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Saturday, November 20, 2010

Technical Talk for Knitters -- Warning - long post.

   I own shelves of knitting patterns and magazines and I love them all. Each designer offers me something to think about, admire, even desire. But I almost never knit other designers' patterns. Partly because I am seldom one of the sizes a pattern is designed for and partly because I have doubts about my ability to decipher the pattern instructions correctly. And believe me - I know how difficult it is to write clear patterns. I've written some. One worries that she's left something important out or given such detailed instructions she's confused the knitter. When I write sock patterns I'm SO tempted to just say "Cast on in your preferred manner, on your favorite needles, enough stitches to fit around your ankle. Knit your favorite ribbing as deep as you like. Increase or decrease stitches till you have a multiple of x then begin following this chart." For some knitters that's enough instruction. For many others .... well, I think they'd feel they'd been cheated of the price of the pattern.

Anyway, long intro to a post about knitting instructions, because yesterday I got to the part in my Soho Smocked Dress where you join the back to the front at the sides and I was left in a quandary. Having already chatted with Kristy McGowan, I knew she was only one of the writers who put her design into pattern form and I also learned she is a strong proponent of the "knit in gauge in prescribed stitch pattern the number of repeats to fit around you" school taught by those greats of knitting, Barbara Walker, Meg Swansen and Elizabeth Zimmermann. I don't know if it was my inability to decipher the instructions or not but here's what happened and here's what I did.

The pattern works like this: you do a provisional cast on at the shoulder line and knit "down" the back, increasing a little on the sides, down to the underarm. Then you expose the loops from the provisional cast on, load them on your needle and knit "down" both fronts separately, increasing on the sides and in the center to form a V neckline, down to the underarm. You end with the last row - a purl or WS row - of both shoulder fronts with the two pieces on the right  needle with the working yarn hanging off the left edges of each piece: one by the tip of the right needle and one hanging in the middle of the needle, between the two pieces. That is because the instructions have you knit BOTH pieces on the same needle at the same time.

Now - turn that fabric around to knit back - and you have the working yarns hanging off the right edge of both pieces - again, one right there at the tip of your needle and the other hanging between the two pieces of knitting. 

Hope you can see this in your mind's eye. 
Schematic of bodice back and front at the moment of joining sides

Now it's time to join the back to the fronts just at the underarms ... because there are still about 5 more increases needed at the center front. This means there are still a few more rows of flat knitting to do, starting at the center front, joining the back on both sides and finishing at the center front again. Only you've got both pieces of the front on the same dang needle and you need to start your knitting at the center front. Ack!

The instructions say to load the back stitches onto the right needle but I couldn't see how that would work. No matter what needle you loaded your back stitches on, you still wouldn't be able to begin knitting at the center front of the bodice. Maybe it was my thick skull or maybe it was an error in pattern editing, but it seems to me you have to separate those two front pieces ... and if that's so ....
Jack thinks knitting 2 pieces on the same needle is stupid

why the heck can't you just knit each piece separately and load up all the stitches when you're done? hmm? 

Okay. done with the ranting part - because really I'm not ranting, I'm teasing. And what I did was to separate those two pieces, putting the first front section onto the needle that the back stitches were being stored on, knit the other front piece from the center to the edge, and knit all the rest of the stitches off of the holding needle.  And voila!

Slip stitch to working needle
What you may not be able to see in that picture is that I've added 8 short rows to create a bust dart because if you are more than a B cup you really need that extra length in the front of your knitted tops. So. On the very row where I finally joined the two center front pieces I knit to within 5 stitches from the side seam marker and did a wrap and turn. Then I purled back to within 5 stitches of the other side seam marker and made a purl wrap and turn. I did this 4 times on both knit and purl rows to make 8 short rows, each one shorter than the previous one.
Wrap yarn around stitch and replace on left needle

After that I knit all the way around the garment, hiding the wraps behind each stitch as I came to it. The knit wraps are easier to pick up and hide than the purl wraps but if you wiggle and jiggle the fabric a little you can almost hide them and they'll disappear in the final wet blocking.

So. Lots and lots of talk about how I'm knitting this lovely dress. I'm happy to report that I tried on this shoulder section of the bodice before I joined the center front and it's going to be a good fit. I may have to do some adjusting here and there and I'm sure to take you along on that journey too.

Yesterday was the surgery for BD and today we went back for the early morning check-up - with good news. He's still a little slow but each hour he gets better and at least he can see to get around the house. We're reading Robert Graves' old novel from the 1970's:  Hercules, My Shipmate. BD read the outward voyage to me and I am now reading the return voyage to him. Of course, this is Graves, trying to write like Ovid, so it's almost impossible to remember in chapter 11 what happened in chapter 10 - but it is fun. And besides, who cares. We all know that Jason ditches Media and they are all dead by the time of the Trojan War.

Read one more chapter, Mama
Jack says he likes to listen to stories too.


  1. I've heard that many patterns are "revamped" in a way the original writer may not feel is the best way to knit the designed garment. I wonder if sewing books get revamped as much as knitting books.

    Once again, I appreciate you explaining what you did. I'm not particularly confident in my pattern interpretation skills and we all have a preferred method of doing certain things.

  2. A good solution to your problem with an excellent outcome! Great to hear BD is doing well, long may that continue.