Sunday, June 13, 2021

Fair isle vs. intarsia

I just finished two projects with colorwork. One was knit using fair isle technique and the second one - using intarsia.

Since I worked on these projects almost simultaneously I was constantly comparing these two styles (and two sweaters). Here are my notes and thoughts.

Part 1

Let's start with the more difficult and time consuming project - my Nili Lotan knockoff. I began planning for this sweater a year ago when I found a copy of its colorwork pattern on Pinterest. Instantly, I decided that it would be a perfect project to use up as many ColourMart scraps as possible. Looking at the original sweater, I picked my colors.

I had to combine 4 threads of similarly looking laceweight yarns  because otherwise finishing this sweater would have taken ages, it would have been rather fragile and get holes after a couple of wearings. Since they were all bought as sets of leftovers I had no idea about the length of each ball. I could only hope that I had enough to finish the sweater (spoiler alert - I didn't!). 

I was using thin needles - 2 mm/US 0 (for the ribbing and same color stripes) and 2.5 mm/US 1.5 (for the fair isle parts) - because I wanted the fabric to be sturdy.

I based the sweater construction on a man's sweater pattern from an old Phildar - big and long, with wide sleeves. Yet, I wanted to change its neckline and collar. 

Originally, I wanted a zippered collar - again!  Now that I bought zippers in several colors, my hands are itching to add them everywhere. Pretty much  like when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Then I saw a collar on another male pattern in a different Phildar and became instantly convinced that I needed to try it with this sweater.

And then I picked up 134 sts for the back…

What can I say? I love working with ColourMart yarns and this sweater wasn't an exception. However, small needles, long rows, and very slow progress were really depressing. I liked the color combination and the thickness of the fabric, but my hands would start to hurt after a little while, and I needed all my focus and concentration in order not to make a mistake. It wasn't a project that you could work on while watching TV or talking on Zoom. 

After finishing back and front, I noticed that my ball of black yarn almost vanished. Who would have thought that black was so much used in this pattern? Definitely, I didn't. And I needed black for the sleeves. So I went online and ordered some black yarn from Colourmart. 

I used the waiting time to finish the collar. It was knit separately using short rows and then sewn onto the neckline. 

Then, since I couldn't work on sleeves - too little black yarn was left, it was pretty obvious that I couldn't finish even one sleeve with it - I started another project (see Part 2). 

Yet, I kept feeling bad about abandoning my difficult but lovely sweater. After all, black is black, right? So, I dived into my bottomless stash and rooted out little balls and pieces of black yarns, all from ColourMart, but a bit different in color. And I used them all to finish the sleeves. The ordered yarn came when the sleeves were already blocked and drying. I bet you cannot see the difference. I can see it because I know about it but only with a very good light and up close. Vive ColourMart and their color compatibility!

This sweater took a year to plan and a month to make. It is soft but sturdy, warm, but light, with enough ease to accommodate a long sleeve shirt underneath. Each color is actually a mixture of colors and I like how they look.

 I was right to try a new collar shape - it is flattering and comfortable, not a boring tired crew neck. 

However, this project was supposed to be a huge stash buster and I ended up with more yarn (black) from ColouMart.

Part 2

My second colorwork project, the one I worked on in between, waiting for the yarn, was a colorblock jacket from the cover of  Keito Dama # 188 Winter 2020. I've already made one colorblock jacket from Keito Dama and it was a very pleasant experience. 

When I saw this design, I immediately thought about a bunch of Drops Alpaca yarn leftovers in several colors that were languishing in my stash forever. I got the magazine from Etsy and started playing with colors and gauges. The pattern is not for a fingerweight yarn. To get the required stitch gauge (19.5 sts in 10 cm) I had to use two threads of yarn together. My row gauge was still a bit different (23 instead of 24.5 rows in 10 cm)  but I thought that it was close enough.

I didn't have 7 colors of the same yarn required for this jacket, so I thought that I could use some other leftover yarn with close stitch gauge. However, when I started experimenting with gauge and colors, it dawned on me that if I wanted this cardigan to look good and professional, I had to use the same yarn. This is how I ended up ordering Garnstudio Drops Alpaca in 3 more colors. Again, this project was supposed to be a major stash buster! How ironic!

While waiting for the yarn, I drew a copy of the pattern from the magazine and colored different blocks in my chosen colors. I had to go through this process a couple of times to get the color combination that would suit me. My main colors were black, beige, dark and light blue, which is why I couldn't use the original color combination (that I love, by the way).

When I finally got the yarn (the wait was endless since it was mailed from England), everything went pretty quickly. 

I balled two threads of the same color together and started knitting.

While knitting intarsia I used to get little holes in places where colors are changed. Fortunately, in my previous experiment - this Colorblack cardigan - the yarn was extremely sticky and the holes were almost nonexistent. Drops Alpaca is also a very hairy and sticky yarn (which didn't stop it from constantly splitting up and separating under my needles while working with it).

I followed pattern directions for the body, just shortened the ribbing at the beginning, because my row gauge was smaller (20 rows instead of 22 as per pattern). 

The main attraction of this pattern is a tasteful, almost artistic distribution of colors. Mondrian comes to mind of course. Later I found several Mondrian inspired pictures with very lovely colors that might give you ideas for making your own colorblock - sweater or cardigan.

My only problem with this project were the sleeves. My arms are shorter than normal and usually I just shorten up my sleeves while working on them. I couldn't easily do it here because of the intarsia pattern that had to take a certain amount of rows. Not to mention that my row gauge was a bit smaller which meant if I followed the pattern without changes, my sleeves would have been much too long for me.

OK, I had to use my little grey sells and here is my solution. First, I shortened the ribbed cuff from 22 rows to 7. Next, I didn't change the needles from 3.25 mm/US 3 that I was using for the ribbing to 4.00 mm/US 6 for the main body, and knit both sleeves on 3.25 mm/US 3 needles. It gave me a bit thicker fabric (the difference is not noticeable after washing and blocking) and the exact length. No changes in the colorwork though!

The ribbed border on the front is knit separately and sewn in later. I used 4.00 mm/US 6 needles for all borders (pockets and front). And I made 4 not 6 buttonholes: I could find only 4 buttons that would satisfy my taste with this jacket, plus I was making vertical buttonholes that take up about 6 rows, so it was more than enough to hold the front parts together.

By the way, I learned how to make great vertical buttonholes without breaking yarn or using a second ball while making this pattern.

Maybe one day I'll explain it here - easy-peasy, but really cool looking!

Now, this cardigan took me only 2 weeks to make, if you don't count all the planning, swatching, and block coloring.

 I was really afraid that the colors would bleed in water so I kept them in a strong vinegar solution for a couple of hours before washing and blocking. I also washed them with hair conditioner to get rid of excessive hairiness  - it helped but not much. 

When a friend of mine saw me in this jacket for the first time, she couldn't help but saying: "This is not you!" 

Well, unlike the usual grey and mousy clothes, I made something bold and colorful. A statement. We'll see if I can wear it in real life (real life starts soon, stay tuned!).

Finale notes

Even though in both cases I got what I wanted - a fair isle sweater looking almost like its original and a colorblock cardigan that fits me like a glove - my major goal wasn't accomplished. My stash didn't get smaller. I had to order some additional yarn for both projects and now have to figure what to make out of the leftovers. Again!

Another common thread - it takes longer to plan for a project than actually making it. For me this planning part is the most interesting albeit the most frustrating. Lots of projects get abandoned at this stage. Yet, I am usually satisfied with the ones that survive this long "vetting" process. What about you? How much time do you put into planning comparing with the actual making of a garment? Does it help or maybe paralyze you instead of motivating? I know, this is individual, depends on our personal style and preferences. Still, I would love to have some statistics (I am deep into statistics now, don't know why!).

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