the sweater perfectly comfortable for temperatures in the mid-60s, and I am fairly intolerant of anything that even suggests overheating.

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The actual knitting process for this sweater is entertaining and fun. It the closest a sweater pattern can get to instant gratification knitting – the gauge and shorter sleeves/body make it quick to knit, the top-down construction and lace pattern keep it an engaging project, while the stockinette sections are mindless and restful. After a knitting hiatus, I felt like I was being wooed back by all the fun parts of knitting with this project.

Meitteback

Trying out a new sweater pattern is always a gamble, even more so than a new sewing pattern in terms of time invested (in terms of material reclaimability, knitting always wins). Until the sweater is entirely knit, it is impossible to tell how all the pieces will hang together. Will the neckline stretch weirdly under the weight of the sweater? Will the sleeves be too big? Too small? But because all of the shaping of the sweater happens as it is being knit, it is far too late to make modifications to the pattern once the sweater has been entirely knit. This makes for a wildly different construction experience than sewing where, aside from those absolute changes made with a pair of scissor, a garment can be endlessly taken in and let out until it fits just so. Despite all of the cross-applicability of drape and fit and construction knowledge between sewing an knitting, the two crafts require different kinds of planning. I’m still not sure how they are different, but they certainly are.

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The Miette Cardigan pattern is knit from the top-down, which allows you to try the cardigan on as it is being made (this works best if you actually take the sweater off the knitting needles… which I didn’t do). This only gives a vague idea of fit, but I suppose it would help fend off any major disasters. The only change I made to the pattern was to add an additional repeat of the lace pattern to the length of the sweater. The added length makes the cardigan a shorter standard length, rather than the “cropped” sweater of the pattern. I’m not sure why, but my sleeves ended up hitting longer than 3/4 length but before my wrists. I rather like them that way, but I hadn’t expected them to come out that long.

I sincerely adore the color, and those coordinating buttons came from my Mom’s button jar(s), a mish-mash of buttons heirloom and more recent that fills three jars and part of a drawer.

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On an informational note for my non-knitter readers, when I mention “blocking” I mean the process by which knit stitches are set and the finished knit project is shaped. This involves wetting the wool, arranging it into the desired end shape, and then allowing it to dry. Wool has a remarkable knack for taking on a new shape when wet and then remembering and retaining that shape once it dries. There are a number of methods for accomplishing this, but I prefer to take my knitting and dunk it in a sink full of warm water and a bit of shampoo. With the way I drag projects all over, the yarn usually deserves a good bath. The key thing at this point is to avoid felting the knitting, so it needs to be wrung out very gently. I usually roll the knitting up in a towel to get most of the water out before laying it flat and shaping it to dry.

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Here you can see the cardigan pre-blocking. Note the general rippling lumpy-bumpiness of the sweater. The stitches are uneven, the borders sit weirdly and it looks like it has been crammed in the bottom of a bag. (which it totally has)

MeitteUnblocked

And after blocking, waiting for buttons, it looks like a sweater! Which is always pretty exciting when you think about starting with a few balls of yarn – or in this case, a half-forgotten sweater. I am not unraveling this thing again, but I like to think Penelope would be pleased anyway.

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