Tuesday, October 12, 2010

In which I knit a purple stook

On Friday I promised pics of the project I finished last week, and pics you shall have.

It all started last September (last year, not last month), when Rachel, Erin, Patti, and I went on our infamous road trip to the Kitchener-Waterloo Knitter's Fair. Despite promises made beforehand—foolish promises in hindsight, such as "I won't spend more than the amount of cash I have in my wallet" and "No Visa for me, no sirree, not this time!"—we staggered out of the place at the end of the day, laden with bags of wool of all description.

One of my best hauls that day was something I can only describe as a giant purple woolen stook. (You know, a stook: those bundles of wheat you used to see in farmers' fields, before the advent of the mechanical hay baler.)

My stook, however, was purple, and woolly. It was, in fact, made up of 10 plump skeins of Manos del Uruguay Wool Clasica, tied together top and bottom, which I purchased from the Purple Purl booth at some ridiculously low price. I had no idea what I wanted to make with it, but that much Manos at that price? No way I was walking out of there and leaving it behind.

Fast forward 11 months, and suddenly one afternoon—bing!—just like that, I knew what the purple Manos stook needed to be.

A sweater. A big warm hug of a sweater, which I would knit from the top down and make as long as I could, to keep me cosy as fall set in. It would be plain, but not boring; and it would neatly sidestep some of the issues I've had with top-down sweaters in the past.

For starters, top-down raglan sleeves: made as usually writ, they tend to billow out into massive swathes of fabric by the time the seams are long enough to join at the underarm.

But not if you increase on either side of the raglan every second row, until you're halfway to where you think you'll want to join for the armpit; then you start increasing every fourth row instead.

The result is a neater-looking raglan, and much less fabric where you don't necessarily want it.

Then there's the issue of the saggy, droopy neckline. One problem with top-down anything, really, is that because it lacks seams, it can also lack structural stability. Seams, it turns out, are often not just put there at the whim of the designer; they're there to do a job. They lend stability and strength to the garment's architecture, which can be vital, especially when the garment is made of rather heavy wool that would really like to succumb to gravity.

But just because a garment is seamless doesn't mean it is doomed to twist and sag out of shape. I added a bit of structural stability to the neckline/collar, using the old "crochet along the inside of the collar" trick. Can you see it? Nope, neither can I. But it's there, and it's working very nicely.

The third challenge I overcame had to do more with the process of knitting. Viz., that knitting sleeves in situ in the round on a rather large and heavy sweater can be a royal pain in the tuches.

If you've ever done it, you'll know what I mean: as you knit in the round, you keep turning your work in the same direction, and after a few turns (I believe the exact number may be determined scientifically: the number of turns will be inversely proportional to the weight and bulk of the sweater you're knitting) the sleeve twists itself so tightly that you must pick up the entire project and unwind it. Only to find that a few rows later the sleeve is twisted up tight again, and so on. I've heard people recommend remedies like placing the garment in a pillowcase to make it easier to pick up and untwist; others just knit the sleeves separately, and graft them on using the Kitchener stitch.

But! You can avoid the whole issue if you can figure out how do do Magic Loop on circs. Using that method, you're basically just working back and forth, turning your work first clockwise, then counter-clockwise, then back again. And the issue of untwisting a giant recalcitrant mass of sweater just simply...vanishes.

In any case, here's the finished result:

It's warm, it's comfy, and I've been wearing it pretty much non-stop all weekend.

You'll note that I kind of fudged the whole question of buttons, and have been substituting a fancified safety pin that I scavenged from a store-bought sweater last year; I may yet change my mind on that, and add some wooden buttons. No promises yet.

I kind of like the insouciant, devil-may-care attitude of the pin, don't you?


Northmoon said...

Beautiful sweater, love the pin too. Did you do any waist shaping?

Karen said...

Oh--should have mentioned that. Yes, I did do waist shaping. In fact, I did some short-row bust shaping, a few inches of decreases for the waist; then I did a few more inches of increases once I was past the waist. Not super-shaped, but not boxy, either.

geekknitter said...

Oh, now that is just lovely!

kmkat said...

What a great sweater, and what a great use of that gorgeous yarn!

I don't understand what you mean about Magic Loop going back and forth. ML, which I use exclusively, is a way of knitting any diameter object in the round on circs... in the round, not back and forth. What am I missing?

I just finished (almost, still needs a neck band and to be hemmed) a top-down raglan pullover. I knit the sleeves first (ML, natch) b/c it would be such a drag to have knit that h-u-g-e body and still have to face knitting the sleeves. When I was knitting the body I tucked the sleeves inside it to make the whole thing less octopus-like and easier to handle.

Karen said...

kmkat, I don't mean that in Magic Loop you knit back and forth, exactly...more that I knit from one side, then turn the work and knit the other side; then I turn it back to knit on Side A again, etc. Does that make sense?

Kathleen Taylor said...

Love love love the sweater! And I love the raglan bulk solution. Twisting entire sweaters around while knitting sleeves is such a pain that I no longer knit Fair Isle sweaters by picking up the stitches at the armhole. I would much rather sew them in afterwards, and not haul the whole thing everywhere I go.