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.
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Textile artist, knitwear designer and teacher.
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