Monday, June 6, 2022


After my long and fruitful romance with intarsia I moved to fair isle knitting. It wasn't difficult - they both involve working with many balls of different colors. 

But first, I wanted to use intarsia and fair isle in one project (call it a "fusion" project:)))). I always wanted to try a sweater with one pattern that can be seen through another pattern, sort of "bleeding" through. There was a sweater in a Rag and Bone collection made in this technique but I don't buy sweaters, remember? Then I saw a similar pattern in an old Anny Blatt.

The fact that it was a man's sweater couldn't stop me. 

Do you start working on a project as soon as you figure out what you are going to make? You see something and you want it like yesterday, wondering why you've never felt this need before. You are itching to pick needles, some yarn, and start going. Sort of "new project" fever (is there a real name for this "disease"?). Does this sound familiar? I have it every time when I see something that I really truly like. And every time I have to make myself slow down and think about my choices. Why? Because I know from experience that when I dive into a new project right away without good ground work, I almost certainly fail. 

First of all, this new project of my choice must have a place in my wardrobe. I need to visualize how I am going to wear it and with what.

I also need time to compute and check everything, plus I have to pick a yarn that could be used for it. Sometimes this preparation process takes years like with this particular sweater. 

I wanted to replicate the fair isle/intarsia mix and I didn't mind the fair isle pattern itself. What I didn't like was the sweater's construction - too bulky in some areas, not well fitting, straight shoulders (beware of the patterns in which you cast off all shoulder stitches at once - these shoulders won't look good on you!). There were asymmetrical cables on the body and sleeves that I decided to ditch immediately (you cannot even see them in the picture, and I think that they would distract from the colorwork and make the final look too busy).

Instead of the Anny Blatt's design I decided to use a sweater pattern from Phildar New Classic again (after my success with this intarsia cardigan it became my trusty companion) because I wanted a certain fit: not too long or tight, and not too bulky either.

The main yarn - brown - is from ColourMart 4/14 NM dk wt angora/lambswool,  the rest - all kinds of yarns from my stash. They are all different but they have the same gauge, and work well together. If someone tells you that you cannot use different kinds of yarn in one project - let them look at this sweater (and this cardigan, and this also).

The actual knitting went faster than I hoped for. Since my gauge was different, I had different number of stitches on my needles and I couldn't possibly faithfully follow the colorwork pattern so I had to improvise, then improvise more, and keep improvising till the end.

A little explaining footnote.

It might look like I am a big fan of improvisations in knitting because I describe it quite often when I talk about the process. I have to set the record straight - I don't like when I have to do it. I always have a very detailed plan before I start making something and I prefer to stick to this plan. Why would you need a plan otherwise? And this is the reason for a long delay before the idea of a garment and its execution - I need to create a good action plan. I don't knit for the process (well, process is important but it is not the best part), I knit for the result and I want to get what I want at the end, not whatever happens to appear from my needles. 

So to make my improvisations more "regular", to organize and put some order in them, I made a magnified copy of the fair isle part which allowed me to make changes right on the grid. Plus I had to reverse the whole thing for the back to have a mirroring effect (you cannot do it mentally - the design is too complicated, you need an actual picture for a referral).

 As for the sleeve (there is a colorwork pattern on one sleeve only), I had to proceed at my own risk - my numbers were totally different, so I just used the same fair isle stripes in varied lengths as on the body.

Working with ColourMart yarn was a pleasure (it almost always is which is why I keep buying yarn from this store). All pieces became soft and a bit fuzzy after washing and blocking . And then I put them all together and discovered my two big mistakes.

First - the neck opening was too tight for my head (!!!!). I could squeeze it through without glasses, but I couldn't have anything around the existing not very big neckhole so the originally planned ribbing was not happening.

My second mistake was that I forgot to make the back longer than the front. I am getting more and more stooped with years and the back of my sweater would always hike up and stick out and I would need to constantly check and rearrange it unless something clever is done with the sweater's construction. This sweater is not long enough to compensate for the lack of length difference between back and front. And It is not tight enough to hug my body. I was so into the intarsia/fair isle combination, that I simply forgot to add some rows at the beginning of the back stockinette, and compensate for the difference by short rows at the front.

Anyway, the first problem had a solution. Instead of a ribbed neckband I made a ribbed collar. Somehow it improved the outlook proportion-wise. I think that even if I made a normal size neck hole, with a collar this sweater looks better, more balanced.

As for the second problem, nothing could be done. It is what it is and I have to live with it. 

If you are wondering how to get the pattern on a sleeve to match the ones on the body, that's simple. You need to start the armhole decreases for a sleeve at the same time as for the body. Which is why you need to make the body first and then carefully measure the length of your future sleeve to the armhole. This way you can calculate where to start the sleeve colorwork so the decreases for the sleeve's top will be at the same row that the decreases for the armholes.

My next project was supposed to be an all fair isle sweater. I saw it many years ago in Phildar magazine and was dreaming about making it one day for myself. Last year in Scotland I finally bought all these beautifully colored yarns from Clare @wee-county-yarns

One more footnote, about the yarn

This Scottish yarn - JC Rennie Supersoft Lambswool - is a marvel. It is very thin, so the garment is light, not heavy but still warm. It is very sticky so if you are a fan of steeking - it will work wonderfully for you. After washing and blocking it fluffs up a bit, becomes smooth and even. Lovely yarn, I will buy it again!

I am not a steeking fan though (because of the final fit as I've already explained several times), so my sweater was made in pieces. But this time, since so much work was going to be involved into making it, I wanted to be sure that the final fit would be exactly as I wanted it to be.

I started looking for different possibilities of making the back longer while knitting the whole sweater in fair isle technique. The problem is that you cannot just knit the back longer than the front. The colorful stripes on back and front have to match when you seam the sweater together.

One possibility is to make the ribbing longer at the back and then leave the back and front ribbing unsewn, as a slit or vent. That couldn't work in this particular case - my yarn was fingering weight, I was using US 0 and 1 needles, so the ribbing would have looked flimsy and sloppy.

Instead I decided to make the pattern myself to fit my body. Yes, apparently I've got too much time on my hands. I never wanted to even touch pattern making - too many numbers, too complicated for my taste. Plus my brain is weirdly unresponsive and just shuts down when I try to imagine something three dimensional. Brr, total disaster!

You wouldn't believe how many hours I spent watching YouTube videos, reading books (yes, in plural) and websites, searching the Internet. I drew and cut several patterns from paper (like a pro would!), cut them from fabric (!!!), basted,  and then tried on. I used my favorite t-shirts to figure out the best measurements. I didn't start till I knew what I was doing… but actually, I didn't. I wasn't sure that all these drawings and calculations would work and was really nervous about the end result. Probably, this is the reason for finishing it faster than normal for a fair isle sweater from a fingering yarn made with US 0 and 1 needles.

Have you felt this feverish rush to finish a knitting project and finally try it on (pretty much like the one at the beginning of a project, but stronger)? I feel it every time. And again, every time I tell myself not to be in a hurry, and take my time with finishing touches. Because they can make or break your work. Isn't it strange that our instinct makes us sprint at the very beginning and at the end, at times when you have to keep your calm and 1) do all calculations needed; or 2) do all the finishing needed.

Yesterday I put on my fair isle sweater (I call it Enchanted forest) for the first time. And was happy to see that my efforts were not in vain. I got exactly what I wanted.

My shoulders decreases are 2 cm higher for the back which adds length to it, makes the back stay in place, and it isn't particularly noticeable if you don't scrutinize my shoulders. The neck opening is big enough for my big head.

I am particularly pleased with the armholes shapes and the sleeves. They are roomy enough, not too tight but not too big and shapeless either. I know that the most fashionable sweaters nowadays must have long, big sleeves. But I am planning to wear this sweater under a coat or jacket, and big sleeves would scrunch up and crash under another garment, making me uncomfortable and unable to use my hands (I use my hands all the time!).

And this is the story of the bluish-green fair isle sweater. Now I have a lot of leftover yarn in all these bright beautiful colors. I might make a vest, or a hat, or a scarf with it, who knows?

But first I need to make something very simple, without intarsia or fair isle, just monotonous stockinette. And I need to tweak my (!!!) sweater pattern, so next time I won't be a nervous wreck but a self-confident knitter.