Rowan runs big

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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.

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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.

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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.

In a Hazy Kidsilk Haze Daze

I have been thinking a lot about Kidsilk Haze.  I love this yarn; so pretty, so soft, so light, so warm.  I was in London this weekend, and stopped by Loop (a great yarn shop in Islington).  They have Kidsilk displayed on a rod on the wall, one ball of each colour threaded through the rod.  Such beautiful shades; I love their pastels, but I am wild about the deep jewel tones.  I have also been wishing to knit myself a new pullover in Kidsilk Haze. To properly set up this discussion, I must show you a really unflattering photo of me.  In 2007, I knit myself a pullover from Kidsilk Haze in a deep, vibrant purple.  The sweater, called Rosa, was designed by Lois Daykin, and published in Rowan 40.

Though the photo is terrible, you can see that the sweater itself is lovely.  I wore this sweater everywhere for a few years.  I love that it can be very dressy, but can also be worn with jeans.  I especially love that it is light as a feather, but surprisingly warm.

The problem with this sweater is that I knit it too big. I measured carefully and followed Rowan’s size guide exactly and knit to gauge.   I have noticed over the years that Rowan patterns run big; there is an enormous amount of positive ease built into their patterns.  And actually, when you look at the photos in their pattern books, the sweaters are always enormous on the models, so this isn’t exactly a case of false advertising.  These young, attractive Rowan models lounging around the countryside and country manor houses in sweaters three sizes too big for them always look like beautiful, tousled, artistic waifs lost in their big, snuggly sweaters.  On everyone else, they just look like sweaters that don’t fit.  I have come to the conclusion that, when knitting a Rowan pattern, you should always go down a size.  Or two.  Or three.

So my Rosa sweater, while deeply loved, was clearly too big, and once I lost a bit of weight, was way too big.  I have been thinking for some time now of knitting another one in a size 10 instead of a 14 (really, a 14; what was I thinking?)

Since knitting Rosa, I have made four other projects with Kidsilk Haze, each of which I love to bits.  First, also in 2007, I made the River Lacy Wrap, designed by Sharon Miller and published in Rowan 38.  It was my first piece of lacework.

Then I knit the absolutely fabulous Reversible Cable-Ribbed Shawl, by Lily Chin, published in Vogue Knitting Winter 1999/2000.  I think this may be my all-time favorite of all my knits, and will be the subject of a future Wearability Wednesday post.  But here is a teaser photo, so you can begin to see it’s greatness.  (Don’t you love this green?  Regular readers of this blog will know that I have a thing for green.)

I then made the Smoulder pullover for Emma, which I blogged about here.  Smoulder was designed by Kim Hargreaves and published in her collection, Whisper.   The yarn is held double in this pattern, making it  much warmer, thicker and cushier, but still light as air.  This sweater was sort of a pain to knit, because it was knit on two different sized needles, but you cannot argue with the results. It looks great.

Using the leftovers from the Smoulder sweater, I knit a cowl for my sister-in-law, Vivian, which I blogged about here.

Clearly, it is time to knit myself a pullover in Kidsilk Haze.  I have been torn for a while between knitting another Rosa, perhaps in a deep red, or finding another pattern to make with this yarn.  Recently, I came across this:

This pullover combines Kidsilk Haze with beads.  I think it is beautiful.  It is designed by Martin Story and published in Parisian Nights (by Rowan).  I am thinking maybe this is what I need for my next Kidsilk Haze fix.  I love this colour – sort of a cross between grey and taupe – but I can imagine this in a dark red, or a soft pearl grey, a rich golden yellow or  a very pale pink, or maybe in a classic black.  Kidsilk comes in so many colours.  Beads come in endless varieties; imagine the possibilities.  What do you think?