When I make something from scratch, I rarely think it is innovative or original. It often develops from a garment I’ve seen elsewhere and my sometimes misguided confidence that “I can do that too.” But if I’m painstaking enough, I get good results and something I’m really happy to wear, or to give to others to wear. This post may seem like those interminable “thank yous” at the Oscars. It describes the sources for my design of Ed’s sweater, and I’m giving credit where it is due. And if you have not knitted without the safety-net of a pattern, perhaps my process will get you started on a sweater of your own.
I imagine the cable sweaters of such talented designers as Norah Gaughan, Kathy Zimmermann, and, of course, Alice Starmore as emerging fully formed like Athena from the head of Zeus. My sweater for Ed has been just the opposite. There’s been lots of trial and error, and many adjustments along the way. There are still adjustments to come—otherwise I’d have nothing to blog about.
My idea for the sweater evolved from this one:
It is a sweater I knit for my son from this old issue of VK (Holiday 1988).
The pattern is by Norah Gaughan. I made many adjustments to it to get the cables in the ribs to line up with those in the body. The neck instructions seem to have an error in the number of stitches you are to pick up. But it was one of the nicest things I knit, and my first project with Green Mountain Spinnery’s Mountain Mohair (color: Maritime), a yarn I enjoy for heavy sweaters like this one. And I do love that big cable. Sometimes it is important for me to try out a yarn before planning my own design to see how it knits up, but I usually work on something small like a scarf for this purpose.
That issue, by the way, is terrific. There is another men’s sweater, #4, in it and a Currier and Ives afghan by Nicky Epstein, which I hope to knit before I die.
This winter, I decided to make a sweater for Ed, who does not like pullovers. He requested a cardigan with a shawl collar, and with pockets. The pockets are a deal-breaker—no pockets, no sweater. I thought a cardigan would give me a bit of a challenge as I modified an old pattern. But neither of us liked the way that pattern swatched, and so I decided to make up my own pattern. Now my small challenge became a big one.
The main cable for my design, the Celtic Braid, came from Knitting on the Edge. It is the cover cable—and if you ever want to use it, be sure to download the correction from the VK website. I originally planned to flank it with a plaited cable, and that turned out to be too wide. So I figured out about how many stitches I’d need to get the sweater width I wanted. A 3x3 cable would be perfect. There was a sweater in VK’s special men’s issue that had the right shape, and after measuring Ed, I decided that I could work with the schematic for “large” and get a sweater that will fit him. I still plan to check the sleeve length, though, and not take the measurement in the schematic blindly. [If you want to design a sweater yourself and you can’t find a shape in a magazine or book pattern, then measure a store-bought sweater that has a shape and fit that you like and use its measurements.]
At the time I was working all this out, Wendy posted her work on Alice Starmore’s Cromarty sweater, and if Alice could position three large cable panels between smaller cables, so could I.
I also bought Knit Visualizer to help me with the charts, and I’m glad I did. The cables would have been a huge pain to chart by hand.
The back proceeded nicely, but I had to adjust the front for the button opening because I could not use a centered Celtic Braid with a buttonband. I started with the S-cable in Stitchionary, vol 2, pattern 180. It is an S-cable with seed stitch. But I didn’t want to introduce another pattern, and so I kept the reverse stockinette and didn’t use the seed stitch. I had to tinker with the length and width of this cable, and after a couple of trials, I had an S-cable that mirrored the Celtic Braid.
I also took what Ed thought was an interminable detour from this sweater to other projects. I finished an old Rowan sweater to give me practice in shawl collars and I knitted the entrelac sweater because it used a short-row collar. I want to use short rows on Ed’s sweater also, and I hadn’t done this on collars before. Taking bits and pieces from other designs is one of my most successful ways of creating my own. As an old boss used to state ad nauseam, “why reinvent the wheel”.
The collar on Ed’s sweater will be based loosely on the instructions in Katharine Buss’s book.
The problem I have with this set of instructions is that it is not explicit enough for me, something that is true of many knitting how-to books. But it did give me the idea to use a selvage stitch along the buttonbands. I’m currently wrestling with its inscrutable directions for shaping the shawl collar—something that did not proceed very smoothly last night.
A knitter friend suggested knitting the buttonbands with the sweater fronts, something that was really appealing because I did not like attaching the buttonbands on my Rowan sweater.
I did not reach the standard of perfection that I hoped in aligning the bands on the front—they are not off enough to make a huge difference (and to warrant ripping), but they definitely could be better. But after reading an old VK magazine article that suggested using short rows to make the buttonband smaller than the sweater body, I contemplated doing something like this. Techknitter came to the rescue in suggesting that I knit the bands with a smaller needle, and that was the reason I used the Brittany DPNs. I’m also going to use Techknitter’s fake tubular bindoff for the pocket tops.
So, there you have it. I’ve basically just assembled a lot of different ideas and techniques to come up with the plan for this sweater. And it has been a lot more than 99% perspiration, to paraphrase Thomas Edison’s quote about genius, with more sweating to come. (Is that why it is called a "sweater"?)