knit, Swirl—my version

posted in: Books, Knitting | 21

Sandra McIver has recently published a wonderful (and beautiful) book of knitting patterns focusing on a concept she calls the Swirl. There have been a couple of other sweater designs drifting around that put similar ideas onto the needles, but compare the constructions and implementations and you will discover that Sandra's gone for the gold, wrapped it up, and taken it home with knit, Swirl.

As I'm wrapped up in the Swirl that I made from one of Sandra's designs. It's not quite finished in these photos, but close enough. I wore it (happily) in this state before I put the final touches on. (That's Ceilidh on the right side of the photo.)

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The garment is comfortable enough that it feels like something I could wear anywhere, but it has a good deal more elegance than my usual wardrobe—a quality that's obvious from the back.

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The pattern of Sandra's that I worked is called Strata Sphere. The original was made in Noro Silk Garden, and as the book says, "While the color work in Strata Sphere appears intricate at first glance, one yarn does it all." Swirls are, indeed, a perfect place to use variegated yarns.

My version, on the other hand, incorporates several different yarns. They were all Brown Sheep Lamb's Pride, which fits a similar gauge. I began with colors in my stash, including the hand-dyed version with the bright green that's around the edges. I bought that skein as a one-off sample at the Brown Sheep factory, and it became the "key" for my color combining, the color range I wanted to highlight. I also used Deep Pine, Pine (discontinued, but I had some), a frosted navy that I can't find on the color chart (came from my stash), Forest Shadows (a shaded green), and Ocean Waves, the shaded blue that became the color that held it all together. I used a few other colors that I don't remember, in smaller amounts.

It is a lot easier to just use one yarn! Nonetheless, I got a huge kick out of working out my sequences and deciding which colors to put where so that there's both unity and variety. I designed my color placement as I went, and would happily do so again.

Sandra gave me one tip before I started. Swirls are constructed in welts. She said not to change colors at the changing points between the welts. I thought with the many yarns I was using and the variegations in most of them I could get away with changing at welt shifts (since the purl bumps showing up on the reverse side would just pixelate the transition points, which were multicolored anyway). However, Sandra was right, and after knitting the first several welts I ripped back to round 5 and began again, always shifting colors at least one row away from the welt transitions. (Sandra has thought through every detail of these garments. If she says to work the first three rows flat before joining to work in the round, she has a reason.)

As is my long-ingrained habit, I changed yarns at the beginnings and ends of rows, not in their middles. On another multi-yarn Swirl, I might play with staggering the change points at many different locations within the rounds or rows. The change points weren't an issue in the body of the garment, but when I got to the sleeves and bodice, worked back and forth, I was changing so often that the joins create a little extra bulk at the edges of the fabric. (The yarn I was using was singles. Feathering the ends to overlap them was more tedium than I was willing to put up with.) A year from now, I won't even notice this, but it's enough at this moment to make me consider a refinement in my technique.

Then again, my next Swirl may be solid-colored, just because!

Let's talk a little about the concept and structure. Sandra explains "What is a Swirl?" on her website, where you can also see the wide range of garments presented in the book, worked in different fibers and weights of yarn.

There are two basic shapes: circle and oval. There are two positions for the bodice and sleeves: centered and off-center. Put these together and you have four silhouettes: circle/centered, oval/centered, circle/off-center, and oval/off-center. They have different amounts of shawl collar and body length. Some have narrower sleeves than others, to better fit different body types. In fact, however, almost everyone can put on a Swirl and find that it works. Selecting the ideal silhouette is a matter of refinement.

I'm going to let two other folks' descriptions of the concept complete this discussion, rather than repeat what they've already done extremely well.

I'll just point out that Strata Sphere, the pattern I followed exactly except for my yarn substitutions, is an oval with an off-center position for bodice and sleeves. Here's the lovely blob that I made, complete except for blocking and sewing the one seam (and working in a few of my ends).

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While friends were out of town, I borrowed their living-room floor to block the fabric. My house is full of boxes of fiber. This is the main portion of the fabric with blocking wires in place.

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And then I spread out the sleeves and bodice and patted them into position to dry. Yes, part of that lefthand sleeve is under the couch.

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That last picture shows the rhythm of my color placement. I had only the one skein of the multicolored yarn with the bright green, so I spaced it out with other colors. I saved pieces of some colors to use in the sleeves, to bring things back together. I was running out of Pine and could only find Dark Pine, so I saved back a bit of the original color to work in among rows of its darker relative, which appears only in the sleeves. I used the Ocean Waves as a dominant color. It looks like the entire center was knitted in Ocean Waves, but there are other colors of similar value worked in there just to keep the interplay between all the colors going. 

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There are a number of ways to wear the finished garment. It can be loose, as in the photos above, or higher on the neck and shoulders, as at right, fastened with a shawl pin.

As another alternative, it can be worn upside down, also held in place with a shawl pin, although I don't have a photo of that version. Worn that way, it ends up looking like a just-past-waist-length jacket with a matching cape (or extra-huge shawl collar). There are two luxurious layers of wool around the whole torso. It would be very snuggly for winter. What I think of as the "regular" version is great in our climate for spring, fall, winter, and air-conditioned summer.

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Last year, while I was working hard on some of the last stages of the book project, I searched for an engaging and calming but not boring project. The design I decided to make ended up as a useful sweater, and it was not boring, but it was also nothing like calming.

THIS was the project that I needed.

It is very simple in construction. It requires that the knitter know how to knit, purl, decrease (no need for mirrored decreases), cast on, cast off, and keep track of the number of rounds in each welt (not a difficult task). And when it's done, there is that one seam. Perfect seaming is not required.

Yet it is NOT boring, even if you don't play the color games that I did. It's a superb project to have in the works for when you Just Want to Knit. It does require a lot of yarn (consider stash-busting), and it is not great for travel knitting because of its bulk. It is a good travel garment once it's done. I can even wear my backpack over it. The hardest part is casting on the first row and getting the stitch count right. There's a lot of knitting involved, so it lasts a while (although I am not a particularly fast knitter and I completed the body in a week of evenings). It would be a great project for buddying-up and doing a knit-along with friends.

I'll be making another one, changing the silhouette, yarn, and colors. It was fun, and it was satisfying, and it's a versatile addition to my wardrobe. WIN, WIN, WIN.

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21 Responses

  1. L.M. Cunningham

    Ah! Having seen the knitting in progress, I’m especially happy to see your blocking shots. It would be very useful as a travel item in a nice grey or brown to co-ordinate with a compact wardrobe.

    (Oh good, another book to put on my list….)

  2. Deborah Robson

    Linda, yes, didn’t it turn out nicely? I’m glad you liked the blocking shots. A friend of mine (JC Briar) made an exquisite variation in tones of gray, from like to very-near-black. A single-value version would be even more versatile for most travel. I’m eyeing some fingering-weight alpaca I have here that is variegated but within a close value range.

  3. L.M. Cunningham

    I’ve got that nice grey fleece I was spinning for the TdF last year that was going to become a vest for D. that obviously isn’t any more — not enough for a whole Swirl, but with the addition of either a commercial or handspun yarn, would be really lovely.

    You’re such a baaaaaaaaad influence! 😉

  4. Linda Vining

    It’s beautiful. I’d like to try one. If I didn’t already know how intently observant of detail you are by nature, I would think that this is hard to make. It’s not, is it?

  5. Deborah Robson

    Thank you all for looking and commenting! I look forward to seeing what comes of my (baaaaad) influence. . . .

    Linda Vining, no, it is not hard to make. Getting the first cast-on counted out and the first few welts done takes some concentration, because it does begin with the circumference, which is the maximum number of stitches that will be involved in a round. I did rip back about six welts when I revised my idea of how to change colors–and reserved the first couple of welts (including the cast-on), so I only did that bit once.

    Once it’s rolling, it’s addictive. I’d keep doing “just one more welt,” which is a good sign. And because each welt is smaller than the last, the welts kept going faster.

    StephCat, I’d knit the Strata Sphere again. I don’t know if I’ll be able to avoid the temptation to try a different version, but this one is pulling me hard to be invented in another set of colors (that I *have*).

    Linda Cunningham, I think this would be a perfect project for that yarn. There is something about the spiral that reminds me of meditative labyrinths: this spiral does not double back on itself as they do (unless you consider the shaping of the opening a doubling back, which one might), but it has much the same feeling.

  6. Cathy

    How snuggly that looks – especially on this cool drizzly June day!

    I’m thinking another Shetland sampler…

  7. Deborah Robson

    Cathy, I keep contemplating a sampler. The idea hasn’t firmed up yet, while other ideas are jostling for front-and-center. With your Shetlands, you’re ideally situated to carry that one forward.

  8. Deb Robson

    Kathryn, the circle and oval silhouettes have slightly different shapes in the back because the bias operates a little differently, but both are lovely. This, as I mentioned, is the oval: its back hem is flat across. The circles have slightly pointed hems at the center back.

  9. Barbro

    It’s beautiful, and I love the color! I suppose it would be quite easy to change into a swirl for small, round person like me :))

  10. Deborah Robson

    Barbro, Sandra guided me toward the oval/off-center because I’m tall. You could likely put it on and waltz off in it, although it would be more coat-length on you. It’s amazing how nice these garments look on whoever wears them.

    You might be happiest, for your first foray into the Swirl world, with one of the circles. They’re not as long overall. The ones with off-center bodice/sleeve constructions still have some length to them. The ones with center bodice/sleeve constructions are shorter overall and have big shawl collars.

    Wish you were right here to try this one on!

  11. Freyalyn

    I went and looked these things up after your previous mention, and this post only reinforces my need to track the book down (Woolfest this weekend, perhaps one of the booksellers might have got them over here already) and start knitting. I’m already thinking about yarn…

  12. Caroline

    Everyone I know is buzzing over these. I hate big shawl collars but maybe there’s a way around that… yours is lovely and the colors complement you!

  13. Kris

    Okay, now we KNOW you’re superwoman! First the incredible, beautiful, amazing book, and meanwhile you’ve turned out this…obviously, you never sleep, eat, breathe, or anything else we mere mortals do–AND you have Hermoine’s Time Turner!

  14. gayle

    The only downside to owning this book that I can see is deciding which sweater to make first…
    Yours is so lovely!

  15. Deb Robson

    Indeed, Gayle, deciding is a problem. I'm muddling about what to do for my next version. Fortunately, contemplation is enjoyable.

    The sleeves are wider (more dolman-esque) on the circles, more fitted on the ovals. The ones with centered openings have broader shawl colors, in both profiles. They all look great on (I've tried a number of silhouettes and sizes and haven't tried one yet that I wouldn't be willing to walk off with and put in my wardrobe.)

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