Doing it my way
The most curious thing about making a sweater on my own was how much it strengthened my idea of following the tried and true basics; the knitting clichés of gauge and yarn, which are really the bedrock of getting garments right. It also added one more to my list: measurements. I needed to know my own measurements and then I could do anything.
What I wanted to do was to knit my own sweater. There were two reasons for this: 1) I needed a great comfy sweater; and 2) I had a lot of white and brown DK yarn that I wanted to use up. I’d bought the yarn years ago for a ‘boyfriend sweater’ but then got married, fell pregnant, had no time, and just wanted rid of it. Be gone boyfriend sweater curse!
Great comfy sweater
I wanted much negative ease and the sweater on the longish side. I didn’t particularly want a brown and white sweater though as that seemed very dull.
The yarn, of which I had a lot, was Cascade’s undyed and natural Peruvian Eco wool and I’d bought enough for a brown and white men’s sweater, so I had 500 grams of quite a rough wool yarn in a bulky weight.
It isn’t the softest and it’s very unlike the superwash Merino wool I was used to. To balance out the harshness and density I decided to use some brushed mohair and silk yarn, which was lace-weight, and a merino/ mohair/nylon 4ply. The brushed mohair is cloudy, silky and soft, and the 4ply provides definition of the stitches and a springy softness. Together I hoped they would be a good balance for the harshness of the Cascade Eco. I was actually grateful that I didn’t love the bulky yarn so much because it made me creative. Instead of a uniform sweater, I ended up with a textured and colored garment which is much more interesting.
Yarn gauge was essential. I was using three types of yarn but the bulky one was placed and knitted in such a way that it determined all other measurements like a type of exoskeleton. I was trepidatious about the use of lace, 4ply and bulky but apart from bumpy bits, it worked.
The knitting part
There is a tutorial on Fringe Association about how to knit your own top-down sweater. The basic idea is that once you have your initial measurements and gauge, you can cast on. You then pretty much knit your way through to the sleeves, temporarily bind them off and then knit the rest of the body.
There are increases, decreases, sleeves and neck bands but they felt trivial. I’d knit a few garments before so I wasn’t worried about picking up stitches or decreasing sleeves. My big worry was about the transitions.
When do I stop increasing stitches, temporarily bind off the sleeves or pick up the stitches for the sleeves? And because sweaters require many stitches, I didn’t mind casting on while I figured out the rest.
In a previous life, I had been a data analyst so seeing a formula put me at ease. All I needed to get the perfect number to cast on was specified as follows:
Back neck stitches + [sleeve stitches x 2] + 2 = CO.
You can measure your own back of neck or that of a favorite sweater. For women, it is usually 5.5cm-7cm. The number of sleeve stitches is usually around 30% of the number of back neck stitches.
I measured my back of neck as 7”. My measurements provided me with a gauge of 20 sts per 4” so each inch was 5 sts.
I then had 35 sts for the back of neck of my neck + [~30% of 35 for the tops of sleeves * 2] + [1 front neck st * 2]
35 + 21 + 2 = 58 sts
Then I noticed an optional addition of two seam stitches at the edge of each of the back neck points so I added 2 sts there on either side.
Front neck stitch + 2 seam sts + 10 sleeve sts + 36 back neck sts + 10 sleeve sts + 2 seam sts + Front neck stitch.
CO 60 sts
I wasn’t aiming for a striped top necessarily but wanted some color, and especially my kryptonite yarn.
One color choice followed the other in a piece meal fashion but they seemed to work well together.
While making the sweater I knew that I could stop, frog and start again at any time and this allowed me to make some daring decisions without worrying too much. I frequently wondered whether I should start again, as I was trying out new things but I liked it all just enough to stick with it.
First I tried out a naturally gray 4ply yarn just to see how it would look and work with the bulky Cascade Eco. Then a stripe of my Kryptonite 4ply yarn, which I was going to use regardless but had not yet decided how; and next it was the Kryptonite mohair.
The difference in the density of the yarn is quite clear and it breaks up the very firm texture of the pure wool yarn.
One further thing the dense yarn allowed me to do was to work with two different-sized needles for different effects.
With a 3.5mm needle, the bulky yarn produces a plaited texture that doesn’t look completely like stocking stitch. This shifts into the normal appearance with 4.5mm needles.
Wimbledon was on and with all the tennis on TV I seemed to have picked up some inspiration from because the yoke had an athletic feel to it. Three stripes set apart by a background color, and the ‘plaited’ stocking stitch made the top part look a lot more like breathable tennis gear.
When it came to further down on the body, I knew that I wanted much more color and much more softness. The size of the greens worked well with the gray so I wanted to repeat the same pattern variation later.
Now the only question was what colors would go with brown that I wanted to use? I had some teal mohair/silk that I had dyed for a sample for someone and thought that would work well. I then dyed some Avon yarn in the same teal and a matching brown and then dyed a further brown mohair/silk color. I had to dye them two or three times each as the colors just weren’t as deep as I wanted them.
When I was finally ready with my plan and colors I could go ahead and knit. I kept track of how many rows of each color and repeated them. While on holiday with family in Lyme Regis I was looking through a Designer Knitting magazine and discovered some tips on jogless stripes when knitting in the round. It was perfect timing and the ideal technique to add to my sweater. Coincidentally, there was also an article about Lyme Regis and its history of button-making. I took that as a sign that I needed to use the jogless stripes tip and not about adding buttons, however.
The rest of the knitting was a matter of balance. I wanted as much white as brown and I wanted the stripes to mirror each other.
After the first set of Kryptonite and Grey stripes, however, I wondered whether a little textured striping would help. I decided to adapt a chevron style mix of k2tog and kfb stitches at regular intervals but made the mistake of using stitch markers at those very intervals. I then had to deal with laddering where the stitch markers had been. That was my biggest mistake and one that would not make its way into the pattern.
Two more issues that I encountered were 1) not knowing whether to pick up the extra cast-on stitches at the underarms, and 2) knitting with lace mohair on the sleeves with magic loop. If doing them again I’d invest in asymmetric needles that are meant to be a lot better at dealing with a smaller number of stitches.
Once finished, I wasn’t entirely surprised that it fit well because I’d been able to try it on throughout the whole knitting process. I am a little amazed that I’ve managed to complete it and now want to make it again and again. The eco yarn is a little scratchy but I’ll be wearing it over shirts in winter so I don’t mind too much. Now I just need to wait for colder weather!
Interested in your very own Sinatra Sweater? Joanna wrote the pattern up for us!