Saturday, November 08, 2008

BSP: Big Sweater Project

Sometimes, keeping a blog is tough. I don't want to write a litany of complaints about the current state of education ("Quick, Henry, the FLIT!* There's a whiny teacher outside!"), or a rant on the political process (How can we move forward and backward at the same time?). That sweet, patient man I live with has to listen to both those topics, so I shouldn't inflict them on the unsuspecting reader.

About this time every year, I start another Big Sweater Project (BSP). I actually like sweaters, especially wool sweaters, in the cool, damp weather we have through most of the winter in the Bay Area. This wouldn't be an issue, except that I'm sensitive to most of the wool used in commercially knit sweaters, so I have to knit my own to get something that doesn't itch horribly. Last year's BSP was that sweater knitted in the round, that ends up with a shawl collar. I made one out of a dark, heathery green Cascade 220; I finished it just about the time the weather warmed up, so I've had to wait until this fall to wear it. I haven't even had a chance to block it and photograph it (a job when the sweater is huge), so this is a picture from the pattern I used.

This year's BSP is another cardigan based on Elizabeth Zimmerman's Baby Surprise Jacket pattern that was created by EZ in 1968 and published in her book, The Opinionated Knitter. This is a very popular pattern for baby sweaters, probably because it's dirt-simple, and created a rather cool-looking pattern, especially if different yarns are used. The photo is an elegant example by Lynda Sorenson. However, it's difficult to "reverse-engineer," because the placement of the double-decreases and double-increases, which create the angles in the jacket, have to be understood to make straight rows of knitting bend 90 degrees. I looked at a lot of photographs, but without an actual garment to examine, I had to settle for locating a pattern. Success finally came when I won on eBay a complete set of Knitter's from the year 2000, which included the directions for an adult-sized Baby Surprise Jacket. Hooray! Now I can use up a bunch of the stash and make another sweater.

Next problem: the ASJ (Adult Surprise Jacket) uses a lot of yarn. I had squirreled away 8 balls of Lion Brand Wool in the original "Majestic Mountains" colorway (much more saturated than the current version), but that wasn't going to be nearly enough for a comfy wool sweater. Fortunately, Michael's Arts & Crafts had sent me a discount coupon off everything I could purchase at once, so I hot-footed it down the the local store and bought another 8 balls of solid-color Lion Brand Wool in Sage, Cadet Blue, and Cocoa. These colors are pretty close to the colors in my version of Majestic Mountains, so the plan is to separate wide bands of MM with narrow rows of the solid colors.

Once the colors were set, I started adapt the pattern itself to what was in my mind. First off, almost all BSJs and ASJs are knit in garter stitch, a stitch I truly hate, probably because it's b.o.r.i.n.g. Also, I'm using a nice-looking variegated, so I want the color variations to show. My ASJ is being knitted in stockinette, a simple change, as all of the decreases and increases happen in the odd-numbered rows (the "right" side in stockinette). The second change is going to be the collar--I want a shawl collar and a V-neck. The basic pattern has no collar, so adapting the front edges to include a shawl collar shouldn't be too difficult.

The execution is slow going, as the sweater is started by knitting around one sleeve, across the shoulders and around the other sleeve. I should know better, and run when a pattern starts with the words, "Cast on 440." However, I really want this sweater, so I cast on the required number using waste wool, and then switched to the first of the narrow stripes. The plan is to use the row of live stitches to extend the sleeves (if necessary), and create very clean/invisible shoulder seams when I finally finish all the knitting. Two rows of brown (A), two rows of blue (B), two rows of green (C), then ten rows of the variegated, before knitting a C-B-A-B-C set of rows and going back to the variegated. Each row takes about 30 minutes to knit right now, so a week of working on the jacket every evening has resulted in about 3 inches of finished jacket.

The execution also required some tricky stitchwork to get decreases I like. The first, SK2togPSSO is not that big a deal, except that it moves over 1 stitch each time to create a left-slanting diagonal. The second is more difficult. I wanted the decrease to be a neat as the first one, but the stitches are going in the wrong direction for a right-slanting diagonal. Solution? K2tog, pass the stitch back to the left needle, then lift the next stitch over it and drop off, creating a right-handed diagonal decrease. I'm sure there must be an easier way, but I haven't had the time (or, quite frankly, the inclination) to research an easier way.

This is also not a portable project. I hate weaving in ends, so I'm leaving the different-colored yarns attached for easy pick-up. Trying to move something spread over two 32" circular needle cables, with 4 different balls of yarn attached to it at all times, is difficult at best, so I don't even try. My portable project is yet another pair of socks, this time out of Opal, in the Rainforest 2 Peacock colorway. Socks are wonderful because they're portable, and I don't have to really think about what I'm doing until I get to the heel.

*FLIT was a popular pyrethrin-based insecticide manufactured by Standard Oil Co. in the 1920s and 1930s. The advertising, one of the first jobs by a young Theodor (Dr. Seuss) Geisel, featured whimsical flying bugs and the tagline "Quick Henry, the FLIT!"