Saturday, September 19, 2020

I do it my way, or how I made Deconstruction (twice)

I love patterns with unusual constructions, they intrigue me and make me knit faster in order to get to the point when I can assemble strangely looking pieces together like a puzzle, and something beautiful (or ugly) comes out of it.

As soon as I saw Deconstruction by E-ca on Instagram I wanted to try my hand at making it. 

Have you seen E-ca’s Instagram photos? They are stylish and artsy, professional and impeccable. This designer pays lots of attention to little details and is very meticulous in execution. Which is why, I believe, she doesn’t publish new patterns often. 

Her patterns before Deconstruction were also intriguing but not exactly my style – I mostly avoid super-oversized clothes and have no need for warm accessories in South Florida. Yet, I really wanted to try a pattern from E-ca to see what her extreme attention to details would do to the fit. Because this is what she keeps saying in her Instagram posts (for those of you who don’t understand Russian) – a garment must fit from all points of view and in all places, all the wrinkles and folds must be planned and work for the overall look. And because this is the most important part of knitting for me – to get the right fit in my handmade clothes.

This last design – Deconstruction – seemed perfect for my goal. It is a summery oversized sweater with lots of short rows and other artful tricks to better fit its owner. I bought the pattern as soon as it was published on Ravelry. It has Russian and English versions – fortunately for me, because at the end I used both to understand the design better.

When I read through the pattern for the first time I got really overwhelmed. I cannot imagine how much time and effort the designer spent to create such a detailed and complicated work. The body of the sweater is made out of two pieces of different size and form that are made separately and are sewn together afterwards (there are several detailed tutorials on how to sew them using different types of stitches).

The shapes are created with a clever distribution of specific increases and decreases on both sides of each body part. There are charts at the end of the pattern with numbers of rows for increases and decreases on each side - yes, they are all different. Plus, there are short rows front and back – to accommodate for all of our bodily curves (even if they are not very conspicuous).

Initially, I wanted to use some yarn from my stash to make this sweater. Yet, after taking a look at all the numbers, charts, and tutorials, I decided that I won’t be able to recalculate them if my stitch or row gauges are different. So I ordered the same yarn that was used in the original pattern.

Why did I pick this color? I really didn’t want to make it in black since I have enough black clothes, and it is hard to knit with black yarn. The white color didn’t speak to me either – too much white yarn in my stash already. At the moment I decided to be adventurous and picked this pinkish color (vieux rose) that looked brighter on the picture than in the real life.

A couple of words about the yarn – Feza Yarn Alp Natural. It’s made of mixed fibers – cotton, silk, rayon, linen – and every so often changes its thickness and texture. How is it done? When I got the yarn and was winding it into balls, I discovered that it was made out of short-ish pieces of yarns of different thickness and texture, knotted together. As a result, each ball of this yarn had tons of knots. Honestly, it wasn’t a pleasant surprise. 

My first obvious solution to the problem of countless knots was to make them a part of the pattern, leave them on the front side of the fabric. This way they would add some additional quirkiness to the garment, or so I thought at the moment. 

I also didn’t like the color of some of the parts – they looked too bright or too dull to me. I am a purist and a retrograde, I know, but when I make something for myself I do have some standards.

Also, it was hard to calculate my gauge with this yarn. Because its different parts have different gauges – some are really thick and some more on a thin side. Eventually, I went with smaller needles (4.00 mm/US 6 instead of 5.00 mm/US 8) than recommended in the pattern because I didn’t like the look of my swatch with thinner yarn on bigger needles. 

While calculating my size I made a major mistake and picked size M. I won’t bore you with the details why it happened.  Suffice to say that quite a lot of positive ease is already incorporated in the pattern and it is hard to calculate how much because the patterns’ parts are uneven and have irregular shape.

From the very beginning I was really surprised by the recommendation to leave a specific length of yarn at the cast on. I love to leave the longer ends of yarn to seam the parts later and always do it myself when I knit. This is the first time in my life that I see a designer recommend how long the end should be to seam the part later.

The pattern asks for several special techniques: Italian cast on, short rows, sloped bind-off in order to avoid step-ladder effect on shoulders, different seams, and slip-stitch crochet seam. For each of them (with the exception of the Italian cast on) there are detailed tutorials with step-by-step instructions at the end of the pattern.

The only problem for me – I use different techniques to get same results and I’ve been using them for many years now. From the beginning I had to make a choice – either follow the designer all the way and embrace the new techniques and try using them for the first (or maybe second, third, fourth) time or do it my way, the way I usually do.

You can guess what choice I made. Yes, I didn’t take a risk – the whole thing already seemed extremely complicated, I didn’t want to stress over a new technique, and decided to go with my tried old tricks. After all, they served me well in the past. 

Here is the list of my substitutions:

1. Tubular cast on instead of Italian cast on.

2. Japanese short rows instead of wrapped stitches method.

3. A different bind off to avoid step-ladder effect.

4. Knit the side stitches on the knit side, purl them on the purl side to help with the mattress stitch seaming.

5. I tried to learn the crochet slip-stitch seaming but the result looked weird and I used the old method found in Phildar magazine.

There are also different types of decreases and increases that at first I couldn’t understand because I was using the Russian version of the pattern. It turned out I know the English knitting abbreviations better than the Russian ones. Luckily, there was an English version of the pattern that I could understand better. And I didn’t make any changes here – followed the instructions to a T.

The main patterns of Deconstruction are very easy – most parts are knit in plain garter stitch, and one part – just variations of knit and purl rows.

Keeping a tab on all decreases/increases takes a lot of focus but it is also fun in a knitterly perverse kind of way. I was so absorbed and intrigued by this pattern and the yarn changes made me so nervous that I finished all the parts, washed them, and blocked rather quickly. They grew a lot after washing and blocking. It is no surprise with garter stitch but I think the yarn composition added to the fabric stretchiness.

When assembled this sweater was huge and I was drowning in it. It wasn’t a total failure though. Yet, in my opinion, all the finesse and ingenuity invested in the pattern got lost in the final product because 1) it was a wrong size; 2) the yarn was too busy. Eventually, I had to hide all the ends from the knots because they created messiness without adding anything to the style.

As any normal knitter with a failure on hands, I immediately dived into my stash and started a new version of the same sweater. This time – the smallest size and less patchworky yarn. I came to a conclusion that the yarn choice can make or break this pattern. It has to be some sort of yarn that could hold shape. For my second version I used some ColourMart  cotton scraps (main color), some Elsebeth Lavold Bambool, some Sublime Yarns Organic Cotton DK, and some Anny Blatt cotton blend from an old unraveled sweater.

It is especially important for sleeves in this case. You see, in this pattern the sleeves design is a work of a genius. Not only have you got to make different increases and decreases at the sides of the sleeves, but also in the middle. And then you need to reverse the shaping for the second sleeve on your own. Fortunately, at the end of the pattern there was an almost empty sheet “Notes”. I barely had space to fit all my “notes” for each separate part of the garment, see?

And all this work goes almost unnoticed in my first version of the sweater.

What did I do differently the second time? Besides picking different yarn  and size, I sewed all the parts together before washing and skipped blocking completely. I tried to prevent excessive stretchiness and I think that I succeeded. I am in love with the sleeves on my second version. Just looking at them makes my hands itch to start another Deconstruction.

Yes, I want more of it. I explained the process of making this sweater in such detail not because I think that the pattern is poorly written and you cannot puzzle it out without my help (because all experienced knitters certainly would). I believe this pattern is great, is much easier than it seems, and is a breath of fresh air in the endless row of top-down seamless designs that gratify the “HOT RIGHT NOW” Ravelry page. I also believe that it should be made from a different yarn, not the one recommended by the designer, on smaller needles, and in a right size. It is a great pattern to use up the multicolored leftovers that accumulate dust in your stash. It is a wonderful experiment with shape and form that keeps you focused and absorbed by the process from the beginning till the end.

While laboring on my two consecutive Deconstructions, I crocheted myself a bag. I saw this bag on Pinterest (and later found out its price) so obviously I had to make myself something like this. Just for fun and to see if I still could crochet anything.

Nowadays all my communications with the outside world happen on Zoom. When I talk I can work only on something mindless. This bag became my Zoom project which is why I called it Zoom bag.

I searched for a pattern but couldn’t find anything exactly like the one on the picture so I made the pattern myself (wrote it down on the project page). However, later I found a pattern, it is free on Ravelry, and I think it is much more detailed than mine. Anyway, I am very pleased with my bag (the yarn was recycled from an old cotton sweater, by the way) and now want to make more bags in different shapes and forms.