Thursday, November 8, 2007

Inspiration can come from anywhere - literally

Last year I watched a dvd of a British tv show (called Spooks in the UK but called MI-5 in the US). I love that show. This particular episode was one where a rogue newpaper publisher was trying to derail Israeli-Palestinian talks, killing the UN’s chief negotiator who was a friend of Adam’s. At the same time, Harry’s daughter, unbeknownst to him, is making documentary films about the Palestinian situation. By the time she gets onto his radar, she’s gotten herself into a situation where they can’t tell if she’s being run as a spy by the Israeli intelligence so Harry tries to come to her rescue. Adam stops him from blowing the operation until they understand more of what’s going on.

Now I tell you all of that to say, regardless of how pretty Rupert Penry-Jones (who plays Adam) is, the thing I couldn’t take my eyes off of and what I watched over and over with the remote and the pause button with my nose to the screen was his jumper. He had on this wonderful deep green chunky sweater and I had to figure out how it was made. I was obsessed. Now understand they were filming in winter (thus the jumper) so he often had a coat covering the pretty sweater. But I finally think I figured it out and decided to make my own version of it.

Now, because this was a test version and I didn’t want to spend loads and loads on some expensive chunky wool (which wouldn’t do for me anyway), I decided to use my favorite wool in the whole world. Not actually my favorite, favorite but I do love it, not least for the fact that it still has it’s wooly lanolin fleecy smell and I love that smell. Sometimes I open my craft closet where my fleeces are stored just to dwell in the smell of the fleece. Weird, I know but I’m not bothered. Not everyone enjoys this sheepy smell as much as I do but I’m not worried about them. It’s not like I force people to smell my closet.

Ah, yes, the wool. This is Fisherman’s Wool from Lion Brand. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the best value in 100% dyable, feltable wool on the market – 465 yards for about $8. You can’t beat that with a stick. I always have a full stock of it on hand because, in addition to knitting beautifully, did I mention it dyes like a dream and felts like a charm?

But I digress. The sweater. The pretty man sweater.

So, I began my tests. After tons and tons of pausing and stepping through the scenes of the sweater (and he must have liked the sweater, too, because it was in a lot of scenes – cheers, mate) I decided it must have been a fisherman’s rib stitch (to go with the fisherman’s wool yarn – do you see something happening here?) using a chunky yarn and large needles. Since I have quite enough chunk without adding chunky wool to the mix, I decided to tone that part down a little and use the Fisherman’s Wool and size 7 needles for my gauge swatch.

You learn so much when you start playing around with things. I’ve always loved this double stitch but I can’t remember that I’ve ever made anything with it. It’s just lived in the back of my imagination waiting for the perfect project. One thing I learned from my lovely swatch is that this is an extremely stretchy-in-the-width stitch. Extremely. My normal long-tail cast on would never be able to corral this wild stitch. But I found that if I use the backwards e cast on or backwards loop or whatever you want to call it – it’s just throwing loops onto the needle with them flipped to the back – I could accommodate the stretchiness of the pattern without it going crazy. I also learned that, in order to get anything approaching an accurate gauge, the swatch needs to be stretched width-wise slightly. Did I mention the pattern is stretchy? Yes? Good.

Once I had the gauge all figured out, I got stitches on the needle and started knitting. Once you get the rhythm of the knit 1 stitch, knit in the stitch below the next stitch, it’s pretty fast until you get to the armhole shaping. Then I had to figure out a) how to work the first armhole decrease, and b) how to start the cable and bring it up the raglan sleeve. Oh, yeah, the pattern was a raglan sleeve with a pattern running up the decreases. I don’t even remember now if it was a cable but I’m thinking it was. Anyway, in my world a cable wove its way up the raglan. I decided a 6-stitch cable would be the right size to both travel up without making things too funky and big enough to stand out and be noticed.

So far so good. Now the sleeves. Of course, the only thing with the sleeves was to get the right number of stitches cast on and then figure out how many I needed there to be at the widest point. From there you just have to figure out how many increase rows you need and how you want to spread these over the body of the sleeve. If you add more decreases early, you have a more blousy sleeve. If you add them later, you get a more form fitting sleeve. I wanted somewhere in between so I sort of made it up as I went along, making the decreases fairly even up the sleeve body. The armhole shaping for the sleeves was a doddle because of the nature of the raglan. It was exactly the number of rows and frequency of decrease and the front and back pieces (minus the cable stitches) so they would fit together perfectly. Done.

I had the cable follow all the way up the raglan into a cozy, almost turtleneck collar. I continued knitting for about another 2 inches so I could fold over and hem the collar on the inside. Now, I not only have a sweater that double thick (because of the way each stitch is knitted twice) but the collar is quadruple thick (because the stitches are knitted twice and I have 2 layers of fabric). There you have a cozy, comfy pretty man sweater – for a woman. The pretty man was just the inspiration. Well, not actually the pretty man – it was actually the pretty man’s sweater. Actually I guess this sweater could be for a man with a few alterations. Not many. Just a few.

I absolutely love the finished item and wore it all the time last winter. As I was making it I did take notes and even managed to get the pattern mostly written. In fact, it’s written to the collar decreases and I’m working on the test sweater now so I can make sure everything fits together. It’s a challenge to keep track of trial and error. I don’t know about you but, with most things, I usually sort of poke around until I find something that works but I often don’t remember what I did to get there.

I’ve had to make a few corrections and, ahem, refinements to make the pattern flow and be intelligible to anyone other than me but I loved the exercise of capturing the process in a reproducible form. It’s made me much sharper in examining what I do and has helped me to think more critically about my craft. As they tell me Dobie Gillis used to say, “Good stuff, Maynard.”

I'm planning on making the pattern available to puchase on my website at as soon as I finish the testing and get the pattern prettied up.

By the way, you’ll have to watch the episode to find out what happens to Adam and Harry and Harry’s daughter and all the others. Very exciting.

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