Survey of progress: the Norsk Strikkedesign sweater

About ten days ago, I sat down and resolved the question of what to do with the patterning at the shoulders on the Norsk Strikkedesign-inspired sweater. My thoughts were these:

  • I could run the pattern right up to the shoulder seams, but . . .
  • I’d placed the motifs differently on front and back, so the sweater would “read
    well” from both directions, which meant . . .
  • the patterns would
    not match at the shoulders at all.

So what I needed
was a patterning technique that would:

  • bridge
  • look good on each
    side, and
  • give a sense of
    intentional design to the whole.

Of course, I could
have left the shoulder areas blank . . . no patterning, just the blue
background . . . and it would have looked fine (to most people).
However, I look at this as a game. And I would probably think “cop
out!” every time I glanced at those shoulders.

I went back to the
Norsk Strikkedesign book for inspiration, which I found in the
cuffs of the sweater from which I’d unexpectedly taken my yoke
patterning. You won’t recognize my source material by the time I’m
done—I don’t either—but I wanted an idea to use as a launching
platform. Here it is:


In the original,
those single stitches are a third color. I just wanted the basic
bones of an idea and—so far—I plan to work in just two colors. As
I knit the yoke, I am pondering whether to add a few duplicate-stitch
accents later. I probably won’t know whether I think that’s a good
idea until I’m finished and add a couple as tests.

After I taped
together the shoulder areas of my front and back yoke charts—putting
the tape at the edges of the paper, outside the design area—I began
to draw in the strong single-stitch verticals of my inspiration
pattern. The most challenging bits of the front-to-back transition
are the motifs that are blue on the chart. (I’m working all my
knitted patterning in black-on-blue, but make the design units on the
charts different colors so it’s easier for me to keep track of where
I am while I knit.) Those blue motifs stick up toward the shoulder
and make it obvious that the patterning is offset from front to back.

Speaking of offset,
I already know that I am going to join my shoulders with a
three-needle bind-off, where each front stitch will be joined in line
with a back stitch. If I were going to use a kitchener stitch, which
offsets the joining edges by a half-stitch, what I came up with would
be less successful.

I wanted the
shoulder patterning to relate solidly to the motifs on the fronts and
back. So I began by sketching one of those strong vertical columns
directly above the point of each of my blue motifs (dark gray).

I looked
immediately for a useful repeat interval, and there it was: five
stitches between those two columns meant I could repeat my vertical
columns every three stitches across the shoulder area (add light gray). That was easy.
The repeat frequency also worked out nicely at the edges of each
shoulder (outside and neck), which I considered a nonessential bonus
and a sign that I was on the right track.


Now I needed to
figure out what else was going on . . . how these columns would have
finials; how I would move from one to the next; what this patterning
would be like, other than a row of vertical stripes across the
shoulder; and how the shoulder patterning would fit around the other
elements of the front-and-back patterns.

When I say “figure
out,” I don’t mean that I really thought much. I just began to
doodle with my pencil, filling in squares in ways that would make a
pattern on their own and would harmonize with (or at least not crash
into) the yoke patterning on either side. I did use the square-box
idea from my inspiration as I began to shape the finials of my new
pattern, and the single-stitch bits showed up as a final bit of
definition for my shoulder band.


Again, this is just two-color knitting. All of the brilliant stuff is to help me keep my place in the pattern while I draw and knit. Although sometimes it looks interesting enough for me to consider making another sweater with intarsia-defined color areas! Or, in this case, did until I added that obnoxious yellow.

Here’s the piece of the original
that shows up most directly in my doodle:


There are, of
course, two really long horizontal stretches of background-only stitches between the
body motif and the shoulder band. On the back, those stretches are 29
and 33 stitches long. On the front, they are “only” 24 and 26
stitches long.


Well, I’ve already
got a few 14-stitch spans in the lower pattern. How do I manage

For Fair Isle and
Scandinavian repeating-motif color-patterning, the rule of thumb is
to keep the gaps between color changes at or under 5 stitches. I
prefer to think of this in terms of gauge, and generally keep the
gaps (stranding intervals) under an inch (2.5 cm), ideally
at about a half-inch (1.25 cm). An inch is okay when I’m working at a
really bulky gauge, preferably with a nice wool that will
increasingly “grip” those floats as the sweater is worn. I really
hate to snag my fingers in a float, and I really love color work.

So . . . how to
deal with the likes of 14- and 24- and (gasp) 33-stitch intervals. .
. .

There’s probably
information about the techniques that I use somewhere on the web, but
that’s not where I picked them up. Realizing that causes me to think
about the value of the web for learning techniques (which is
astonishing and marvelous) and its limitations as well.

The advantages to
the web are that you can get instant gratification and, now, moving
images of the techniques in action. That’s very cool.

The disadvantage of
the web is that you don’t readily encounter (or I don’t) the whole of
an individual knitter’s approach to the craft, which gives you a
sense of how that person problem-solved . . . which can, in turn,
show you a pathway through which to discover your own approach to

This may not be
true for people who are using the web as a primary learning resource;
they may know their way around better than I do, or have a better
ability to put the scraps together into a philosophically integrated
series of concepts. But it’s definitely the case for me.

I learned a whole
lot about knitting by reading entire books and looking at an array of
different people’s designs and technical approaches. Knitting writers
whose global approaches have helped me evolve as a knitter, in no
order at all, include Elizabeth Zimmermann (my favorite book of hers,
early on, was Knitter’s Almanac, with which I spent time in
1974 and 1975), Jackie Fee, Deborah Newton, Debbie New, Priscilla
Gibson-Roberts (Knitting in the Old Way, second edition . . .
the first edition didn’t work for me at the detail level), Meg
Swansen, Anna Zilboorg, Montse Stanley . . . not by any means a
comprehensive or thorough list.

Anyway, I am using
two techniques here for my color work that I picked up from different
sources and at very different times in my knitting life.

From Jackie Fee’s
The Sweater Workshop (but the old edition), I acquired the idea of doing two-color
knitting with one color in each hand.

As an English-style
knitter, I usually hold the yarn in my right hand and throw it around the needle.

(I know, I know;
it’s far less efficient to knit English-style. And I can knit
continental style. I choose not to, under almost all circumstances, for two reasons: (1)
my grandmother taught me to knit this way many decades ago, and I
loved my grandmother, who is no longer around except in tiny ways
like this, and (2) if I knit continental-style for too long, like
more than about five minutes, my hands start to hurt. When I worked
at Interweave Press, several of us would—of course—knit during
staff meetings. Perhaps the greatest knitting-style contrast was
between me, poking along in English style, and Ann Budd, relaxed and
incredibly speedy in continental style. The only way to cope
psychologically with this on my part was to (1) marvel at and admire
Ann’s skill, which was easy—she’s a delight and so is her work, and
(2) breathe deeply and enjoy my own process for what it is . . .
mine. It does work, and has done so for decades. I’m a contented
knitter. What more can I ask for?)

Anyway, I knit
English-style by choice and preference. However, Jackie suggested
two-handed color knitting. So I hold one color in my right hand (and
throw it) and one in my left (and pick it). I did make her “fish
sweater,” the truly worthwhile technique-teaching oddity explained
in her book, and by the end of it I’d picked up several new tricks
that have stuck with me, including this one.

I’ve found, through
trial and error, that in most instances I get the best results if I
pick the background yarn from my left hand and throw the pattern
color with my right hand. In this case, “best” means that my
tension is most even and my pattern stitches show up most
effectively. The difference between when I hold the pattern in my
right hand and when I hold it in my left is both subtle and

I picked up the
second set of tricks that makes those long floats work from Priscilla
Gibson-Roberts’ Knitting in the Old Way while I was editing
and laying out the second edition. The first sweater I ever knitted,
which was in 1966 as far as I can remember, was a five-color
Norwegian ski sweater (instructions in Norwegian; help from a
yarn-shop owner, because I don’t read Norwegian). I’ve knitted a lot
of color work since. I didn’t pick up these techniques until, oh, it
must have been 2001 or 2002. Knitting continues to astonish me in its
variety, and I love learning new things about it. There’s an
incredible amount of great information in Knitting in the Old Way,
which I’ve picked up a bit at a time.

(Disclaimer: I
actually ended up as the publisher of this book. I just began as its
editor and layout artist. Life takes interesting and odd turns, some
of which require huge leaps of faith. I’m also listed as its
co-author, because I elaborated on enough chunks of information in
the long run that Priscilla told me to sign on for my contributions.
It’s still her book, through and through, although I can point to
specific parts, like the entrelac material on pages 283 to 291, that
I developed from brief mention into tutorial.)

Anyway, the
yarn-handling techniques I was mentioning are on page 132 of Knitting
in the Old Way
(for which the written shorthand around here is
KITOW). They revolutionized my color-knitting life. There’s one trick
for securing the left-hand yarn while you are working a stretch of
the right-hand color (lifting) and another trick for securing the
right-hand yarn while you are working a stretch of the left-hand
color (wrap, wrap, unwrap). You can use these techniques over as long
a stretch as you’d like. With practice, both movements become very
fluid and fast. The strands coming from the balls of yarn never
tangle or twist around each other.

For details, check the books
(I’m a huge fan of libraries).

Priscilla likes to
secure her floats every half-inch or so, which is what I aim for as
well. She holds the color she uses most frequently in her right hand
(usually the background), whereas I’ve explained that my work turns
out better if I hold the background strand in my left hand.

I also take the
time to position all the elements before I start: the pattern yarn is
on my right side and the background yarn on my left, with each ball
able to unwind freely. Not having to stop and unsnarl things makes
the knitting pleasant and keeps the tension more even. Whenever I
think I can skip this and just leave both balls in my knitting bag, I
end up slightly irritated, which is pointless.

So here’s what the inside of my sweater
looks like these days:


That funny bit in the middle? That’s
the inside of one of the steeks. There’s a raised line on either side
of it because I work one purl-stitch column at each edge of the
steek. (This may be a personal quirk, although I probably picked it
up from Priscilla . . . ah, yes, I did, page 120 of KITOW, but I
apply it all over the place, not just when I plan to add an I-cord
finish.) There are ends of yarn dangling in and around the steek
because I start and stop colors, and connect new balls of yarn, in
the middles of steeks. Also, if I’m going to have more than three
stitches of the same color in a row at the edges of a steek,
including the steek stitches in that count, I do an extra lift or
wrap to secure the second color just before or after the steek.

That’s a lot of talk. I’m knitting
about two rows on the sweater every day, which isn’t a lot but the
upper body is steadily growing. Today I’ve used my knitting time to
write, though, so it’s time to make at least one token stitch.


1 thought on “Survey of progress: the Norsk Strikkedesign sweater”

  1. I really enjoy getting to sit on the sidelines and watch you problem solve the design of this sweater. It is so wonderful to get to be inside a designers head!

    As for the English/Continental – I’m English too for more or less the same reasons you mentioned. But, both A and I have been mistaken for being Continental just because of the speed we can get. English isn’t always so slow as they like to say.

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