Recently in Sweater Retrospectives Category

Not all my retrospectives are going to hape happy endings -- at least not for the sweater.  Today I'm going to share the story of my Banff.  Banff was one of the "it" sweaters for winter 2003-2004.  Published in Knitty, it seemed like just everyone whose blog I read was making this sweater.  I was more easily lured onto the bandwagon back then and knew a lot less about my own sweater preferences, needs and necessities and got seduced by both the pattern and the idea of knitting it in Manos del Uruguay

Less than a year later, this sweater had gone from a darling to a drag, and ended up on my "rip list".  Yet nothing happened until yesterday, mostly because of laziness and because it's just kind of hard for production knitter me to rip out something I spent hours on. 

Why was my Banff (click the link to see my gallery and my less that flattering look in this sweater) such a failure for me when it was such a hit for so many people? 

  1. The yarn and the sweater were not a good match in the gauge stated.  Manos is a singles yarn spun thick and thin, but mostly loose and soft.  Knit at the gauge the project called for, it made a nice fabric, but without a firm gauge, this yarn fuzzes and pills like crazy if it is so much as rubbed against anything -- like, say, one's office desk when one is working on the computer.  This sweater looked shabby after the second wearing. 
  2. Oversized is good on some folks, but I am now convinced that it is not a good look on me.  Especially when combined with the proportions of this sweater.  The pattern is stated to have 12 to 16 inches of ease on an average person.   That's a lot of ease for a sweater that length-wise is geared more towards what I would consider "petite" sizing (at least in the US market).  Put them together... too wide and too short for me.  Not a flattering look.  And, at the time, I was one of those optimistic knitters who just trusted the pattern and rolled with it.  I think the folks who were successful with this pattern were smart enough to adjust it to both lengthen it out and narrow it up a little bit.
  3. I love turtleneck collars, but wool (no matter how soft) and turtleneck and I do not go together.  I just start itching like crazy (I'm not wool-allergic, but I can't tolerate much around my neck area that isn't completely smooth -- so far only cotton and silk seem to work for me).  So this sweater always had to be worn over a cotton turtleneck -- which only emphasized the bulkiness issues.
This is one of those projects that taught me (long in retrospect) that I needed to evaluate pattern sizing and schematics carefully and not be drawn into knitting projects just 'cause everyone else thought they were cool -- unless I had the moxie to modify them to suit my needs*.  And, although there are exceptions to this rule, most of the time, sweaters in bulkier weight yarns just don't work very well for me. 

Clearly, though, I was content to let this sweater sit in a drawer for quite sometime.  What got me to pull it out and recycle it today?  The Piping Hot Pillows in Weaving Made Easy: 17 Projects Using a Simple Loom by Liz Gipson.  They are simple plain weave pillows with a woven piping edge.  And they are woven using two colors of Manos del Uruguay.

Now, I have some Manos in the stash, even in contrasting colors that look good together, but probably not enough for more than one pillow -- and I was thinking that having two or three of these pillows to decorate my bed or couch with would really be nice.  And there was only one way I could get my hands on 2-3 pillows' worth of yarn without exercising my credit card:  recycling Banff.  The Piping Hot Pillows look to be woven at a density that won't irritate the fuzzing issues further, and, even better, they are fulled before being assembled, which should also help keep the yarn from getting really abused looking should the pillows actually get used.    I will miss not having multiple colorways in the pillows, but I think that the variations that derive from the kettle dyeing of this yarn will help to create a little more depth in the fabric.

So I got out my ball winder and my swift (if there are any two tools that are more valuable to someone who likes to work with fiber, I don't know what they are!), picked apart Banff's seams and reclaimed 7 skeins of "Thistle" Manos by winding directly from the sweater onto my ballwinder to create center pull balls.

20090315_BallsofBanff.jpgWith a little help from my swift (attach the center pull tail and then rotate manually), I turned these into hanks.

20090315_HanksOfBanff.jpgUsed yarn is always an interesting creature to me... so sproingy.  I choke tied (with a figure eight tie) each of the hanks before taking them for a warm swim in my bath tub with a little Eucalan.  Pleasantly enough, there was no observable bleeding into the water -- a good thing for a item that's likely going to be against skin and clothing.

The yarn is now hanging to dry after it's relaxing and kink-removing bath.  Next stop: weighing and warping.

* I'd like to take a moment to emphasize that I am not dissing this sweater, it's designer or it's design.  It just wasn't the design for me. 

More cold weather in Chicago and more frantic digging in my chests of drawers to find things that keep me warm and make me feel good.  Out popped another Silk Garden Sweater.

20081207_DBScoopNeckRetro2.jpgThis sweater is Debbie Bliss' Scoop Neck Cardigan from Noro #1 knit in Noro Silk Garden colorway #71.  This sweater was finished in the fall of 2003 for the next winter season after the raglan Silk Garden pullover that I talked about in my last retrospective.  While it's a lovely sweater, it really doesn't get the same love and appreciation that the pull over gets, even though I love the scoop neck and the sweet crocheted edging.

Why?  Well, "popping" out of drawers isn't the only kind of popping this sweater does.  It has a lot of buttons (which is one of the details I love).  Unfortunately, I picked buttons just a touch too small for the loops and this very fitted cardigan pops open more often than I like.  On the positive side, lazy finisher that I am, I never actually sewed the buttons down (I used button safety pins instead) so probably all I need to do to move this sweater into more regular rotation is to get some bigger buttons.  I love it when it's so easy to fix my mistakes.

20081207_DBScoopNeckRetro.jpgThe other thing that makes this sweater a little less useful is how cropped it is.  I'm pretty short waisted, and if it looks cropped on me, then you know it's meant to be cropped.  And for going to work in the winter, I generally prefer sweaters that cover my entire midriff.  Especially post-baby.

Given how early on in my sweater making career I knit this garment, I'm still very happy with it overall.  But there are some definite learning experiences here, in particular that I like my sweaters to fall below the belt line.  At the time, I had no concept of how to modify patterns, but if I were to make this sweater now, I'd order a bit more yarn and lengthen it.  Given that it's knit so the stripes run vertically instead of horizontally, that would have been trivial to do without altering almost any of the shaping instructions.

So there you have it.  Two Silk Garden sweaters, I love the yarn for both, but one sweater turns out to be much more utilitarian than the other.  Which leads me to another conclusion: special purpose sweaters get much less wear.  No doubt something that will come up again in future retrospective segments.

Noro Raglan Sweater Redux


I've been blogging since the fall of 2002.  Six years gives you the time to make a lot of knitted projects.  It also gives you a fair amount of time to live with and test drive garments to determine which ones actually do stand the test of time for you and which ones made little contribution to your life other than to be interesting when you made them.  Since winter is here again, and winter gets me to root around in my drawers and under-bed containers for warmer garments, I thought it would be the perfect time to talk about and celebrate the sweaters that have really withstood the test of time for me.

The first sweater in this line up is probably my all time favorite hand-knit by me sweater ever.  It's first photo shoot was weak (and in the dark of winter) so I decided that, 5 years later, it would get another chance.  Which is only fitting since the photography chez Keyboard Biologist has gotten much better and this sweater hardly appears to have aged at all.

20081125_NoroSweater1.jpgI first "FO'd" this sweater in early February, 2003.  The pattern is by Debbie Bliss, it's called, very descriptively "Raglan Sweater with Cable Detail" and is from Noro 1 (which appears to be out of print).  It's a very simple pattern: raglan sleeves with a cable detail, roll neck collar sweater bottom and unembellished cuffs.  I knit the sweater using Noro Silk Garden, Colorway #7 (which has long since been discontinued... I think when I got the yarn, I got it on sale for that reason -- a shame because it's a fab colorway).

20081125_NoroSweater2.jpgThere is absolutely nothing complicated about this sweater.  If I remember correctly, the big learning experience for me with this sweater was learning how to mattress stitch seams instead of backstitching them (which was the only thing I knew up to that point).  It took a lot of inertia to overcome some of the intial problems I had figuring that out, but once I did, I've never looked back.  I don't think I've backstitched a single sweater seam since then.

20081125_NoroSweater3.jpgWhat makes this sweater such a staple item for me?
  • First and foremost, it's warm.  Silk Garden is a blend of wool, mohair and silk -- silk and mohair are both fibers that excel at providing a lot of insulation for relatively little weight.  With a nice turtleneck, this sweater can head outside on it's own in 40 degree weather. 
  • Second, and almost as important, this yarn wears like iron.  Once again, you can thank the mohair and the silk.  Neither of these fibers pill because they are generally very long staple fibers and both are very durable fibers.  This sweater loosened up a little when I washed it the first time, but other than that the yarn looks just as good now as it did when I first knit it.  I don't really need any more yarn right now, but I've been considering another Silk Garden sweater just based on the warmth and wear characteristics. 
  • Third, it's an easy to wear shape.  The raglan sleeves make it fit comfortably and it has side shaping so it doesn't look like a sack.  I can wear it to work, I can wear it at home and it's even been worn out to some mildly dressy events.  It's got enough ease so that it goes easily over other layering pieces and the loose rollneck doesn't bind or set my itching radar wild (I am incredibly intolerant of most wool or animal based fibers near my neck -- even some cashmeres send me into a frenzy of scratching).
  • Fourth: color, color, color.  Jewel tones with blue undertones have always been my friends.  I would love to say that when I got this yarn I purchased it knowing that, but in fact, I just thought the yarn was pretty. 
  • Fifth and finally, striping serendipity.  While I did try to start the sweater pieces in the same place in the color progression for all the pieces, it was harder to do than I thought it would be.  In the end, it was sheer luck that the stripes on the sleeves seem to match up  almost exactly with the stripes on the front of the sweater.  The back and the front don't really match up at all, and since I don't see the back when I am wearing it, it doesn't bother me much -- not to mention that it helps me remember which way round to wear the sweater!

I think that about sums it up: warm, hard wearing, well shaped, flattering colors and serendipitous striping.  It's hard to ask much more from a sweater.  Interestingly enough, this is probably the only sweater in my wardrobe that has also evoked questions about where I got it ("er, I made it") and whether I would knit one for someone else (a question that led to respectful silence when I told him the cost of the yarn).

Happy almost 5th Birthday, raglan sweater.  Thank you for keeping me warm and happy.  I look forward to many more winters with you