Friday, February 16, 2018

Disrupting the Order of the Garter

For many years I’d been avoiding top down seamless patterns like a plague till I made Birkin. I liked the finished result so much that it made me reconsider my knitting pattern policies and I started paying attention to other seamless top downs: after all, it wasn’t that difficult to rework a seamless into a “seamfull”. 
The best part of knitting a top down for me is that you can stop whenever you ran out of yarn. In the last couple of months my running out of yarn episodes became quite regular and annoying. The garter stitch cardigan from Kim Hargreaves book Grey wasn’t finished for this reason.
To make it I used Rowan Kidsilk haze in pewter grey and ColourMart 3/20NM cashmere 4ply in pewter. The last one I bought on clearance sale with only 800 meters on a cone. After my initial fiasco I started looking for another pattern of a garter stitch cardigan (because I really liked how these two yarns looked in garter stitch and because a little garter stitch cardigan like a little black dress must be in every woman’s wardrobe) and found the Order of theGarter by Annamária Ötvös. I’ve never made any patterns by this designer before which is understandable since she produces mostly seamless top downs. Yet, I decided that this was exactly what I was looking for: garter stitch cardigan with some positive ease, short and a bit boxy, with an I-cord finish and set-in sleeves. In my head set-in sleeves in a top down seemed more palatable than raglan sleeves because they have at least something to prevent them from stretching, some sort of “seam-like thingy” around an armhole. Yet, I’ve never done set-in top down sleeves before.

From the beginning I knew that I was going to make this cardigan with seems. Garter stitch is exceptionally stretchy (that is why it was initially used to make garters, hence its name) and needs as many boundaries as possible to prevent from stretching. The I-cord edge is a stroke of genius – it pulls everything together and gives this pattern a nice polished look. I don’t remember when I used an I-cord finishing before and, seriously, I don’t understand why. Half of Kim Hargreaves’ patterns would definitely benefit from an I-cord edging.

I had some doubts before choosing what size to make. I usually pick the smallest one and I didn’t have too much yarn to begin with, but the smallest size for this pattern is calculated for 28” bust. I am not busty but still 34” is my minimum. Eventually I picked size M1 (36”) for positive ease.
My gauge - 20 sts and 38 rows in 4”x4” – was different from the pattern gauge 20 sts and 28 rows in 4”x4”. As far as I figured out, a lot of Ravelers who made this cardigan before me had the same problem of totally different row gauge. And it is extremely important for this particular pattern because in many occasions you are just told how many rows to knit before the next step, not how many cm or inches. If you are a new knitter and didn’t pay attention to you gauge you can easily be making something that won’t fit you (or anyone else). In a situation like this you’ve got two choices (actually, there is a third one – find another pattern, but this one is for quitters): you either change your yarn and/or needles trying to get the same gauge as in the pattern, or you just use your common sense and knit as many rows as you need to have a garment of your size.
And that was what I did – used my common sense – and began knitting the Order of the Garter from the back. After shaping shoulders and neckline with short rows I was supposed to make 30 rows to the armhole shaping but I knit 50 instead to get my regular 19-20 cm for the armhole. After all armhole increases were finished I picked up 6 sts on each side and continued with the back for 110 more rows and only then put all sts on a holder. I made both fronts in similar way, then stitched all of the parts together and knit an I-cord edge around them. Bingo! I had a sleeveless thing seamed and finished, even with buttonholes.

Next step – set in sleeves. I got a bit lost reading directions in the pattern. To understand the process better I looked up a couple of tutorials for set-in top down sleeves on YouTube that left me still unsatisfied because I didn’t like the finished sleeves knit this way. When in doubt, ask Google (an old Russian folk saying). I kept digging and found a book by Elizabeth Doherty Top Down:Reimagining Set-in Sleeve Design that I promptly purchased and downloaded.

Now, that was an incredibly enlightening read! The whole set-in sleeve construction is explained in words, charts, and drawings in minute details. My main take from the book was the pick-up stitch ratio: 1) 85-90 % for the upper cap – 14 sts in my case; 2) 50 % for the middle and lower cap – 24 sts in my case; 3) 100 % for the underarm cast on – 10 sts in my case. 72 sts altogether or exactly the amount of stitches required by the pattern for my size. Bingo again! Bonus – now I have a lovely book with several cute top down set-in sleeve patterns that I might even make one day.

One of the Ravelers who had knit the Order of the Garter called it “a short rows love fest”. Indeed, the pattern includes an unusually high amount of short rows. At the end of the instructions there are links to the video tutorials for techniques recommended by the designer. I dutifully clicked on a link for wrap and turn short rows when I noticed on the same page another link to a video for Japanese short rows. I’ve never done Japanese short rows before and never even tried to find out how they are done because I was pretty pleased with the way my short rows looked. After watching this video and a couple more I was totally converted. All the short rows in this cardigan were done using this method and from now one this is the only right way of making short rows for me.

Everything, even numerous short rows, comes to an end, and eventually I had two pretty and neat sleeve cups on my needles. I weighed all the yarn that I had left, divided it as evenly as possible in 2 parts and knit the sleeves (again, not in the round but straight) till I ran out of yarn. They are not as long as I wanted them to be but maybe they’ll grow after washing.

My take from this experience:
1) Japanese short rows rock!
2) Top-down patterns with set in sleeves could be done with seems.
3) There is always the right pattern for your yarn somewhere. Just keep looking.

I finished this cardigan a while ago but it turned out to be difficult to photograph. The color is dark grey and mousy but pretty in real life. Plus it is a simple and straightforward design without any particular embellishments. And my photographer was extremely busy lately. I tried to take pictures myself and we did a couple of photoshoots together. I hope you can see the garment well. The only thing that I don’t like about it (and I don’t really “don’t like” rather am “a little bit annoyed with”) is the sliding shoulder/sleeve area. It doesn’t stay in place. The yarn is stretchy, and so is the garter stitch. Regular seems would have kept it in place better, but we have what we have. All the specs for this pattern are on my Ravelry page as usual.

The cardigan looks good with absolutely everything in my wardrobe. I am so glad that I didn’t quit on the yarn and finished the pattern, accidently teaching myself a few new techniques. Actually, this is the only way it makes sense to me to learn new techniques in knitting – while doing it for a pattern. If I don’t need it I don’t feel sufficiently motivated to change my old ways of doing things.

What now? I started a big and cumbersome project that I have to finish quickly. While we were in NYC my daughter asked me for a warm cardigan with pockets and cables. And I am trying to make it before her birthday and before winter/early spring is over so she can actually wear it for a while. 

Talk to you soon,



  1. Thanks for the reference to the Doherty book. I'm going to check it out. Also, your cardigan looks great. How does it wear so far?

  2. Thank you, Janet! So far so good - this cardigan is weightless and very easy to wear, so I grab it every evening to protect myself from wind and mosquitoes. Can be worn next to skin - so soft! You can tell I am in love. And this book is really good - money well spent.

  3. Love the little Donegal top, does not have too much going on in my opinion. No point in saying humble!
    As for the grey cardigan, I adore it but am not skilled enough to attempt it. But do have a solution if it is not heresy for the dropping shoulders. Find the finest, narrowest grosgrain ribbon, grey if you must but lavender or turquoise would be stunning and carefully attach along the seam with fine silk thread, Britex Fabrics online store could help with both, now I’m thinking about it they have amazing silk cording in smoky colors. And down the rabbit hole I go... This may all be heresy but I’m never opposed to a bit of mixed media. Just my thoughts.
    Never heard of Japanese Short Rows so now I’m in trouble.

    1. No, not heresy at all. I wish I was skilled enough in sewing to pull it off - I love mixed media!
      Japanese short rows are RIDICULOUSLY easy. Try this video on YouTube
      and you'll believe me.