Venetian Audrey unmodelled

I finished knitting my Venetian Audrey sweater this week.  Unfortunately, since Emma now lives half way around the world from me (and since no one else around here could possibly fit into one of Emma’s sweaters) it will have to go unmodelled at present.

IMG_6068This is a shame because this is definitely one of those sweaters that you have to see on to appreciate. I am going to stick it in a box and mail it to Emma and she has promised to photograph it and post up some modelled shots once she receives it.  The pattern is Audrey, by Kim Hargreaves, but as I have explained in previous posts I have substantially reworked the pattern to both make it smaller and to knit it in the round.  The yarn is the fabulous Madelinetosh Tosh DK, in the colour called Venetian, which is very hard to photograph.  The light today wasn’t the best for capturing it as these photos make it look more purple than it is.  The colour is actually like that of deep, dark, perfectly ripe cherries; absolutely delicious and rich and a very deep pink shot through with black.

IMG_6073There are some great shaping details, which can be tricky to execute in the ribbing, but have a big payoff.  In the above photo, you can see the shaping in the bust increases on the bodice and also the great detailing on the raglan sleeve and body shaping.

Now for some technical details.  If these don’t interest you, skip down to the next photo.

I had to do a lot of fooling around with the pattern to get the ribbing to work out right when I joined the sleeves to start the yoke, and also to get the raglan shaping right.  For the body, I cast off 6 stitches each side of the side markers; the crucial factor was that I wanted to end up with one purl stitch on each side of the back and front.  I also wanted this for the sleeves (that is, a single purl on either side after the bind off) but realized that to do this, I would either need to cast off too few or too many stitches on the sleeves, so that they wouldn’t match up with the body when it came time to graft the underarms.  I had worried before (and commented on the fact previously on the blog) that perhaps I had made the sleeves too narrow.  However, when making the sleeve increases, I was cognizant of wanting to end up with the K2P2 ribbing intact all the way around the sleeve, which meant that I had to make increases in groups of 4.  I had made 8 increases, which didn’t seem quite enough, but 12 seemed too many.

When it came time to join the yoke, however, I realized that I had  not accounted for the bound off stitches under the arm.  In order to bind off roughly the same as I had for the body (six each side of center, or 12 at each armhole), and still end up with a single purl on each side, I needed to have made more sleeve increases.  So, I ripped out 6 inches from each sleeve, and reknit them, adding two more sets of increases for a total of 10 sets (63 stitches).  I was then able to bind off the center stitch, plus 5 to each side, making a total of 11 stitches bound off for each sleeve.  Note that this had the side effect of solving the issue of the sleeves being too tight, by adding an additional 4 stitches to each sleeve.  Then I joined the sleeves to the body, placing a marker at each join, so that there were four markers, showing the positions of the raglan lines.  Since both the body pieces and the sleeves were edged with a single purl stitch, once they were combined, I had a beautiful K2P2 all the way around.

I then made the raglan shaping as follows:

Row 1: * sl marker, P1,K2, P1, P2tog, work in rib as established to 6 stitches before marker, P2tog tbl, P1, K2, P1 *, repeat from * to * three times.  (This makes a decrease on each side of each raglan, offset by 4 stitches.)

Row 2: work all stitches as set

I worked these two rows 8 times, and then four times making the decreases only on the sleeve edge of the raglan edges.  This left me with 160 stitches.

IMG_6075Aren’t those raglan shapings beautiful?  The lace is knit separately in a long strip.  It is a garter stitch lace pattern with an alternating stitch count (which accounts for the gently scalloped edges).  It has a 12 row repeat.  I found that one pattern repeat of the lace, when slightly stretched, fit across 8 stitches of the ribbed yoke, also slightly stretched.  Since I had 160 stitches around the yoke after the raglan shaping, the math worked out perfectly!  I made 20 repeats of the lace pattern.  The only finishing required was to sew the lace around the bodice, and sew the stitches under the arm.  And voila!

The only remaining question is whether to block it.  I am thinking no – I don’t normally block ribbing, and as this whole sweater is ribbed, I’m not sure it needs a block.  I think that I shall just lightly steam the lace, pack it in a box, and ship it to Emma.


Rowan runs big


I’ve said it before.  I’ll say it again.  Rowan patterns run big.  Rowan produces beautiful knitting pattern books with high production values – thick, glossy paper, full page photos, interesting backgrounds, beautiful colours.  They have a stable of fabulous designers who consistently turn out lovely garments.  They have a sense of colour, and of colour playfulness, that can’t be beat. The patterns all use Rowan yarn (of course) which I love and use frequently.   I buy every issue and collect them; I pour over them again and again.  I have knit many of their designs.

That said, there are some things that drive me crazy about Rowan.  They are not big on charting; though they seem to be getting better at this, there are quite a few patterns which I wanted to knit and decided not to, simply because there were no charts provided.  A lot of their patterns seem unnecessarily fiddly, and the construction unnecessarily complicated.  I recommend reading the entire pattern, and then think each step through carefully; don’t be afraid to rework the construction method.  Remember that a good knitter can think of a pattern as a recipe.  It won’t kill the brownies to add a little rum and go light on the sugar; and you might come up with something delicious.  This same philosophy should apply to your knitting.

The most serious problem with Rowan patterns, however, is the vast  amount of positive ease they write into every garment.  I tried knitting a Rowan sweater for Doug a few years ago.  It had about 10″ of ease written in.  I know that men like to have room in their sweaters, but that is ridiculous.  I purposely knit down a size, and then ripped out and knit down a further size, and finally gave up all together with a partially finished garment that was huge.

Why am I writing this rant about too much ease in Rowan patterns?  Well, the answer lies in Emma’s sweater dilemma.  Regular readers of this blog will recall that I have been trying for quite a long time to find the perfect sweater pattern to knit for Emma.  We picked out the yarn ages ago (Madelinetosh Tosh DK in Venetian) but have not been able to settle on a pattern.  I wrote a post here, where I talked about a number of the pattern options being considered.  I was anxious to settle on a pattern before Emma arrived home for the holidays.  She was only home for 12 days, and I thought that if I had a pattern picked out and swatched in advance, I could just about finish it in 12 days (if I really pushed it).  But Emma and I could not find THE pattern,  the one that screamed “I was made to be knit in Tosh DK Venetian for Emma!”

Every day, I would throw out pattern ideas to Emma, and each one would be rejected.  On Boxing Day, I suddenly, for no reason that I can recall, said to Emma “We should just knit another Audrey.”  And we both stared at each other, knowing instantly that Audrey was IT – the absolutely perfect sweater, both for this yarn and for Emma.  Audrey was designed by Kim Hargreaves for Rowan 35.  I knit one for myself in the fall of 2009 in black in Rowan Calmer, a cotton blend.  I wrote a post last January about how versatile Audrey is; in the post, Emma, Leah and I all model my Audrey sweater.  My point was that even though we each have different shapes and styles, the sweater suited each of us.  Because the entire sweater is knit in 2×2 ribbing, it has amazing give and is very stretchy – thus, Emma can look good in my sweater.  However, as soon as I said it, I could imagine how much better Emma would look in an Audrey that had actually been knit for her, in her size, designed for her shape.  And a quick swatch of the Tosh DK in 2×2 rib showed up its fabulousness in every way.  Lush.  This yarn is lush.


Looking over the pattern again, I struggled to find any reason why it should be knit in pieces and seamed.  Now, the fact is that unlike many thousands of rather vociferous knitters, I actually enjoy knitting in pieces, and seaming.  I think that in many sweaters (dare I say most sweaters?) the shoulders and sleeves look infinitely better if the sweater has been seamed.  I know that it is all the rave to knit in one piece, usually top down, and I can see all the advantages of this, but the primary disadvantage is usually lack of proper fit in the shoulder and underarm and arm scythe.  However, there are some styles of sweater for which knitting in one piece, with a yoke, is the obvious way to go.  Audrey seems to me to be a clear candidate to knit this way.  So, the first thing I did was to rewrite the pattern to be knit in the round, bottom-up.

The second problem with the pattern is the sizing.  Repeat after me: Rowan runs big.  The smallest size for Audrey is an XS, which is listed as a size 32.  Remember that this sweater is knit in rib, and that ribbing needs negative ease.  This should be obvious.  Ribbing, especially 2×2 ribbing, normally pulls in, producing a thick, cushy fabric.  When it is on the body, you want it to be stretched out enough to give the rib definition – you should be able to see each rib articulated.  See in the top photo below, how narrow the sweater looks; it is the width of my hand at the waist.  But, as you can see in the second photo, when it is worn the ribs will stretch out and become articulated.  They will pop. Ribbing gives an architectural interest to your sweater.  If you don’t put enough negative ease into the garment, the ribs won’t pop – and you might as well be knitting in stockinette stitch.



Looking back at my project notes, I can see that I knit down a size for my Audrey, because I knew that Rowan runs big.  I knit a size M, which gave me 2″ of negative ease.  I can also see from my notes that I fretted the whole time about whether it would fit, because it looks tiny as it comes off the needles.  (Note that this problem magically disappears when you knit in the round; I had Emma try this on repeatedly – I know the body fits her perfectly.)

Given all this, imagine my astonishment to look at the schematics for the sweater and see that the XS, which is designed for a 32″ bust, actually has 2″ of positive ease written into the pattern (that is, it is designed for a 34″ circumference around the bust).   Thus, it is clear that the XS size in the Audrey pattern, the smallest size it is written in, is a good two sizes too big for Emma.  What this all means is that I am rewriting the entire pattern, first to knit it in the round, and second to resize it appropriately for an XS.

There was a chance that I could have finished it for Emma while she was home – if I had had the Audrey Eureka Moment in early December.  As it was, I had only 7 days to work on it before I put her on the plane to fly back to Vancouver.  So, I did the best I could – I knit the entire body of the sweater up to the armpits, so I know that this bit at least fits properly.  Then, I took lots of measurements.  I also had Emma try on my Audrey and took measurements on it.  For Emma’s sweater, I am obviously making it a lot narrower, to fit her narrower torso, but also, Emma is taller than I am, so I will be adding an inch to the length and at least two inches to the arms.  Plus, Emma wants it to definitely be an off-the-shoulder garment, so I will knit the yoke an inch shorter.

I am a little nervous about reworking all of the math, and fitting it, without her here to try it on.  It is easy to properly fit a garment when you have your model near to hand and can torture them by having them try it on every inch or so.  In this case, I will have to rely on my judgement and my tape measure, and then ship it to her with fingers crossed.

Everyone loves Audrey

This is the second in an occasional series called Wearability Wednesday in which I look in more depth at an item I’ve knitted previously, and discuss its actual wearability.  In these posts I want to focus on what gets worn and what doesn’t, and why; also on how it gets worn and how it holds up to wear and washing.  Today, I will be looking at Audrey, a sweater designed by Kim Hargreaves, in homage to Audrey Hepburn and her style in movies such as Roman Holiday.

The Audrey pattern was published in Rowan 35 in 2004.  Kim is a prolific designer who worked at Rowan for over 20 years before branching out to establish her own knit design company with her mother, Kathleen.  Kim is really known for her cardigans and her classic tailoring; you can find her designs at her lovely website.  Kim is well loved by knitters; the Kim Hargreaves group on Ravelry has over 4500 members.

I knit Audrey in late 2009 and it has had a lot of wear.  In this post, I want to look at two aspects of Audrey that really stand out for me.  First, it it looks great on many different body types.  Second, it is a sweater that can be worn in many different ways; it looks great with jeans, at work, and dressed up for evening wear.  Here, the sweater is modelled by me and by both my daughters, each of us adopting a different style.

First, let’s discuss body type.  When I knit Audrey I was about 6 kilos (12.5 pounds) heavier than I am now.  The photo that starts off this post was taken soon after I finished knitting it. Many of the sweaters which I knit back then are far too baggy on me now and I no longer wear them.  Audrey, however, because of the allover ribbing and the stretchy qualities of the yarn, fit me well then and fits we well now.  It is one of the few things in my wardrobe that this is true of.   My daughter Emma is a few inches taller than I am, and very slender and willowy.  She weighs a good 15 kilos less than I do.  Leah is a few inches shorter than I am, and has a real hourglass figure.  In UK sizes, Emma is a 6, Leah an 8, I am a 10 or 12, and two years ago when I knit Audrey, I was a 14, which I believe correspond to US sizes 2-10.  This is quite a range of sizes and heights and shapes, and yet each of us wears this sweater.  As you can see from the photos,  Audrey looks great on each of us.

Besides the great fit of Audrey, the other thing I want to emphasize is its versatility.  To show this, we each adopted a different style when modelling these photos.  Leah wore it with a pair of jeans.  I think it looks great this way.  It is fun and comfortable and easy to wear, but looks modern, and stylish.  It emphasizes Leah’s curviness and looks sexy without being revealing.  She looks really put-together wearing this; it doesn’t need anything else to make it work.

I often wear Audrey to work.  Here it is paired with a nice pair of classic tweed pants (or trousers as we say here in the UK).  I can wear this to meet with clients, attend meetings or give a talk, and look really professional.  At the same time, it has the extra flair that a hand-knit item gives your wardrobe.  It is not something that everyone else in the room is wearing, and lets you express a bit of creativity.  I really like it paired with the jacket that you can see in the other photos.  I bought it from a small shop in Camden, London, that makes its own felted jackets by hand. I like the contrast in styles between the definitely 1950s era Audrey styling and the definitely not 50s line of the jacket.

Emma is modelling Audrey all dressed up for evening wear, with a pair of killer heels and beautiful tights, and a suede miniskirt.  Again, it looks terrific.  It is chic and sexy and sophisticated.  There are not many pieces in my wardrobe that go from casual to office to evening with such aplomb.  One of the features of Audrey that makes it so versatile is the neckline.  It can be worn pulled down over the shoulders, to add a bit of va-va-voom (which looks especially amazing if you have a long neck and beautiful shoulders like Emma) or you can hitch it up a bit to cover the shoulders but still show a lovely line across the neck.

As an aside, my daughters have both inherited my creative streak (from their dad as well, who started out as a jewellry designer before becoming an academic and still has a strong creative side).  Emma, as you know, does all of the fashion styling and photography for this blog, as well as being the tech genius behind it. (Emma is also a jazz saxophonist, but that is another story.)   Leah, who is 17, designs jewelry and is crazy about beading.  Leah made all of the earrings which we are modelling in this photoshoot.  She makes amazing beaded necklaces as well, which weren’t needed for the Audrey shoot, but which I will show in some future post.  Here are closeups of the earrings worn in this post:

So, what is it about Audrey that makes it so versatile, and gives it such great fit?  I think there are a number of factors.  First, the pullover is knit in rib.  Rib is clingy and hugs the body, and allows for alot of give.  I don’t think just anything in rib would stretch to accomodate 4 different sizes so well, but the ribbing is certainly one of the features that allow each of us to wear it.  Second, in addition to the rib, it has great shaping details at the waist and bust.  The shaping of Audrey is really one of its best features; it has a very nice look to it, it is elegant and emphasizes the body’s curves really nicely.  Many allover ribbed sweaters will sag under the bustline but the shaping here prevents that, and gives it a classy feel.  It is a very tailored look, which is one of the things I most admire about Kim’s designs.  I will also point out, as a knitter, that the shaping kept the sweater from being a slog to knit; endless rib would have been boring, but the shaping requires some thought and a bit of skill which made it a far more enjoyable knit.

Third, the sleeve length allows the three of us, with our different arm lengths, to carry this sweater off.  Audrey is designed for 3/4 sleeves.  As you can see, on Leah it has a bracelet length that looks good on her, while on Emma it’s clearly 3/4 length.  If it was designed as a full length sleeve, I think it would not be quite as flexible as it is.  Fourth, the neckline really makes this sweater.  Not only is it pretty and flirty and lacy, thus giving a femininity to an otherwise very tailored piece; but also, it can be worn up or pulled down off the shoulders giving it very different style profiles.

One of the things I haven’t mentioned here is the yarn.  I knit Audrey in the recommended yarn, Calmer by Rowan.  Calmer is a blend, 75% cotton and 25% acrylic microfiber.  I am not usually a fan of manmade fibres, in fact I am normally quite a natural fibre snob.  However, Calmer manages to make a very nice blend that holds up well to wear.  As you can imagine, this Audrey gets worn a lot, and gets washed a lot.  Cotton sweaters have a terrible tendency to stretch and sag but the microfiber content of Audrey really helps it keep its shape.  The fact that it is cotton means that I can basically wear it all year round; it is a great sweater for a summer evening, I can wear it to dance in, unlike wool, and it will keep you warm on a cooler night  The one thing that I don’t like about Calmer is its colour range.  I knit mine in black, but if not black, I would prefer to have Audrey in bright splashy colours – emerald, ruby, peacock.  Calmer comes almost exclusively in pastels, and very unappealing ones at that.  Rowan, if you are listening, jazz up the Calmer range please!

What would I do differently if I were to knit Audrey again?  That is easy: I would add 2 inches onto the length.  At my age, I don’t want my tummy sticking out.  If I had knit a few extra inches to the length, I wouldn’t have any need to suck in my gut with this one, or to be tugging it down.

So here’s to Audrey; a really classy, chic, comfortable and pretty sweater!  It’s a Wearability Wednesday hit.