Tour de Sweater: Half Brioche Sweater

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This is my favorite sweater. Just by number of wears, this sweater overwhelmingly beats out every other sweater I’ve made. It’s everything I want in a sweater: pullover, slightly oversized, white, textured, normal sleeves.

I jumped on the knitalong for the Universal Brioche Sweater by Anna Kuduja. Like the improv, the universal brioche sweater is another sweater recipe. It’s knit top down with a drop shoulder. I think this construction serves my shoulders better than a raglan construction. This sweater hangs nicely and doesn’t shift around. However, I am fully aware that might be because it is a pullover and not a cardigan…

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This yarn comes from a fantastic, very large, vintage (80’s?) brioche mohair sweater. I wore the original sweater around for a season, but it was so large it swallowed me whole, more like a very unshapely sweater dress. I decided to unravel it and knit my own brioche mohair sweater that was more suited to my size. Unraveling this yarn was a sneezefest. Mohair flew everywhere. I had to unravel very slowly because the fibers would tangle in a flash. But I really wanted this sweater, and my determination won.

 

OS2A5945My sweater has around 4 inches of positive ease, a scoop neck, and sleeves that fit! I chose to make the armholes longer than I ever expected. I thought by making a larger armhole than I have ever made before, I might be able to avoid my tight sleeve curse. It worked, sort of. I ran into a brioche specific problem when starting the sleeves. When picking up stitches in brioche stitch, the picked up fabric tends to puff out. I experimented with fewer and fewer stitches, and finally came up with a combination of picking up stitches every 2 out of 3 rows, decreasing (k1, k2tog) the next row, and starting a drastic underarm decrease immediately. After three half sleeves, I finally produced a sleeve that made me happy: enough ease to be comfortable, but enough shaping to follow the actual shape of my arm. Can I confidently say the cures is broken? Not yet…

 

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This sweater actually took ages to knit. I didn’t realize before I jumped in, but brioche stitch takes double the time to knit as stocking stitch. Because brioche involves slipping stitches, every row basically takes two rows to complete. I was also using lace weight mohair on size US 5 needles. I began this sweater on February 16th and finished May 1st.  Um… What? Two and a half months on a sweater? While my internal assembly line is freaking out at the time it took to make this sweater, my slow fashion brain is trying to kick it aside. I wear this sweater all. the. time. This is the first sweater I pull out when the weather turns cool. It is the first one I put on when I’m feeling a little sick, and also the first one I grab when I want to feel classy and effortless. This sweater is everything to me. It was well worth the time and, to be honest, the frustration.

 

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Tour de Sweater: Improv Cardigan

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This next sweater in the lineup was an exercise in knitting confidence. I’m talking about my Improv Cardigan using Karen Templer’s Improv recipe. Her recipe is an introduction to knitting any top down raglan sweater. There is a ton of room for improvisation (hence improv). She details how to use measurements, gauge, and a little math to create the sweater of your dreams.

Stumbling across this recipe on her site will probably mark an important day in my knitting life. This is the kind of autonomy I always search for in knitting. Someone who will take the time to explain why things work the way they do, and how I can make exactly what I want. This recipe is all of that and more, plus tons of projects on the ravelry page to inspire you to take chances.

I didn’t exactly dive into this project. I actually took my time to read through every blog post before starting. Preparation seemed imperative when branching out into improv territory. I found the recipe on the very edge of my capabilities, so I drew out every step to visualize the process.

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I was equally excited about my yarn choice as I was my newfound knitting autonomy. I spotted this sweater at a thrift store about a year before, immediately bought it, and was waiting to finish languishing sweater wips to cast on. It is mainly natural colored lambswool with a strand of gold spun in to add the perfect amount of shine. It’s girly, but not over the top (how I usually describe myself). Unraveling this sweater was a dream, there were no instances of armpit felting or difficult necklines. It just wanted to be released from its current shape.

The knitting process was a bit arduous. I think this was my first fingering weight sweater. I remember thinking “this sweater is taking so long” but in reality I knit it up in about a month. Upon reflection I was probably being dramatic.

I have detailed notes about my improv choices on my ravelry page, if you’re interested I recommend checking them out.

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The rubber really hit the road for this cardigan after a few wears. I found that the sweater wanted to shrug back off my shoulders. Also, as usual, the upper sleeves were too tight. The sleeve problem is understandable given my history, but the strange thing with this sweater is that my armholes were actually too large. I’m still at a loss to describe how armholes could be too big and sleeves could be too tight. I just don’t know. So, fit issues were a major factor that prevented me from enjoying this sweater. I wore it often, I just didn’t enjoy it.

As I’ve considered the fit of this cardigan, I started to wonder if, perhaps, raglan cardigans aren’t for me. Maybe my shoulders need the support and structure of a seamed garment? I don’t know enough about fit to be confident in this conclusion, but I’m suspicious.

This fall, I made the decision to frog this version and knit up a different little white cardigan in its place. I chose the Honeyflower Cardi by Hannah Fettig in Making No. 3. The finished version of this cardigan will be on the blog soon, and I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts to share.

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Even though I’ve transformed this sweater into something new, I’m still overjoyed that I stretched my skills. By stepping into an unknown world, I realized I want to learn more about good pattern construction, fit, and sweater design. The best thing about this realization is there is no deadline. I have all the time I need to think more about patterns and what I want.

Tour de Sweater: Portage Cardigan

Before I begin I have to admit that this sweater in this form no longer exists. It has already been transformed into this sweater here and I regret absolutely nothing.

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The moment I first saw the Portage Cardigan on ravelry I fell head over heels in love. This cardigan has the kind of details I love. An all-over cabled back, amazing pockets, and a shawl style collar.

The problems began when I also set my heart on using Berroco Remix – a heavy worsted/aran weight yarn – for a pattern that recommends dk weight. Problems continued when I determined this yarn did not highlight the cable pattern, and culminated in my choice to substitute cables with a slip stitch pattern.

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Yarn substitutions: I am a serial yarn substituter. I can think of two projects where I have used the recommended yarn + pattern combo (my vest and shrug). Since both of these projects were just completed this summer, I have spent most of my knitting career substituting yarns. Yarn substitution is a helpful skill to have as a knitter, especially one with a tight budget. The basics of yarn substitution are simple: rather than knit with the recommended yarn, you knit with a substitute. The easiest way to substitute yarn is to find a replacement yarn in the same yarn weight. Most of the time I’ve found this works relatively well. But sometimes the results can be less than satisfying.

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A gauge swatch is essential for any successful yarn substitution. Determining if your selected yarn matches the stitch and row count is the first step, but isn’t the only thing that matters. Any patterned stitches should be swatched to see if the yarn and pattern work well together. That was one lesson I learned with this cardigan. When I swatched the honeycomb cable section in this yarn, I found that the cables were almost invisible. This isn’t just because the yarn was black (though black has a bad reputation for visible cables). While there can be a number of reasons a particular yarn doesn’t work for something like cables, I found that the most glaring factor of this yarn was the tweed content. The white flecks were much more visible than any stitch pattern. Another factor was the spin and sheen to the yarn. The recycled content of this yarn includes silk, which reflects light, combine that with a loosely spun yarn and the likelihood that pattern stitches will stand out is low. Overall the fiber content reflected light, the white flecks that reflected more light, so all the light was reflecting away from my cable stitches.

Rather than admit my defeat, I decided to replace the patterned stitches with a slip stitch pattern. I did swatch, and the slip stitch gauge matched the cabled pattern gauge. So I just stormed ahead – guns ablazing – ready to knit.

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So what happened? Well, the slip stitch pattern shrunk the back part of the cardigan, while the two front sections grew longer  than expected. So I unintentionally created a low back long front cardigan. The front was so long that I couldn’t easily put my hands in the pockets. While I wore this cardigan for a few months last winter, I found that every time I looked at it I would feel incredibly dissatisfied. After quite a bit of reflection, I determined that these feelings were rooted in all the shortcuts I took while I knit this sweater. I felt no pride when I wore this cardigan – instead I felt slouchy (not the cute kind) and messy. Those are not qualities I want to feel when I wear handmade garments. It was time to take action – I have the ability to make clothing, and I have the ability to remake clothing. So I could either hide this sweater in a corner of my closet, or I could reknit it into something that would bring me joy. So I exercised my knitting agency and knit my new go to cardigan.

I learned some very important lessons about yarn substitution with this sweater. While I was not happy with the end product, I believe these lessons have been essential to my knitting confidence. I learned about what yarn types work with cables and other patterned stitches. I know this skill will be extremely useful in future knitting projects. So while this sweater no longer exists, it has left a lasting impression.

Tour de Sweater: The Fearless Pullover

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My Smokey Green Tea pullover was my first intentional wardrobe replacement sweater. Back in 2015, I was wearing this oversized cotton pullover from a thrift store for a few months, when the idea hit me that I could make this sweater. It was my first aha moment in my now typical approach to garment making. Basically it goes like this: something in my closet I didn’t make? Can I make a me made version? Time to replace it.

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While this sweater is not an exact replacement, but I think I love it even more. I experimented with stitch patterns on my own and chose a textured purl stripe patter. I also successfully modified the width of the pattern (first time!). This piece really represents my growing confidence as a knitter, I was beginning to understand pattern basics and felt more comfortable adding my own ideas into a pattern.

I found the yarn for this sweater at the Goodwill Outlet (the crazy, bin version of the Goodwill Retail Store). It was a machine knit sweater with lots of cables – my guess was from sometime in the mid 2000’s. It was covered with cables, and the sage green color didn’t exactly help it stand out, but the yarn blend really caught my eye. This sweater is a mix of wool, mohair, and nylon. Based on that alone, I decided that this sweater was worth my time. So I brought it home (paid by the pound so it was like $1) and started to deconstruct. The color itself its hard to capture, I think the picture below is most true.

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The deconstruction process for this yarn was a bit messy. As I unravelled the yarn, mohair went everywhere. I often would pause for sneezing breaks. Fluffy fibers… not the easiest to harvest. But I was determined that this yarn was worth it. And, looking back, I think it was.

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I would count this sweater in the loungewear category of my wardrobe. It’s soft, very warm, constantly shedding, and easy to pull on because of all the positive ease. There are a few hiccups – like my signature tight sleeves (too tight!). The bottom hem band flips up, and I find myself constantly tugging at it in hope of a miracle. The positive ease has found me in a few tight spots, like when I lean over the stovetop to turn on the timer and singe little spots in this sweater… Don’t ask me how this has happened multiple times. All of those factors combine to make this the perfect house sweater that’s not afraid of bread baking, gardening, or other messy activities I find myself doing. Knowing that this was made from recycled yarn makes it a bit easier to be my true/messy self while wearing this. This sweater is fearless. Fearless when it comes to hard work, fearless in knitting skills, and fearless in being an awkward color that doesn’t photograph well. We all need fearless pullovers.

Tour de Sweater: Porter Cardigan

Sweater number five is this all over cabley squishy number. But I’m going to be honest upfront – this sweater has lost its luster. Which is why the beady eyed amongst you will realize these photos are different than the rest of the tour de sweater photos. That’s because I totally forgot about this sweater while we were taking pictures. So I did it myself and they look a little silly. Which is how I basically feel about this cardigan.

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Pattern: Porter by Beatrice Perron Dahlen. I love the intricacies of this pattern. I think the cabling is beautiful, especially the honeycomb back panel and the stag horn cables.

Yarn: Recycled yarn from a handknit sweater. Origin unknown, but my best guess is Lion Brand Wool Ease? It seems to me to be a wool/acrylic blend. When I first picked it up I thought it was all wool, but now that I’ve actually worked with more wool there is definitely some acrylic content in this fiber. This is my first truly recycled garment. As always, I learned some important lessons and I’ll make sure to list them below.

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Lessons Learned

  1. Recycle your yarn carefully. I did a wrap test to determine the weight of my recycled yarn. Everything appeared to be aran weight (which is what the pattern called for). As I knit this it was clear to me that the fabric was very open. My yarn was not thick enough to produce a densely cabled fabric like I’d hoped. So what happened? After unraveling the sweater, I am 99% sure I wound my yarn too tightly. This stretched out the yarn and reduced the loft, making the yarn move down a category in weight. Now I know: always wind yarn loosely (or use a nifty ball winder).
  2. Anything can be a cable needle, really. I used a pen, the needle section of a broken circular needle, and even a bobby pin for the cables on this project. All worked fine… though the broken circular needle was best.
  3. Check the Sleeves. These sleeves are knit in the round, which is a handy modern construct that eliminates seaming. However, for some reason, the pattern of my sleeves both twist around my arms. The stag horn cable is supposed to follow the length of the arm, but mine snakes around like it’s trying to hide from the light.
  4. Crew Neck Cardigans… I doubt I could foresee this lesson, but it was an important one still. I do not like crew neck cardigans. They’re just not my style. Crew neck pullovers – love, but slice it down the middle and put some buttons on it – gives me ambiguous feelings with small levels of discomfort. So, a crewneck cardigan is not my style, which is why this beautiful cardigan most likely will be gifted to someone who likes it.

img_5704I still love this pattern, which is why I’m considering knitting it up as a pullover instead. I think it would make an amazing vintage style, high neck addition to my large pullover collection. The instructions are phenomenal and the pattern is well written. If you want to try your hand at an allover cable pattern I would highly recommend this one.

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Tour de Sweater: Lace Birkin

 

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Item number four in Tour de Sweater is one of my absolute favorites. So let’s dive in

The pattern: Birkin by Amy Miller. I was drawn to the lace in this pattern. The pattern is inspired by a sweater worn by Jane Birkin with the same lace sections. That sweater is amazing, and this version feels like an everyday contemporary of the original. I love the construction of this sweater. It’s knit in the round with a faux side seam (making it easier to block). The sleeves are knit by picking up the arm hole edge and using short rows to make the sleeve cap. I love short rows so this was right up my alley, but they can be tricky to get your head around so I found that a practice run on a pair of socks was helpful.

The Yarn: Malabrigo Arroyo in Regatta Blue. I would call this a blue/green tonal yarn. This yarn has depth, color variation, and class. The 100% merino fibers do tend to pill after a couple of wears, but that’s merino…

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As always, I began with checking my measurements and how they fit with the pattern’s measurements. Because the fabric produced by knitting is stretchy, getting an exact fit is not necessary, and can be a waste of time and energy. So I decided to follow the pattern exactly as my measurements fell basically within one single size.

I am still extremely pleased with this sweater, and because of that I only have a few lessons learned.

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Lessons Learned

  1. If you think it’s too long, it’s probably too long. I was far too committed to following the pattern exactly – which meant when I tried this sweater on before adding the sleeves and thought “maybe the body is a little too long” – I didn’t do anything about it.  At this point in my knitting journey I had no idea that sweater length mattered. My preference for sweater length is somewhere just below the hip. For me, this sweater needed to be shortened. But I didn’t do that…
  2. Yarn Chicken. I did not think I would have enough yarn to finish this project… scary moment if you’re on a tight budget. I did knit a swatch for this project (hooray!) and by the time I reached the last sleeve, it had to break into that swatch to reach the end. I did two things when things started getting sticky. First, I decided to knit the sleeves two at a time, so I could make sure they were both the exact same length while also using as much yarn as possible. I didn’t want to short change one sleeve and then realize I had more yarn than I thought while knitting the second sleeve. Second, rather than change the length of the ribbing, I shortened the length of the last lace repeat (the diamond lace section). Choosing to shorten the lace section allowed the ribbing to have continuity throughout the sweater.
  3. Sleeves. I finally made some progress in the sleeve department. These sleeves work. I like them. That, my friends, is a huge success. These sleeves have 2.25″ of ease when compared to my bicep measurement.

 

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Even though this sweater is a tad too long, I consider it a huge success. I love the color, the fit, the shape, and the wearability. It stands out as a staple garment in my wardrobe. The lace pattern is also wonderfully simple. I easily memorized the pattern which helped make this a dream to knit.

If you’re searching for a classy lace pullover that’s not too feminine or girly, this is definitely a great choice.

Tour de Sweater: Colorwork Cardigan

OS2A5611So, I’m ambitious.

I am still quite pleased with this cardigan. But before we get into all my thoughts, let’s take a look at the specs.

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Main Yarn: Elemental Effects Civility Sport Hi Twist in City Shadow, Vermillion, and Cypress. These were purchased at Vogue Knitting Live in Pasadena (2015). Very early in my knitting journey my Mother in Law treated the two of us to a weekend of knitting classes and yarn purchases. This was a turning point in my love for fiber. I realized that I knew nothing about this world and I wanted to know everything. Holy Moly! People knitting everywhere, yarn, sweaters, booths, I loved it all.

Pattern: Lamatakki is a free pattern on Ravelry for a improvised colorwork cardigan. Jumping into colorwork with this pattern was probably not the best idea and overall I remember struggling hard with this project.

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But before I dive into a deep pile of regrets, I first want to remember what I love about this cardigan: the colors. I think they work absolutely beautifully together. I am so happy with everything about the colors. Also the colorwork is quite impressive in my opinion for a self taught knitter. Nice job past self.

 

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The List of Struggles

  1. Choosing the right colors. At first I had bright blue and white included in this cardigan. Halfway through the body I realized that this was a very bad idea. Looked awful (my ravelry page for this project has some shots of the og colorway if you’re interested). Scrapped it and started over.
  2. Choosing the right weight of yarn. So my main yarn was sport weight, but I wanted to use what I had so I also have some DK weight (pink) and fingering weight (red). So that has created some awkward moments in this cardigan. They’re only really noticeable to me, but still…awkward
  3. Sleeves. So this is the real beginning of my sleeve struggles (which soldiers on). These sleeves have ZERO ease. They are very tight. Making this cardigan difficult to layer (which is the entire point of a cardigan). But I had knit the sleeves three times far too large and was ready to give up, so too tight was alright for me at the time.
  4. Knit flat. Usually colorwork garments are knit in the round for very good reason. This pattern is knit flat, which meant I had to do colorwork on my purl rows. I am still scarred from this and have not even attempted colorwork since this cardigan. Do not knit colorwork flat, just don’t. The way to get around this is through a process called steeking, which I have not tried yet but am eager to jump into. Maybe baby steps with this blanket, or straight up deep end with this cardigan.
  5. Button bands. This button band… yikes. Too skinny. Two afterthought button holes (that I forgot to insert during the knitting phase) are currently unraveling. The button band is my least favorite part about this cardigan.

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A note on sleeves: I don’t know why, but every project I knit has sleeve issues. They are most often far too tight around the upper arm and shoulder area.  Thanks to Amy Herzog’s fitting class at VKL- pasadena (see above), I always measure my arms (and everything…) before knitting a pattern. She recommends .25″-1″ of ease for the bicep area, and try to include 1″-2″ of ease in the pattern measurements to ensure a looser fit. Still, it comes up too tight. So I’m considering upping my ease requirement to 2.5″ and maybe even then I’ll hike it up to 3″ if I still find it troublesome (that does seem excessive though…). The strangest part about this… I have kind of skinny arms! So the mystery of sleeves continues for me. If anyone has any recommendations for sleeve/shoulder fitting classes/books/info, please help me!

 

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So if I were to knit a colorwork cardigan again I would a) knit in the round with a steek (they’re not that scary), b) choose all the same yarn, c) make sure the sleeves fit.

Still, I am proud of this cardigan. It doesn’t scream handmade, but still shouts “I’m an original.” Which, in the end, is exactly what I hoped it would do.