Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Design Your Own Aran, Part Twelve: Borders and Buttonholes

Front and neck borders are easier than most knitters think. Plus, if you do them at this stage of the knitting, not only will you get them over with, but you will also have the advantage that your cardigan will hang properly when you get to trying it on to assess the fit of the sleeves. Pretty much everything of a technical nature you need to know about picking up the borders can be found in my earlier tutorial here. There are a few extra points worth adding.

1. To get nice corners without those little "ears" where the yarn is cut and pulled through at the end of the row, work the last 2 stitches together. So simple, so tidy!

2. Be prepared to fuss a little to get a good arrangement of knits and purls in the ribbing. You will want to have a knit stitch at the outer edges of the neck ribbing (which will be worked first) to act as a selvedge for picking up the front borders. With the latter, manipulate your stitch numbers if necessary, by some judicious decreasing, so that you end up with 2 knit stitches at either end. Do the same sort of gentle manipulation to line up the cable ribs with the collar ribs, within reason. Here's the back neck of my cardigan showing a couple of the body ribs carrying forward into the collar.

You can see why I didn't cast off the back neck stitches. Indeed, in the "pickup" round, I purled some of the stitches instead of knitting them to keep them in pattern as they transitioned into the neck ribbing.

3. Knit the button border before the buttonhole border. Then mark, in purled sections, where you want the buttons to go. Finally, knit the buttonhole border to match. 

4. I use a buttonhole of my own invention for this task. On a sample of 6 stitches, here's how to work it:

Row 1: k2, p2, k2.

Row 2: p2, k2, p2. 

Row 3 (buttonhole row #1): k1, SSK, YO, k2tog, k1. Yes, that's right, now there are only 5 sts.

Row 4: (buttonhole row #2): p2, (k1, p1 into the YO), p2.

Row 5: k2, p2, k2. 

Note: I use this buttonhole in k2, p2 ribbing in WORSTED OR ARAN WEIGHT yarn because it accomodates a 7/8" or 1" button. In chunky yarn I generally just use a standard eyelet (YO) buttonhole. See my Willingdon cardigan as an example. 

In my last post, I neglected to show a photo of how the shoulders came together after the 3-needle BO. Here's how that looks. See how the columns of twisted knit stitches come together perfectly?

 Unfortunately, the gull stitch cables didn't fare as well. Apparently I mis-cabled (is that a word?) on the front side. Ah well, to err is human as they say!

And here's the cardigan with the borders completed. I have the buttons all ready to sew on whenever I'm in the mood.

The cardigan does not flare out at the lower edge as this photo suggests; that's just the angle of the camera creating that illusion. 

Next time -- sleeves.

P.S. I chose the lighter coloured buttons and buckles for the Ophelia Overalls. It's true that even though the base colour is navy, the yarn dyed effect results in a pale grey. All done!

Part 13 is here.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Design Your Own Aran, Part Eleven: Neck and Shoulders

You've knitted the body, placed your underarm stitches on hold, and now you're motoring up the back toward the neck. Time for some more arithmetic. 

1. Calculate the neck width: In general, for a standard crew neck, the neck width is about one third of the body width (not circumference). Example: My sweater has a width of 18 inches. Therefore, the neck of my cardigan needs to be at least 6 inches wide. Of course, you can alter this -- it's your sweater.

2. Calculate how many stitches wide your neck will be: This involves more than simply multiplying your filler stitch gauge by the number of inches of desired width because aran stitches compress stitch gauge. The best thing to do is to lay out your knitting and look at the lower body, which should already have been blocked. Now, measure your desired width across the centre back to figure out how many stitches you need to attain the desired neck width. Example: My gauge in stocking stitch (my filler stitch) is 4 sts per inch which would normally translate to 6" x 4 sts = 24 sts for the neck. BUT, when measured across the centre back with its aran patterns, it turns out that I need 28 sts to achieve 6 inches. 

3. Front and back neck depth: For a standard fitting neck, I like to begin the back neck shaping one inch before my final desired body length, and the front neck about 3 inches before the final length. Example: I want my cardigan to be 18 inches long in total. Therefore, I need to start my back neck shaping when my knitting measures 17 inches from the cast on edge. I recommend knitting the back before the fronts; it makes figuring out where to start the front neck shaping simpler. I make notes right on my chart about where I started shaping.

4. Curving the corners: To achieve nice rounded edges on your neck shaping (front and back), allow four stitches on either side of the neck for some strategic decreasing. Decrease one stitch at each side of the neck every row for four rows before going on to complete the neck depth.

5. How to decrease: Using my own cardigan as an example, when I get to the point where I want to start the back neck shaping, I transfer 28 minus (4 x 2) = 20 sts onto a length of waste yarn at the centre back. I then work each side of the back neck separately but at the same time, all on one circular needle with separate balls of wool. It's much easier to decrease into the aran patterns on either side in a consistent manner when this is done. I'll admit, it's the part that I like doing the least, but it's only for a short stretch of work. I like to decrease the two stitches at the very edge of the neck, but you could also work the decreases one stitch in -- knitter's choice. On the right hand side of the neck, facing you, work k2tog on the RS, and p2tog on the WS. On the left side, work SSK on the RS, and p2togtbl on the left. Once you're done the decreasing, make sure to maintain a selvedge stitch at the neck edge all the way to the top.

6. Join the shoulders: When all the neck shaping is done, join the shoulders, right sides together, with a 3-needle BO. Read more about that choice of method here

Try your cardigan body on now to be sure it fits. You can give it a soak now or wait until the borders are on if you think everything is on track.


While the cardigan was drying, I made some headway with the Ophelia Overalls (they're actually dark navy yarn-dyed cotton/linen, not grey). Here are the hardware options I'm considering:

Any opinions?
Part 12 is here.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Design Your Own Aran, Part Ten: Cabling Know How

Before I get to the topic of neck shaping, I want to quickly touch on some issues related to cables.

1. Cabling without a cable needle: To learn more about this, go here.

2. Decreasing into cables: This will be relevant when you get to the neck shaping. See here

3. Cable splay:  This refers to the tendency of cables to spread open in the wrong places, notably at the point where you want to end the cable. This is why it is best to try to end a cable pattern just after a cable turning row. Look at the back neck of Hedgewood and you'll see how I did this to avoid having the neckline splay open.



I've been working ahead on my own cardigan and just this afternoon finished the front bands. It needs wet blocking before I go on to do the sleeves. Having the neck and front borders done and blocked helps the cardigan hang properly when I try it on later to check on the sleeve length.

While it's drying, I'm taking time out to work on my Ophelia Overalls, a sewing project Isabel and I are undertaking this month. 

Part 11 is here

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Design Your Own Aran, Part Nine: Decision Time

While you're motoring (or slogging) up the body, it's time to start thinking about some crucial measurements. 

Body length + armhole depth = total length: This relatively simple aran is meant to be hip length and boxy with a modified drop shoulder. To determine you desired total length, the easiest method is to use a garment you already own and love as a template. If you don't have one, then simply measure from the top of your shoulder to your hip bones. I'm only 5'1", so my body will be 18" in total. I know from knitting many sweaters that that's the length of a hip bone length sweater on my body. I also know that an armhole depth of 7" (circumference of 14") works best on me. That means that my lower body will need to be 11". How do you know what will work best on you? That's where you're on your own. Everyone's bust/upper arm area is a little different. In a worst case scenario, you knit the body to the shoulders, join them, block the sweater, try it on before proceeding any further, and discover that the proportions are off. You'll only need to frog the upper body and try again. That's just part of designing your own garment. The good news is that the more you knit and fit sweaters to yourself, the more you know what works on you so that you don't have to re-invent the wheel every time you design something.

How many stitches should you place on hold for the underarms? To answer this, you need to have a good look at your stitch patterns. In my case, I decided to place 4 knit stitches + 1 purl stitch + a 4-stitch rope cable onto a length of waste yarn on either side of the side markers. That''s a total of 9 sts on either side of the side marker, or a little over 2" worth on either side. I'd be cautious about placing more than that. The armhole is going to be worked with a perpendicular join and the row and stitch gauges won't be the same; this trick works for short stretches, but can cause difficulties when pushed too far.

Why did I choose to stop exactly one stitch before the column of twisted knit stitches? Because I want that column to frame the armhole. As I work up the upper body, I'll switch the purl stitch next to it to a knit stitch so that it will become a selvedge for picking up the armhole stitches. Wherever you choose to end your armhole opening, do make sure to make the stitch next to the future armhole a selvedge stitch (knit on the RS, purl on the WS). 

Here's a closeup of the point where the back (still on the needles) meets the underarm (on a length of waste yarn). That purl stitch to the left of the stitches on hold is about to be converted to an armhole selvedge stitch in the next row. FYI, I NEVER use rigid stitch holders! They will stretch your knitting completely out of shape.

Once you've put the underarms on hold, go ahead and do the same for the fronts. You can break your yarn at this point because now it's time to join in a new length and proceed up the back until you're an inch below your final desired length. Don't forget to measure in the centre of your work, not at the armhole edges. Here's my cardigan with the back completed.

Yes, the back neck shaping has been completed, but that's for my next post -- I think-- unless I take time out to address the issue of "cable splay". Till next time... 

Part 10 is here.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Design Your Own Aran, Part Eight: Onward and Upward

The body of the cardigan is a bit of a slog. I rarely knit more than 30 minutes in a day and it's taken a while to get almost to the underarms (more about figuring out lengthwise measurements next post). I like to wet-block my knitting after about six inches and again at an inch to half an inch before the underarm divide. This just reassures me that all is on gauge and proceeding according to plan. I don't go all the way to the underarms in case the knitting grows in length after blocking. That way, I avoid having to rip out. In this case there was no lengthwise growth, so I'll need to knit a few extra rows before the BIG DIVIDE. 

The cardigan was almost dry this morning when I got up. To speed the process, I opened it up and laid it out over our dining room radiator (gotta love those things at this time of year).

Now everything's back on the needles, and I'm exhilarated by the transformative power of blocking!

Next up, decisions, decisions...

Part 9 is here.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Design Your Own Aran, Part Seven: Casting On

The moment has come to get into the "knitty gritty" of this project. Here are some important points to keep in mind as you prepare to dive in:

Needles: If you've decided to add ribbing, go down one needle size for that part of the knitting. I'm using a Size US #8/ 5 mm needle for my body, so I cast on with a US #7/ 4.5 mm for the ribbing. Even if you're not adding ribbing, cast on with a smaller needle and use it for the first row before switching over to the needle you used for your gauge swatch. This will prevent the lower edge from flaring out (unless that's what you want, of course). I suggest going with a 32" circular needle. In my size, 36", I can fit everything onto a 24" circular, but it makes for a less than pleasant experience as the work ends up being rather squished. 

Use a longtail cast on: This is simple, tidy, and after the first row has a lot of stretch. My go-to choice. A common problem knitters have when casting on a lot of stitches with this method is that the yarn tail has a tendency to "unspin" itself. This is especially likely to happen with woollen spun yarns such as Brooklyn Tweed's Shelter. Try Lucy Neatby's trick here for preventing this. That woman is so clever!

The first row will be a WS row: When you work the longtail cast on, you create a sort of "outline stitch" (as in embroidery) along the bottom edge on one side and little purl bumps on the other side. For this project, I prefer the outline stitch edge to be the right side. That means that the first row you work will be a wrong side row. Regardless of whether or not you are using ribbing, the first and last stitches in this row will be purled since they are selvedge stitches (see last post). Make your last row of ribbing a RS row, because...

The first row of cable patterning should be a WS row: It's not a good idea to launch immediately into cable patterning right from the ribbing. It's best to start with a row that has no cable turnings in it at all, which generally means a wrong side row. In my case I started with Row 16 of my chart instead of Row 1. This allows all the knit and purl stitches to be put into place before the first cable turnings in Row 1. Likewise, you don't want to work too many rows from the start of the aran patterns before starting the cabling or you'll notice that the knitting draws in unattractively at the point of the first cables (this isn't usually a problem since most aran patterns involve some cabling on every RS row). I find that working one WS row before starting the cabling is perfect. 

Use markers as necessary: I like to use different coloured markers for setting out the cable panels and the sides and centre back of the cardigan.

Decide how you are going to follow your chart: I ended up wanting to mirror image my cables. This meant a longer than usual chart, which in turn meant that using post-it notes to indicate my place was out -- sticky notes would have been falling off continuously. Instead, I chose to use a magnetic board (this one is from Knitpicks). I don't have a tablet, but you could go digital if you have one, for extra portability.

Now for a preview of what's ahead. Here's the body of my cardigan, almost-but-not-quite-completed, soaking in a tub. All the stitches are on a long length of waste yarn, and you can see on the right that the ball of wool is still attached.

After the soaking, I pinned the knitting out to its desired measurements on a towel.


Now it's really starting to look like something!

Part 8 is here

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Design Your Own Aran, Part Six: Putting It All Together

OK, so let's say you have your aran swatching done. You know the desired final circumference of your cardigan, you've calculated your "field of play", you know exactly how wide your aran stitch panel will be, you've made a decision about whether to add a ribbed border, and you know how many stitches per inch you're achieving in your chosen "filler" stitch (plain old stocking stitch in my case). Now what?

In order to commence the actual knitting, I start with a diagram. I call this THE GRAND PLAN.

Let's look at the lower right hand quadrant first. This will be the left front of the cardigan when worn. Remember that this quadrant will need to work out to 9" in order for the cardigan to come out at a finished circumference of 36". There is a space of 3/4" which will eventually be occupied by the buttonband, then the cable panel consisting of 38 sts, which worked out to 7 1/4" in width, followed by 1" (4 sts) worth of stocking stitch filler. 

Now look at the adjoining upper right portion of the diagram. This will be the left back as worn. Everything is the reverse of the front, with the largest cable stitch abutting the centre back. In place of the 3/4" worth of buttonband space, there are 3 sts of stocking stitch. 

To all of the above I add one extra knit stitch at the beginning and end of the entire row as a selvedge for picking up the front bands. It will be maintained as a knit st on the RS and a purl st on the WS throughout the cardigan.

To interpret the numbers shown in the diagram:

38 cable panel sts + 4 knit sts = 42 (multiply by 4)

front border sts = 2

centre back filler sts = 6

total for CO = 176!

Next time, the excitement of finally casting on. Part 7 is here.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Design Your Own Aran, Part Five: The Ribbing Conundrum

As mentioned in an earlier post, aran knitting is nothing more than fancy ribbing -- just combinations of columns of knit and purl stitches. Once blocked, it tends to lie flat, and that's significant given that adding a ribbed lower edge onto aran stitch patterns can add complications. These are complications that can usually be solved, but you should know ahead of time what you're in for. Look back at Norah Gaughan's Vale, from Part One of this series, and you'll see how well aran designs work without a ribbed lower border. There's a strong aesthetic argument for doing this. A sweater without ribbing will tend to hang more loosely (and attractively) about the hips. If you want to make your life easy, don't even bother to read the rest of this post. 

If you feel up to exploring the possibility of ribbing, read on. First off, you need to understand that if you just start off with ribbing (any type) and then make an abrupt transition to aran stitches, things will look off. That's because there will be cable ribs growing awkwardly out of purl stitches and 4-stitch braids emerging off-centre, etc. It won't be pretty. 

Have a look at the ribbing to aran stitch transition in Hedgewood.

You can see that I've made an effort to align the ribbing elements with the aran panel by reducing the number of purl stitches between the ribbed elements in the central celtic cable. The alignment isn't perfect across the entire sweater, but it is in the central focal point and the rest is close enough to fool the eye. 

Now look at my various swatches for this design project.

The bottom swatches show how easily I could have decided not to bother with ribbing at all. It was a close call. The top swatches show two different approaches to ribbing. The cable panel suggests 2 x 4 ribbing as the default choice, not 2 x 2 as in my original design sketch. In the top right swatch I used 2 x 4 ribbing all the way, then increased in the final row for the smaller two cables. In the top left swatch I chose to vary the ribbing, changing to 4 x 4 ribbing for the small cables. This is a little more complicated to knit since it necessitates planning and marking out those sections of ribbing. In the end, I chose to go with this approach because I like the sculpted look of the cables growing out of the ribbing. You can see how I worked this out in the bottom row of this chart.

There was a good deal of erasing as I played with various options. Ultimately I needed to knit swatches with ribbing (see above) to check out the options. It might seem time consuming, but it was a lot easier than casting on hundreds of stitches only to end up frogging everything after six inches of knitting.

So, now you're in a position to make your own choices. To rib or not to rib?

P.S. For ribbing, DO use a needle one size down from the size you used for the main aran stitches; you need to compensate for the fact that all those cables will draw in the width of the knitting. And even if you choose not to rib, cast on and knit the first row with a needle one size smaller to prevent the lower border from flaring (unless you want that effect, that is).

Part 6 is here.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Time Out

This post is a sort of time out from the Aran Project. "Sort of" because even though there are no new details on how to turn your swatches into a sweater, I have some pics of the pre- and post-blocking of the first few inches of my own cardigan.

First up, a photo of the cardigan being wet blocked to double check for size. You can see the opening at the front where the button band will go. I pinned it out to dry on the ironing board because it's a place where there's good air flow both above and below the piece. AT NO TIME WAS MY IRON INVOLVED IN THE BLOCKING.

Next up, the dried piece of knitting was back on the needles this morning, all smoothed out, soft, and lovely.

What to do while your knitting is blocking? Sewing, of course. Yesterday I drafted a pattern for dining room chair slipcovers, and somehow managed to knock out this Remy Raglan, my new favourite shirt pattern.

So pleased with how beautifully this hangs when worn, plus it's all French seamed so it's as gorgeous inside as out.

My next post will be part of the Aran project. The subject will be RIBBING.