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.

Uniform Cardigan

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I am so excited to have this cardigan in wardrobe rotation. It fills a massive gap – the everyday cardigan – that has been empty since last spring. Uniform is a versatile pattern by Carrie Bostick Hoge, one pattern with different lengths, waist shaping, sleeve details, and necklines to choose from. I choose the long, a-line cardigan with fitted sleeves, a regular neckline, and patch pockets. I also made the optional waist tie which really *ties* the whole look together.

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I used Berroco Remix for this cardigan. It’s an aran weight yarn made from 100% recycled fibers (nylon, cotton, acrylic, silk, and linen). I chose the “charcoal” colorway, black with white flecks, because I knew this would be the best option if I wanted a basic, wear every day kind of sweater. I am so glad I did. I don’t see this sweater going anywhere or losing its appeal.

This yarn is unique – to say the least. It has almost no memory; it’s very slouchy. It does, however, hold sleeve wrinkles (those folds around the elbow). The black with white flecks makes it a tweed yarn ( I think? Is a flecked yarn the only criteria for a tweed?). While I was knitting I noticed that sometimes I would come across these rough patches in the yarn, almost like a hard plastic and pieces of straw. This was a weird experience that I chalk up to the recycled nature of the yarn. Would I buy this yarn again? Maybe, I might buy the fingering weight version… I’m looking forward to the one day that a yarn company has a 100% recycled yarn that has a high twist and is great for cables. This yarn certainly doesn’t fit that. If anything, this yarn has really cemented my love for natural fibers.

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This sweater used to be a Portage Cardigan (coming up in tour de sweater). I made the decision to frog it after I was unhappy with the fit and appearance. What a relief – frogging this sweater and knitting it into this perfect basic number that actually fits has redeemed the yarn and the process, and maybe even garment knitting (was garment knitting ever really up for consideration? no… I’m obsessed).

I am happy to say that the sleeves fit perfectly! I think my days of too tight sleeves are behind me (I hope).

This sweater is pretty basic. Tons of stockinette, plus some garter stitch. I like the deep garter stitch sleeve cuff for the fitted sleeve option. It’s an unexpected detail that adds some interest during the knitting process.

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The pockets were a bit strange for me to put on. I chose to knit the patch pockets. But the pattern instructions were very vague about the location of the pockets and how to attach them. So I decided to graft the bottom and use mattress stitch for the sides. This proved to be challenging – black yarn and seaming are not a good combination, throw in some poor lighting and you have a total meltdown on the horizon.

By far my favorite thing about this cardigan is the waist tie. I have never knit a waist tie, nor worn a cardigan with a waist tie. At first I thought it would remind me of wearing a robe – something I’m not too fond of. Once I had bound off my last stitch on the cardigan, I looked at my remaining yarn pile (three balls of yarn left…) and thought, might as well try it out. This was one instance where branching out and trying something new really benefited. I could not imagine this cardigan without this waist tie. It would definitely be slouchy and baggy, and I think without the tie, I would feel swamped with all the slouch. But with the tie… the slouch is still there, but I feel like it’s all a little contained. I even considered knitting ties for every larger cardigan I make in the future… too much?

 

On Recycling (and a pair of socks)


The #slowfashionoctober Instagram prompts have me thinking about my craft as of late. I highly recommend checking out the feed here. The “what” prompt got me all excited about recycled materials. Even though the prompt was posted over a week ago, I’m still thinking about the meaning behind using recycled materials for my work. There are a lot of ways to be ethical/considerate in crafting. Sourcing locally, dyeing naturally, and organic wool are a couple that jump out at me. I love these options, but price wise they’re usually out of my reach. However, I don’t think cost has to be a barrier to conscious crafting. Recycling materials from items that already exist can really cut down on the overall costs of making. Buying a linen duvet cover from a thrift store is most likely going to be less expensive than new linen. And, with extra effort, quality materials can be found. But cost is only reason why recycled materials play such an important role in my life.

From the perspective of waste reduction, the best materials are the ones that already exist. According to this view, making my clothing from clothing that might end up in the landfill would minimize total waste. It’s a simple calculus that I find motivating and useful when I think about the impact of my hobbies on the earth. Of course, this is a very mathematical/economic way of thinking about making clothes.

Sometimes I like to be a bit more poetic. As I was knitting these socks I kept thinking about non-human recyclers. Just about every other creature on this earth might be better at recycling than us humans. Or at least every ecosystem has designated recycling systems built in. There are mammals, like raccoons and possums, who scavenge food waste. There are birds who build their homes from discarded items in the forest and the city. There are entire species whose job it is to break down plants and animals so they return to the earth. These decomposers perform essential roles by creating rich and fertile soil that is open and welcoming to new growth. Without these mammals, insects, and mushrooms, we would live in toxic environments.

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I wonder if there is a role for the scavenger and decomposer in the making community? We place much needed emphasis on sourcing thoughtful new materials, but do we pay enough attention to the back end of the process? What would it look like for makers to take note from the scavengers and decomposers of the world?

Just like every slow food devotee has a compost heap, would every slow fashion maker have a yarnpost heap?
Would we dumpster dive for materials that others have deemed irreparable?

Would we have competitions for most mended garment? Or item with the longest or most wears? Would we begin to keep note of these stats on our own clothing items?

Would we celebrate, rather than despair, when our friends frog a garment because it’s unworn and celebrate again when they knit it into something loved?

Would we start up new quilting bees for our fabric scraps?

As I think about the role recycling could have in maker communities I get excited. The ideas I mentioned above actually sound like a blast. I love making with other people, and all the more l reason to gather together in creativity!

I know that talking about material sourcing and waste can be a touchy issue. It’s so easy for me to feel guilty that I’m not following one of my slow fashion goals. But, it doesn’t have to be about strict adherence to moral-fashion guidelines. We are all creative people, and this isn’t a competition. The massive challenges facing our earth and communities won’t be solved through individualism. Working together to do our best which will almost certainly be imperfect is better than perfection alone. I think the best place to start is with a small idea and a forgiving heart.

Happy Making

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.

Finished Object: Circlet Shrug

Today felt like the first real day of autumn. It was the perfect day to break out my newest finished object: my Circlet shrug. which I have named Goblin Made because the cables and lace remind me of the sword of Gryffindor, plus Goblin’s make beautiful and amazing things – this shrug deserves to be one of them.


I spotted this pattern in making no.3. Its a beautifully complex cable pattern by the queen of cables -Norah Gaughn. At first glance I placed this pattern on the back burner. In my mind I wanted to make it out of reclaimed yarn and I knew finding a suitable yarn substitute from thrifted sweaters would be a challenge.  Such a challenge that I threw out the idea all together when my mother in law said she wanted to buy me a sweaters quantity of yarn for my birthday. Um, enough of this perfect yarn to make a perfect shrug??? YES PLEASE


Let’s take a break to talk about my amazing mother in law, Barb. Barb is an incredible knitter. She also is on a mission to keep all local yarn shops in business. For her, helping the local community is her main hobby. Her mission is an honerable one. I hope I can be as generous as Barb one day.

Barb’s generosity meant I could buy enough of the recommended yarn to create this beautiful shrug.


the yarn: So about this yarn… Brooklyn Tweed Arbor in the potion colorway. I have been longing to knit with Brooklyn Tweed since I became a yarn snob (three years and counting). They’re American made – American wool, milled in the USA, and dyed here too. Yay! This yarn is difficult to describe. It’s DK weight, but it produces a very stiff fabric. So for this garment the stiffness and memory of the wool make the cables and lace stand out quite clearly.


the pattern: Now it’s time to talk about constructing the garment. This pattern was a bit tricky for me. Basically it’s knit as a long rectangle and the long sides are seamed. But there are gradually sloping rib sections on the front sections that add complexity. After reading through the pattern carefully two or three times, I was able to press onward in my knitting (though still a little timid).

The cable section is based on a 20 row repeat. I wouldn’t necessarily say this is a memorizable pattern, but I would say I tentatively remembered it by the time I reached halfway through the back section. So that did mean I spent a lot of time with the pattern in front of me. I also spent a lot of time tinking back rows where I forgot to add the lace eyelets which are added on the wrong side – easy mistake.

The pattern left the side seaming up to the knitter. I used mattress stitch and seamed about 3/4 up the side. The arm hole is loose enough for my preference. Considering my history with tight armholes and sleeves I consider this a massive success!


reflections: I saw this pattern as a contemplative exercise. While most of my knitting is like a race to the end, this one was a slow practice in taking things easy – not rushing. This is something I am very bad at. I am a very rushed human being. When I played cello in school I most certainly was the culprit behind our orchestra wide rushing problem. I think the rush is in the very fiber of my being, but that doesn’t mean I can’t take some time to call it to the foreground, examine it, and maybe question it a bit. So, as I knit this shrug, every time I felt like rushing to the end of a row or section, I reminded myself that with this pattern I could just put it down right there. If I wanted to rush I could pick up a sock. But this project was all about slow.

I think the slow really benefited this pattern. There is only one mistake, a miss-cross of a cable, that I caught after completing two of the chart repeats. Considering I would have had to rip out 40 rows, I decided to keep the mistake and embrace it as a design element. After all, contemplation isn’t really about the best, rather it’s about building new habits and reflection and that miss-crossed cable dropped me straight into reflection mode.

I love this shrug, I think it’s a great piece for layering in fall/winter. The color is perfect for my palate. The yarn is amazing. The details are delightful. It’s the perfect statement piece for me (low on the statement but high on the detail). 100% recommend to anyone interested.