The Escher Cardigan Modification Chronicles – Part 1

In my last post about Escher, I called the construction of this cardigan “genius”.  I was working on the bottom edging at the time and the cardigan suddenly came into being, so to speak; it took form and I could see what the designer was after.  Alas, the time came to start the upper edging and I hit a few roadblocks.

© Brooklyn Tweed/Jared Flood

© Brooklyn Tweed/Jared Flood

I read, and re-read, the instructions.  I read them many times in fact but still could not get my head around them.  I then spent hours (four of them, in fact) looking critically at every photo of Escher that I could find.  I looked at each of the Escher projects on Ravelry, reading every word and comment by their knitters.  I looked at Alexis Winslow’s blog post on Escher, which included some great photos not found elsewhere.  (Note to readers: she has a lovely blog, which talks a lot about the design process.)  I wrote to Brooklyn Tweed, and their pattern support was excellent and quick.  I asked them for photographs of the neck and upper edging so that I could interpret the pattern, and they took the garment they had on hand and photographed it carefully for me, sending me shots of every angle.

Eventually, I figured out how the upper edging is supposed to be constructed (at least I hope so).  However, there remained some serious issues: most of the projects that have been documented do not fit properly.  These fit issues mostly have to do with the shoulders and upper edging.  I don’t really want to knit all of that ribbing more than once, so I determined to figure out the fit issues before picking up the stitches.

In this endeavor, I was helped greatly by the lovely Alice (Ellisj on Ravelry).  Alice had posted on this blog when I first began Escher and pointed me to her very good notes on the project on Ravelry.   As I struggled to come to grips with the upper edging, I wrote to Alice with a number of questions.  She responded with a very thoughtful and lengthy letter, which was written while she was on an international trip with two toddlers, and these toddlers were taking a nap!  Having traveled around the world a number of times with two toddlers, I can tell you that Alice deserves sainthood for this!  I am constantly touched by the support of the knitting community, who reach out with such kindness to people they’ve never met.

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From Alice’s notes and her letters to me, as well as from insightful comments by other knitters on Ravelry, I came to some conclusions.

First, the simple things.  A number of people mentioned that there was an awful lot of fiddliness in the pattern to ensure that the upper and lower edgings were knitted together, rather than seamed.  I am perfectly willing to sew a seam, however, so didn’t see the advantage of the fiddling.  My first modification, I decided, would be to knit the upper edging back and forth without the short rows that join it to the bottom edging. (In the pattern, each edge stitch on the upper edging is knit together with a held stitch from the picked up edge of the lower edging – see, it is even complicated to describe!)   Second, I liked the way in which Alice had finished her project with an I-cord edge rather than the rows of reverse stockinette stitch that the pattern calls for.  I have never been a fan of rolled edging.  So, I put the live stitches from the bottom edging on a spare cable, and plan to put one long I-cord edge around the combined upper and lower edging when I get to that point.

Now to the tricky stuff.   As I see it, the top of the “triangle” should form a stright line across the top of the shoulder blades, and should reach from shoulder to shoulder.  There is a huge variation in the width of the triangle in the knitted projects, which doesn’t necessarily correlate with the width of the wearer’s shoulders.  This could result from choosing the wrong size but more likely results from the row gauge; as the back of the jacket is knit from side-to-side, it is the row gauge, rather than the stitch gauge, that determines where the shoulders sit.  TIP:  if you are knitting this, check to make sure that the top edge of the traingle is the right width for your shoulders before carrying on. (I think mine is a wee bit too wide.)

The main issues that most people have had can be divided into three areas of concern:

  1. the positioning of the shoulders
  2. the shawl collar being too tight
  3. drooping or bunching at the centre back

I will discuss these in turn.  First, the shoulders are formed by decreases in the ribbing that slant the ribs toward the centre back neck, and in doing so, create a three-dimensional “pocket” for the shoulders:

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I am knitting the third size, 41.5″.  For this size, the shoulder decreases are off-set 6.75″ from the centre, meaning the shoulder width of the garment is 13.5″.  This is too narrow for my shoulders.  The strongest piece of advice I received from Alice is to off-set the shoulder decreases more so that the width of the shoulders more accurately reflects my shoulder width (sensible, no?)

Second, many people note that the upper edging is stretched very tightly and that this makes the shawl collar pull.  The suggestion is to add more stitches to the upper edging at the start.  I had added 12 extra stitches to the bottom edging, because I was worried about this very fact, so adding more stitches to the upper edging makes sense to me.

Third, when you look at the photos of many projects, you can clearly see that the top line of the cardigan “droops”, sometimes quite far down the back, or alternatively, there is a “bunch” or “roll” of fabric at the neck.  I was determined to solve this problem through creative modifications.

So, how did I deal with these three issues?  First, I placed the stitch markers for the shoulder decreases at 8″ from the centre back, thus giving me an extra 2.5″ across the shoulders.  My next step was to pick up stitches without looking at the numbers in the pattern.  I picked up stitches at what I deemed to be sensible and regular intervals, only checking that the number on both sides was equal and that the number for both sides was divisible by 4, and the number for the centre section was divisble by 4 +2.    So far, so good, yes?  Well, the answer was no, actually.  It turns out that my number of picked-up stitches was dramatically more than the pattern called for (about 70 extra stitches across the entire upper edging).  All of these extra stitches combined with the wider shoulders meant that the rate of shoulder decreasing would not bring the neck in far enough.  This would definitely exacerbate the tendency for “bunching” at the centre back neck.  Also, because of the very large increase in the number of picked up stitches, and thus different gauge, the slope of the decreases is less, and the “pocket” it forms for the shoulder is shallower.

I came up with what I thought was a clever plan for this as well: I would start a set of double decreases around the centre K2 column on the back neck.  This would serve two purposes: it would decrease all of the extra bulk at the back neck, while at the same time allowing the side decreasing to do its job properly and narrow the neck while shaping the shoulders.

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I am now nearly 4 inches into this, and am starting to have some major doubts.  FIrst, I am struggling with whether to widen the shoulders even further.  In this photo, you can see the centre stitch is marked with a red marker.  The green marker indicates where the pattern calls for the shoulder decreases to start, the yellow marker indicates where my shoulder decreases start, and the purple marker indicates where I am considering moving them.

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Emma feels strongly that, esthetically, the decreases should be at the purple marker, so that they are at the very edges of the triangle.  However, Emma agrees that good fit should always trump everything else.  Doug, Emma and I spent a good 40 minutes on the weekend, arguing over the shoulder placement.  This is a really tricky call, because it is not clear until you have knitted it exactly how the shoulder shaping will fall.  I also think that the decreases at the neck, while intended to eliminate bunching in the neck, might actually lead to bunching of the top of the triangle, as hinted at in the photo below.  These centre neck decreases were intended to be paried with increases at the same spot, in order to ease the “pulling” of the shawl collar.  I have only just realized, however, that it is the reverse side which will show when the collar is turned over, and the reverse side is not nearly so pretty.

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Where does this lead me?  At the moment to a stand-off.  I am thinking about it way more than I should be given all of the other demands on my time.  I am now debating ripping out the upper edging, and starting it over.  This time I would pick up fewer stitches (although still more than the pattern calls for) and move the shoulders out to the very edges of the triangle.  I will probably also forego the centre decreases, or maybe just make fewer of them, decreasing 8 stitches instead of 24.  On the other hand, I have great faith in the miracle of blocking – and looking at these photos I think maybe I am being too picky.

I am determined to get this to work, partly out of sheer stubborness, and partly because I think the design is beautiful and would complement my wardrobe.  Stay tuned for further episodes of the Escher Cardigan Modification Chronicles.

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Happy Mother’s Day!

The girls are home from university this week.  As usual, this results in fun times, great conversations, good food, and general silliness.  Today, in honor of Mother’s Day (the US version), what I wanted was to re-create a family photo.

Here we are –  Doug, Emma, Leah and Kelly in 1995:

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And here we are today:

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And here, because I like you, I bring you the blooper reel:

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Happy Mother’s Day!

Escher in progress

Now that I am no longer distracted by the lovely golden Gossamer pullover, I have gone back to knitting Escher.

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I had stopped midway across the back centerpiece of this cardigan jacket, which is essentially a long rectangle with curved edges, and a triangle in the center shaped from short rows.  (Yes, it’s kind of hard to describe.)  This is close to where I stopped before:

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And this is what it looks like today:

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I have to say – I have no idea what this will end up looking like on and whether or not it will fit, but I am completely blown away by its construction!  It is a piece of knitting genius!  (Hopefully, I will still think this when I have finished it and tried it on.)  This is one of those designs where you can read the pattern many times, yet it doesn’t make a lick of sense until you are doing it, and then it suddenly emerges from confusion.

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The cardigan was designed by the ultra-talented Alexis Winslow for Brooklyn Tweed and published in Wool People 8.  I try to envision how she designed it; I imagine her cutting up pattern paper and folding and twisting it like origami.  For those who’ve forgotten, or are new to these pages, this is what the finished piece is supposed to look like:

© Brooklyn Tweed/Jared Flood

© Brooklyn Tweed/Jared Flood

© Brooklyn Tweed/Jared Flood

© Brooklyn Tweed/Jared Flood

I would not recommend this for a beginning knitter due to the complicated (but did I say genius?) construction.   It will also put off anyone who doesn’t want to knit miles and miles of ribbing in fingering weight wool.  Believe me – this cardi is 70% ribbing.

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Regardless of how it eventually turns out, it is a learning experience, and miles of ribbing notwithstanding, a joy to knit.

Gossamer modelled

Today, I can finally bring you some modelled shots of my Gossamer pullover.

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I wrote in an earlier post that a discussion thread on Ravelry about the beautiful yarn Rowan Kidsilk Haze Eclipse, which was being discontinued, led to an impulse purchase of a dozen balls in the gorgeous golden shade called Virgo.

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Because the yarn can be rather bling in certain lights, I wanted to keep the design very simple and stark.  Instead of trying to find a pattern to suit the thoughts in my head, I designed it myself as I knit. I think it is rather like a 1950s Sweater Girl pullover.  I call it Gossamer because it is as light as air.

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The fabric is extremely sheer and I shopped around for an appropriate tank to wear under it.  Just as I was finishing the pullover, I found a new Hanro tank design, in a creamy ivory lace that I thought would work perfectly.  (And which gave me the perfect excuse to splurge on Hanro.)  You can see what I mean in this shot:

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The lace tank gives just the right amount of cover without being intrusive and distracting the eye from the beautiful yarn.

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I knit this in pieces and seamed it together.  I think that with a fabric this delicate, the seam helps to give the pullover some structure and hopefully will help it to maintain its shape.  I didn’t use any fancy seaming technique for this – I just stitched it up rather quickly in mattress stitch.  The halo of the mohair means that the seam is soft and so is rather forgiving.  I think it looks great:

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Here you can see the set-in shoulders.  Again, I didn’t do anything fancy, just mattress-stitched the shoulder into place.

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I have been trying to decide whether to write this pattern up and make it available.  Even though the Kidsilk Haze Eclipse has been discontinued, this would work perfectly in Kidsilk Haze, which comes in so many beautiful colours.  What do you think?  Is it worth the effort?

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The thing I like best about this pullover is that it is so light – it weighs in at less that 125 grams.  It is the perfect travel sweater.  It won’t take up any weight in a suitcase, won’t show any wrinkles, and can add a bit of “Wow!” to a travel wardrobe.

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What to knit while dithering

While dithering over what to make with my beautiful orange yarn, and dithering more over exactly what kind of sweater my wardrobe needs, and dithering even more over the fact that I am too busy to be thinking about knitting, I still needed something to keep my hands busy.  It’s not like I could just not knit, is it?

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So I rooted around through my stash and found a single ball of Rowan Kidsilk Haze Stripe and cast on for a skinny scarf knit in garter stitch on the bias.  (You can find the pattern here.)

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The scarf looks so pretty in the sunlight today, that I couldn’t resist trying to capture it.  This knits up fast, from a single ball of yarn on big needles.  The colour changes keep it interesting and arresting and the garter stitch is soothing.

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This colourway is made up of brilliant jewell-toned greens and blues, with a lovely rusty-copper shade, and hints of olive and blackberry.

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And now that you’ve had a little glimpse of gorgeous Kidsilk Stripe, I am heading out to the sun to do some more dithering.

My yarn has opinions

I can’t help but spend time staring at my beautiful, sunny hand-dyed merino and silk yarn from The Uncommon Thread:

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I ordered the yarn to knit the Aisance cardigan pattern with it.  But, truthfully,  I must admit that the more I stare at this lovely yarn,  the less I feel that it wants to be an Aisance:

© Carrie Bostick Hoge

© Carrie Bostick Hoge

Yes, my yarn has opinions.  It knows what it wants to be.  Unfortunately it doesn’t speak, so part of my job is to be an interpretive artist.  It’s a hard job, but someone has to do it.

I still want to knit Aisance, but maybe not with this yarn.   As with most hand-dyed yarn, there is a fair bit of variation in colour both within and across skeins, so it would need to be alternated.  However, it is hard for me to see how best to alternate skeins in Aisance –  it is knit in one piece and the long edges of the fronts need to be very neat and sharp.  Once doubt settled in, it was hard to shake.  My yarn could sense my doubts and took advantage.  “Find another pattern,” it said.  “Find the PERFECT pattern for ME.”  (I have tried, believe me, to coax my yarn into being more specific.  It refuses.  It wants me to work for this relationship.  It wants understanding.)

I have spent more time than I care to admit sorting through cardigan patterns and looking at the yarn:

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It is the most gorgeous shade of orange.  It is luscious.  It is happy.  This yarn is special and I want to knit exactly the right thing with it.  And although I am dying to knit with this fabulous stuff, RIGHT NOW, I won’t do it until I have the perfect marriage of pattern and yarn.  I have knit up a lovely swatch:

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I like the look and feel of the fabric at this gauge, 24×36 knit on a US4, and would be reluctant to knit at a looser gauge. I am lucky to have 2000 metres (5 skeins).  My yarn and I are happy to take suggestions.

PS – This is my 200th post.  Thank you to all my readers who keep this fun!

Gossamer unblocked

My Gossamer sweater is finished, but still unblocked.  Today is a holiday in the UK (Easter Monday) and, as can be expected on the last day of a long, grey holiday weekend when everyone is on the highway on their way home, the skies are suddenly blue and the day is lovely.  I couldn’t resist taking Gossamer outside to play in the sunshine.

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This is knit with Rowan’s Kidsilk Haze Eclipse in the colour Virgo.  This yarn has been sadly discontinued; I wrote here about how I aquired the yarn (Ravelry made me do it!).  It is a lovely but very difficult to describe shade (champagne, perhaps?) shot through with a metallic thread.

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The pattern is one I designed myself, and call Gossamer.  Once I got the yarn in my hands, I realized that it needed a very simple sweater design – stark, even.  I envisioned it as a very classic, v-neck pullover.  Since I had the design in my head I didn’t bother to try to find a pattern; I just cast on and designed it as I went.

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Although the Eclipse line has been discontinued, you could easily knit this in Kidsilk Haze, which is still going strong, with many luscious colours.  The fabric it produces is incredibly sheer and fine – this sweater weighs less than 125 grams!  It is like wearing a cloud.

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The fit is perfect; my only concerns are that the bottom edging rolls, and it is just a tad short.  However, I have yet to block it so hopefully both of these problems will be easy to fix.  I won’t show you modelled shots today for two reasons.  First, I want to block it  beforehand.  Second, this is the type of sweater that needs appropriate undergarments.  I have found something I think will be just right and have ordered it; we shall see how it turns out.  In the meantime, in the interests of decency, you’ll have to make do with an unmodelled Gossamer.

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