Design

New tricks

I’m starting a new sweater. It’s for publication later this spring and I won’t be able to show you much of it, but in the interest of making this once more a proper knitting blog, I’m going to tell you about casting it on. Scrolling down through my Ravelry projects, I find that I’ve completed 68 sweaters of various sizes over the years. The number I’ve cast on is higher. So you’d think I’d have the beginning pretty well nailed down by now. But the marvelous thing about knitting is that there’s always more to learn, and there’s generally a right tool for every job, and there are decisions to be made about the precise effect and function of one technique or another. Sometimes we need a stable edge, sometimes a stretchy one. But most of us use only a handful of cast-ons in the usual run of our knitting, I suspect. I’ve got a stable of five or six I deploy regularly, plus a few special occasion cast-ons for fancy effects that I usually have to look up to remember how they work. June Hemmons Hiatt lists 58 different cast-ons in The Principles of Knitting, which I checked out from the library last week. Fifty-eight. I had to hang my head in shame at the narrowness of my self-education.

I didn’t like the basic long-tail cast-on (that’s the Compound Half-Hitch in Hiatt’s parlance, because so many others also require a long tail) I’d used at the base of the ribbing on my new sweater. I thought I’d try to keep the techniques pretty familiar in this design rather than calling for advanced work like tubular cast-ons, but I just couldn’t live with the effect. Long-tail cast-ons remove twist from the tail as you work, and this mostly cotton yarn — Ashlawn from Cestari Yarns — didn’t bear that treatment with a lot of grace. With my nightstand groaning under the Hiatt volume, I ripped out my original start and decided to try the Alternating cast-on once I’d put the kids to bed and tucked myself up with Netflix and tea.

I learnt right away that this is not a cast-on to tackle late in the evening under dim wattage of both the electrical and mental varieties. The stitches spiral around your needle cord like courting squirrels. It quickly becomes difficult to tell which way is up, so joining without a twist is mostly a matter of dumb luck and counting the stitches is nearly impossible. I tried three times and I got three different numbers with a total spread of 7. Once I finally decided to forge and fudge my way ahead to see how it would look with a stabilizing second row, I found I had 202 instead of 200. At that point, I put it down for the night.

In the cold light of day, I tried again, bolstered by having mastered the trick of telling which direction to push the upside-down stitches. (Hint: look at the mount. If the stitch has its leading leg behind the needle, you need to spin it the other way, even if doing so makes it look like there’s a whole lot of twist in the running yarns beyond the stitch. Don’t ever be tempted to knit through the back loop on the assumption that you might have made a mechanical error in forming that stitch. You didn’t.)

Here you can see the edge starting to form up with the first round of k1, p1 in place. According to Hiatt, this is a cast-on that’s often seen in machine-knit commercial sweaters. It forms an elastic basis for the single rib that looks like a tubular cast-on, but without the many steps and additional bulk. The final effect:

As you can see, I should have taken Hiatt’s direction to use a needle several sizes smaller than the ribbing needle, not just one size smaller, because those first stitches want to spread. That loose effect is going to work for this particular design, I believe, as I don’t actually want this ribbing to draw in. But if I were making a hat and needed a snugger rib, I’d definitely drop down two or three needle sizes.  I have to conclude that the Alternating cast-on is worth the initial learning curve and deserves a place in my regular toolkit.

Also, those beautiful mittens in the top photo? I am the luckiest girl. My internet friend Ita lives in Latvia, and when she saw I’d made admiring (nay, lustful) comments on another Latvian knitter’s mitten calendar, she offered to send me one for 2018. Latvians just might be the mitten champions of the planet, and I am so thrilled to get to admire the beautiful specimens in this calendar all year long. Some are worn and carefully mended, some use fascinating brioche colorwork, some have tiers of fantastic loop fringe. I’ll keep sharing glimpses as the months march on! An added bonus is that this is a name day calendar, which delights my inner name nerd. Happy name day to everyone out there named Alnis and Andulis!

Playful

Don’t keel over from the shock, but it’s another pattern launch day chez WGK: introducing the Lalita pullover! Lalita is a Hindi girls’ name that means “playful,” because everyday play is what this sweater’s made for. This design began as Ada’s beloved Rainbow Sweatshirt… almost half her lifetime ago. Remember this wee muffin?

Rainbow Sweatshirt is still in her sweater drawer, looking rather more ragged after several years’ use and rather shorter in the sleeves, but I deployed all my cunning mom-savvy in this design to make it fit as long as possible.

  • A-line shaping means it can evolve from a swingy tunic to a more standard-length pullover.
  • Exaggerated drop shoulders and a sneaky wee gusset at the underarm give extra ease through the chest. Kids tend to grow longer faster than they grow wider anyway, but this means you can start with 4.5″ ease, as Ada’s wearing it in these photos, and still have plenty of room a couple of years later.
  • Rolled cuffs may seem like an insignificant detail, but I find they transition gracefully to bracelet length without ever shouting “I’m growing out of this sweater!” the way ribbed cuffs might.

Lalita is knit in the round, so the only seams to sew are at the shoulders, where you want the stability of a seam to bear the hanging weight of the sweater. Stitches for the sleeves are picked up around the armscye after the shoulders are joined, and I’ve given directions to work them flat or in the round, just as you like. (I knit the Rainbow Sweatshirt sleeves in the round, but I worked these flat because it stopped my marled yarn from pooling. I was holding together a strand of plain white Cascade 220 with some crazy space-dyed Cascade Alpaca Lace Paints in white-black-grey, and I didn’t like all the black parts hanging together in large splotches. Some folks also hate having to flop the whole body of a sweater over and over while they’re knitting around on a tiny sleeve, and I get that. Other folks would rather visit the town library naked than sew a seam. I get that, too.)

You can also see in this photo that there’s a difference in gauge between the body and the sleeves. That’s intentional. I wanted drape in the garment, but didn’t think the elbows would wear well in a loose fabric. So the sleeves are worked on a smaller needle for a subtle change in fabric structure.

There are phoney seams of slipped stitches at the sides that disguise the shaping decreases and also help the tunic hang straight to show its A-line. The hem is lowered at the back with German short rows (I’ve described how to do them in the pattern, but also pointed to a helpful tutorial online).

For those of you reading here or on Instagram, I’ve provided a coupon code that will get you the pattern at half price during its launch weekend (until midnight Sunday Pacific time): enter PLAYFUL at checkout in my Ravelry shop. I do hope you enjoy this knit — and yes, there are plans for a grown-up version in the works!

Littlewing live!

Winter Solstice seems like an auspicious day to publish a new pattern—for the shortest of humans on this shortest of days—and to reemerge from blog hibernation, no?

littlewingback

After much tinkering with the geometry, test knitting in all sizes, and a little more tinkering and a whole lot of life getting in the way, the Littlewing vest is now available for purchase! Sized for babies newborn to two years old, this vest uses 150-250 yards of DK-weight wool. I’ve used two yarns from Green Mountain Spinnery—the blue shown above is Mewesic and I did a newborn size for a friend’s baby in New Mexico Organic—and loved the results. But I also did a prototype in YOTH Big Sister

littlewing-v2-16-of-20

And Martha, mama to this little peach, knit one for her nephew in Brooklyn Tweed Arbor, so really, the options are wide open. If you’ve got worsted weight in your stash that you’d like to substitute, you could probably just knit the next smaller size and come out fine.

My favorite feature of Littlewing is that it’s reversible. For wee ones who can’t sit up or move around much, the front fastening is the easiest way to put it on: just lay the vest out flat, place baby on the back portion, flip the front over her head, and wrap the wings in to button or tie closed. But for inquisitive and coordinated specimens who can’t see a button without wanting to taste it, just flip the vest around and you’ll stymie them completely.

littlewingback2

One change I made after the test knitting phase was to add an optional second set of buttons to secure the lower hem. I recommend this modification for the larger sizes. The four-button vest comes out like this:

littlewing4buttons

Littlewing is available for purchase in my Ravelry store. I hope you’ll love this little wardrobe staple for the small folks in your life; I can’t wait to see some out in the wild. (And now, off to cast on two more, because the tiny cousins are landing thick and fast! The good news is that these will be my sixth and seventh iterations, and I’m not sick of knitting this pattern yet. They’re like eating potato chips.)