you know how sometimes someone talks about something often, but doesn’t really seem to make headway with it? they promise over and over that it’s almost done, almost resolved, almost there—if only we can hang on a little bit longer, we’ll see results.
yeah, that would be me, knitting my sea pearl sweater. hmm, i was under the impression that this sweater has been on the needles for a good two years, but when i checked just now, my blog history tells me that actually, i cast on less than one year ago, around june 5th, 2013, right in the midst of our kitchen demo what the heck was i thinking??).
talk about a long year—i can’t even remember the time before then . . .
anyway, i worked very quickly through that first part—which is kind of hilarious because that is the very widest part of the sweater, encompassing the body and the sleeves at once. just goes to show you how powerful an effect the enthusiasm for a new project can have on momentum.
by the 16th of june, i had already split the sleeve from the yoke to begin the body section, so i was rocking’ it for a while at least.
by mid-july i had started the more complex patterning of the lower body and gaining slowly but steadily on it. i had also chosen a name by then—artus & anne—after a husband/wife team of craftsman potters.
in early august it was looking a to more like a sweater and though it was going a bit slowly, it was still progressing.
and a week later it was quite a bit longer!
i seem to have weekly updates all the way through the late summer and early fall, in fact—near the end of september the body was off the needles and i had started a sleeve. i had also ordered buttons from moving mud
why then, do i remember myself as such a slacker?
oh, right—because after that, i don’t know what happened but things slowed down a lot. i do remember that between renovations, training of new employees, and ambitious project deadlines, my concentration took a big hit. the quiet time needed for working on complex projects has been a gift, enjoyed only sporadically over the last half year.
all i know is that i halted at this spot some time in the late fall and stayed there til spring.
the sleeves—especially that first one—were the death of me. sleeves knit in the round are my own personal second sock syndrome; i like to call it “sleeve island”. you know—where you’re stuck on a desert island with only your sleeves to knit and you feel like you’re never going to get off?
(curiously, knitting sleeves flat has exactly the opposite effect—i fly through those in mere hours, even the fine gauge ones; what do you suppose that’s all about?).
and suddenly it was mid march and i was pretty sick of myself procrastinating on this sweater project. i threw down the gauntlet at the feet of my loser self and dared her not to finish this sweater (she was teetering; i could see it!).
alright already—i’ll finish it.
i completed sleeve one and started sleeve two right away. amazingly, they grew much faster when actual knitting was applied.
once the april club deadline passed and my chapter was out, i was determined to finish it up.
i know, it’s excruciating isn’t it? like watching a kid eat his lima beans one by one. i don’t think i’ve knit anything this slowly in a long time (ok, well you’re right—there was wasp and rose; that was another slow poke).
honestly, there were moments even last week, when it was almost done, that i felt myself getting distracted.
eventually i bound off the second sleeve and moved on to the neck and button bands, which are among my favorite parts to knit (probably because they signal the end).
and then finally, finally, the other day i finished. OTN! can you believe it?
now the job of blocking and finishing was at hand—no small feat with a garment that is worked all in one piece. BTW, the following is not intended to be the final word in any way on the subject of blocking—there are many approaches and you should choose the ones that suit you. nor is this really a complete presentation of how i do it—for that, you might want to check out my workshop on blocking handknits, available in DVD from our online shop and in downloadable format from interweave press.
back to the job at hand . . . i could see that this particular sweater had several areas of concern, which could freak out someone who doesn’t have experience with openwork fabric.
first, as with all sweaters, the fabric appears to be very uneven and doesn’t lay very nicely. this is caused by all the handling that our yarn and fabric is exposed to during construction. it literally gets out of joint over it, haha. blocking will coax the fibers back into their proper alignment so the yarn can regain its intended shape and drape.
the openwork portions are lumpy, bumpy, and very contracted; again, blocking will allow the fabric to relax and open up so that the full beauty of the lace patterns is revealed and the final blocked measurements are achieved.
the narrow neck and button bands don’t want to lie as flat or straight as i’d like, curling out in some places and waving back and forth in others.
lightly steam pressing these areas before wet blocking will allow me to manipulate and tame these quirks in the fabric. i’ll show you what i mean in a second.
last but not least is the almost horrifically misshapen sleeve, an effect due to the differential between the behavior of the lace fabric and that of the more relaxed eyelet fabric. i know none of you is doubtful at all that i will fix this, but if it happens to you when alone at home, be assured that you are the boss of this situation.
at this stage, do not let the appearance of the sweater allow you to lose momentum—rather, let this be the time to rise to the occasion and throw everything you’ve got at a fine, mad finish.
trust me, you’ll feel like a new person when you’re done.
i finished my knitting on monday evening, so on tuesday morning i got up early and assembled my tools to get started with the blocking process. mind you, i had not yet tried on the sweater to see if it fit; i wanted to do a preliminary steam blocking to make sure i wasn’t feeling any false tightness, especially in the arms.
i love steam blocking for the control it offers in the earliest stages of finishing, so the first thing i did was to pin out the neck to steam that back neck band flat.
careful shaping and administration of a good shot of steam produced the desired effect. on now to the button bands, which needed to be stretched slightly to the correct length and steamed flat.
since the sweater is one big tube, i isolated the front closure by placing my sleeve board underneath to lift it away from the sweater back, then pin the button and buttonhole bands parallel to match in length and straightness.
along with my beloved tailor’s ham, my sleeve board is a go-to helper for blocking projects, especially for those knit in the round; you’ll see how it can be cleverly used to assist in even the trickiest blocking maneuvers.
after steaming the button bands and allowing them to dry in place, i moved on to pinning out the lower body flat to the correct finished measurements. this did not require an intense about of stretching (and shouldn’t or it will likely not keep its shape), but i used pins to keep everything square while i applied the steam.
i also want to retain the depth and definition in this intricate looking pattern, so i wouldn’t dare stretch it as far as it could go (and it would be far too large if i did).
next, i flattened the upper torso and yoke of the sweater and steamed lightly through both layers without creasing anything. the fabric was starting to look really nice and silky, with a much more even surface.
at this point i’m not looking for a completely final finish—that will be achieved by wet blocking later on. i just want to coax the garment into a more relaxed state that allows me to make sure nothing needs correcting.
with that part done, it was time to tackle the sleeve and i will be the first to admit it looked like a daunting task—how the heck do you get that to open up without creasing it somehow?
have i mentioned my sleeve board?? seriously, it’s my best friend right now.
mine has two “arms”, one that is very tapered and skinny, one that is all one width and a bit wider. i pulled my sleeve over the wider board which was just the right size.
i let the cuff hang off the end so it would get blocked out, but if you prefer a looser, non-gripping sleeve end, you could block it straight.
just look at the difference after some steaming with a wet cloth . . . wowie. still not relaxed out as much as it will go in the wet blocking, but enough to try it on and that’s all i need for now.
ok, now i will give in, take a break, and try it on. i’m excited . . . and nervous.
it fits! in fact, it fits perfectly, even though i was worried that the sleeves would be too long or that the armhole might be too low. it looks very feminine and the fabric in briar rose sea pearl feels absolutely dreamy. sorry about the dark photos; it was a very dreary day and the light was dim throughout.
i took a few shots on the dress form but it fits differently that on me. my form is bigger than i am because it was used in the fashion business to construct first samples in the standard sample size (which was a 10 at the time, with a 36-inch bust).
i basted the front bands closed for easier handling of the wet garment later.
i had to take a break to get a few other things done, but after yoga class that evening, i came home and put my new sweater into a cool, soapy bath. i always wash hand dyed yarns in cool water so as not to encourage dye run.
a big wet sweater can be an unwieldy thing to wrestle into submission, but as with all finishing work, patience will reward you with good results. i first laid out the garment face up and using the pattern schematic, pulled the fabric in both directions to the correct final measurements (this is what’s known as “shaping to size”).
then i set about shaping the sleeve on our left; you can see that shaping it makes it look a lot more like a real sleeve and not an eel. the right sleeve needs the same treatment.
i give it a rigorous widthwise stretch from cut to underarm, then a good stretch lengthwise, followed by another widthwise shaping. after a few repeats like this, it starts to look like something meant for a human arm.
yes, all of this takes some time, but it’s totally, totally worth it.
not only in terms of it turning out the right size, but this treatment helps condition the fabric and bring its surface to a state of silky cohesiveness that contributes a beautiful drape to the final hand.
it’s been a rainy, chilly week here and yet the heat doesn’t go on any more, so it took a while for this garment to dry. i turned it a couple of times throughout, taking the opportunity then to give it a shake and a stretch. this encourages the fiber to bloom and the yarn to become lofty again.
finally it was time to dig out the buttons i had ordered several months back and begin sewing those on. they are little crystal balls with an inclusion of swirled stardust; SO pretty.
my friend sarina from moving mud made them. i sent her a swatch knit in my project yarn and she designed the perfect ones. my button bands hold eleven buttons (i like my buttonholes placed fairly close for better closure), so keeping an eye on the final weight, i ordered the smallest size.
i finished sewing them on last night but it was too late to get any nice photos. this morning, anastasia helped me out by taking a few pictures.
i know—i look like i just rolled out of bed, sorry; i forgot to put lipstick or anything on. and my hair—well, that’s my hair.
i love how this sweater fits and feels. it’s lovely against the skin. i know i’m going to wear this a ton, so we need to get a photo shoot done this week while it’s brand spanking new, haha.
i’ve already sent the pattern off to tana for tech editing and sizing. it will probably be in production for the next month or six weeks, between tech editing, formatting, and test knitting. so it will be a nice summer project.i think i’m going to knit another in a new yarn we are working on here—more about that next time.
have a great weekend everyone; i hope you are someplace that’s getting warm, sunny weather (not like here, haha). stay tuned for sunday and tuesday posts coming up.