Monday, October 27, 2008

Fit To Be Tied: A knitting Saga; Part II, Grant Avenue Hell

As promised, I am doing a recap of the two knitting project thorns in my side from 2008. One was taken almost to completion, and the other is in progress, circling the airport until I have time and stomach to finish it.

This blog is about Alice Starmore's "Grant Avenue" vest from her Pacific Coast Highway book. I have knit several Starmore projects over the years and I am a huge fan of her work. I think her designs have mostly tended to weather well in terms of fashion. When the partnership between AS and the Broad Bay Company went belly up several years ago and her yarns were no longer going to be made, I went into a frenzy of buying as much of her yarns as I could afford--enough of the proper types and colors for several projects. One of these projects was the aforementioned G.A. vest done in Scottish Campion.

Once I was finished with school and had started my new career, I finally had real time to tackle this project. I had swatched this in 2005 along with another AS project in Scottish Campion yarn that I completed successfully--the Rambling Rose pullover from Stillwater (the details of this project are posted on my Ravery site). 2006 had been a wild year for me, what with graduation moving out of state, marriage, a new job and yet another move BACK to California for the new job, and now it was 2007 and I was eager to get started a new project. I had a 3 weeks alone in Eureka before my new husband joined me, so what better than to do than some heavy knitting? I could get a lot done, since the swatching was already done. Famous last words..

I had my body measurements in hand and had several false starts before I had the gauge in hand and was on my way. My first attempt ended up being enormously larger that I wanted(I estimated that the sweater would have a 50 inch chest which was large even for me), so I restarted with a smaller vest size at the same gauge, but I realized a way along I had twist at in the circular knitting despite being careful, so I restarted yet again. This time things took. I motored along. measuring as I went. The pattern was beautiful and complicated at the bottom, so this took some serious attention to the colors and charts. The result was really stunning, If I may say so myself and I was super pleased with how the vest looked so far. Furthermore, I measured the circumference and it was what I hoped it would be--44 inches and so large enough to fit my bust measurement, so I felt confident that things were going to turn out as I hoped. The upper part of the picture shows the main pattern repeat and once that was established, things went into autopilot.
At some point I began the process of shaping the v-neck and armholes, which included decreases. I dutifully measured as I went along and check my stitch numbers to make sure I made no mistakes. This section was a bit of a slog as the pattern got very repetitive. Still I was confident because all my numbers matched. Silly, silly me. When I finally finished, I set the vest down for a while. I had to start cutting the steeks and that is very nerve wracking.

I did find some really great antique glass buttons on EBay. Aren't they cute? They are about 1 cm in size and I was thinking of 8-10 arranged closely together along the front button band. I was totally thrilled to find them-- the blue color with the brass fitting matched the style of the vest perfectly. It's not often that I find a project accessory notion that I was so happy with and this added to my anticipation of the finished product.

Well, I finally took a deep breath and started cutting my steeks My stitch numbers were correct and the measurements seemed OK. It took a while to pick up stitches for the borders, sew down the steek hems and get everything done. Finally I was done and I raced off to try my vest on. Quel horreur! Despite all my care, it didn't fit--badly didn't fit. The trouble was not just across the bust, but the neck was constructed to make the armholes lie wrong and it was ridiculously too small across the shoulders, which was the real crux of the fit problem. The safety pins represent to button placement points. Along with the shoulder width, the arm bands were made such that they didn't lie flat, even though I picked up the proper number of stitches.

The damned thing was literally pyramidal in shape. I mean, look at this thing. It's ridiculous looking, and I have no idea how this project got away from me. I was really devastated. I had worked on this project for months and I was so mad I literally contemplated chopping it up in a fit of pique. Still, 10 deep breaths did me some good and I instead wadded it up in a ball with the remaining project yarn and let it lie.

I was pretty discouraged by this. I fancy myself a better than average knitter and this was a serious blow to my ego. I decided I really needed to do a project that was easier and more likely to bring me out of my craft funk blues state. I had scored some Lavold Angora yarn on sale for a cardi project that I had a hankering to make and decided to make that my next project. So began my fateful tangle with "Zarah"...

Sunday, October 19, 2008


OK. An interlude I just had to share on a grey Sunday evening:

Cappuccino enthroned on the red ottoman looking all fuzzy and trying for 'dignified' but kind of missing the mark due to the fuzz factor. Her light colors definitely show well on the bright red, though, Madam Stylie Kitty that she is.

Now, she has given up on dignity and gone straight for the cute. Everyone all together now:


Saturday, October 18, 2008

Fit To Be Tied: A knitting Saga; Part I, The Prologue

Something I have noticed in the last year or two in the world of hand knitting is that more and more knitters are addressing the issue of garment fit.

Now I love a comfy over-sized sweater as much as anyone. I have my favorite uber-large Eddie Bauer orange shetland, sized XXL that I utterly adore. It's floppy and shapeless and I can wear it about like a blanket with sleeves. It's way cozy and I can lounge at ease it, but is it flattering? No, not really. It's a garment I can get lost in.

This brings me to the subject of clothing fit. I got intimately aquainted with this topic during a two year stint working at Ann Taylor Loft in San Francisco a couple years ago. I loved the clothes there and used my employee discount as much as I could afford to. Let me tell you, though: working in a changing room with two big three way mirrors at either end for several hours a week, I got to know my body pretty well. A few inches here or there in garment length, the placement of darts or seam shaping, and overall proportion can change a garment from drab to wow very easily. If a garment is not a wow fit, then the wearer won't be shown off to full advantage. An epiphany came when I looked up and saw myself one day, while wearing an a-line skirt that hit my legs just below the bottom of my kneecaps. Damn, my legs looked good in that! My legs are fairly short proportionally for my body and I need to be careful what I wear. Cropped cuffed slacks that were big a couple years ago make my legs look like the reflection in a funhouse mirror. What I got from really seeing myself in that skirt was a sense that I want to make my clothes fit so that feeling that good, that hot, that put-together is not a fluke experience.

So what does all this have to do with handknitting, you ask? Well, I'll tell you. I have had two tough knitting experiences this year: one was a total growling tear inducing disaster, the other has been a drawn out fight filled with frustration. Over the next few posts I will expand on the two projects. The first was an Alice Starmore design, her "Grant Avenue Vest" from the book Pacific Coast Highway. The second was the Elsebeth Lavold cardigan "Zarah" from the Embraceable You collection. Both of these projects suffered from major lack of proper fit and some of fitting issues at least were inherent in how the sweaters were designed.

Don't get me wrong: I love the work of both designers. This was my first Lavold design, but not my first Starmore sweater. I have always had great results from A.S. patterns. My purpose here in these next few posts is to work through my own problems by clarifying my experiences and to share what I have learned with other knitters. (and possibly get some feedback!)

I am not a novice knitter. I knit my first sweater in 1987 and have never looked back. I know a lot of my short comings as a knitter (the loosest gauge that ever was) and an early bad (and now broken) habit of not doing a gauge swatch before starting a project. Still, I swatched here and even with my experience, I wasn't safe from fit disaster. So more to come on the Saga of my 2008 Knitting House of Horrors...