Live and Learn

Sleeve1
Sleeve2

While I was trying to figure out how I might "fix" Big Blue, I spent
a lot of time thinking about seamless sweater construction. More
specifically, I spent a lot of time thinking about what went wrong with
my seamless sweater construction. I reached back into 2003, into
my slightly younger and more inexperienced knitter’s brain. I think
analyzing the mistakes I made with Big Blue will help me avoid future
pitfalls with this type of sweater design. (There were rather a lot of
problems, so I promise I won’t be mad if you skip the play-by-play.)

1. What I Did: I was really worried that the sweater was
going to be too small. When it comes to sweater sizing, most books will
tell you that the best thing to do is measure a sweater that fits you
well and use that number for your measurements, instead of using your
actual chest measurement. Most of my sweaters measure about 52 inches
around, but my bust measurement was more like 56. I didn’t understand
the concept of negative ease, so to be safe I added 2 more inches.

What I Will Do Differently: I’m actually going a little bit
smaller than the bust measurement on my sweaters, because after I have
my baby I’m hoping (perhaps with a little too much optimism) to resume
losing weight. I’m hoping that making the sweater a little smaller than
I need it right now will extend the wearing life a little. (Also, if it
really is way  too small it might help motivate me!)

2. What I Did: All the numbers you need for a seamless
sweater are based on your gauge and your chest/bust measurement. I
swatched very carefully, even took the time to wash and dry the swatch
before measuring, and ended up getting 4.5 stitches to the inch using
size 8 needles. Considering that Nature Spun worsted is definitely on
the lighter end of worsteds, I probably would have gotten a more
satisfactory fabric using smaller needles. Since I ended up felting it,
it’s probably a good thing that my fabric was a bit loose, but in
future I know that I’ll be happier getting a tighter gauge, even if it
means casting on more stitches. Also, I seem to remember not going down
two needle sizes for the ribbing on the sleeves, which is critical to
keep the sleeves from really flapping around.

What I will Do Differently: The yarn I’m using is of a similar
weight to Nature Spun worsted, so I decided to use sizes 4 and 6. I’m
getting 5.5 stitches to the inch now, so ironically I’ll be casting on
the exact same number of stitches for the body, even though I’m
making a sweater that’s about 10 inches smaller around. (238, in case
you’re wondering. Then after the ribbing, I’ll be increasing to my key
number, 264.)

3. What I Did:The sleeves are proof that a generic
percentage based system for sweater design isn’t going to be perfect
for every body type. While I am a large person overall, my hands and
wrists are more medium sized. The instructions have you using 20% of
whatever your key number of stitches to cast on for the cuff, and then
increasing to 33.3% for the body of the sleeve. So naturally, using a
number that was 20% of my too-large bust measurement yielded sleeves
that were about twice as large as they needed to be.

What I Will Do Differently: This time for the sleeves, I’m using
my intuition and ignoring the 20% directive. 20% may be the perfect
number to yield proportional sleeves for a normal sized person, but for
my big body/small wrists, I decided to use about 15% of the key number
and try it on frequently as I head up the arm. It seems to fit just a
little snugly, which is perfect as far as I’m concerned.

4 . What I Did: Big Blue fits more like a dress or a tunic
than a sweater, almost coming to my knees. Being tall means that I had
endured many, many sweaters that were too short for me, so I think I
overcompensated more than a bit. Also, the underarm of my sweater hangs
several inches below my actual undersarm, probably because I had to do
many, many decrease rounds to get rid of all the extra stitches around
my bust.

What I Will Do Differently: Measure, measure, measure! I think
it’s hard to get precise underarm placement on a seamless, bottom-up
sweater, but surely I can do better than last time. I still want the
sweater to be long enough, but long enough is probably more like just
below my waist, not around my knees.

Now onto the slightly more fun details:

I cast on for my first sleeve on Sunday, June 22, and as you can see, I
haven’t gotten much done since then. That’s fine, I’m not in a huge
rush to finish, although I do hope to knit on it steadily through to
completion. How long will it take? I have no idea! I expect at least a
month, maybe two or three.

I’m really excited about the yarn I’m using- Araucania Nature Wool in a
deep, rusty orange. It’s certainly not a fancy yarn- no cushy merino or
cashmere here! At 240 yards for about nine dollars, you really
shouldn’t expect luxury! Instead, Nature Wool is just plain old good
wool, dyed beautifully so that there’s just a hint of variegation. For
some reason it seems really appropriate to use a non-luxurious,
hardworking kind of wool with an Elizabeth Zimmerman pattern. I think
she would like it!

I know I’m jumping the gun a little, but I’m looking at this sweater as kind of a test for the next  big sweater project I have planned. I’m not ready to say what it is yet, but here’s some clues:

1. Like the EZ sweater, it employs seamless construction.
2. It is knit using this yarn on size 2.5 (US) needles.
3. Gauge- 28 stitches/4 inches.
4. It’s a free pattern, available online.

Any guesses?

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