About Woolly Wits

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

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

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.  

605 Colorfall Cardigan
Colorfall Cardigan
designed by Kirsten Hipsky
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. 
379 Bilateral Cardigan
Bilateral Cardigan
designed by Kirsten Hipsky
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?