Designing knitwear sounds like a pretty ace profession for most knitters, and yes, it is for sure. But when your knitting time is based around knitting samples; the conscious and continual process of critically evaluating what is coming off your needles and constantly assessing and questioning whether or not it is meeting your expectations and how it can be improved; the concept of knitting as the new yoga becomes a little bit of a stretch of the imagination. Knitting with a constant eye focused on scrutinising every stitch, is in no way meditative. With looming deadlines, it's even questionable whether it is a relaxing process.
In preparation for the release of the milo bambino pattern I churned out sample after sample, in a mad whirlwind of knitting; seven wee milo bambinos by the time I'd finished. All the time conscious of the aim of getting the pattern released before mid May. I failed my self-imposed deadline, and that in itself gives a designer further opportunity to beat themselves up.
The long shot of it is that knitting under these constraints does not probably yield the same positive relaxed frame of mind that the average knitter experiences when they knit something from a pattern. You know all those studies that tell us how the gentle art of knitting is so good for us? I'm not sure those benefits apply to designers.
I hear knitwear designers say quite often that they don't have the time to knit other people's patterns. This is such a shame as there's so much to learn from others. Designing is a continual learning process, you can never know enough or even everything. Knitting other people's patterns gives a designer the opportunity to learn new techniques, new construction methods or even question and validate your own approach to your design process; which in itself is an extremely valuable experience.
Every year I try to knit at least one thing from another designer's patterns; I seriously learn so much about myself as a designer in doing so. It also gives me the opportunity to experience the meditative and relaxing process of knitting in the same manner as the average knitter does; or at least that's my theory.
Come the end of May and the culmination of my milo bambino marathon, it was time for a mindless meditative knit of someone else's patten.
I chose Lila by Carrie Bostick Hoge. I've wanted to knit this pattern since it was released, it has a lovely shape. I've seen some really lovely examples of this pattern knit up both online and in real life, and I think the recent Lila KAL that was all over Instagram was the thing that pushed me over the line in my choice.
Lila was also the name of my beloved grandmother, a quirky and eccentric character who we all loved dearly, even if she couldn't knit. The two memories that stick in my mind about my fabulous grandmother is that she always wore a hat and she rode a tricycle; a grown up adult-sized tricycle. She was blunt, often unintentionally funny, had exquisite taste in most things, and made the most amazing shortbread you have ever tasted. It must have made my grandfather homesick for Scotland and his wee Isle of Arran every time she made it.
As I'm a bit of a fan of the top-down knit and having read Felicia's from The Craft Session's comments about the fit around shoulders with regards to her Lila and the size she chose, I decided to tackle the more recently released Lila Top Down pattern.
I'll let it be known straight up that at the end of this knitting process, I ended up with two jumpers. How this came about is very much part of this story of the art of meditative knitting.
I decided to knit my Lila from stash, because quite frankly there's plenty to chose from there. I settled on this grey and white variegated yarn dyed on a Ton of Wool Cormo aran base, mainly because I've been playing around with swatches of the stuff and had knit a beanie, and honestly just wanted more of the experience of the stuff being on my needles, it is so nice to knit with. I knew that the tension in the pattern was going to be too tight for this yarn, so I swatched and decided to knit it at a tension of 18 stitches. My calculations told me that if I knit the 32¾" size at this tension I'd end up with a 34½" chest, which with that bit of positive ease would be perfect.
So off I went, diligently knitting away alternating skeins and pretty much enjoying the whole process of the mindless knit. Bliss. I knit the whole body minus a bit of length, worked the short rows a la Sunday Rows style, and cast off. I knit the neck band. And then knit half a sleeve. At this stage it became very evident that I wasn't going to have enough yarn to finish the garment as per the pattern, and you know, I pretty much knew this from the start and was prepared to have a battle with the yardage chicken. While I pondered my approach, I decided to try my jumper on.
Once the garment was on my body, the overly-critical designer part of my brain automatically kicked in. There were two things that immediately caught my eye.
The first was the width around the upper arm. Now bear in mind, that I did mod the pattern's tension so this may in no way be a reflection of the pattern. The width was that bit too wide and as result puckered out and created a lumpy looking bit when my arms are down.
The second was the short row shaping. My Sunday short rows were beautiful and neat and created a lovely seamless finish to the shaping. But, and this is a big but, the placement of the short rows creates extra room around the hips. If you think about the way short rows are used to create extra room in the bust area, it's a similar concept here. Unfortunately, this extra pocket of room sat right on my hips, much where your muffin top might be if your jeans are a bit too tight. Yeah.
This puzzled me. I'd seen so many Lila's knit but never noticed this before, so I scanned back through pages and pages of projects on Ravelry. When I looked back through the Top Down images on both Ravelry and Instagram, I found that this was indeed something fundamental to the pattern, and I saw those little saddlebags on a number of jumpers. And then it dawned on me, the placement of the short rows was quite different in these two patterns; in the Lila pattern knit from the bottom up they're worked along the thick hemband but in the top down version, they create a line that runs into the top of the hemband in the middle of the front, so they fall very much in the stocking stitch section of the front sides. The following image probably best shows this. It doesn't really show the muffin top effect, that was really only obvious when I put it on.
At this stage, I also had the niggling worry that I really should knit this yarn at a looser tension. So much for my meditative knitting. My response was to do what any sane knitter would do; curse and throw this bad boy in the corner.
And so I decided to cast on and try again, putting into practise all the things I'd learnt from my first attempt.
This time I chose some Quince and Co Lark in River, a yarn I'd actually bought for Toby. I had eight skeins of 50g so I knew yardage was not going to be an issue.
I loved knitting my second Lila so much and I love love love the finished garment. Already, it is high rotation and is filling a much needed gap in my handmade wardrobe. I have only ever knit myself a couple of actual jumpers over the years, none of those are frequently worn. Some I don't even know where they are!
I worked a number of modifications to get this one to resemble to bottom up one more accurately and also to suit my personal preferences.
Tension: I wanted to give this jumper some drape so that that side shaping and short rows sat nicely, so again I knit this at a tension of 18 stitches. This worked well as the Lark is very much a 10ply yarn and this looser tension gives a lovely drape to the fabric. It does intensify any pilling, but I can live with that.
Sleeve width: To make the sleeves a bit narrower around the upper arm, I worked the sleeves as more of a compound raglan. This simply means that I did not increase in the sleeves on every round where I increased for the body. I left out two sets of sleeve increases in the shoulder area which resulted in four fewer stitches in the sleeves, almost an inch less width.
I do wonder that part of the puckering may be due to the overall back width of this jumper around my shoulders, as even with an inch less there is still some bagging evident. The neck does sit quite wide, which I do like; but my shoulders are narrow and these two may not be a perfect match in a raglan for me.
Side shaping: As I was using a different tension, (and I can't for the life of me find where I noted down my row tension) I worked the side shaping every 21 rounds instead of every 26. I still worked the same number of increases.
Short row shaping: This is where the most significant mod occurred. I wanted my short row shaping to sit along the hemband. This is how I achieved it.
I worked my first short row around to where the second last short row is worked in the pattern, that's in the front section of the garment. I turned and worked around to the same place on the other side of the front. From there I worked backwards towards the side seam as I worked my short rows. This meant that none of the short row gaps were resolved until the last round. For some knitters this can be problematic as when working short rows in the round, resolving the short rows that were worked on the purl side neatly are a bit trickier.
When I used to knit soakers and longies I perfected a technique that I used with wrap and turn short rows (a great solution for this can be found in Shannon Passmore's Ultimate Longies pattern), but I rarely use wrap and turn short rows now.
For both the Lilas I knit, I've experimented with different short row techniques that I haven't used a lot or before. As I mentioned, I love to experiment with the new to me techniques at other peple's patterns bring with them. Both the following links and tutorials give some good information on resolving those purl side worked short rows on the knit side.
For Japanese Short Rows or Sunday Short Rows, this tutorial and the following Notes from Ysolda are priceless.
For Yarn Over Short Rows, this Coco Knits blog post is pure gold.
Of the two, I think I preferred the Japanese/Sunday approach, it achieved a neater result. This blog post here uses a backward yarn over when working the yarn over short rows, which I suspect may be more effective in tightening that gap, simply because the backward yarn over creates a shorter loop; so this may be the next approach for me to try.
Additionally, I worked one less short row; hence why my short row shaping actually began from the second last short row turn, and I worked a turn every four stitches instead of three.
I'm so much happier with the results of this shaping than with the original.
Underarms: I used the same technique under the arms I always use. When separating, work a kfab at each edge of the body stitches and cast on two less stitches under the arms. When picking up stitches under the arm, pick up two additional stitches and reduce them down using a ssk and a k2tog in the first two rounds.
You can find more information on this technique in my blog post here.
Length: Carrie mentions in a blog post here the difference in the lengths between Lila and Lila Top Down. The length I worked is pretty much halfway between these two. Perfect for me.
Arm shaping: The beauty of creating a garment purely to fit rather than following a pattern or as a sample for a pattern is that you can create perfect shaping. Such shaping is not always that easy to write instructions for. Designers will tell you this is the a common hurdle in pattern writing; finding the balance between ease of instructions and the reality of what you're trying to achieve.
In shaping the arms I ignored the pattern instructions completely. Instead I worked the arm decreasing to mirror the shape of my arm. Makes sense doesn't it, but consider how often this doesn't actually happen in patterns . Honestly, it would be far more complex to write a whole graded pattern this way.
To do so: After knitting straight for two inches, I worked a series of decreases in the top half of the arm between the underarm and just above the elbow, decreasing every 10 rounds. Then, in the next section where the arm itself has little shaping until the top part of the forearm, I knit straight. I worked some additional shaping in the final forearm section. My arms look a little less fitted than some I've seen in photos but that is exactly what I was aiming for. This method seriously creates a fabulously shaped arm. I strongly suggest you study your arm stretched out in front of you and consider how it is shaped, where are the curves and where it is straight. Your arms may well have quite a different shape to mine. Use your arm as your guide to creating your sleeve shaping and I suspect you will be far happier with the result.
Having finished my Quince and Co Lila and being happy with the results, I went to rip out my Ton of Wool Lila. But I couldn't do it. I just couldn't face the ripping and re-knitting. I do enough of that in my sample knitting; way too much sometimes. I didn't want to have to rip for a meditative knit. I looked at my jumper, I just had a sleeve to go. One sleeve. I decided to just finish the thing, even if I only wore it as a camping jumper, it would still be an incredibly useful acquisition to my wardrobe. And it would mean, I wouldn't have to rip.
One thing though. I could not live with that muffin top saddle bag shaping so I ripped those. I decided to work different short row shaping the second time around just for the sheer fun of it.
MODIFICATIONS PART TWO:
Length: I knit this Lila to about the length mentioned in the Top Down pattern itself before the short row shaping, maybe a bit longer judging by the final comparison photos in this post. I worked an additional side increase to give the body a bit more ease In hindsight this was not really necessary.
Short Row Shaping: I worked my short rows in the same manner as mentioned above but I worked the first turn just eight stitches past the side marker and continued back from there, working one at four stitches, one at the side markers and one four stitches before the side marker.
Hem and Cuffs: Worked in twisted rib, six rounds in the hem and ten in the cuffs.
Sleeve length: Yardage chicken dictated three quarter length sleeves, which really are just perfect. I'm a sleeve pusher-upper, so this length is really ideal.
This will certainly not be just a camping jumper, it may indeed become a bit of a favourite. And you know what? While I'm wearing it, I really can't see the bits around the upper arm that I'm not happy with. It keeps me warm, it's incredibly cosy, and that makes me very very happy.
I took the following photo just so you could really clearly see the differences between the two jumpers I made.
The different yarns and the resulting different fabrics coupled with the series of different mods really do make for two quite distinctly different looking jumpers. I've worn each of them already with both jeans as well as skirts/dresses. Both are fabulous and will be staples this winter in my cupboard. The three quarter length sleeves are definitely more practical for every day life.
What I continue to learn about myself from knitting other people's patterns is just how hard it really is to turn off that critical instinct and just go with the knitting process. I'm going to work on this a little more as there is so much to be gained from a mindless meditative knit. This has been such a fun and interesting process, and I'm quietly considering what will be my next pattern to knit.
Here's an interesting bit of information.
The pattern that I get the most email queries about is one that isn't even my own. Yes, at least once or twice a fortnight I receive an email requesting the details of it. How to knit it? Where does the pattern come from? And even asking for advice on yarns to choose for it. At the moment this seems to have escalated and it seems more like a couple of emails a week.
Now this doesn't bother me as really it's lovely to get an email from someone telling you they love something you've made and would like to make something similar. It's the highest of high crafty praise. It did, however, get me thinking about why it happens so often and why that particular knit.
And so I looked back through my blog and my Ravelry projects. And while, I've shared photos and some details I've not really written a comprehensive blog post on it. Truth be told, I think theres quite a few projects I've not blogged. Do you think that the altering sphere of social media has changed blogs and the way we use them? I suspect the instant appeal of Instagram has spelled the death knoll for some blogs. I do think though, that blogs do still have so much to offer. Take this project as an example, the photos that I shared here and on Instagram (and are probably on Pinterest too) don't provide all the necessary details. More is obviously needed, otherwise I wouldn't get so many emails. The pretty just isn't enough. That's been an interesting learning experience for me, and a reminder to share the crafting journey more on my blog; as I once did.
So you want some more details about this blanket?
I think the fact that, when I googled 'log cabin knitted blanket' to look for some pattern options, my previous post about knitted blankets came up; does tell me something. There's not even any information about log cabin blankets in that post; just a photo of this very blanket!
Let's see if this post can answer some if not all of those questions.
The pattern I used came from a book called Mason-Dixon Knitting and it was How to Log Cabin. From memory, this was more of an instructional rather than a pattern but it does walk you through the fundamentals of the process. If you're after a more thorough pattern, the same book contains the pattern Joseph's Blankie of Many Colours.
To be honest, it has been so many years since I knit this blanket and I can't remember if I followed their instructions or varied from it a bit. Probably the latter, knowing me, and unfortunately, I don't have access to the book as it was a library loan.
My initial rectangle looks to be about 20 stitches and 48 rows.
If you can't get hold of this book or want something now, or more specific, a quick search on Ravelry yields a number of results, like this one (which is based on the same pattern I used) or this one (which comes with lots of video support).
PICKING UP STITCHES
There is quite a lot of picking up stitches in the Log Cabin. I like picking up stitches. I also like grafting and knitting sleeves, which perhaps says a lot about me as a knitter. Anyway, picking up stitches. The basic rule I followed when picking up stitches for the next colour blocks, is to pick up one stitch for every stitch (where applicable) and one stitch for every garter ridge.
When working a blanket like this I DO NOT pick up and knit stitches as I would traditionally do, say if I was knitting a neckline (gosh, they're fun to knit too!). Instead of working each new stitch individually, you will get a much better finish if you pick up ALL the stitches at once and then work them.
Pick them up by sliding your needle in along and through the edge bump on each garter ridge from left to right. There are far clearer instructions in my Memory Blanket pattern as to how to do this. Alternatively, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee has a cracker of a tutorial on her blog.
The yarn that I knit my blanket in is WOOLGanic Head, Hands and Heart. Unfortunately, it is discontinued. It is also not an Aran weight yarn as it is listed on Ravelry, it is around a 16ply. Quite a significant difference really. Just to give you some context, I knit this yarn on a 8mm/US11 size needles.
This yarn is a glorious soft organic merino. It is incredibly beautiful but be warned that if you do create a blanket using the combination of gorgeous super soft merino and garter stitch, it will pill like the clappers. That's fine if you're ok with pilling or own a nifty gadget to get rid of those pills with a minimum of fuss. If that doesn't float your boat, I suggest looking for an alternative yarn.
So what are some good alternatives?
I have to be honest and say I'm not that familiar with the market for Super Bulky yarn. I live in Australia. Worsted weight and aran is really about as thick as I'm ever going to need a jumper in my climate, and even delving into yarns that thick is a bit of a rarity for me. Ask me about 8ply/dk weight and I'm your girl, I'll know all the good answers, but anything thicker and I'm a bit lost.
Remember, this is quite a thick blanket. If you're looking for a similarly thick yarn maybe something there is something in this Ravelry search that you will be familiar with.
While not quite as thick, Nundle Woolen Mills have a 12 ply that looks like it would be quite nice to work with.
Bendigo Woollen Mills Luxury 10ply would make a good machine washable alternative, and they have a good array of colours. You could even double the 8ply to give you around a 18-20ply for a lovely chunky finish.
The good old workhorse Cascade 220 would also work really well.
I could point you in the direction of some super stunning organic and ethical merino 8ply yarns that this blanket would be totally die worthy in, but I don't want to break your bank account, so let's just ignore all my favourite yarns for now.
I knit my blanket in seven colours, basically the colours of the rainbow but with the inclusion of a pink. I started with the pink as my central rectangle and worked through the spectrum as I added each additional rectangle. If I knit this blanket again, I'm not sure I would follow the same idea, although I haven't really pondered what I would do instead. Although having said that, I do like how working it this way didn't give it that deliberate rainbow look, I like how the colours work and compliment each other as you look inwards rather than presenting the rainbow.
The order of my colours went:
Pink, Purple, Blue, Green, Yellow, Orange, Red.
If I was to work this with something like the Bendigo Woollen Mills Luxury to achieve a similar result, the colours I would use would be: Lotus, African Violet, Bermuda, Leaf, Sunflower, Tangerine and Sunrise. (Just a note: I don't think the colours are very true on the BWM website, so if in doubt request a colour shade card from them).
My blanket is now quite big, around about a queen bed size. It still fits nicely on my daughter's single bed with some overlay.
Blanket knitting is really meditative and I love knitted blankets so much. They're a great relax and no-brainer knit for me. I waxed lyrically about the beauty of knitted blankets in my previous blanket post, so I won't do it again here, but I am thinking that my next blanket may just be another log cabin, this time made with 8ply leftovers. Yes, I have enough of those each year to knit a multitude of blankets!
P.S. i haven't updated for awhile but my Memory Blanket which I'm knitting from my 8ply leftovers to infuse it with childhood memories has past the 200 square mark!
Let me know if there's anything I haven't covered and I'll do my best to add my thoughts in later.
Before June rolls on too much, I thought I'd chat a little bit about Me Made May, perhaps a little bit on the late side if you've not heard of this and think this might be something for you.
For those who are unaware, Me Made May is the brainchild of Zoe from the blog So Zo... What Do you Know?. The aim is to give your handmade wardrobe some love in the month of May and wear all the things you've made. It's not competitive. It's not about who's made the most or used the prettiest fabric. You can share your photos on social media as many of us did, which has been a really fulfilling process and really helped keep me on track. I posted my almost daily photos over on Instagram, so if you're interested to see some of my handmade gear you can find me there as tikkiknits.
Most of those who participated made a pledge. Mine was simply to try to wear something handmade every day. I started a bit later than the first of May and I did miss the last couple of days of the month, but apart from that, yes, I did wear handmade every day! Yay!
Even more exciting, I made myself a new jumper in May. Actually, I made myself one and three-quarters of a jumper, but that's another story for another day. Did I sew however? No, unfortunately I did not :(
The most valuable thing I learnt from participating was that I do tend to make warmer weather garments; when I sew, it's summer dresses. When I knit, it's always cardigans and quite often short or three-quarter sleeves. I found there was a massive lack of real winter gear in my handmade wardrobe. Now that does make some sense as winter is pretty mild in the part of Australia where I live and our house is situated to make the full advantage of the winter solar warmth. Right now, I'm sitting at my dining room table in jeans and a long-sleeved t-shirt with the sliding glass doors open. That's pretty standard fare for most of our winter. BUT it does get quite cold sometimes, although admittedly not by most cold country's standard - yesterday was a really cold day for us, the maximum was 12 degrees celsius) and I do spend a lot of time outdoors, so my lack of a sensible winter woollie jumper was a bit surprising.
May itself is Autumn here so for much of my summer sewn wardrobe, it simply didn't get an airing. My favourite sewn shortie overalls that I made almost twenty years ago were a no show, as were a couple of dresses that are sleeveless.
Having said this, most of what I do make can be adapted and made to work for the cooler weather with a bit of layering, and that's certainly what I do. I am however, going to be more conscious when I sew of creating garments that will work all year round.
My most worn woollie garment is definitely the cardie. I discovered I tend to wear a different type of cardie depending on my outfit. For jeans, I prefer an open cardie, for dresses; something with a crew neck and buttoned. As we're coming into Winter and I seem to be having a love affair with my recently patched (and about to receive more patching) favourite jeans, I'm really craving a couple more big snuggly cardies and open cardies. Interesting. I suspect that in three months time when we see the first burst of Spring, I'll be casting on dress cardies again with crew necks and buttons, probably circular yokes as well!
I loved Me Made May so much, and the encouragement it gave me to strive to make use of my handmade wardrobe, that I'm going to try and continue it, and perhaps post regular photos. Maybe even try a #MeMadeMonday approach. Who would be up for that?
Me Made May has also given me the impetus to sew some more. I've been saying all year that I'm going to make Friday my sewing day, and spend the afternoon sewing. I've done it a couple of times but nowhere near as much as I'd like. The social media sharing aspect was fabulous as I came across some new to me patterns, and others that I'd always liked and had tucked away in the back of my mind. Even seeing garments made up in different fabrics and with different mods from the original patterns, gave me a whole new world of ideas and inspiration.
Did you participate in Me Made May?
What did you learn about your making habits?
Will you join me for a semi-regular #MeMadeMonday on Instagram?
This wee new pattern is one that has sat with me for quite a while since a conversation with a lovely knitter almost a year ago. She told me she wished some of my designs went down to premmie size. She talked about how tough it is having a tiny wee bub in a special care nursery and the need, as a knitter, to dress that baby of yours in something handmade; something that you've poured your love and heart into. The problem, however, she said is that many knitting patterns for teeny bubs lack a bit.
This is a conversation that I've had a number of times with different knitters and the need for smaller size baby clothes that have a bit of style and are easy to knit seems to be a real one. But how to go about tackling this need? I had a couple of ideas bouncing around in my brain about making a wee ebook with some premmie versions of some of my popular patterns. I thought about the teeny size of these babies. Well, I tried to imagine as best I could; my last baby didn't even look like a newborn when he was born. And then, earlier this year another knitter made a request for a 4ply/fingering baby dress pattern (which I happen to have in the works); and it dawned on me. Teeny babies need some teeny yarn. Yes you can dress these babies in 8ply/dk weight yarn but I'll be honest; my babies were mostly dressed in 4ply/fingering as newborns, except for their longies.
These teeny babies needed 4ply/fingering.
I've had a lot of fun knitting up all these wee milo bambinos. The process of rummaging through my least-knit 4ply stash has been an interesting one, and I've found some yarns I'd forgotten I owned. In knitting the samples I tried to capture a range of colours from the traditional to the more unconventional. The 4ply really gives the milo a different feel. Whereas, the original milo has rustic sort-of almost rugged charm to it; it looks like a real rib and belly warmer; this milo bambino is far more delicate and almost fragile. The size of the smallest size possibly reinforces that notion. When I hold it in my hands it seems so ridiculously tiny it is hard to imagine a baby that small.
milo bambino has been completely regraded for the smaller tension required to knit the 4ply weight yarn.
The size range covers 12" to 19"/30.5cm to 48cm chest which caters for a premmie of about 34 weeks gestation right up until about one year, most likely a bit older. It has five new cables included. I maintained the heart cable that I engineered for the milo pattern as it has a special significance for me.
The four smallest sizes have the option of a button shoulder to cater for hospital tubings.
Cables have both charts and written instructions.
After knitting all these teeny baby vests I am really feeling the love for 4ply and once I wind my giant hank of Cormo 4ply, I think there's a new cardie in the works for me. I might also ponder creating some smaller versions of a couple of other of my patterns in 4ply, but as you well know, there is so much to knit already and so little time!
I have five copies of milo bambino to give away.
To enter all you need to do is leave me the name of your favourite 4ply/fingering yarn (I promise I'm not shopping for more yarn!)
I'll draw the winners randomly on Friday evening.
P.S. Just in case you haven't heard, Milo May has been extended by two weeks and will now end on Saturday June 13th 2015.
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Textile artist, knitwear designer and teacher.
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