About Woolly Wits

I am a hand-knitting designer and teacher. See and purchase my published designs on Ravelry.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Real Halloween Fright: Cabled Knits

Drop shoulder Aran Sweater from J Jill
Fall is the season to break out our sweaters, often with a new look at traditional patterns and styles: Fair Isle, Sheltland, Icelandic, Aran.  It's this heavily cabled and textured latter type that is an especially tricky style for knitters who want to flatter their figures.  Cables are created through crossing stitches over stitches, resulting in a double thickness of fabric.  Add that the cables are almost always highlighted with a purl background and filled in with other highly textured patterns, such as seed stitch, and the result is a dense, often stiff fabric.

The shape of traditional Aran sweaters, usually boxy with dropped shoulders, in combination with the stiffness of the fabric, results in all loss of the body underneath, and the torso is large and boxy with an excess of fabric under the arms.  Not a slimming or flattering look.

Talbots sweater
As an aside, I personally detest bobbles on garments.  I think they look like warty growths, which I suppose would be in the Halloween spirit, but not an everyday look I would want to sport.  I find this Talbots sweater to be especially frightful.

How do you make an Aran sweater wearable for a fuller figure?  Remove all stiffness from the fabric.  Choose a yarn with drape and work in on larger needles to open up the fabric.  You also want to move away from the traditional shape:  drop shoulder, crew neck, no side shaping and oversize.  Make it a cardigan (also pretty traditional) and you've introduced a flattering horizontal line.  Bring the fit close to the body, and add some shaping through the torso.  Convert the drop shoulder to a fitted sleeve and eliminate the bulk under the arm.  And, if you are willing to stray a little from the traditional, add a v-neck, which is a universal flatterer.  

Grandpa Cardigan by Joji Locatelli
What do you get when you make those changes?  A great expample is the Grandpa Cardigan by Joji Locatelli.  She models it here in purple, but it would look so traditional in pure sheep's wool cream color.

Grandpa Cardigan knit by Vaida
Just to prove it, I've also shown it here on a lovely knitter, Vaida, who is not as skinny as Joji.  What works for larger-sized knitters is that cables create a natural strong vertical design.  Combine that with the vertical line created by the cardigan's front break, and you've got a slimming sweater.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Greetings From Wisconsin: Downton Abbey Knits 2014

It's been a while . . .

I moved to Wisconsin the last week of August, spent a week getting the kids registered and ready for school and unpacking the minimum, and then have spent the past three weeks working loooong days on a hush hush project.  My deadline was generous, but I was so anxious before the move that I did could not knit for three weeks prior.  So much for Elizabeth Zimmerman's invoking us to knit on with confidence through all crises . . .

But I do have something fun to share - my contribution to the 2014 edition of The Unofficial Downton Abbey Knits.  Now that the show is into the flapper era, I could not resist.  My design is a modular lace blouse worked in Artyarn's Empress.  There are three different patterns at play, and one has variations for flat and in-the-round knitting.  I also threw in a little crochet - single and reverse single - to trim the edges. 

One of the great joys in designing for publications is the time lag.  (And, I must say, one of the drawbacks.  Who wants to have to keep mum for that long?)  It's always a surprise to see your almost-forgotten project again, and beautifully photographed on a lovely model.  I have to remind myself that I made it! 

The fun in this design is that it is worked in panels, with the center front and back worked bottom-up, then the front and back side/strap pieces worked sideways off them.  The panels under the arms are continuations of the front sideways lace pieces which are joined with a 3-needle bind off to the back lace panels.  Then the bottom band is picked up and worked top-down.  The only sewing is to attach the decorative buttons.  Modular lace is not for the beginner, but this would be an adventure for a knitter with a little lace experience.

There are many gorgeous designs in this issue from great designers - Annie Modesitt, Martin Storey, Vicki Square - and some lesser known designers who have hit it out of the park, like Gini Woodward.  Grab a copy when you see it - the 2013 issue sold out the day it arrived at my LYS!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Plaid is Busting Out All Over

In the past week, two of my plaid designs have been released - a shawl-collar cardi for Twist Collective and a men's vest for Chicago Knits.  Both of these are new publications for me, and I am excited to be part of both.
Twist Collective Fall 2014

The Twist sweater is one of my more accessible plaid designs.  No intarsia here, just some knitted in horizontal stripes and applied crochet chain vertical stripes.  I simplified it even more my keeping the raglan sleeves plain.  Working the edging in one of the plaid colors ties it all together. 

The style, a shawl-collar, raglan cardigan is a universally flattering design.  The extra weight of the collar is especially nice for narrow-shouldered bodies.  The belt is knit, but you could easily substitute a purchased belt, or leave it off altogether if your waist is not a feature you choose to highlight.

Chicago Knits Summer 2014

The Chicago Knits design is for their men's issue.  I used the same technique as the Twist sweater (applied crochet chain), but we made it a little funky by fading out the plaid at the lower front edge.  You can either follow the chart to replicate my exact fade, or experiment with your own.  The traditionalists could also work the vest in full plaid.  My handsome husband was recruited as model here, although in real life he rarely wears sweaters.  (His metabolism runs fast, while mine would lose in a race with a slug.)

I've got one more plaid design awaiting release, and it's really gorgeous.  Can't wait to share it with you.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

My Studio: Temporarily Imperfect Reality

So, you may have noticed blogging has been a bit light of late.  That's because I've had some big news that I was asked not to share publicly, but the cat is now out of the proverbial bag - my family is moving to Wisconsin!  It's been crazy as my husband has started his new job in Menominee Falls (Milwaukee suburbs), we've put our Chicagoland home on the market and house hunted around Milwaukee.  We'd like to land in the Hartland/Delafield area, but have to wait for our house to sell to buy there.  And all before the start of school . . . .

View from the door
So, before it becomes a pile of boxes, and then only a memory, I thought I would share my studio space.  My husband would freely tell you that in reality our entire house is my studio, but this is the room that is exclusively mine.  In all truth, this isn't truth.  My space never looks like this except for the unreal staging required of selling a house.  So add piles on tops of bookcases, bins on the floor and an overflowing closet.  That's reality.

Computer station
These photos are also in the aftermath of a major purge.  One of my LYS, String Theory, has a stash sale in late July, and I took advantage.  About a quarter of my books and nearly half my yarn stash went on the block.  I took all my single balls, leftovers, bits and bobs and made fun assortments by color.  I also unloaded my angora since my allergies seem only to be getting worse, and my last attempt to knit with it left me with a day of scratching.  The sale was last weekend, so I will call over
to String Theory tomorrow to see how I did.  Can't wait to see how much I have to spend in store credit - just in time for the Chicago Yarn Crawl!
Reference books - to the
right of computer station

Back to the studio - although the thought of a three digit yarn store credit is sooo dreamy. 

Pattern books and
crochet books
There's very little actual yarn in this room - only pending projects and my stash of recycled cashmere.  The yarn stash resides in plastic bins in the basement.  The purge reduced their number from ten to five.  Smiles from hubby. 

Wall o' storage

With less yarn in the studio, there's no way to hide my multi-craftual nature.  The sewing machine and serger are in plain sight.  Crochet books are in the open.  Needlepoint is on the table, and the jewelry making supplies are in the wall unit.  You can also see my constant companions, Gert and Trudy.  Trudy is the younger me, and Gert the present me.

Needle storage

Here's a shot of my recently reorganized needle collection.  I picked up the stoneware storage pieces at a garage sale and moved them in after a good scrub.  You can't see that the short round container holds my 16" circular needles.

And, last but not least, my inspiration board.  It is composed of four smaller bulletin boards hung together.  It changes frequently as older items come off to make room for the new. 

Inspiration board

In our new house the idea is for me to have a slightly larger studio space to contain more of the multi-crafting activities.  Stay tuned to see how that works out. 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Definition

"An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes
that can be made in a very narrow field."
Niels Bohr, Scientist

"Call me a knitting expert."
Theresa Schabes, Woolly-Wits

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Which Sweater is Best for Our Svelte New Friend?

The new Webs summer catalog has just been issued, so it's time for one of my favorite games:  Which Sweater is Most Flattering?  This time around, there's a new model.  Unfortunately, she is more modelesque than the typical Webs model, and shaped less like the average woman.  (Who, by the way, is a size 14 if she is living in the US.)  But, the game continues.  I've pulled our svelte new model's photos in the more summery garments, since I can't look at long-sleeved worsted wool sweaters in June.
604 Laurentide Sweater
Laurentide Sweater 
designed by Sara Delaney
605 Colorfall Cardigan
Colorfall Cardigan
designed by Kirsten Hipsky

379 Bilateral Cardigan
Bilateral Cardigan
designed by Kirsten Hipsky
Laurentide is in Berkshire yarn which has a knitting gauge of 16 sts over 4"/10 mm.  The Bilateral is in BFL Worsted Hand-Dyed by the Kangaroo Dyer.  The Colorfall Cardigan is in Charlemont which is advertised at a sock weight of 28 to 32 sts over 4"/ 10 mm, but the sweater gauge is 20 sts, so worked loosely for drape.  

If you've played this game before, you know the winner just by the yarn gauge.  I always lean toward thinner yarn, because the thicker the yarn, the thicker you look wearing it.  But, let's examine the design lines just to be sure.  Bilateral was knocked out or the running because of the excess of fabric under the arm.  However, because of the squareness of the neckline, this would work for a body with narrow shoulders and wider hips.  The heavier fabric and horizontal lines would help balance out proportions.
So, it's down to Laurentide and Colorfall.  Again, if you've played the game before, you know that a cardigan almost always wins.  The introduction of that vertical design line at the center of the body is very slimming.  Laurentide is giving it a run, however, with it's open neckline and slimming diagonal patterning.  But, it loses me with the cap sleeves.  Besides, the lovely drape of Colorfall was always going to win in the end. 
Colorfall's design would work on many body types, especially if color is used to draw focus.  For bottom-heavy bodies, use a lighter/brighter color on top and a darker/deeper color on the bottom.  For top-heavy figures, do just the opposite.  Lighter/brighter will always attract the eye, so put it where you want observers to look.  Let the other parts fade into the background.
604 Laurentide Sweater
The Laurentide sweater also gives me an opportunity to rant about a style of sweater that irks me - the 'coffin sweater'.  These are the garments which are patterned on the front - sometimes quite elaborately - but completely plain on the back.  As though the sweater were only to ever be viewed from the front.  As if worn when taking a very long rest.  This is especially irksome when adding a little pattern to the back doesn't seem to require much effort, such as with Laurentide.  Since the front and back appear to be identical, why not add a little pattern?  Think how much it would brighten the day of the person in line behind you at the DMV. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

Top-Down Knitting: The Disadvantages for Big Girls

Last week I rambled on over my glee with my newly-finished BlueSand cardigan.  And, I do love it.  But . . . it has not changed my preference for bottom-up knitting, especially for us non-waif-like ladies.

BlueSand by La Maison Rililie
From surfing Ravelry, one could conclude that knitters overwhelmingly prefer top-down sweater construction.  And, there are some good reasons for them to do so:

1.  Top-down sweaters allow you to try on for fit as you go.
2.  Top-down sweaters allow you to adjust for fit, as well as arm and body lengths, while knitting is in progress.
3.  Top-down sweaters generally have very few seams. 
4.  Top-down sweaters generally have less finishing.  This is because of the lack of seams and resulting yarn ends to weave in.

Good reasons, all, especially if one knows any knitters who would bury a nearly-finished sweater at the bottom of their UFO pile for years rather than take the 45 minutes required to sew a few seams and weave in ends.  (No judgment - we all have our quirks!)

But, here's the thing: the bigger you are, the less these really are advantages.  Take #1.  Yes, you can try on as you go.  However, there is really no point to trying on your sweater-in-progress until you are closing in on the armpit.  But by then you have already done a whole lotta knitting.  And, if things (like gauge) have gone really off the rails, that's a whole lotta knitting to rip.  (An aside here to say that every single top-down sweater I have knit has had to be ripped back to the beginning after reaching the armpit.  Including BlueSandEven after completing a generously sized swatch.)  On a bottom-up sweater, I can start with a small piece, like a sleeve, work for several inches and then re-check gauge.  Assuming the math is good, I can knit on with confidence.  Much less of an investment of ripping has to happen.

Another disadvantage alluded to above is the length of the rows.  Those last couple inches before the arms are split from the body are loooong rows.  Not so bad for a knit row, but it takes steely reserve to launch into that much purling. 

Yet another disadvantage is that you are working the entire sweater in one piece.  If you save the arms for last, as most patterns do, that's a big mess of sweater twisting in your lap as you knit your sleeves in the round.  Smarter knitters do the sleeves before the body, but then it's hard to double-check their length without the weight of the sweater body holding them in place. 

Here's the thing about these last two points.  The bigger you are, the longer the rows will be, and the more your sweater will weigh.  So, as your sweater increases in size, all the disadvantages of top-down knitting are exaggerated.  But, there's the biggest disadvantage of all . . .

No seams.  Why is this a disadvantage?  Seam give your garment structure and strength to carry its weight.  Thanks to gravity, the weight of your sweater  - both body and arms - is carried by your shoulders.  In a bottom-up sweater, there are typically some nicely reinforced shoulder seams.  (I give mine extra strength by constructing with a 3-needle bind off.)  If you don't have seams, what is carrying all that weight?  Your stitches.  And, the bigger the sweater, the greater the weight and the greater the stress on those shoulder stitches.  At the least the stitches will become distorted and throw off your carefully fitted and adjusted bodice, as well as the length.  At worst the yarn will not be able to bear the tension and will break. 

So, I know knitters don't love sewing seams, because if we did we'd be quilters.  But, it's a trade-off that I am usually pretty happy to make because I know that it results in a more stable, stronger sweater.  And the proportion of time spent sewing as compared to the time spent knitting is really a tiny fraction. 

Have I convinced you?