Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Perfect Swing Not-Bathrobe Cardigan

This is why I keep knitting garments. I have accidentally knit the exact cardigan I have always wanted. This is one of those life-altering pieces of clothing; do you have those too? I once had a (fake) fur trimmed suede jacket, covered in embroidery for which I paid more than I could really afford at the time, and which wearing made me feel exactly like the saucy and stylish girl I totally felt like I was inside. The kids called it my "wookie-fur coat" which brought things back down to earth a little bit, but adding a pair of boots with a stacked heel to that jacket was like lighting a dessert covered in brandy. I just felt like all was as it should be, with a lot of pizzazz on top. It feels good to know yourself, and to know what you want, and then to know how to make it happen. Friends, I made this cardigan like a boss.

I always begin with high hopes for every project, and there is almost always a lot of doubt in the middle of things. These sleeves look too big! This color doesn't go with anything! The classic: I'm going to run out of yarn! (They aren't. It does. I didn't.) I wanted a long cardigan with a relaxed fit and wide sleeves, but that didn't fit like a bathrobe. Usually this means I end up with a bathrobe. Not this time--score!

This is the yarn I bought in Saratoga last fall, an indeterminate amount of fingering-weight 100% merino from Adirondack Fiber Company in "clay". I realized as I wound it that this yarn had probably already been knit into something else, unraveled, re-skeined, and then sold to me as new, because one huge skein (tied with Silky Wool, you can't fool me) was intact, and the other came off the winder in eight different pieces, and also the label was handwritten in ballpoint pen, all of which might have been actionable had it not been on sale. I was a little mad, but not mad enough. Anyway, it was still lovely, even if I had no damn idea how much yarn was really there and so many more ends to weave in at the end than the four I was expecting. 

This color matches my pajamas, and also the pink velvet chairs I thrifted last fall. It is one of my personal colors, dusky and nebulous, gray/pink/brown. Mushroomy. 

Also, once again, I have to testify to the almighty power of blocking. On the needles, this thing was stumpy and dumb. The hem landed just below my waist and swung there like an inner tube, and the sleeves were just about 3/4 length, but wide and baggy. It was sad and weird, and it took months to get through the sleeves, because it was really hard to have faith, but I love blocking and I believe in it. Blocking transforms. 

I wore this yesterday, and never once did I tug on any part of it that didn't fit quite right, because every single thing on it is absolutely perfect, I think it's one of the best things I've ever made. 

Here's what I did, and what you can do too:

1. I measured around my neck at the place where I wanted a relaxed neckline to be, underneath the ribbing. (Call this number A)

2. I chose my needle (US 4 circular) and my yarn (fingering weight) and made a swatch. You cannot avoid this step, I'm so sorry. I know swatching is nothing but misery, but it's your only hope. Wash and block it if you can bear the agony. 

3. I accurately measured the number of stitches per inch in my swatch (call this B) and multiplied A x B to get C=the number of stitches to cast on at the neckline. (I would love to share with you that exact number but I started this in September and I forgot.)

4. Use your favorite formula (here's the one I use) to figure out where your raglan seams should be. Mark them and start working stockinette stitch back and forth, increasing twice at each raglan seam on every right side row, and also at the front edge every inch or inch and a half.  Do this for a long time. At some point, take a break and measure your own self again, this time from the front end of your collarbone to the middle of your armpit on the same side--that is, where your raglan seam is going to be. This magic number is your "raglan length", and it is what determines whether your garment will be tight, neat-fitting, relaxed, or bathrobe-ish. Imagine the garment is on you as you measure, or measure a garment you already have that fits the way you'd like this to fit. 

5. Knit until your raglan seam is the length you want it. It'll take awhile. Use this time to learn Swahili, or get caught up on Breaking Bad. When you get there, put all the stitches for the sleeves on waste yarn, cast on two or four stitches at each armpit and keep going. Be thinking as you work about where you might want to add some increases at the sides. This depends on your own shape--I am pear-shaped, so I know I'm going to need more stitches in the body of this thing as I creep toward the derrierre. You can probably try it on as you proceed. Keep checking your gauge, and counting stitches, and doing the math to make sure you're on track. Remember about blocking, too--at the gauge I got, on the needles and yarn I used, blocking was going to add significant length, and I was counting on it. Remember that the looser your gauge, the more it's going to grow when you get it wet. 

6. Keep knitting down the body, increasing if you need to at the sides to accommodate your body type, and increasing at the front edges every eight to ten rows, or every inch, or every inch and half, whatever you feel like. This gave the cardigan fronts a nice swinginess, and also ensured that it would wrap all the way around me with some overlap. 

7. Continue increasing every inch or inch and a half or whatever at the sides and at both front edges all the way to the bottom. Then add an edging--I used a non-pulling ribbed edge of my own devising--I worked *6 rows of k2, p2 ribbing, then four rows of garter stitch, repeated from * two times more, then bound off. 

8. I picked up umpty-zillion stitches around the whole front edge and worked the same rib pattern for four repeats, and then bound off. This took forever. I probably went a little nuts. 

9. I put the held stitches of one sleeve on some dpns, picked up and knit the cast on stitches at the armpit, and continued merrily in stockinette stitch, going around and around for a lot of old movies on Netflix. I threw in three decrease rounds (k1, k2tog, k to last three sts, ssk, k1) spaced out along the length of the sleeve, only because I was beginning to worry about the width, not that decreasing by six stitches made much difference. When the sleeve was somewhere between my elbow and wrist, I switched to the rib pattern and worked five repeats. (Remember, this is where all your data about your gauge will help you. It's how to know when your sleeve is long enough. How many rows do I get per inch? How many inches is this sleeve already?) Try it on as you go. Remember about blocking--it will grow in length. After five rib repeats, I bound off, then made the other sleeve the same way. 

10. Soak the finished garment in tepid water. Roll the garment in a big towel to remove a bunch of water. Spread it out flat and shape it to your measurements. Get these measurements by measuring yourself. Wait patiently for it to dry. That's hard. You can do it. 

See? Easy. Try it.