Tag Archives: yoke

Knitting like it’s 1974

Elizabeth Zimmerman's Baby Sweater on Two Needles in Berocco Vintage

Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Baby Sweater on Two Needles in Berocco Vintage

I just finished this shower gift for a friend who’s expecting in April, and I think this one’s about to become a staple.  I’ve previously expressed my love for and fascination with seventies knitting patterns, and our recent Freaks and Geeks  Netflix binge has just reignited my love of seventies knitwear.  This time, I used Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Baby Sweater on Two Needles (Practically Seamless) from the February chapter of Knitter’s Almanac.

Much like Zimmerman’s other patterns this one bares a significant resemblance to stream of consciousness.  She does not lay out a needle size and her thoughts on gauge and measurement in general are pretty vague, since as she points out, babies come in all different sizes. I don’t know if this is indicative of Zimmerman’s individual style or if it simply reflects that the pattern is nearly forty years old. Either way, the instructions are a bit inscrutable and show a clear relationship to the oral tradition of sharing knitting patterns and skills.  When reading Zimmerman’s books, with their long asides and vague directions, you feel as though you are in conversation with the knitting guru herself. On one level, it’s appealing, but it’s nice to have some guidance before you set out:

1. Zimmerman doesn’t mention the button holes until after she describes the yoke.  You need to put button holes in while you are constructing the yoke, so read through the entire pattern carefully before you start. You can choose how many button holes to make.  I looked at the 7500 (!) projects on ravelry and decided to create a swing cardigan with three buttons.

2. There are few instructions about needle size and gauge.  I used size 5 needles and followed the directions regarding length exactly.  The end product is a little larger than a Baby Gap 3-6 months.

Waste yarn (brown) holds the sleeve as I finish the body

Waste yarn (brown) holds the sleeve as I finish the body

3. The sleeve directions are strange.  When I got to the sleeve row, I put the 28 sleeve stitches on waste yarn, cast on 14 across each gap, and then finished the body.  Afterwards, I returned to the sleeve, cast on 14 and knit in the round (no purling!) and then seamed the armpits.

The end result is really lovely. When I make gifts before a baby is born, I am a little anxious about when they will fit the baby.  You can never be sure if the recipient will give birth to a dainty 5 lbs baby or a 10 lbs baby that haunts the dreams of pregnant women everywhere.  A thick sweater that baby grows into and out of over the summer months is pretty useless.  The lace pattern in this sweater added to it’s appeal, since it has an all-season usefulness. I can imagine this baby wearing it on cool summer nights over a little dress or under a jacket in the spring or fall.

This pattern has confirmed my love affair with Zimmerman’s timeless designs.  I’m so pleasantly surprised that her books are still in print and so widely available. Has anyone discovered any other gems from the 70’s? I’d love to try them out….


Top Down or Bottom Up?

My son in a bottom up (Ryuu-ki in Berroco Vintage) sweater and me in a top down (Lapis Yoke in Malabrigo) sweater

The first sweater I ever knit was a basic, seamless, top-down raglan cardigan. The pattern came from a beginner sweater class, and it has shaped my approach to knitting sweaters forever. I have no facility for sewing, and am admittedly a little short on patience, when it comes to finishing. There is nothing like seeing a sweater literally materialize in one piece on your needles.

Baby and toddler sweaters are among my favourite projects.  They’re quick and satisfying and small children can rock looks that would look silly on an adult. The sizing and gauge is also less of a concern; generally I make sweaters a size too big for small children, knowing they will always grow into it.  Fortunately, with a young son and 14 nieces and nephews, I have had lots of opportunities to knit itty bitty sweaters. I’ve experimented with a variety of patterns and approaches, and it’s all led me to one decided conclusion: top down all the way.

Bottom-up (or frustrating for the fingers)

I’ve knit some really lovely bottom-up sweaters. Notably Daniela Nii’s fair-isle dragon sweater (available for free) and Nikki Van De Caar’s maile baby cardigan (available on her blog What to Knit When You’re Expecting).  In both cases, I’m pretty happy with the results, but they haven’t become staples in my repertoire.  While the fair isle dragons and lacy leaves are lovely, the sweaters themselves were frustrating to knit.

The fair isle dragons on my son’s Ryuu-ko sweater (in Berroco Vintage)

For the uninitiated, bottom up sweaters are constructed from waist up; usually in three knit in the round pieces (abdomen and sleeves).  At that point, the three pieces have to be joined on a single circular needle and knit up in decreasing rows. Getting your fingers and needles around the armpits is torturous for me, and I’ve ruined more than a few hours of catching up on Homeland and Downton Abbey, complaining about this to my husband.

The other concern I’ve run into with bottom sweaters is the neckline.  My son (like many very young kids) has a big head, and top up sweaters have a cast-off edge at the neck, making them too tight to fit over his head. This can, of course, be fixed with a stretchy sock-style cast-off, but it gives the neckline a sloppy, slouchy look that makes me crazy.  In future, when I fall in love with a pattern or texture, I will be adapting patterns like these for top down construction.

Top-down (or the BEST way to make a sweater)

My son (at 10 months) in a Knitting Pure and Simple top down henley in Malabrigo yarn

I’m a complete devotee to top-down construction.  Early on, I used a lot of Diane Soucy’s fantastic Knitting Pure and Simple patterns.  The bulky neck down jacket, ballet cardigan and pullover henley were big favourites in my extended family.  I’ve made six of the jacket (!) for my son and all of his cousins under four.  It’s really fast, easy and practical.  The original three were made out of Dream in Colour and are beautiful, but even at Boxing Day Sale prices, they were expensive gifts.  The following three are Berroco.  They aren’t quite as pretty, but were a third of the cost and have washed quite a bit better.

My son’s bulky (raglan) jacket in Dream in Color yarn

Raglan construction seems to be the most common (the Pure and Simple patterns are mostly raglan).  It involves increasing along four raglan “seams” on either side of the shoulders.  It’s an extremely easy technique to learn, and easy to modify too. The hoodies below are the same pattern, and the decorative raglan was accomplished by putting a purl stitch in between the increase stitches.

Two raglan hoodies in Cascade Superwash Paints. The pink was modified with a purl stitch between raglan increases and a seed rather than garter stitch border

Yoke construction is often used to create colour work across the chest and shoulders.  Yokes are accomplished by increasing at intervals all around the chest, to create a poncho type top to the chest and shoulders.  I’ve only made one yoke sweater (Hannah Fettig’s Lapis Yoke), and it’s definitely flattering in a formfitting sweater like this one (although it’s a bit short everywhere, as you can see in the picture above).

I’ll be tackling set-in shoulders using Budd’s The Knitter’s Handy Book of Top Down Sweaters, after I finish my holiday knitting, and I’ll keep you posted.