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RE/Design: The Cherry Variations

By Jessica Fenlon Thomas

In the first issue of Knitty, I outlined the fundamentals for revamping patterns in general. This time around, you're getting the behind-the-scenes tour.

Both the Cherry patterns in this issue were inspired by fabulous yarns in limited quantities. My best designs happen within a fairly rigid set of limits. Each step in the design process is a solution to a challenge set by these limitations.

Very Cherry began after I ripped the yarn from a sweater that the yarn screamed to be freed from. It was so unhappy, growing and pilling at the wrong gauge. I didn't have enough yarn for a full-length sweater with sleeves. I know Colinette Point 5 well enough to know that a full sweater with sleeves would be too warm for me anyway. So, what else could I make?

Tunic-length turtleneck shells tend to emphasize childbearing figure features in ways that I'd rather not. Besides, there are already tons of such patterns available, and I'd knit a few already. What else?

A garment popped into mind: an off-the-shoulder sweater with sleeves. Then a brainstorm: I remembered a summer top pattern constructed as a tube top, with ribbing up around the shoulders. Hmm.

What would the challenges of this construction be? The garment is held up by the fabric running around the shoulders; there's no shoulder seams for everything to hang from. It's got to be way more than snug so the weight of the garment won't pull down the fabric from the shoulders. Nothing kills a sexy look than having to tug it back up all the time.

How else could I help it stay up? Well, different stitch patterns worked into fabrics create fabrics with different properties. Compare k1,p1 ribbing to stockinette. K1p1 rib pulls in when the fabric is relaxed, but also can stretch out more than stockinette. K2p2 rib is a little less elastic but still pulls in. K3p3 rib, a step less elastic, etc. Garter stitch [knit every row)] when knit across the same number of stitches with the same size needle on the same yarn is wider, less elastic, and more dense than stockinette stitch. Garter also uses more yarn than stockinette to knit up a fabric of the same length and width. Seed stitch [k1,p1; row 2, purl the knit stitches, knit the purl stitches] works up beautifully into a broader, flat fabric that is less elastic than garter stitch.

I eliminated stitch combinations like garter or seed; though beautiful in this yarn, they tend to spread laterally, and could only snug up to the body if I greatly reduced the stitch count in relationship to stockinette stitch [which I had already chosen for the torso). Also, they eat up more yarn than stockinette or ribbings, and I had a limited amount of yarn to work with.

K1p1 ribbing is the most elastic of the stitch patterns, uses less yarn, and is simple for an advanced beginner to work (yes, another limitation - keeping the pattern as simple as possible for publication!). Most importantly, the structure of the stitch pattern assists the structure of the garment - k1p1 rib, by its nature, will help the sweater stay up. So, I know it'll stay put when I wear it. But why knit it in the round?

Superbulky yarn like Point 5 always carries with it the seaming challenge. How does one sew the seams without them being superbulky like the yarn?  Additionally, there's something sublime about knitting a simple tube with openings for your arms, sewing in the ends, steaming it and wearing it.

Having made these decisions, I used my measurements as the foundation for the schematic [see column 1]. To ensure a super-close fit, I subtracted 15% from my measurements. Then came the swatch. Once I knew the number of stitches it took to make an inch and the number of rows per inch, I sat down with the calculator and created the pattern.

Very Cherry came out just right, but a bit dressy for everyday wear. Then I found Classic Elite Waterspun on sale - in a limited amount. I matched the color up with the Berocco Mohair Classic. Oddly enough, the Waterspun's color name was Cherry. I knew I didn't have enough yarn for the tunic-length Very Cherry pattern. The length is what makes Very Cherry a dressy sweater anyway. How could I adapt the pattern to a sweater I could wear to my favorite java joint?

Shorter. Tighter. And the twist? The smooth texture of Waterspun knit together with Mohair would show a different ribbing nicely. The stitch detail would create the kind of interest that Very Cherry didn't need - that sweater's gorgeous slub yarn gets it all the attention it deserves.

Knitterati, you can twist stitches in two different ways: by knitting through the back loop of the yarn on your left-hand needle, or, by wrapping the yarn backwards (the opposite direction than you normally do when you make a knit stitch). The twisted rib I chose for Cherry Twist is made by knitting through the back loop.

I redrew the schematic, also choosing to make the upper ribbing longer. Then I swatched, dressed and measured my swatch to find my gauge.

Since I wanted to calculate how much yarn it would take for me to have enough for the sweater, I measured each stitch-area of the swatch, noting the surface area of each stitch on the swatch. Then, I ripped the swatch out, measuring the yarn as I unraveled, yard by yard. After spending A LOT of time with the calculator and my schematics, I breathed a sigh of relief. I had more than enough yarn for the sweater. (For more about calculating yarn amounts, see the article, "How much yarn do I need?" by Lori Gayle, Interweave Knits, Spring 2003 issue, pp. 72-75).

The gauge measurement was all I needed to plug into the garment measurements on my schematic. Voila! A few days later, I wore Cherry Twist to my favorite java joint. To rave reviews, no less.

Swatch digression: Swatching is essential to the design process. I encourage you to swatch whenever possible, to ensure proper fit. Read the article on swatching in this issue of Knitty for more gritty details.

I save my swatches, with their gauge measurements and needle sizes pinned to them, in a nice big shoebox. Those of a more organized nature keep journals filled with swatches and notes about the fabric, the fiber, the color, the pattern they knit and any problems they encountered/solved. However you do it, it's a great way to document your work, and learn from what you've knit.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Artist/knitter/writer Jessica Fenlon Thomas lives in Pittsburgh, PA. She worked with Lily M. Chin as the Boston contributor to Lily's book, The Urban Knitter (2002). Her artwork was featured in Interweave Knits Summer 2002 issue. She encourages visitors to Pittsburgh to patronize the Beehive coffee shop in the South Side. It's her favorite java joint - with a copy shop down the street.

2003 Jessica Fenlon Thomas