This Year’s Sweater

The Rohan/Zimmerzog sweater is finished.

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This will probably be the only sweater that I knit this calendar year. It’s only the second fingering-weight sweater I’ve ever knit, and the first yoke sweater. It also represents a major effort to apply the intention I’ve been learning from spinning to a large knitting project. Let’s see if I can explain what I mean by this.

I cast on (says my ravelry entry) on April 20th. That’s the day after Bayboo was born… really? I did that? Good grief. I cast n in my slightly-nutty post-partum haze, but I had been planning this sweater for a long time before that. And I mean a long time. I bought the six colors of Brooklyn Tweed Loft that I wanted before the pattern for the Rohan shawl even came out, five years ago. I bought the colors based on a sneak preview of the graph that Susan Pandorf sent out to us subscribers, not even realizing that the pattern called for four colors, not six.

I have knit almost every pattern in the Fellowship of the Rings series since. (You can see them in the “Lord of the Rings Knitting” category here on the blog.) They’ve almost all had some kind of major problem (not the designer’s fault): felting gone terribly wrong, fit issues, practicality problems. The few that turned out really awesome were small pieces that I gave away. I still loved these patterns, and Rohan had been a favorite, but I knew it was time to stop just making the things I saw because I liked the picture, or the idea, or because I wanted to finish a whole book or series. If I still wanted to make it, I needed to drastically change it to make it actually fit my life, and do so with a higher level of care to make it successful.

In the meantime, I’d read most of the works of Elizabeth Zimmermann. I folded myself into her witty prose, which is somehow challenging and comforting at the same time. I hatched the idea to knit the first design she self-published: a yoke sweater in Wool Gatherings #1. Eventually I put those ideas together. Before Bayboo was born, I had planned and swatched for this fabulous idea.

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I also changed the large “shield” motifs significantly. The original pattern had 3 and 4 colors in the shields, and I realized pretty quickly that I’d be miserable knitting them. After some trial and error, I chose two of the shields and redesigned them thusly. The third color (pink in the bottom shield and red in the top) was added in duplicate stitch.

Then, when I was a few inches into the bottom of the sweater body, I came across the work of Amy Herzog. I bought Fit to Flatter and read it cover to cover. I found her work extremely logical and straightforward, and was keen to apply it right away. Right away – just a few weeks after giving birth.

It was a risk to fit a project around an immediately post-partum body – in a way, it was genuinely unwise. But I knew exactly what I was saying to myself by fitting myself at that moment: I love my body now. I appreciate what my body has done, and I embrace and accept this body as it is right now. I am casting on an heirloom project in the size I am now. My body may change, but even if it does, my basic dissatisfaction with my body won’t change unless I accept myself as I am.

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Hence, Rohan Zimmerzog. A shawl pattern applied to a Zimmerman pattern, fitted with Herzog ideas. What’s the verdict?

Well, I made a couple of rookie mistakes. I point these out not to criticize myself, because I think it worked out anyway, but to record my learning process.

First, I knit the fair isle section in the same needle size as the stockinette section. I did swatch and wash, and the numbers came out the same when I measured it, but I should have known better. The stitches looked bigger. As a result, this oversized sweater is even more oversized in the bust and shoulder area.

Second, I combined sillouettes in a way that didn’t quite work. Zimmermann’s pattern was written in the 60’s; it’s a 60’s-style sweater that’s fairly fitted in the bust but has no shaping. There’s a sharp little increase of stitches above the bottom ribbing that gives it a bit of a pooch out; that’s all part of that look. I did that little increase of stitches… then added waist shaping, and made it really long. To be honest, I sort of suspected this was going to be an odd combination while I was doing it, but I was honestly not sure. I was trying something new, and I still have a lot to learn about sillouettes. In sum, if I do waist shaping like that again, I’m not going to add the above-ribbing increase. The ribbing+pooch+no shaping is its own look.

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As you can see, the sweater came out quite oversized. I’m really okay with that; I wanted a comfortable sweater that I would actually want to throw on. I wanted a sweater in which I could move around, bend over, carry kids, wash the dishes. I planned for about 3″ of ease, but between body changes, and gauge changes, I ended up with 12″. It makes it look a little bulky when totally buttoned up, as above, but it also means I can wear it over just about everything. In this picture I’m wearing it over a flannel shirt and a tank top.

(It’s -11 C today though. That’s not really that cold for up here, but I was really flipping cold in these pics. Mitts are important.)

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Realistically, most of the time I’ll be wearing it like this. This is why I made a cardigan: I need the venting of an open front. I don’t keep pullovers on for more than half an hour. There’s ample fabric, but since it’s fingering weight, it doesn’t look bulky. It hangs nicely and doesn’t mind folding and flapping about.

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I took a lot of care in finishing, lingering until I’d worked out exactly what I wanted to do. At my friend Gayle’s suggestion, I added a ribbon to cover the steek instead of sewing it down as I normally have. I found this ribbon with silver details at our local Nunavut craft store, and even though the colors don’t exactly fit, the feel of the design was just so Rohan. It’s a little bit of illogical flash and it’s all mine. The buttons came from there too.

This ribbon was too scratchy to have around my neck, though, and I definitely wanted some stability in the neckline. The single thickness of stockinette fabric just needs some support to carry the sweater, with the circular decreases so close to the top threatening to stretch it out. Sewing stash to the rescue! I found some bias tape in my box which I had planned to use for Jared’s cassock and forgot – little did I know it was not black, but dark plum. It looks so gorgeous with the yellow that I want to do another project just riffing on those two colors together.

I held some embroidery floss with the yarn in the bind offs, hopefully adding some resistance to friction in this notoriously fragile woolen yarn. By the time I was steeking, I was deep into the work of Kate Davies, and she waxes rhapsodic about I-cord buttonholes. So this work concluded with yet another designer’s influence added.

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All the lingering, adjusting, pausing and waiting and changing my mind, made the entire process feel much more artistic. At least, that’s the word I applied to it. I wondered, is this what’s involved in taking a craft and making it more into an art form? I won’t say “elevating;” I believe neither in a sharp dichotomy between art and craft nor in a value judgment of one against the other. It’s just that I’ve always put myself squarely on the “craft” end of the spectrum: I was making things because I wanted to have them, generally using the ideas of others. But was this beginning to be art?

After discussing the question with my sister, who is an actual visual artist, I’m not sure. This piece is certainly an expression of myself, but it’s not meant to communicate anything to anyone other than myself. It’s more that I’m learning to craft with love, instead of just knitting as a form of consumerism. I’m backing away from making what I see in a picture. I’m trying to be more mindful of what knits I actually use and love, and attempting to make them to fit my life and my body. I’m not trying to copy the products and experiences of makers I love, but I’m ingesting their ideas and testing them out, asking an open question of whether they work for me. I hope this means making with love, and that this represents a little more reflection and love in the rest of my life.

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Not to make it all about loving myself. But accepting love – unconditional love from God, and undeserved and forgiving love from the people closest to you – is a prerequisite to loving others well. That’s what I need more of. I strongly suspect that we all do, all the time.


8 thoughts on “This Year’s Sweater

  1. Thanks for detailing how you went about creating your sweater. Taking a bit of knowledge from one knitter and then another and combining them into making something truly your own. I know you say that it is extremely oversized, but I have to tell you that the pictures of you wearing it don’t show that. It looks great on you. It’s a perfect sweater for layering and being able to move about freely.

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    1. Thanks for reading! Yes the numbers show it being huge, but since the very top of the shoulders and neck are sized correctly and the sleeves were sized just right, it’s not falling off me, so it just feels comfy.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. A thought that has been suggested to me before… the main culprit is last year’s sweater and I’m doubtful that one in particular would work. But I could give it more thought.

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  2. I love hearing about other people’s knitting processes, it always makes me look at my own projects a little differently. I’ll have to check out that Herzog book. I think the sweater looks great, I especially love the colors.

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