Flashback FO: Whisper Cardigan

I recently realized that over the years I’ve finished a number of projects that I either never photographed or never blogged, and in my desire to no longer be the worst and most delinquent knitting blogger that ever… didn’t blog, I’d like to remedy this circumstance.

So here is the first in a series of Flashback FOs, which happens to be one of my most-loved and most frequently worn hand-knit garments.

Pattern: Whisper Cardigan by Hannah Fetig, from the Spring 2009 Interweave Knits. My project page is here.
Size: between a M and L
Yarn: Knit Picks Palette 4-ply fingering weight, 100% wool, in Twig; I used about 3.5 balls, approximately 174 grams, which was 804 yards/ 735 meters
Needles: Size 7 (4.5 mm) and Size 4 (3.5 mm)
Modifications: Used fingering weight yarn instead of laceweight, customized width across back.

Started: April 10, 2009
Finished: August 15, 2009

If I had to guess, I’d say I was planning to take more flattering photos, but I hope you get the idea.

Smile, 2009 Vicki, you have a lovely new sweater.

From the moment I saw this design, I was taken with its clever seamless construction. Cast on at one sleeve and worked across the back to the other, it has a similar anatomy to many shrugs. But instead of simply leaving ribbed edges, this cardigan goes on to short-row panels that make surprisingly fun little flaps that tuck in right around the ribcage. It’s strange how much I enjoy that detail, but I find I want just a little more coverage than most cropped cardigans and shrugs offer in that area.

The flaps also give it a more breezy, casual attitude, while gliding over more of one’s back and sides. In person, of course, that faux seam at the back is straight and I don’t usually get the sweater all bunched up at my back like this.

I used a fingering weight yarn instead of the laceweight the pattern called for, both because it was in my stash and because I wanted something a little more substantial. This pattern is easy to customize to one’s desired length and width anyway, so I found it was effortless to follow as written using a substituted yarn weight. At the time I knit this sweater, I was working in a lab that was much too enthusiastically air conditioned, so having something wooly yet fluttery was just right over my summer dresses and blouses. I’ve continued to get a genuinely impressive amount of wear out of such a simple garment, perhaps specifically because it is so simple and easy to wear.

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The slightly flared sleeves and tendency for the short-row flaps to roll and curl gives this sweater a pleasantly casual, easygoing feel, while its trim ribbing and seamless construction keep it looking elegant and graceful.

If there is such a thing as a perfect pattern, I’m inclined to believe this is it.

Previous Entries on this Project:

What’s old is new again

Back in 2010 I made a laceweight sweater that I adored. Then I wrecked it when I was trying to block it. I was so sad that I put it away for months.

When I took it back out last summer, intending to unpick the bind-off and repair the parts I’d ripped, it became a disaster. My collar became a tangled mess, and in a fit of knitterly rage, I went at it with scissors. It… wasn’t pretty.

I nicked the body of the sweater while angrily trying to cut off the collar, which necessitated reknitting the bottom several inches and ribbing. By that point, I just couldn’t look at it anymore. I relegated it to the depths of my WIP basket, periodically taking it out to admire it, but I dreaded reknitting the collar.

Finally this week, I worked up a head of steam and reknit the whole collar. Now that it’s over, I’m actually relieved that the first bind-off was so inflexible because it gave me time to rethink the length of the collar/bands.

Now I don’t want to jinx it, but the ends are woven in, it’s soaking in lavender-scented Eucalan, and I’m pretty confident that I will soon have my favorite sweater I’ve ever knit.

Then again, I’ve been here before with this sweater. Let’s hope it sticks this time!

Vickilicious Knits Green Sweaters (plus an Acrylic Lover’s Manifesto)

Once upon a time, I joked that I should rename this blog “Vickilicious Knits Green Socks,” and I think at this point, my love of green knits is fairly well documented. Lately, I’ve moved from socks to sweaters, but as you can guess, green still factors heavily.

(I’m going to interrupt myself for one moment to say that I actually finished one of those long-overdue gifts that I mentioned in my last post, and its recipient loved it. I’m waiting for photos, but I’m also counting that as both my “finishing a nearly-finished project” and January project goals… even if I haven’t blogged it yet. Baby steps, right?)

Today I started a new green sweater, which ticks all the marks for projects I love: it’s a seamless, top-down raglan, knit in aran weight yarn, with just enough patterning on the back to make it interesting, and no closures to worry about. You probably know it better as the Leaflet cardigan, designed by Cecily Glowik MacDonald, available for free on Knitty.

This photo of the yarn is not from this sweater, and it’s so old that I’ve actually worn those shoes out by now (they were fairly poorly made and overpriced ballerina flats from Urban Outfitters, and I adored the color but won’t get fooled again). But you may recognize this yarn from my Katelyn Basic Sweater, which has gotten a surprisingly huge amount of wear and keeps getting more comfortable and cozier.

This yarn is one of those big box craft store acrylic yarns, Caron One Pound. I read a blog post a while back with some fairly derisive things to say about sweaters knit in forest green acrylic worsted weight yarn bought from a big box craft store, and I felt all defensive and inferior because as I was reading it, I was wearing that sweater. I had literally just been thinking how well it had worn, what a treat it was to have something machine washable that didn’t smell when it got rained on, didn’t stretch out, and got softer and lovelier with each wearing. Oh and as a major bonus, cost about $8 total, which made my student-loan-dependent wallet ecstatic.

I don’t want to be some sort of acrylic apologist because I don’t actually think it’s necessary and anyone inclined toward yarn snobbery probably isn’t going to be reading this blog anyway. But I will say I loved my Katelyn sweater so much that I had zero hesitation about using the rest of the Caron I had purchased on this project, which I hope to enjoy wearing as much as I’m already enjoying knitting it.

But, just for the heck of it…

How to Make 100% Acrylic Sweaters You Will Capital-L Love

  • Pick a color that makes your heart sing. Bonus points if it’s a particularly saturated or exciting color that is difficult to achieve in dyeing natural fibers.
  • Knit at the recommended gauge, for real. It’s not pleasant to knit any yarn at too tight a gauge, and the people who call acrylic “squeaky” and unpleasant are probably trying to force it into things it doesn’t want to do.
  • Be diligent and careful about following the pattern correctly. Be painstaking in your finishing and do your absolute best seaming.
  • Gently “kill” the acrylic before the piecing stage. You can either soak it in water or spray it, then steam it with an iron. Manufacturers steam acrylic knits all the time to neaten up the stitches and give a nice drape, just as you would do with a natural fiber garment. If the garment is saturated with water, you can also run the iron over it – using a press cloth – at a fairly low temperature, but this will flatten it out. That’s not necessarily a bad thing and can make it more drapey and thin, but you can experiment. If you skip this step, your yarn will soften considerably with a machine wash and dry, so have confidence that it will end up a nice garment even if it doesn’t immediately seem that way.
  • Machine washing is good. You can lay it flat to dry, but I find that machine tumble drying only on low heat actually makes the sweater softer and fluffier, especially if you use a nice fabric softener (I use either Downy or Bounce sheets). The low heat is the most critical part of that sentence. If you dry anything acrylic on high heat, be it sweaters, blankets, or fleece jackets, they will become that crunchy, dry texture, full of pills, and unpleasant to the touch.
  • To prevent pilling or mechanical damage, wash your sweater with other “soft” garments like blouses, underwear, and socks. I wash all of my clothes on a low agitation or gentle cycle, which keeps them from stretching or pulling in weird places. I also wash my jeans and corduroys separately from other clothing, as I think they are the main culprits in damaging knits.
  • Above all, don’t treat your sweater as some inferior thing because you didn’t spend $150 on a Merino wool-unicorn down blend. Yes, luxury yarns are nice, and I love natural fibers just as much as the next knitter, but they are not necessary to a well-made, attractive, and wearable garment. Is every blouse in your closet silk or linen, or do you have some cotton or rayon blends? Are all your store-bought sweaters 100% cashmere, or do you allow yourself some garments that are attractive, machine-washable, and affordable? One of the most extraordinary things about knitting is that it is accessible to such an enormous variety of people, with the possibility to produce beautiful, wearable garments in any budget or skill level. Treat yourself to an $8 low-maintenance sweater every once in a while, without feeling like you’re a lesser knitter for it.

I didn’t start this post as an acrylic-lover’s manifesto, but it seems that’s where it’s gone. Of everything I’ve knit so far, my acrylic sweaters are the projects that have gotten the most wear, been the easiest to own, and fit the best in my life and budget. I’m excited that this project will be another such triumph.

Varsity Kermit Sweater

I have always loved Kermit the Frog. My buddy icon on the IMer, Twitter, and a handful of other places has always been Kermit. My Facebook “About Me” says, “I’ve derived a significant amount of my life philosophy from Kermit the Frog.” My sailboat is the Kermit:

If I were ever going to get a tattoo (I’m not) it would probably be very similar to this:

Quite some time ago, I got the hankering for a Kermit the Frog sweater. It’s hard to say if it began with the bright lime green yarn calling out from my stash or the iron-on Kermit patch I ordered impulsively one day. Little red buttons found their way into my craft basket when I was buying something unrelated, and so on.

I decided I wanted to use a contrasting color (which just arrived yesterday), and that I wanted a cardigan. At some point it hit me that the style I really wanted was a varsity sweater, in Kermit colors, with red buttons and the Kermit patch at the breast.

Suddenly I was doing the math on the Incredible, Custom-Fit Raglan Sweater, and now we have a Kermit-in-progress.

While this idea was aimlessly rattling around in my mind for years (basically since I learned how to knit), I now have a goal to finish this sweater in time to wear to the opening of the new Muppet movie at Thanksgiving. I may (no, will) look ridiculous in it, but I am a lifelong Varsity Muppet fan, and I’m proud of it! Soon, I will have the sweater to show it.

Vine Lace Vest: A Tale of Queue-Jumping and Impulsivity

Ravelry does a funny thing to my sense of priority: it allows me the illusion of an organized, systematic approach to knitting via the queue. I pretend that I’ve planned out my projects, matched them with their yarns and sometimes even buttons or closures, and in the biggest delusion of all, I actually believe that I will follow through with this plan as imagined because I’ve put the projects in my queue that way.

Ha. Seriously, ha! I am the most fickle, mercurial person I know, prone to dramatic and swooping changes in opinion, career, romantic affiliation, and so forth, with little or no prior warning. Oh sure, I may have an inkling here or there with the major life events, but with art, or knitting? That is where my id runs rampant and I do whatever I want.

Parenthetically, how many lovely, sunny days have I had where I might have photographed a glimpse of this project? Might I have arranged it artfully on my sun-soaked windowsill and captured its most flattering attributes? No, no, I wait until the middle of the night in the depths of a rain-soaked week to decide now, now I must talk about this lace.

I think my project history has revealed no small love affair with vine lace. It suits my temperament so well, as it is the same repeat, offset by one stitch, alternating every other row. The lace itself feels nicely symmetrical, balancing the increases and decreases within a repeat that is just long enough to stay interesting but short enough that my hands can whip through it from memory. I am consistently delighted by the visual impact you can achieve from such elegant combinations of stitches, and I think it looks flowing, organic, and perfectly fabulous at any scale. I capital-L LOVE vine lace, and I doubt this fact will ever change, however much of it I knit.

I’d seen the Vine Lace Vest (PDF) before, as I subscribe to Classic Elite’s Web Letter (I recommend you do too – they have some great patterns). I’m not sure why it didn’t immediately grab me, seeing as it has almost all my favorite project components: vine lace, interesting but not overly tedious construction, large-gauge lace that moves fast without looking clunky, no buttons or zippers, and a versatile, very wearable garment in the end.

I am especially delighted to use stash yarn, this Simply Soft in a lovely, out of character dusty pinkish mauve color. I originally bought it for an ill-advised strapless top of some sort, which I knew, even as I queued it, I would probably not actually knit. I can’t explain why these very inexpensive skeins of acrylic wick at me the way they do, but I have a lot of them in my stash from my first years knitting, and I feel some sort of vendetta to turn them into garments I love. I have much nicer, vastly more expensive yarns hanging out in this glass-windowed antique secretary desk (I will, I promise, take a nice photograph of it sometime soon), but the shopping bags full of Simply Soft and Caron One Pound in the top of my closet weigh far more significantly on my mind.

When I started knitting, I dreamt about making shrugs and cutesy cropped cardigans, specifically to wear over sundresses and summery blouses. Impatient with my knitting progress and annoyed that I couldn’t wear the same hand knits day in and out (I suppose I could, but it would get dull), I’ve filled my closet with 3/4-sleeve cardigans and store-bought shrugs, but they never feel as special as the ones I’ve made.

Combining the prospects of a new short-sleeve open lace shrug-type garment that would be fast, fun, and easy to knit, with the ability to all but completely use two skeins of Simply Soft toward which I felt an odd and lingering guilt, the decision to cast on basically made itself. The Vine Lace Vest immediately jumped my entire queue of carefully thought-out and planned projects, the basket of in-progress knits that are all but complete, save for some buttons or seams, and every one of my intentions toward orderliness and self-control.

And I have not regretted it for an instant.