Saturday, November 21, 2009

Almost Opulent

Sleeve adjustment completed, I now have a finished sweater to smile over.

It's almost but not quite Wendy Bernard's Opulent Raglan, from the Fall 2008 issue of KnitScene. I made the sweater in Patons Classic worsted-weight wool, in a color called Cognac Heather. I made it in a size with a little negative ease. As usual, I changed a few things. The original sweater is 3/4 sleeved, a longish length, and has a hemmed bottom. It's very attractive, but it isn't quite me. So I shortened it to hip length, added a ribbed edge at the bottom, and made the sleeves full-length. And changed the cuff design. I did very much like the big scrunchy central cable flanked with textured cable twists, so I left that alone. :)

I also like the square neckline, though that was the cause of some worrying. In the magazine, the neckline is so deep that it reveals a bit of cleavage. It's an attractive look, but it does limit a sweater's versatility for my daily working life. And for most of the time while the knitting was underway, it looked like it was heading in exactly that direction. I figured I would just have to wear layers under it.

This was my first time knitting a sweater from the top down, in the round, so that it could be tried on practically from the beginning. As soon as the neckline and armholes emerged, I was poking my head and arms through them to have a look. I threaded the stitches onto a really long circular needle cable and pulled the sweater on. (I still lost a few stitches off the ends each time and retrieve them, sputtering and grumbling, but that's another story. Eventually I learned that it was worth the bit of extra time to put stoppers on the ends.) The neckline looked voluptuously deep, and I wondered if I might actually have to worry about its falling entirely off the cliff, so to speak. But I did know that adding the ribbing would firm up the edge and would probably close it up a little. If not, well, layering.

I tried that sweater on over and over as it progressed. (I found that, for me, the good thing about trying on a top-down raglan in progress is that you can. The bad thing is that you might feel you must. Again and again.) I was especially careful about trying on and measuring to gauge the length for the long sleeves I wanted, since that frontier was untrodden by the pattern instructions. I made them longer, in fact, after a first try. I fussed over the cuffs as well, since the version in the pattern designed to be worn just under the elbow was a more dramatic look than I wanted to see at my wrists.

Finally, I had everything just the way I wanted it, and I picked up stitches and knitted on the neckband. And guess what that did? It tightened up the neckline. It tightened it a lot. Suddenly it was quite a ladylike neckline. I'm not sure why it's that much higher than in the pattern photo. It's the same number of stitches, but I must have knit the ribbing significantly tighter than the designer did. But that was fine; it worked in my favor and preserved modesty.

I wove in all the ends and tried it on again. Happily declared it done. Admired it in the mirror. Wondered why those shrewdly judged sleeves were an inch too short. Sighed deeply and realized the neckline's connected to the shoulder, the shoulder's connected to the sleeve... and the tightened neck must have hiked the whole thing up. So I unpicked all the carefully buried ends, ripped out those poufy cuffs, and added an inch to both sleeves. It was aggravating, but it's done, anyway.

And now I have a finished sweater that I like very much. It dresses up or down. For work, it looks good under a jacket, which frames the cable texture nicely. Those big cuffs peek out of the jacket sleeves and feel just slightly romantic, without drawing too much attention to themselves.

My verdict on the top-down, in-the-round construction is mixed. It's interesting to try a sweater on as you go, but, ahem, there could still be one or two little hitches. I've generally had pretty good luck with the fit on traditional pieced-and-sewn sweaters when I measure at the beginning, make a plan, and hope for the best. And I quite like that "ta-da" feeling you get when you seam it up and suddenly, pouf, there's a whole new sweater to try on. One other observation is that the sweater seems to want to twist a little bit. I've had seamless commercial t-shirts that do this, too. I think perhaps if it had the structure of seams, it would stay straighter.

So I'm not quite a convert to the method. But I know more than I did before, and it's another technique to use when it makes sense. And I love the sweater. And that can't be bad.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

And Besides...

So what if my knitting has a little setback? It has its ups and downs. It's all part of the bargain.

And one of the ups is festival-going. A couple of weekends ago, I got to enjoy the last event of my annual fiber-festival season: the Shenandoah Valley Fiber Festival. I love this homey little festival. It's been growing each year, but it still has an endearing small-time flavor that makes it special.

There are all kinds of fiber-bearing animals -- sheep, llamas, goats, alpacas, and fluffy rabbits -- to visit.

This little fellow seemed as curious about me as I was about him. He was probably wondering if I'd brought him any treats.

There are yarn shops, and spinning fibers, and knitted items, and felters, and weavers, and guilds, and farm goods like these beeswax candles, and Boy Scout cider.

On the drive to the festival, in late October, there was foliage afire with autumn color, and roadside pumpkins like this monster. 741 pounds, the sign said, and at the stand where I stopped there was a whole row of others like it. There was also barbecue that had been smoking outdoors since 6:00 that morning.

Saturday, the day I went, was an intermittently beautiful fall day, between downpours. And who cares about a few puddles? When it was raining, I sheltered in buildings full of vendors of magical fiber goods. (What was the problem again?) This display, for instance, of bright hand-painted boucle yarns from Dancing Leaf Farm couldn't help but dispel any gloom.

I wasn't a bit gloomy. And did I find myself some treats? Oh yes, you bet I did. This is why I've been concentrating on using up some of the yarn I already have stockpiled, so I can enjoy finding myself some new treasures.

My only regret? I didn't win the spinning wheel or the loom in the raffle. Guess I'll have to try for another year. :)

On the Bright Side

I do this because I love it. I do this because I love it. Just a couple more times, and I'll be convinced.

For our recent road trip, I needed some knitting to do. I was in a rush and needed to pick out a project quickly. (After that, I packed clothes. Most essential things first.)

I've been trying to use up some of the yarn already sitting around the house, and I had a pile of Patons Classic worsted-weight yarn in a pretty heathery color. I needed a skein of something basic to do homework for a class at Stitches last year, grabbed it from a local big-box store, and found I liked it. Rather than waste what was left over, I bought several skeins more so I could make something out of it. This seemed as good a time as any.

After a hurried flip through a couple of books and magazines, I settled on Opulent Raglan, from the Fall 2008 issue of KnitScene. That issue had several beautiful sweaters that are on my want-to-knit list. The particular one I picked is a top-down raglan by Wendy Bernard, with a big cable decoration down the front and 3/4 length sleeves with ruffled cuffs. I decided to make it with long sleeves instead.

Things went along smoothly as we drove around western North Carolina. It was pleasant, easy knitting for the car, and I had this much done by the time we got back.

I've generally knit sweaters in the typical bottom-up-and-seam style in the past, and it was interesting seeing a whole sweater emerging in my lap as I knit.

Since we got back, amongst spinning and sock-knitting and festival-going and a quick overnighter out of town, and Halloween, I've managed to get the rest done.

Taking full advantage of the top-down construction's try-on-ability to check the fit, I made some adjustments, and did some re-knitting here and there as needed. This morning, I confidently wove in the last of the ends, feeling very pleased to have it done, tried it on one more time in preparation for getting a good photo, and...

The sleeves aren't long enough. This isn't a knock on Wendy Bernard's pattern, of course, since I was modifying it for full-length sleeves. It was my own doing. I adjusted the sleeve length carefully as I went. I'm not sure trying it on while in progress worked in my favor. At that point, the neckline was a lot looser and deeper. What I failed to take into account is how much the last step of adding the neckband would tighten up and raise the whole works, sleeves and all.

So I'm not done. I have to rip out the belled cuffs, lengthen the sleeves, and re-knit them. On the bright side, the rest of the sweater is very nice. It could be worse. It's just the sleeves, after all.

I do this because I love it. I do this because I love it....