Thursday, March 13, 2008

Anatomy and Evolution of a Sweater

I always thought that knitting a sweater was a little like a marriage commitment--interminably long with questionable results at the end of all that time. Don't get me wrong. I've been married for 24 years and I've also knitted many sweaters, but when I first started knitting in earnest, I focused on small projects because I could see the end clearly. Not so with sweaters. The human form is so varied and the complexities of fitting such a form and accommodating personal taste was so daunting that I just couldn't imagine knitting for that long and using all of that yarn, only to find that the final product didn't fit a living soul, nor appeal to any sensible being. Even after following a pattern faithfully to the end, I found that the sleeves were too short, the body rode up at the center or the bands at the hip or neck were too tight.

With that in mind, I began searching for solutions. To my great delight, I found such authors as Elizabeth Zimmermann
and Priscilla Gibson Roberts
who have guided me in not only knitting sweaters that fit, but in designing my own patterns rather than being a poor blind follower.

With that in mind, I've decided to begin posting the prenatal and birthing processes of a sweater. Whatever life it decides to pursue beyond it's final entrance into the world as a complete work is up to its owner, but the birthing and creation is my business.

My sweater began as hair on an animal's back--actually two animals. Dolly, my poor short sighted angora goat, and Justice, a very sexy alpaca beast, contributed ample supplies of white woolly stuff for me to use. Their fleeces were blended and processed into soft and creamy rovings that I've spent the last few months spinning in stop and start sessions. I have four skeins of approximately 400 yards and between 8-10 oz. each. I think it may take another two skeins to complete the sweater and I'll continue spinning, stop and start of course, as the sweater progresses.

The raw materials have been gathered and dealt with, and the charts below are the actual conception of the sweater itself. I've decided on an Aran style sweater. No color patterns for this one, but a plethora of knit and purl patterns that should hold my interest and keep me feeling challenged. It was so much fun to experiment with patterns and stitch counts. I made dozens of different drawings and finally settled on a central star with vertical patterns on either side. There will be simple cables that will run on either side of the center pattern as well as up the sleeves and on to the neck line via the shoulder straps. There will be full gussets under the arms and 2x2 ribbing at the cuffs, hip band and neck line.

Women purchase infinitely more sweaters than men, so this will be a woman's garment. It will be a women's size 10-12, which is an average/large woman's size. Chest size is 40", and sleeve length is 18" from underarm to wrist. These measurements should give the finished sweater enough roominess to be comfortable and practical.

The next step is to ball up the yarn and knit a gauge swatch so I'll know how many stitches to cast on.

My swatch measured 5 stitches to the inch measured over stocking stitch on #5 needles. The cables pulled in about 10-12% of the width. The chest measurement being 100%, multiply it times the gauge, so 40 x 5 = 200 + 20 (10%) extra for the cable pull = 220 total stitches for the body of the sweater, but I'll cast on the original 200 so the bottom band is doesn't flap in the breeze or ride up. Once the ribbing is finished, I'll increase to 210 stitches and then again when the patterns begin to 220.

All measurements are based on the 100% chest measurement of 40 in. or 200 stitches. The sleeves are cast on at the wrist at 20% of the chest and increased every 5th row to about 33%. I haven't decided how I'll work the sleeves yet but I'll play that by ear. So now it begins. I'll keep you up to date on the progress, but I tend to work on several projects at once, and the spring outside work is approaching.

I'm just getting to the end of the hooded jacket in rose gray alpaca and wool. I have half of a sleeve to finish and the hood to knit before I can assemble. Pictures very soon!!


ChrisH said...

Berlimey! I do admire your patience! I would have thrown it all on the floor and gone off in a huff. Well done! I have to say thing only garment I have ever finished was a baby dress for Lily who couldn't possibly protest about the fit/colour! Cunning, eh?

Pondside said...

Yes, pictures of that hooded sweater please!
This was a very interesting blog - as were your previous ones. Spinning is a mystery to me - I watched women spinning with spindles, using fingers and feet, when I was in Peru.
Reading the anatomy and evolution of a sweater is like reading fantasy for me - I believe it can be done, just don't have any idea of loved the vicarious exerience.

Kathleen said...

The sweater sounds great! I haven't done any charting yet, but with time, I think. You put much more preparation into your garments than I do. I don't think that far ahead.

I've also decided on a sweater to be done hopefully by fall. Black with stars scattered across the body and sleeves. The black yarn is not handspun, but the stars will be some of the multi-colored batts that Maggie sent. The black is actually going to be from the skirt that I made for someone and then never heard from again. That was a bummer, but it happens.

Cait O'Connor said...

This is such a lovely idea posting how a sweater is made from start to finish. Children could learn from it too. I admire your expertise and your creativity.

Inthemud said...

Fascinating! I used to knit and have completed a few jumpers and things but find it takes so long i get bored. Not done anything more than a scarf for ages.

Look forward to seeing pictures of jacket

yarnplayer said...

Nice post on designing a sweater from scratch!