Go Your Own Way

Dear Knitters,

Sometimes customers come into the shop and say they haven’t knitted in years, or they’re brand new, or they just knit hats. They almost seem apologetic or embarrassed so I ask them if they’re enjoying what they’re doing. Let's face it, a hobby isn’t fun unless we do it for ourselves. Knitting isn’t a competitive sport.

You can go your own way. Knit whatever you want. If knitting the same few patterns or recipes makes you happy, do that. It’s your hobby and your time. If you and I meet and knit together, I will be as delighted with your simple project as your Fair Isle work of wonder. The important part of knitting to me is the benefit of a satisfying hobby.

I go by spells where I want to try a technique or a garment I haven’t tackled before. Fair Isle was a flash in the pan that didn’t stick. Same for entrelac, though I may revisit that sometime in the future. What do you think about sweaters? Have you knitted a million? Half of one? And did you use a pattern? I did, the first time I made a sweater, and I believe that was my problem. If sweaters challenge you as well, here's a different way to tackle them.

i call it 'sweater on a harp' in mixed media. Very wearable, a little out of tune.

i call it 'sweater on a harp' in mixed media. Very wearable, a little out of tune.

Let me say that first project was a perfectly fine sweater pattern, Moriah’s Wildflower by Green Mountain Spinnery. I don't have a picture of it because I gave it away. I fought that thing tooth and nail. I couldn’t get the gauge, I hated the seaming, I frogged, I gritted my teeth, I’m sure I used very (very!) foul language. I finally finished it, sewed the buttons on and realized I had sewn them to both sides. Couldn’t unbutton it. It remained a pullover. I never wore it.

There was nothing wrong with the pattern but I had never made a sweater. I didn’t like the gauge once I got close to what was required. The fabric felt too loose, too drapey. The pattern was bottom up and I hadn’t been careful enough when I checked my progress so it ended up being too short. Disaster. My lack of experience actually made using a pattern unwise. I didn’t have the tips and tricks I know now.

my first design. boxy and comfy in peace fleece dk

my first design. boxy and comfy in peace fleece dk

When I had to design a sweater for school several years later, I had to admit I was over my head. I found mentors and had enough help that I could dig deep into sweater construction. I could exercise more patience as I delved deeper into yarn weight and gauge. I designed a sweater without seams. Top down still intimidated me, who knows why, so I worked from the ground up. Using a technique I learned from Carol Feller, I picked up the stitches around the arm holes, building the sleeve cap with short rows.  I made two in my size to double-check my instructions and had the other sizes tested by Ravelry testers. When it was over and my degree was safely plopped on my desk, I settled down to to a long break from sweaters. I learned so much during the design process that I figured I’d never want to use anyone else’s pattern. Part of that is because I’m built like a spark plug.

I’m under average height and carry the curves of a not-model. My arms are below average length and meaty. Tell me, who designs with me in mind? Yeah, nobody. I didn’t want to fight with gauge (I’m a tight knitter - do I say that in every blog post?), and it was a little demoralizing to have to rework every pattern to fit my shape while accommodating my gauge preference. Then I discovered Barbara Walker. Back in 1972 she published a book, “Knitting from the Top,” (http://www.schoolhousepress.com/books/knitting-from-the-top.html), filled with recipes for how to make garments that fit any particular body. Talk about going your own way. I decided to give sweaters another go and I’m so glad I did.

A random sampling of my favorites, all made without a pattern

A random sampling of my favorites, all made without a pattern

I think I’ve made about ten in the past twenty months and I’m not done yet. I started with the raglan recipe and one day I’m going to teach a class on this because it’s life-changing if you’re tired of altering patterns. If you can take a little bit of time to figure out your initial stitch count, you will have a sweater suited to your body with a minimum of fuss.You can go your own way. My way was to start simply.

I followed the formula outlined and made a raglan. Basic ribbed collar and cuffs. Then I made another one and added an off-center collar. I combined scraps of Peace Fleece one-row stripes with a background of the colors I had in abundance. It’s a great weekender for our cold Maine winters.

I made dresses, cardigans, and mucked around with how long the raglan should be before dividing for sleeves. Once you have the basic idea of what you want for starting stitch count, you can make little changes so that each new sweater isn’t a carbon copy of the one before. Yarn over increases at the raglan, for example, are airy and softer than invisible increases. Iswitched yarn weights as the weather (almost) got warmer. I shortened sleeves and experimented with frilly cuffs and hems. It has been a great experience. Going my own way, I figured out sweater construction. I understand it much better than I did when I designed that sweater for school. And now I can more easily see what other designers are attempting. It was time to revisit patterns other people wrote.

I went completely off the reservation and made Outer Space by Stephen West. You can see a photo in my March post. I brought what I learned from Barbra Walker into someone else’s design world and I knew what he was talking about (mostly. It is Steven West, after all). Understanding roughy what I like for stitch count in a given yarn weight simplified the process. Knowledge is power, right? Yes. Yes, it is. I know how different textures look on me and whether I like to blend them or not. I get what I like in a cuff, a neckline. There’s a lot of confidence gained by busting out a few sweaters without a pattern.

Going your own way allows you to take a look at others’ ideas with a deeper understanding, not only of what they’re doing, but also of what you like and don’t like. You come at a sweater with your own ideas and can make changes easier. As for me, I prefer knitting without a pattern. Now and then I stick my toe in that particular pool, but only for a quick dip. Then it’s back to the recipes I’ve worked on. It suits me to go my own way. How about you?


categories: Barbara Walker, Carol Feller, Peace Fleece, Steven West