Monday, March 8, 2010

Schleppy Sweater: The Hard Part

All day yesterday was devoted to designing my sweater.

I remember brief breaks. I ate a couple times. I managed to wash the laundry (although it is not folded or put away). I spent some time sitting on the floor measuring sweaters to decide on length.
But that counts as part of the design process even though I wasn't sitting at the dining room table.

Basically 9 to 5 was spent with a bunch of books, a calculator, and a couple of colored pencils.

And I couldn't really tell you why it took so long. But I sure hope it gets easier. And my experience designing socks didn't seem to help at all.

You Got That Number From Where?
If you've read "Sweater Design in Plain English" then you are familiar with the layout.

The first half is a general design discussion. She talks about body types, tells you which bits to measure, discusses how the knit fabric behaves, and introduces color theory. All the kind of background stuff you need to think about first.

The second half is the number crunching part of creating the actual designs.

She starts with a simple drop shoulder sweater, like the striped one I knit for Hubby, then gets more complicated as the book progresses.

However, the chapters also get shorter as you go along. For the first few sweaters she takes you through step-by-step of each part of the sweater. You multiply this measurement by that gauge and it gives you this number which affects that number on the other part. It all looks nice and logical and straight forward. Each sweater also tends to introduce a new element.

But as you get to the later designs she skips the first few steps. Oh, you know how to find the number of stitches to cast on for the body, we'll skip straight to the neck shaping. Which makes sense as you're reading along.

And I was just reading. Since I had no need for the first few sweater shapes she covered I just read the book and did not work my own numbers along with her. This is, of course, a totally different way of engaging with the information.

Then, when I finally reached the chapters on designing Raglans she kind of throws everything previous out the window and tells you to start at the neck/Raglan seams, then jump back down to the bottom and work back up to meet the seam figures.

Pencil to Paper
She also has these nice little charts in the back for recording your project information. So I dutifully made a photocopy of the one that has a little box to draw my sketch. Which of course was much to small for practical purposes. I quickly ended up flipping the paper over and doing all my figuring on the blank back side.

[I should really scan this precious piece of paper and upload it to Google Docs so I can be sure I don't loose it. Actually, I need to write up the information on it into a coherent format and put that in multiple safe places as well. Redundancy can be good.]

Anyway. I figured out how many rows I had in which to work my Raglan decreases.

I figured out how many stitches to cast on. My desired width by my stitch gauge called for 82.5, which isn't possible. I rounded up to 83. That wouldn't work for 2x2 rib. I went with 84, because a little extra ease wouldn't hurt. To double check, I cast on 84 stitches, joined to work in the round, and counted out the pairs of ribbing to make sure it would work. [Note: this is an example of foreshadowing. This information will come into play later in my story.]

I figured how many stitches to have left at the back of the neck.

And things fell apart a little. Mom and I didn't measure the back of my neck. We measured across my back from shoulder to shoulder, but not the actual neck. So I tried to measure it myself. Then I compared the numbers given in SDiPE, my big Vogue Knitting, and "The Knitters Handy Book of Sweater Patterns," which I'd borrowed from the library, and decided on a number, which didn't quite fit the scenarios given in SDiPE because I needed more stitches not less. But I understand fudging is allowed.

[This morning it occurred to me I just had to divide the cross back number in thirds, which ends up being the number I finally settled on.]

I figured out how many to cast on for the sleeves and how many to have at the upper arm, and how many to have left at the top.

And things fell apart again, because I couldn't remember how to figure out the increase frequency.

The entire time I was flipping back to earlier chapters to see the steps for each sweater part, since I hadn't retained any of it since I'd just read it the first time around. I flipped back to where she covers sleeve increases and see I'm supposed to multiply my number of spans by my row gauge.

How the hell do I determine my number of spans again?

Then in the next breath she pulls a number out of the air.

Holy Smokes! How does that help me?!

I decided that if she was just going to make numbers up, so would I! And it worked out rather well. First I decided to increase every seven rows, but I seemed to still have theoretical room, so I changed it to every eight. I might have to fudge that if they don't land on right side rows.

[Note: That is another example of foreshadowing. If you remember from yesterday's post, I'm planning to work the sweater in the round, so every row is a right side row.]

And I sat back proudly and looked at all my notes. I had my lengths in red like she instructs. I had my cast on amount, it was circled in my math and noted in green on my layout. The same with my sleeve cast on, with a notation about my increase frequency.

I was ready to start knitting.

Not So Fast
Except I didn't have my Raglan decreases worked out. I knew the starting and the end numbers, but not how to get there.

How the heck did I manage to miss such an important step?

I reviewed the instructions for the Child's Raglan Turtleneck again. I missed it because she doesn't have math charts. It's an easy formula so she just says it in text.

Only it doesn't work for my gauge. My armholes would end up an inch too short.

So I flip ahead to the adult Raglan. There is no formula! It's a wishy-washy, freeform draw it on graph paper solution, which hadn't made sense at the time. The Vogue Knitting book isn't any better as it just throws around a bunch of mysterious math without a very clear explanation of where the numbers came from or how they were selected.

Rather than try to free hand it (mainly because the graph paper I photocopied out of the Vogue book didn't have enough rows), I fired up Excel. I prefer to work knitting charts in Excel because it's easier to erase mistakes. :-)

But then, when I was sitting there with the (digital) graph paper, Righetti's step by step instructions suddenly made sense because I had something to which to apply them. Once again it would have been helpful if I'd remember that bit about dividing the cross back into thirds sooner because I needed the neck to shoulder tip measurement to make the graph solution work.

But work it seemed to. Rather than print the resulting graph, I just wrote down the decrease frequency.

Remember that Foreshadowing?
Finally, I had all the numbers I would need to knit the sweater. However, by then it was 5 p.m. and I was really tired. Probably since I'd been up since 5 a.m.. Possibly because all that math wore me out.

I was snuggled down in bed, feeling all accomplished and ignoring the basket of unfolded laundry at the foot of the bed, when I thought about the 84 stitches I'd cast on earlier in the day.

I thought, "Boy, that little circle didn't look big enough to fit around my entire body. Maybe it is just squished up on the needle."

That idea sunk in.

Then I had a second of complete panic when I realized I'd worked my numbers for flat pieces and I was going to work the sweater in the round. I was afraid I'd have to start over.

It was just a second, though. I just as quickly realized the sleeves were fine because they just fold in half and I just had to double the body cast on. phew.

Then I had another second of panic about how my gauge might change when I work the yolks flat after dividing for the armholes. But I remembered the point of working it in the round is that I can join the sleeves and continue working it all in the round. phew, again.

I'm Still Convinced It Won't Fit
I'm sure mom and I must have measured wrong. Either we measured one part when the book meant another, or we just weren't accurate, or some other disaster. I mean, do I really need 18 inch long sleeves?

I'm sure it won't be the right length. We measured me from neck to waist. The book keeps calling for underarm to waist. I don't remember us measuring that. I tried to measure it myself. It seems that number is just used as a double check, but if I'm wrong my armholes won't be correct. Although the numbers I have seem to double check properly.

I'm really sure I'm going to mess up this whole "ribbing as a corset" idea I have. I'm sure it will end up landing at the wrong place on my body. I might have to try to cheat and try the sweater on when I reach that point.

I'm really trying to be open minded about this. It's my first design attempt. I'm trying to accept that if I finish and it doesn't fit properly I'll have to rework the numbers, rip back, and reknit it. Hopefully it won't come to that. I'm thinking lots of lifelines might get installed.

At the same time, I'm also being a rebel.
I'm working the ribbing on a smaller needle, but threw caution to the wind and didn't account for the slightly different gauge.

I also didn't chart the fingerless mitts. The sleeves will be worked in the round, I'll just try them on as I go. And the numbers for the hand and wrist are close enough. Although I might work the mitts on the US5 to make them a little bigger, then switch to the US3 when it's time for the real cuff.

Down to Business
I was able to cast on and work five rows of ribbing before bedtime.

I was surprised that I wasn't more excited about casting on. I kind of thought it would be more magical. Casting on for my first self designed sweater...oooohh.

Maybe it's because I don't really trust the numbers yet.

Now my question is: If it took me all day to design a simple Raglan how long is it going to take to design those cabled sweaters I have in mind?

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