I am the Switzerland of sweater construction

I was reading a thread on Ravelry recently in which people were commenting on patterns. I can’t remember the exact context, but one comment stuck in my head. Someone said “I won’t even look at a pattern if it’s seamed.” Why it stuck in my head now, when I have heard similar sentiments before, I don’t know. What I do know, however, is that I have also heard people say “I won’t knit a garment unless it’s seamed.”

You see, there are two primary ways to knit a sweater. You can knit it in pieces (usually 4 for a pullover and five for a cardigan) and then seam them together. Or you can knit in one piece (either bottom-up or top-down, but that is a different type of argument). In the latter case, you must come to some solution for the sleeves, either picking up stitches and knitting down, or knitting the sleeves up to the armholes and then joining to the body; in any case, the primary goal of this construction is to seam as little as possible. There are many arguments in favour of either approach.  (Which are not the topic of this post.) I have always thought that there were sweaters for which it makes a kind of intrinsic sense to knit in the round; and others for which seaming is the sensible option.

I have increasingly noticed, however, that knitters often take sides, as if this is a battle line. Some designers will only create patterns for seamed sweaters and some are known for always designing in the round; most designers, I imagine, have to negotiate this potential landmine as best they can. If knitters take sides, then designers can lose half of their potential customers right from the get-go. I am not going to take sides. In fact, the point of this blog post is that I don’t take sides. You see, after pondering this for a while (and having nothing to do as I am stuck in my hotel room in Johannesburg, am too tired to leave my room, and have just finished reading my book) I decided to look at my projects page on Ravelry and add them up. (Yes, boredom will get you to do all sorts of useless things.)

What I found was this: 42 sweaters, of which 21 are knit in the round, and 21 are knit in pieces and seamed. This, I think, is the very definition of knitting neutrality. I am the Switzerland of sweater construction!

And this makes me think: are most knitters like me? Do you knit the patterns that appeal to you regardless of whether they are seamed or not? Or do you filter patterns out before you will even consider them? (Or alternatively, re-engineer any patterns that violate your preferred technique?)

Inquiring minds want to know. (Bored minds do, too.)

On picking up stitches left-handed and the button band blues

I have just returned from a quick trip to South Africa, where I was teaching in Johannesburg.  As always, I put considerable thought into which knitting project(s) to take with me; unfortunately on this trip I was too busy to get much done.  (I also didn’t knit on the plane, despite having my knitting with me!)  I always put a lot of effort into my teaching and it left me tired out at the end of the day.

I did, however, work on the button bands of the lovely spring cardigan I am making for Leah (see here for more details).  And thus begins a tale of button band blues.  Warning: Those of you who have no interest in the technicalities of knitting and only read this for the pretty photos, you may wish to stop reading right now before your eyes glaze over.  For the rest of you, you may recall that the cardigan (designed by Amy Herzog) has a very pretty textured panel on the waistband and cuffs.  You can see the edging in the below photo:


This pattern is made with an 8-row repeat.  There are twisted stitches on rows 1 and 5.  The instructions for the button band say to pick up and knit stitches along the front edge and then to knit in pattern beginning with Row 2.  I thought about this awhile: why would she begin with Row 2?  I decided that this was because Row 1 involved twisting every other pair of stitches.  Perhaps, I speculated, twisting stitches on the first row would draw in the fabric along the edge of the button band and result in an uneven and non-stretchy edge. That makes sense, no?  So, I duly picked up the requisite amount of stitches and started knitting the button band.  After a few rows, I actually paid attention to what I was doing and realized that I was knitting it backwards: the pattern right-side rows were being knit on the wrong side of the garment.

I realized that this was due to the way that I pick up stitches.  The pattern asks that you hold the garment with the right side facing you, and then, starting at the right edge, pick up and knit across to the left edge.   (This is a fairly standard instruction.)  This means that the very next row will be on the wrong side of the fabric.  With this 8-row repeat, Rows 1, 3, 5, and 7 are on the right side (RS) and Rows 2, 4, 6, and 8 on the wrong side (WS).  Since the first row to be knitted after the pick-up row is on the wrong side, Herzog starts the pattern with Row 2.  This makes perfect sense if that is how you pick up stitches. However, this is not how I pick up stitches.

I am not sure how I learned to pick up stitches along an edge.  Perhaps my grandmother or mother taught me, perhaps I taught myself using trial and error and intuition.  However, although I mostly knit in a right-handed fashion, despite being left-handed,  I absolutely cannot pick up stitches with my right hand.  Furthermore, I have never executed a “pick up and knit”, but rather just “pick up” stitches.  I do this by holding the right side of the fabric facing me, and start from the left-hand edge.  I wrap the yarn around my right index finger, and then simply insert the tip of the needle into the fabric, pick up the yarn, and bring it through.  I have made a little video to show you what I do:

I have always picked up stitches this way.  I don’t know whether others do it like this or not.  It works for me.  Once I realized that this is not the standard method, I tried really hard to pick up and knit with my right hand moving across the edge from right to left.  I failed miserably, and really my method works well for me; why should I quit?  There is a problem with this, however – the very next row after picking up the stitches is on the right side of the fabric, not the wrong side.

So, I ripped out the button band, and decided to start with Row 1 since I was starting on the right side of the fabric.  But now, I thought, there was a potential problem – Row 1 has twisted stitches.  You see, I had convinced myself that Herzog started with Row 2 in order to avoid having twisted stitches all the way across the first row of the button band.  Even though I now realized that she started on Row 2 because in fact she needed to start with a WS row, I didn’t re-think this misconception.  As a result, I started the button band again with a Row 1, but without twisting the stitches (thus with a K2P2).  This really didn’t look right to me.  But I convinced myself that starting with twisted stitches would be wrong so I kept going, while slowing down more and more as I stopped to frown at the button band frequently.  This is what it looked like:


I tried very hard to convince myself that no one would notice this on a button band.  However, my perfectionist came to the fore and I couldn’t bear it, so I ripped it out (again!) and started over with a proper Row 1, including the twists.  The result is very subtle, but, to me at least, made a big difference in the feel of the piece.  Here is a close-up without the twists:


and here is the corrected band with the twists:


Much happier now, I continued to knit the button band.  I did this while watching an amazing tennis match being played at Wimbledon (on the telly, of course).  This was the finals of the Men’s Wheelchair Doubles, in which Gordon Reid and Alfie Hewett eventually managed to win the title against Stephane Houdet and Nicolas Peifer.  It was a beautiful tennis match, in which all four players displayed incredible athleticism.  It was both lovely to watch and a nail-biter as both pairs were in contention throughout.  At the end of the match, I looked down and discovered that on Row 5 (quite a few rows down at this point) I had twisted all of the stitches the wrong way.  So, once again, I had to rip.

The button-hole band started out much better.  I had to do some math-fu to get the button holes evenly spaced, and had to pay quite a bit of attention on the buttonholes themselves (Herzog uses Barbara Walker’s one-row button hole method, which has always been my favorite, even if it is quite fiddly).  I finished the band, and cast it off, and only then realized that half way through the band, I had twisted all of the stitches on the fist half of a twist row and not twisted them on the second half!  Rip!  Groan!  Clearly a glass of wine is in order!  And a good book!  Or maybe a lobotomy!

I am now happy to say that the button bands are done.  I managed to knit the back, both fronts and both sleeves of this cardigan without ever tripping up on the edging.  Why now when the end is in sight?  This is definitely a case of button band blues.