One of the things I’m most interested in when it comes to knitting garments is getting a good fit. I have made many dozens of handknit sweaters in the course of my already long knitting life, and for a good share of that time, my finished sweaters were crap. A lot of that I can attribute to the fact that it was the 1990’s, and I was for some reason wearing sweaters (and shirts, too) that were frankly enormous. Like, six sizes too big. Of course it was really comfortable and I was happy with it at the time, but looking back, I can’t imagine it, which I suppose is how it goes with fashion—everything looks weird from short amounts of time distance. We—my fellow children of the 70’s and I—all swore we’d never wear flared pants ever again, until we did, and then we said it about high-waisted pants and just look what’s happening. High waisted pants are everywhere. Not in my closet yet, but I never say never. Anyway.
There are a lot of different skills to learn when you take up a craft, and it takes a long time before you get really comfortable, and when you get comfortable with the basics of how to do it, you can start honing a little and really mastering it. And that’s when it gets interesting.
The Birkin Sweater. If you haven’t seen this design yet, I’ll be surprised, because I think I am the very last knitter in the world to arrive at the Birkin Sweater party, but my first thoughts, when it was released last year, were not very favorable. That thing, you guys, is frankly flawed. I’m not the first to make this observation, and I don’t mean to be controversial, but you can see by looking at the sample photo that the yoke section is verrrry deep, and a large portion of it is without any increases. It is really just a long, gorgeous funnel. The armholes are really pretty low, which can be a design feature all day long—if the yoke fits. Now, those bands of colorwork are honestly luscious. I mean, what a delicate filigree of design work that is! Oh my goodness, it’s beautiful. Many, many knitters dove in, and a good many of them were probably mastering fit and figured out how to adjust for the fact that the pattern was funnelly and their bodies were not, but a lot of people struggled with their end result. It was tight across the shoulders, and it rode up if they lifted their arms. This sweater is a lot of work—fingering weight! Multiple strands! Charts!—and to spend all that time and energy to end up with something that isn’t what you hoped is disappointing. Well, life is too short for that, and my closet is too small for things that are only going to be worn occasionally because the fit annoys me.
I knew, both from looking at the pattern photos and from other people’s tales of woe, that the yoke was going to be too tight and it would be uncomfortable to wear. I also knew, from experience, that my own personal yoke depth is shorter than usual, and the Birkin Sweater has a longer than usual yoke depth. Also, the pattern as it is written calls for three colors at a time to be used across most of the rows, and guys, I really, really, don’t want to do that. I only have two hands. Common sense told me many times that this was not the design for me, but when I saw Clare Shaw’s monochrome version, all my resolve went out the window. Doing it in monochrome solved one of the three big problems I had with the design, and so I cast on.
This pattern is worked from the neck down, so to give myself enough room in the shoulders, I cast on for one size larger than recommended by the pattern for my measurements. I also divided early for the armholes, moving part of the yoke’s colorwork onto the body and sleeves, and I did not work the last set of increases at the bottom of the yoke, in order to grade down to the smaller, correct size to fit my arms and body. I also virtually ignored all the body and sleeve shaping instructions and just did what I knew would fit me, and what I would enjoy wearing.
Which includes very long sleeves. This is a very wooly sweater with a double-thick top half—what’s the point of mini sleeves? Also, I think it has snowed here every single day this month—it is snowing right now, as I write this; April! Where are you?—and honestly, I will probably go on needing long wool sleeves for a good long time.
I used KnitPicks Palette in “Asphalt Heather” and “Cream”—that is a gorgeously soft yarn. Has it always been this soft? Or am I just getting less sensitive? Well, it worked great. I really couldn’t be more pleased with this result. It is really worth doing a little bit of math if that’s what it takes to get what you want. And that’s something I never thought I’d say.