Thursday, October 29, 2020

Salix Alba


As a rule, I don’t do test knitting. Why? I hate deadlines. Plus I imagine that a test knitter’s main reason to exist is to try a pattern as it is, without modifications, and let the designer know when something just doesn’t work. I always change something in a pattern that I knit. Maybe I have a tendency to overthink it, but I always see a way to modify patterns to make them mine.

Last month though, suddenly, I became a part of a test knitting group for Lotta Löthgren of elkmarketyarn. I first discovered Lotta on Instagram and fell in love with her pictures and her writings. And also her jewelry – she makes adorable necklaces and earrings that I am planning to buy all one day. Long story short, when Lotta posted an announcement about a test knit of her new pattern, I promptly pushed a button and filled out a form. 

The pattern seemed to be easy enough – a round yoke top-down with a pretty colorwork – and, looking at its gauge, I thought that I could use up some of my cotton yarn leftovers and help Lotta at the same time. Needless to say that I applied for the smallest size – too often designs are too big and bulky for me. If I were one of these loud, endlessly complaining types that are so popular on the Internet nowadays, I would write everywhere how designers “discriminate” against small people with short limbs. Yet, instead, I just redo patterns making them fit my body. Because that is why I knit – to make custom garments flattering to my body type. And I enjoy the process immensely!

The very next day I got the pattern for Salix Alba – this is how Lotta’s new sweater is called and it didn’t take me long to regret my hasty decision to become a test knitter.

As soon as I saw the actual measurements for size 1 I figured that it would be too tight for me. The sweater is supposed to have a relaxed fit with 10-20 cm of positive ease. In my case the ease would have been negative, and I would’ve felt like wearing a straight jacket without any mobility.

At first, I thought that it wasn’t a big deal and I could use bigger yarn and bigger needles to make it a size or two bigger. Not in this case. I spent 2 days (!!!) making swatches with many yarns from my ginormous stash but none would give me the exact row gauge. And you understand that in a round yoke sweater row gauge is a key to a correctly fitting garment. With bigger yarn and bigger needles my yoke would end at my elbows and I would still be very restricted in my movements.

Since there were only two volunteers for size 1, myself being one of them, I decided to find someone who is even smaller than me for this sweater and ended up with a teeny-tiny college student in Indiana. Sydni is a grand-daughter of one of my knitting friends, and even though I never met her in person, I saw several knits made for her so could approximately figure out her size.

Now, after two days of swatching, the only two yarns that gave me the correct gauge (stitch and row) were Rowan Fine Lace in Vintage (knitting with three strands of yarn together) and two of my ColourMart yarns in white also hold together. I used exactly 6 balls of Rowan Fine Lace (436 yrds -399 m each) and an unknown quantity of the white yarns.

You see, instead of a fast and easy project for myself with the yarn from my stash I got a challenging task of fulfilling my test knitter’s duties while making a useful and fitting garment for a person that I’ve never met before. Tricky, right?! And this is why all my best intentions of following the pattern to a T went down the drain and I started modifying, adapting, changing, call it as you like. And all the way till the end I was feeling terribly guilty: I wasn’t sure that the designer would appreciate my modifications (why would she, since she wanted me to test her design, not my version of it) and I could only guess what Sydni likes or dislikes in a sweater based on my rather limited knowledge of college students.

Since Rowan Fine Lace is 80% alpaca, it is soft and silky but also extremely stretchy. From my experience, I know what can happen to a seamless top-down sweater with this kind of yarn. It stretches greatly after the very first washing and loses any shape or form. Since I was making it for a young girl in Indiana, I couldn’t possibly keep the original seamless construction. This is why I made the body and sleeves of Salix Alba flat. I kept all the numbers but after the yoke was finished I picked up stitches for the body and sleeves gradually, like for a raglan sweater but in reverse. I hope that seams will keep this sweater from stretching too much and that the raglan mini-seams give some additional mobility to the arms.

Actually, while making sleeves, I had to stop decreasing after the 5th decrease (there are 6 decreases for sleeves in the pattern) because sleeves were getting too tight. I don’t know, I am a swimmer and have strong arms, maybe it was just me.

I spaced decreases in every 10th row. The sweater is supposed to be rather on a short side with ¾ sleeves. I made it as long as possible with the yarn in my disposal, with full length sleeves. After all, it is cold in Indiana.

I used the short rows on the back as per pattern directions but I moved them higher, before the ribbing (I really didn’t like how they looked on ribbing). Also I used 1x1 ribbing with twisted ribs all over the sweater instead of 2x2 ribs for body and sleeves. I did tubular bind off on cuffs and body, and it looks more polished with 1x1 ribbing.

About the collar. I tried to make it following the pattern directions with short rows, but I really didn’t like how it looked and it didn’t fit well at the neck. So I unraveled it, knit 10 rows of twisted ribs, folded it in two, and sewed it on the wrong side.

The colorwork on this sweater requires long floats. I used the technique from this website to trap them: jewelry or sometimes a bras strap can get entangled in a long float. I ruined a sweater this way once (stitches never looked the same after I untangled myself from a float). 

It sounds straightforward and logical when written but the actual process was agonizing.  I felt terrible, couldn’t sleep well, and gave myself a word to never ever do test knitting again. Yet, I kept making changes to the pattern. I absolutely had to make all these changes – I wanted this little sweater to be warm and comfy, easy to wear and flattering to its owner. Remember, my sweater was going to Indiana to a young college student.

Then I took pictures of my handiwork and mailed the finished sweater to Sydni. While anxiously waiting for her feedback, I wrote a long apology letter to Lotta in which I explained all the changes I made, and asked her to forgive me for being such an awful test knitter.

Then I got pictures from Indiana.

Obviously the sweater fits well and Sydni looks lovely in it. Big weight from my chest. More pictures on my Ravelry pattern page.
And then I got a letter from Lotta. What a wise young woman she is! Lotta understands perfectly that knitting is for real people and if there is a need for a modification, a pattern should be modified. I was so relieved, you cannot even imagine. Because I am in awe with designers and their creativity and didn’t want to be disrespectful of the design. And I felt like I failed in my attempt to help her.

So my first crack at test knitting made me a bundle of nerves for a while and to alleviate all this anxious thoughts I started making another Baby Honey Blanket. This time – for myself. I used to have a big warm cabled wool sweater that was never worn since we started going to Florida for winters. I like the color and the texture of the yarn (I don’t remember what yarn it is, something by Ella Rae, I believe) so one sunny day (since most of them are sunny here) I unraveled the sweater, washed and balled the yarn, and put it aside.

This blanket was finished in no time. I don’t know why: because I made this pattern recently and remembered the stitches and all the pitfalls, or because it was a soothing and repetitive pattern, easy to follow but requiring enough focus to make me forget my worries. Anyhow, now I have a blanket all to myself and I’ve been using it almost every day. I think, it is the most often used knit that I made this year.  And now the jinni is out of the bottle – I want to make more blankets, maybe even crocheted. They are warm and squishy, and really cozy.

In conclusion: I learned my lesson – never sign up for test knits again. Apparently, I don’t enjoy group chit-chat and have no need to discuss my problems with other knitters. I prefer to find solutions on my own. This is how it works for me and I like it this way. When I knit something, I have to like it no matter who is the recipient of my work. If you decide to make Salix Alba though I highly recommend picking 2 sizes bigger your normal size - it will fit better. You can use my method of making a top-down sweater flat or knit it in the round if your yarn is not too stretchy - in any case, I think you won't regret your choice of pattern. It is very clearly written and easy to follow. 

And on this note I’ll leave you today. I need to finish my last project - its pattern was extremely challenging and I didn’t make any changes whatsoever in it (!). Till next time then…  


  1. Anna, I so understand your thoughts about test knitting. I have test knit several times and always, the pressure of deadlines reduces the pleasure of the knitting. Sydney's photos are perfect though. Good job!

  2. Exactly, deadlines are killers (which is why they are called DEADlines, I think). For now, I gave myself a word to never ever sign up for any test knitting. But I had to try at least...