This series is based on a sweater I am designing and knitting for Thor’s birthday. I have designed and knit many sweaters, but I design them for a specific recipient and never knit the sweater twice. For this sweater, I will follow the approach used by all my Norwegian foremothers – not to mention Priscilla Gibson-Roberts and Elizabeth Zimmerman. That is, you do not need to have a background in engineering to design a sweater. Using a holistic, conceptual approach, your creativity, and a few basic measurements, you can create your own sweater.
There are several initial decisions that need to be made before whipping out needles and yarn and starting to swatch.
FIRST: Fiber content.
Thor has a genuine allergic dermatitis reaction to wool, alpaca and mohair, and an anaphylactic reaction to angora (see my blog post about allergic reactions to fibers). That said, while he can never wear angora (at least not without an epi pin or hospital nearby), he can wear wool, alpaca and mohair as long as it doesn’t come in direct contact with his skin.
When we lived in San Francisco, I knit several garments out of silk, bamboo, cotton and blends thereof that worked quite well for him. Now, however, we’re living in the Pacific Northwest, and it is far colder – not to mention I am determined to use up some of my immense stash of Brown Sheep’s “Prairie Silk” (now out of production).
Yet Prairie Silk is a densely spun, single ply yarn. In 50 g/88 y hanks, its content is 72% wool/18% mohair/10% silk. Put a garment knit from Prairie Silk against Thor’s skin, and he would be in agony and end up covered in bumps, but, as long as a sweater knit from it has sufficient ease, Thor could wear it over a long-sleeved shirt.
2. BASIC DESIGN: Cardigan or pullover?
Thor wanted a cardigan because of its versatility. I thought (yes, I know it’s not about me), a cardigan the best choice as I can knit in sufficient ease so that he can wear it easily over a long-sleeved, collared shirt (and vest if he wants), thus keeping his skin out of direct contact with the yarn.
A cardigan needs a closure … zipper or buttons? Thor spends many hours a day watching the stock market on his computer screen. He often, simultaneously, plays the guitar. As with many musicians serious about keeping their guitars in pristine condition, while he plays Thor will not wear cardigans or sweatshirts with zippers or buttons or even pants with metal buttons or rivets.
I spent hours planning out hidden zippers (but the teeth were always at risk of hitting the back of a guitar) and hidden placket button bands (but they all looked cumbersome). I wasn’t satisfied with anything I came up with. Then I remembered my grandmother teaching me how to knit and crochet buttons for doll clothes! Voila!
3. NECKLINE: V-neck/round, collared/no collar?
I showed Thor several pictures of various cardigans so he could get a sense of what neckline he might like. He decided on a v-necked, shawl-collared men’s cardigans.
4. PATTERN: Simple or complicated?
Thor loves cables, so I gave him The Complete Book of Traditional Aran Knitting by Shelagh Hollingworth. Thor oo’d and ahh’d as he flipped through the pages of pictures of cable samples. We both loved the wide, multi-cable patterns; as Thor’s long and lean, a heavily cabled sweater would look great on him. But a heavily cabled sweater knit from Prairie Silk would be too warm to wear anywhere but outside tromping through the snow. (After all, we live in the Pacific Northwest, not the Yukon! Plus, his birthday is this month … though I know even a simple cabled sweater won’t be ready for his birthday!) So we compromised: I will knit a fairly wide cable design on either side of the button band and maybe a smaller one up the center of the arm. The rest of the body of the sweater will be in straight stitch.
5. SLEEVE: Dropped, fitted, raglan or saddle shoulder?
Thor was less concerned about sleeve and left that up to me. I decided to go with a shaped saddle shoulder. According to Priscilla Gibson-Roberts in Knitting in the Old Way, this style will help reduce some of the boxiness of the sweater. This should allow Thor to wear the cardigan under a jacket. (Gibson-Roberts discusses three types of saddle shoulders. Also, Shirley Paden’s Knitwear Design Workshop contains a section on saddle shoulders generally.)
6. TO STEEK OR NOT TO STEEK?
Like many people who learned to knit from their Norwegian grandmothers, knitting in the round and steeking for a cardigan opening seems so logical. That said, (1) I am writing this series for people who are ready to design their own sweater, and (2) I have not found steeking to be a common practice for the average knitter, at least in the U.S. So I will knit this in the flat.
Next Sunday: Part 2 – Measuring, Drawing, Graphing & Note Taking