Chenille sweater progress

posted in: Books, Knitting, Serendipity | 3

I haven’t talked much about one of my knitting projects, although I’ve mentioned it and shown it in the background of several photos where it seemed to fit. It’s a sweater for my acupuncturist, who is allergic to animal fibers but needs something warm and soft and has a hard time finding garments that fit. She’s quite small.

It took about a year to come up with a yarn that she liked. I have a lot of swatches. We ended up with Crystal Palace Cotton Chenille. She wanted gold or a warm brown, neither of which is a color that would look good on me!

The sweater she has requested is almost too basic for words. But that’s what she wants, so that’s what I’m making. It’s true that it will be an extremely versatile garment that will go with many of her other clothes. She has low vision and I imagine the solid, warm color and lovely, cosy texture of the chenille fabric will be more pleasing to her than any knitting pyrotechnics I might devise.

So it’s a simple drop-shoulder structure, with some bound-off stitches at the bottoms of the armholes. This is called "sweater with square armholes" in Priscilla Gibson-Roberts’ Knitting in the Old Way. It’s sometimes called modified drop-shoulder or peasant sleeve shaping.
It’s a minor modification of a regular drop-shoulder sweater. The construction is described in the worksheets for projects 11 and 12 of Donna DruchunasEthnic Knitting Discovery.

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Binding off a few stitches at the base of the armhole not only sets the sleeves into the body a bit but makes the shoulders narrower. For a person of small stature who wears fairly trim clothes, this seemed like a good idea. (I offered any kind of sleeve she wanted, from drop-shoulder to set-in and everything in between, but she chose drop-shoulder. I chose to modify.) There’s no shaping in the armholes other than that straight-across bind-off of about an inch (2.5 cm) of stitches at the base. The fabric above is curling in a bit on the front piece at the left in the photo, which actually isn’t shaped at the armhole (the front edge is a V-neck and is shaped, of course!). The front piece that’s attached to the right is folded back underneath.

Obviously, I’m making a cardigan. I’m working the body back and forth in one piece. This is described in chapter 8 of Priscilla’s Knitting in the Old Way and converting a pullover concept to a cardigan will be detailed with step-by-step worksheets in Donna Druchunas’ second ethnic knitting book, Ethnic Knitting Exploration (October 2008; one of my other major tasks right now is working on its editing and layout).

Here’s the same arrangement as in the photo above, only flopped over to show the other side.

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(Correct: those are different needles in the two unjoined shoulder sections. One’s wooden and
one’s plastic resin; I’ve also used steel and bamboo circulars on this
project—whatever was handy and in the right size. Oh, and one of my grandmother’s crochet hooks, which happened to be the right size. That hook has good karma.)

Many (maybe most) modified drop-shoulder sweaters don’t have shaped shoulder lines. I wanted a bit of a natural slope to the shoulders on this sweater, so I divided each shoulder into almost-equal thirds (the stitch count wasn’t divisible by 3, so +/- one stitch in each section) and worked short rows: knit from neck edge to second marker, turn and go back; knit from neck edge to first marker, turn and go back.

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As a bonus, I got a slightly lowered back neckline, which I also like.

Sometimes I’m amazed at how simple changes can affect a piece of knitting so profoundly. Here’s the basic structure of the sweater body—€”not much to it, is there?

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This is a challenging sweater for me because it’s almost all stockinette. I have trouble staying awake while working on it, although we’ve watched a few movies and that helps. I’m also being lazy and inattentive because it’s only 4 stitches to the inch (2.5 cm). I had to knit the front pieces above the armholes twice because I dozed off while knitting, and a couple of days ago I ripped the sleeves (which were finished) back to the cuff because when I temporarily attached them to the body I didn’t like the way they looked. I’m using a different increase sequence the second time.

The only technically interesting thing in this sweater is that the edges (cuffs, lower edge) are crocheted. The recipient doesn’t want ribbing, but obviously the edges need to lie
flat or in years to come the knitter will wake up in the middle of the night, jolted into insomnia by dream images of ugly finishing. I’ve had to work hard not to be a perfectionist, but even after years of practice at eschewing perfectionism (which is, after all, what machines are good for and humans are incapable of, no matter how they try) I know I have limits of imperfection that I can tolerate.

There were lots of
solutions to the problem, but I like this one and will use it again. I borrowed the technique from traditional sweaters from Korsnas, a Swedish-speaking part of Finland, although the knit-crochet combination looks really different (almost unrecognizable) when worked in a single color of cotton chenille yarn. . . .

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I’ve got to share a gorgeous Fana-inspired cardigan I just noticed on Ruthless Knitting.

Sometimes I wonder why I sit in my basement for long hours almost every day, editing and laying out and checking and producing and publishing books on traditional fiber knowledge (there’ll be a post on Thursday 2/7 that talks a bit more about answers to this question). Especially when I know that those books will never be perfect (I aim for "excellent," which is at least possible) and I have to work other jobs to support my publishing habit.

Then I come across a post like the one I’ve linked to that shows and describes a gorgeous sweater and the knitter’s process in making it. When I saw that post, it brought tears to my eyes and I knew exactly why I stay at the computer, moving pixels around, until the information can get out there so inspired and courageous knitters can do something like this.

I love the way she worked herself into and out of corners throughout the project. That’s the way I work. Dang, it’s fun.

Except when I fall asleep (while still knitting) during the stockinette portions and have to rip.

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Meanwhile, the car is going to get a test today for one of its selection criteria: managing snow. We’d already shoveled twice by 10 a.m. [Addendum: three times by noon. The photo was taken about 8 a.m.]

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P.S. New car likes snow.

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3 Responses

  1. I’m flattered by your comments on my Fana sweater and glad to have been able to provide a bit of inspiration when you needed it. Your chenille sweater looks like it will be simple and lovely. For years, my grandmother knit sweaters for a small woman who liked high-fashion garments but had trouble finding things to fit. Grandma always enjoyed those projects because she got to work with interesting patterns and fancier yarns. 😉

  2. Well thank goodness the car likes the snow! What if it wanted to move to Kentucky!? We’ve had no snow to speak of. Just your photo makes me jealous.

    I find great beauty in simplicity and therefore, think your chenille is a true work of art and love. Of course, that Fana sweater is nothing to sneeze at, either! Amazing.

    I’m currently in love with my zafu inventions (round cushions) but as I’ve made two already this week, I need to get back to knitting sleeves and finishing the sweater I started. Sometimes even knitting gets dull. 🙂

  3. Deb,
    As you know, I’m no knitter of yarns, except with words…but I recall so clearly all the knitting going on around me growing up.

    I love your display of the sweater against what I take to be your rug? The colors contrast so perfectly and make me want to rush on over to feel that chenille sweater up. Must be heaven to work with.

    Janet Riehl
    http://www.riehlife.com

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