Friday, April 21, 2023

Saddle shoulder

For the last six months or so I was knitting projects with saddle shoulder sleeves. Saddle shoulder is a variation on raglan construction. The difference with raglan is that there are no even decreases along the armhole. The round top of the sleeve is a bit shorter than usual with a straight strip along the shoulder (like a saddle) to the neckline.

Why am I so fixated on this particular construction? The main reason - because it fits me really well. At least I like myself better in designs with saddle shoulders. 

This type of construction is traditionally used for men's clothes because men have (at least in general) broad shoulders and it accentuates them nicely. Maybe it's a faint reminder of military uniforms.  Since I started swimming regularly, my shoulders have grown about 2 sizes up. Lots of my tops and dresses don't fit me anymore, or are extremely tight in shoulders. But, I believe, the manly saddle shoulder sweaters and cardigans are now fitting me much better.

It is not easy to find a pattern with saddle shoulders. CORRECTION: it is not easy to find a good pattern with saddle shoulders where all the math is accurate and you have no problems fitting sleeves into the body. As I've mentioned already, it would usually be a pattern for men which are not easy to find on Ravelry, so I turned to my collection of old knitting magazines. In the old Phildars saddle shoulder patterns are modeled almost exclusively by men, but at least there are several of them, for different yarns and gauges. Sometimes, though, there is a feminine pattern with saddle shoulder construction (mostly for a cardigan). And that was my first choice.

I had bought linen yarn from the Midwinter Yarns in different colors, one of them being a rather bright pink. I love this store and their yarns for two reasons: yarns are good quality, and dyes are solid, colors don't bleed while washed. So I stacked up on their "summery" yarn (Lithuanian linen) hoping to make things for Florida. I used the mossy green first.
Loved the result but it was too big on me, and looked much better on my sister-in-law. Bummer! 

Then I used the cobalt one together with very thin Todd and Duncan cashmere. This one turned out exactly as imagined and I wore it all the time this winter.

Now it was the turn of the last linen yarn left - the bright pink. This Lithuanian linen is fingering weight, so I prefer to use it doubled. Plus I added one more thread of yarn - ColourMart Linen/ramie also in fingering weight - to "tame" the color a little bit, make it look not so bright. I had to use small size needles (2.25 mm/US 1) because otherwise the fabric was too porous and uneven.
I found a rare saddle shoulder pattern for a woman's cardigan in one of the old Phildars (see the picture above). My gauge was similar and I decided to use that pattern as a template (more details on the pattern page). I changed lots of things in this pattern - the main design, sleeve and body length, reverse stockinette instead of the regular one for the sleeves but I kept all the numbers for the increases and decreases, so the saddle shoulders sleeves would work with the front and back. And they did!
The sewing went smoothly and the end result is lovely and wearable (even in this unusual color). Actually, I liked the fit of this cardigan so much that it prompted me to look for other saddle shoulder patterns to try. And I soon found one in another old Phildar that I used for a stash busting project - a striped t-shirt.

I have mixed feelings about this one. On one hand it was fun to make and it looks cute on me. The construction proved to be immaculate as well. Again, sewing the parts together was not a problem (if you don't count the stripe matching - that was a real pain!).

The yarn is cheap and extremely soft, with no "body". It doesn't keep any shape or form. I was lucky to use this complicated construction since it provides at least some "bones", a carcass to the flowy, shapeless fabric. Yet, it is going to stretch with wear, I am sure. I should've made it shorter, giving it room for growing. Now, I will end up with a mini dress after several wears, which was not my goal:(((

In January I started planning my wardrobe for the upcoming trip to London and discovered that I left almost all my warm sweaters in Scotland. 

My solution was to make a couple of sweaters promptly. And I picked a saddle shoulder construction again, but this time for a seamless top down knit. I thought that it would be neat to compare and contrast two ways of making the same thing.

I chose Versal as my first top down pattern for one simple reason - I had a yarn (or rather two yarns combined) with the same gauge in stockinette. Only while working on this sweater did I discover how clever and simple the pattern is. Moreover, the designer treats us, knitters,  with the utmost respect and gives several finishing choices. At the same time, there are no excessive details, links to videos, explanations of knitting techniques. The pattern is compact and clear and I followed it without any changes. More details on my project page on Ravelry.

For the second top down seamless sweater I chose to reknit Navagio in a bigger size. First, because I liked the pattern when I was making it the first time. Second, because I wanted to experiment not only with the saddle shoulder but with volume as well and see if the change in size will change the overall fit.

Again, I almost didn't change anything in the pattern this time - knit all in the round without seams. Again, more details on the project page on Ravelry.

I wore both top down sweaters in London for two weeks and now can report the differences with saddle shoulder patterns that are bottom up and seamed.

There are definitely differences in fit. A top down sweater fits well in shoulders and doesn't need any adjustments when you stand or walk. As soon as you sit down, everything sort of crumbles and you have to make at least minor adjustments (in my case, fewer with Versal, more with Navagio II) to put the sweater back in place when you stand up. There are no such problems for the sweaters knit from the bottom up and seamed.

Top down sweaters are easier and faster to make. The downside - they are stretchy and lose their initial form and shape quickly. My Versal has grown by about 2 sizes already. Navagio II was really oversized to begin with so the growth was not that visible. Still, it was a big disappointment because I like Versal a lot and was planning on wearing it next fall. Maybe my husband can wear it now?..

Anyway, my next and so far my last project is a seamed sweater with a combination of raglan and saddle shoulder sleeves. Remember this cardigan, a ME+EM spin off?

I based it on a cardigan pattern from an old Phildar. Since I like the final fit a lot I decided to use the same pattern with modifications and make a plain simple sweater with high collar (high collars proved to be practical in colder climates) using some ColourMart cashmere in bright red that didn't need any adornments. Plus I've been on a "plain sweaters streak" lately.
My only problem with this sweater was that you cannot make fast progress on size 2.25 mm/US 1 needles. I took notes while working on it hoping to use them later if I like the result. I do like the result and you can find my notes on the project page on Ravelry. I will definitely return to this pattern, maybe with some modifications (I cannot make anything without modifications).

Now, what did I learn from all the experiments?

1. Top-down seamless sweaters with saddle shoulders are much faster to knit.

2. Top-down seamless sweaters with saddle shoulders don't keep their shape - they stretch with wear and they don't stay put when you sit down.

3. You can find all kinds of saddle shoulder patterns in the old Phildar magazines. They are well calculated and will be easy to put together if you get a matching gauge. By the way, there are more and more new saddle shoulder patterns on Ravelry. Sadly, almost all of them are top down seamless.

4. I love how saddle shoulder sweaters and cardigans fit me and am going to make more of them in the future. Probably, I'll stick with bottom up seamed constructions.

5. There is nothing bad in repeating the same pattern. On the contrary, it opens new possibilities for improvement and experiment (and modifications!!!). Plus familiarity with a pattern makes you feel comfortable and at ease.

6. Men's knitting patterns can be used for women - you just need to pick the right size, yarn, and needles. I already wrote about it here.

7. Do not be afraid of bottom up seamed saddle shoulder patterns. If they are good of course…