In my last post about Escher, I called the construction of this cardigan “genius”. I was working on the bottom edging at the time and the cardigan suddenly came into being, so to speak; it took form and I could see what the designer was after. Alas, the time came to start the upper edging and I hit a few roadblocks.
I read, and re-read, the instructions. I read them many times in fact but still could not get my head around them. I then spent hours (four of them, in fact) looking critically at every photo of Escher that I could find. I looked at each of the Escher projects on Ravelry, reading every word and comment by their knitters. I looked at Alexis Winslow’s blog post on Escher, which included some great photos not found elsewhere. (Note to readers: she has a lovely blog, which talks a lot about the design process.) I wrote to Brooklyn Tweed, and their pattern support was excellent and quick. I asked them for photographs of the neck and upper edging so that I could interpret the pattern, and they took the garment they had on hand and photographed it carefully for me, sending me shots of every angle.
Eventually, I figured out how the upper edging is supposed to be constructed (at least I hope so). However, there remained some serious issues: most of the projects that have been documented do not fit properly. These fit issues mostly have to do with the shoulders and upper edging. I don’t really want to knit all of that ribbing more than once, so I determined to figure out the fit issues before picking up the stitches.
In this endeavor, I was helped greatly by the lovely Alice (Ellisj on Ravelry). Alice had posted on this blog when I first began Escher and pointed me to her very good notes on the project on Ravelry. As I struggled to come to grips with the upper edging, I wrote to Alice with a number of questions. She responded with a very thoughtful and lengthy letter, which was written while she was on an international trip with two toddlers, and these toddlers were taking a nap! Having traveled around the world a number of times with two toddlers, I can tell you that Alice deserves sainthood for this! I am constantly touched by the support of the knitting community, who reach out with such kindness to people they’ve never met.
From Alice’s notes and her letters to me, as well as from insightful comments by other knitters on Ravelry, I came to some conclusions.
First, the simple things. A number of people mentioned that there was an awful lot of fiddliness in the pattern to ensure that the upper and lower edgings were knitted together, rather than seamed. I am perfectly willing to sew a seam, however, so didn’t see the advantage of the fiddling. My first modification, I decided, would be to knit the upper edging back and forth without the short rows that join it to the bottom edging. (In the pattern, each edge stitch on the upper edging is knit together with a held stitch from the picked up edge of the lower edging – see, it is even complicated to describe!) Second, I liked the way in which Alice had finished her project with an I-cord edge rather than the rows of reverse stockinette stitch that the pattern calls for. I have never been a fan of rolled edging. So, I put the live stitches from the bottom edging on a spare cable, and plan to put one long I-cord edge around the combined upper and lower edging when I get to that point.
Now to the tricky stuff. As I see it, the top of the “triangle” should form a stright line across the top of the shoulder blades, and should reach from shoulder to shoulder. There is a huge variation in the width of the triangle in the knitted projects, which doesn’t necessarily correlate with the width of the wearer’s shoulders. This could result from choosing the wrong size but more likely results from the row gauge; as the back of the jacket is knit from side-to-side, it is the row gauge, rather than the stitch gauge, that determines where the shoulders sit. TIP: if you are knitting this, check to make sure that the top edge of the traingle is the right width for your shoulders before carrying on. (I think mine is a wee bit too wide.)
The main issues that most people have had can be divided into three areas of concern:
- the positioning of the shoulders
- the shawl collar being too tight
- drooping or bunching at the centre back
I will discuss these in turn. First, the shoulders are formed by decreases in the ribbing that slant the ribs toward the centre back neck, and in doing so, create a three-dimensional “pocket” for the shoulders:
I am knitting the third size, 41.5″. For this size, the shoulder decreases are off-set 6.75″ from the centre, meaning the shoulder width of the garment is 13.5″. This is too narrow for my shoulders. The strongest piece of advice I received from Alice is to off-set the shoulder decreases more so that the width of the shoulders more accurately reflects my shoulder width (sensible, no?)
Second, many people note that the upper edging is stretched very tightly and that this makes the shawl collar pull. The suggestion is to add more stitches to the upper edging at the start. I had added 12 extra stitches to the bottom edging, because I was worried about this very fact, so adding more stitches to the upper edging makes sense to me.
Third, when you look at the photos of many projects, you can clearly see that the top line of the cardigan “droops”, sometimes quite far down the back, or alternatively, there is a “bunch” or “roll” of fabric at the neck. I was determined to solve this problem through creative modifications.
So, how did I deal with these three issues? First, I placed the stitch markers for the shoulder decreases at 8″ from the centre back, thus giving me an extra 2.5″ across the shoulders. My next step was to pick up stitches without looking at the numbers in the pattern. I picked up stitches at what I deemed to be sensible and regular intervals, only checking that the number on both sides was equal and that the number for both sides was divisible by 4, and the number for the centre section was divisble by 4 +2. So far, so good, yes? Well, the answer was no, actually. It turns out that my number of picked-up stitches was dramatically more than the pattern called for (about 70 extra stitches across the entire upper edging). All of these extra stitches combined with the wider shoulders meant that the rate of shoulder decreasing would not bring the neck in far enough. This would definitely exacerbate the tendency for “bunching” at the centre back neck. Also, because of the very large increase in the number of picked up stitches, and thus different gauge, the slope of the decreases is less, and the “pocket” it forms for the shoulder is shallower.
I came up with what I thought was a clever plan for this as well: I would start a set of double decreases around the centre K2 column on the back neck. This would serve two purposes: it would decrease all of the extra bulk at the back neck, while at the same time allowing the side decreasing to do its job properly and narrow the neck while shaping the shoulders.
I am now nearly 4 inches into this, and am starting to have some major doubts. FIrst, I am struggling with whether to widen the shoulders even further. In this photo, you can see the centre stitch is marked with a red marker. The green marker indicates where the pattern calls for the shoulder decreases to start, the yellow marker indicates where my shoulder decreases start, and the purple marker indicates where I am considering moving them.
Emma feels strongly that, esthetically, the decreases should be at the purple marker, so that they are at the very edges of the triangle. However, Emma agrees that good fit should always trump everything else. Doug, Emma and I spent a good 40 minutes on the weekend, arguing over the shoulder placement. This is a really tricky call, because it is not clear until you have knitted it exactly how the shoulder shaping will fall. I also think that the decreases at the neck, while intended to eliminate bunching in the neck, might actually lead to bunching of the top of the triangle, as hinted at in the photo below. These centre neck decreases were intended to be paried with increases at the same spot, in order to ease the “pulling” of the shawl collar. I have only just realized, however, that it is the reverse side which will show when the collar is turned over, and the reverse side is not nearly so pretty.
Where does this lead me? At the moment to a stand-off. I am thinking about it way more than I should be given all of the other demands on my time. I am now debating ripping out the upper edging, and starting it over. This time I would pick up fewer stitches (although still more than the pattern calls for) and move the shoulders out to the very edges of the triangle. I will probably also forego the centre decreases, or maybe just make fewer of them, decreasing 8 stitches instead of 24. On the other hand, I have great faith in the miracle of blocking – and looking at these photos I think maybe I am being too picky.
I am determined to get this to work, partly out of sheer stubborness, and partly because I think the design is beautiful and would complement my wardrobe. Stay tuned for further episodes of the Escher Cardigan Modification Chronicles.