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.

Knitting all the time

I think that being a knitter is similar to being an artist, or a scientist, or a chef, in that as you go about the day, you don’t really ever stop being what you are, yet it’s not the only thing that defines your existence. As I ride the ferry, I always notice the knit items people are wearing, examining their construction, the fit, the lace or cable pattern, and in the same way that I look at paintings as if I had a brush in my hand, I wonder how I would make this thing, what I might change about it, and so on.

But mentally knitting, obviously, isn’t the same thing as physically taking needles and yarn and producing something, which is why I’m so delighted to have stolen moments here and there to make progress on a bunch of projects, old and new.

First, look what’s off the needles and awaiting blocking…

This is my Upstairs shawl/wrap/scarf, with which I am utterly enamored. I will go on (and on) about this project in its own FO post, but I will say that the thought of blocking it and having raggedly, pointy, stretched-out edges broke me down, and I bought blocking wires. I look forward to seeing how they work out.

I stayed with my family in New Jersey through Hurricane Irene, and the several days we were without power gave me quite a head of steam on a project I haven’t mentioned before.

This is a summery laceweight shrug knit in seafoam stitch, and even though it will probably be a while (like, the next three seasons) before I get to wear it, I’m pretty enthused with what I think it will become.

I pretty much always have socks on the go (I will do a whole sock catch-up soon), but these had been abandoned a while ago in my knitting basket. I can’t really remember why, save for the tedium of working with bamboo needles, but once I started them back up again, I whipped through a heel and have been moving up the leg.

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I love this snowflake lace pattern, and I keep thinking about where else I might like to use it (probably a cardigan or shrug?) since it is that perfect blend of organic and geometric, deceptively simple, and really quite lovely when stretched and worn (saving that for the FO post, again, soon).

Now I didn’t knit this, but this is a spectacular alpaca hat my parents picked up for me during their vacation to Peru in August.

I am so smitten with its colors, style, and decadent, soft warmth that I’m actually willing the weather to get colder so I can wear it outside of my apartment. My father bought my mother an insanely gorgeous alpaca cardigan, which I have to remember to photograph the next time I visit.

Mmmm, alpaca….

And saving perhaps the best for last, I have finally started a new sweater for my mother, which is technically her Christmas gift from ohh… 2008? This is not her gift this year, but rather something I’m going to try to get done soon because I feel bad promising people knits and not following through (I’ve done this with both parents and my brother, so yeah, bad habit of mine).

You may recognize it as the Cable-Down Raglan, a pattern I’ve admired for a long, long while. And yes, I have the yarn (and now the skills) to make one for myself too.

I had started a different cabled sweater for my mom years ago, but the more FO photos I’ve seen on Ravelry, the less I think that sweater will be particularly flattering for her, and it would make us both feel terrible to spend all this time knitting some elaborate cabled sweater that she never wears it because it looks bad. I admitted that this hesitation was most of why I’d stalled out on her super-belated Christmas gift, and she was relieved that I didn’t plug ahead on a feckless project. When I showed her the Cable-Down Raglan and photos of women with similar shapes and how wonderful they looked in it, she became enthusiastic and encouraged me to go forward with this one instead.

True to form, she picked out another heathered purple yarn, and I must say, I’m pretty pleased with the way it’s coming along. I really hope she likes it!

So these are but a few of the projects keeping my hands busy lately. I often think that if I focused on just one project at a time, I could whip out the FOs left and right, and this may be a strategy I can employ once I get some of the long-hibernating WIPs out of my basket and off my needles. But in the meantime, we’re coming into autumn, or Knitter’s Paradise, and I’m happy to have my hands full of wool again.

Could it possibly be… I’m sewing on buttons??

For as much as I love knitting (and wow, yeah, I do really love knitting), I sure hate finishing. I don’t mean “finishing” in the sense of completing a project (because that part is splendid) but the fiddly little tasks that stand in the way between binding off and having a garment, namely blocking, seaming, and perhaps most loathed of all, sewing on buttons or closures.

This isn’t a new topic – I have an embarrassing amount of projects that are completely knit, blocked, ends woven in, and ready to wear, save for, say, a hook and eye closure, or in an instance I haven’t mentioned, threading a ribbon through casings and tying a bow. Geez, that’s embarrassing to admit.

When the inspiration struck to finally sew buttons on a cropped cardigan that has (I must sheepishly admit) been living next to my sofa since I washed and blocked it months ago, I ran with it. The whole time, I wondered why I had put it off so long, seeing as it wasn’t exactly my favorite task in the world, but it was certainly far from the drudgery I’d worked it up to be in my mind.

Smokey, of course, has other thoughts about sewing on buttons. What is it with cats??

As I updated my Ravelry project page, I saw that it had been exactly a year to the day since I’d put this sweater aside with the intention to shrink it up a bit before weaving in the ends and sewing on the buttons. Let’s hope that I can now start wearing it and get it properly photographed before another year passes!

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.

FO – Green Jellyfish Shrug

(Note: I actually wrote this post in September of 2008, but I didn’t publish it at the time because I didn’t take detail shots until uhh, last weekend.)

As far as shrugs go, this one is already very well traveled.

It was seen on the streets of Milan.

It made undocumented appearances in Venice and Volterra (among other cities).

It went to Rome where it visited many churches.

It even made it to the Vatican.

With each time I took it out of my suitcase and slid it over my shoulders, I think I fell a little more in love.

Pattern: Jellyfish (Ravelry link) by Iris G., free pattern previously available on MagKnits, now available for sale here
On Ravelry: Green Jellyfish
Size: Small
Yarn: Knit Picks Shine Worsted 10-ply worsted weight, Grass (dye lot 3740), 60% Pima cotton 40% Modal; I used 4.5 50-gram balls, totaling approximately 225 grams/7.92 oz or 337.5 yards/308.6 meters.
Needles: US size 10 (6.0 mm) straights and Knit Picks Options interchangeable circular needles, in US size 8 (5.0 mm)
Modifications: none

Started: July 10, 2008
Finished: July 14, 2008

This project literally flew off the needles. I’ve knit one Jellyfish previously and loved the experience then, so I knew it would be fun. By substituting worsted weight cotton yarn, I got a denser but still nicely draping fabric which made for a substantial yet cool shrug.

I took a bit of a risk working the size small, since I usually wear a large in store-bought tops, but I think if I had made this any larger it would fall off my shoulders and look sloppy.

The construction of this shrug is really satisfying: the sleeves and body are knit flat, seamed at the underarms, then stitches are picked up to do the neckline ribbing in the round. Because of the heavier yarn, the neck ribbing forms a sort of collar that cuts in sweetly around my clavicle. It’s a nice surprising detail that looks intentional, and I have to like that.

I used Elizabeth Zimmermann’s sewn bind-off (with instructions from this Knitty article) to maintain the stretchiness of the rib. Because I used a way longer yarn tail than necessary, I wasn’t completely in love with the technique, but I see how useful it is.

The way the vine lace came out just thrills me.

I have previously professed my deep love for this yarn, and it continues to rank among my favorites. I noticed that this color shed slightly more than the others I’ve used, which I hear is a fairly common complaint, but I didn’t find it bothersome. It holds up beautifully to washing and wearing and the color is exactly what I wanted for a summery shrug.

This almost instantly became my go-to garment to wear with sleeveless dresses and tops. I wore it regularly while I was in Italy (and got compliments every time), all over Brooklyn and New Jersey, and basically everywhere I go. It is by far my most frequently worn FO, and I adore it. People consistently comment on its color (which matches my favorite malachite earrings really nicely) as well as its unique style, all of which please me to no end.

I definitely recommend this pattern in a DK or worsted weight yarn, or whatever you could imagine. It was a fast, easy, and pleasant knit and I think it would makes a great gift too. All around, this is one of my favorite FOs, and I look forward to all the wear I’m sure I will continue to get out of it.

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