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Twist Collective Blog

Sandridge: Gender Studies

Elizabeth McCarten

In this cross post from Elizabeth McCarten's blog we get a closer look at how she adapted Sandridge for the women's version. 

Sandridge_Woman_04.jpg

When I graduated from law school 27 (yikes!) years ago, I won the prize for Women and the Law. I was part of the first big wave of women graduates in law, and full of assumptions that would be blown away over the succeeding decades. I worked for 5 years and then, when Bill, my husband, was offered a job with the International Monetary Fund in Washington, DC, I left my job and became a stay-at-home mum for 20 years. I became the glue that held the family together while Bill was globe trotting and we were on our own in a foreign country. I knitted my way through those years, attending the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, Montgomery County Studio Tours, and workshops with Alice Starmore and Debbie Bliss.
Now I'm back at work, my kids are off at university, and I'm still knitting and thinking about knitting. I'm thinking about women and the workplace and knitting, and I'm so thankful that we've got past the era when work attire meant 'menswear' for women--the little tailored suits with floppy bow ties that were de rigueur when I entered the workforce. This has led me to think about what it is that makes a sweater 'feminine'. Bows and ruffles aren't my style. So what is it that makes a sweater a female sweater, and what is it that transforms a menswear style into something distinctly female, yet something that can be worn both to the office and to the farmers' market on the weekend?
My recently published design, Sandridge, falls into this category. I first designed this as a jacket for my son, James, with no thought of re-doing it in any other form. Near the end of the process, I needed to see how the work was progressing and, James being out of the house at the time, I slipped the garment on myself. (James and I both wear the same chest size, but that is the ONLY measurement we have in common!) The hip-length jacket was tunic-length on me. Hmmm, I thought. These zigzag lines are very flattering. What if I changed the silhouette to accommodate hips? What if I replaced the zipper with big buttons? What if the collar was open at the throat to allow the wearer to show off a pretty scarf? 
This brings me to the following list of personal design preferences (I don't like the word 'rules') that guide me when I knit for the female form:

  1. When looking at a sweater, it should be immediately apparent that it is a woman's sweater, i.e. the silhouette, the details, should declare that this is a sweater for a woman. Sounds obvious, but it isn't, especially for my generation, which for many years knitted unisex sweaters for men and women from the same patterns.
  2. Avoid ribbing at the hips. Yes, it can look flattering in a form-fitting sweater on a young person. However, the majority of women look more attractive in sweaters that have a little looseness or drape in the hip area. There are plenty of ways of making an edge non-curling other than by utilizing ribbing. In Sandridge, I extended the cables right to the edges of both the body and cuffs. I did the same thing in my earlier design, Valentine (see photo).
  3. Build in a little waist and hip shaping. Even plump middle-aged women like me look better when there is some shaping. If it looks great on a slightly plump person, it will look fabulous on a slim one.
  4. Pay extra attention to the neckline. V-necklines and scooped necklines are always better than crewnecks. Avoid bulky turtlenecks and go for tall stand-up collars instead (as in Sandridge). Maybe I have these neckline preferences because I'm short, but I think that most women look better in garments that create these more vertical lines. I always think of Katherine Hepburn in the movie 'Desk Set', where she portrayed a strong-willed beautiful, intelligent woman with marvelously well-designed clothes.
  5. Aim for designs that work on a wide age range. I design garments to be worn by me and my 18-year-old daughter. In the case of Sandridge, all that was required to make the design suit her, was to make the jacket fitted to the waist before it flared out. This is the practical knitter speaking--I want to get as much bang for the buck as possible from my time spent designing.
  6. Finally, employ feminine finishing details, such as special buttons, seed stitch, lace, etc.

My goal is always to create, in a subtle way, a garment that is unfussy, but unmistakably feminine.


Red Oak: Pattern Notes

Julia Trice

Julia Trice's debut pattern for Twist Collective, Red Oak, is featured on the Fall 2010 cover. In today's post, she discusses a little about her design process and her inspiration for this lovely piece. You can also find this post at Julia's personal site.


I think that if you spend enough time doing anything, you develop a style and when you do your best work it is true to that style. I tend to focus on two things when I design. The first is shape. I like pieces with smooth, organic lines, and I generally prefer to have size and noticeable endpoints fall in less standard places - nothing radical, but I am more likely to choose a cap sleeve than a bracelet sleeve, and more likely to make a piece oversized or body-skimming than to give it the standard ease of around two inches. I like shape to influence the overall feel of a piece in an important but subtle way, and make it feel just a little different.

Julia in Red Oak
The Red Oak coatTwist Collective, Fall 2010.

The second thing I like to do is to limit the number of stand-out details to as few as possible - one is ideal. The fewer details there are the more impact a single detail will have. This concept has come back to me again and again, and my favorite phrasing of it (well, ahem, paraphrasing probably) is that perfection is reached not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.

When a design isn't working, I look to these two factors to see if something needs to be changed. Is there too much going on? What needs to be taken out? Does the shape flow? If not, how can I change it to work with the details? Often this means omitting something that I really like - maybe even the element that I began with - but ultimately it is the process that makes the pieces I like the best work.

The shape for the Red Oak coat was inspired by a wonderful camel coat I bought in college that I wore for over a decade. It still hangs in the back of my closet waiting for the day that I mend the frayed-through lining and wear it again. It isthat good. Red Oak differs from my old coat significantly but it retains the same spirit - refined and classic, but somehow casual. To reach the final shape I omitted many of the elements that made the original special to me - no hood, no pockets, no drawstring cinch at the waist (sounds funny, but it worked!), less ease. Instead of focusing the eye on shaping details, I settled on having a dramatic central motif running down the front panel, but slightly offset. I discovered the oak leaf and acorn stitch pattern that gave Red Oak its name in a Japanese stitch book years ago, but I have since learned that it was designed by Julie Weisenberger and originally appeared on a square in the popular Great American Afghan in 1996. The stitch pattern stayed in my mind, and when I began sketching the coat and realized that I wanted to use a stitch pattern to capture the same refined, classic-yet-casual feel as my old camel coat, I knew that the oak leaf stitch pattern, which was intricate and organic, yet with clean, clear lines, was perfect.

Red Oak detail shot 

I didn't realize how perfect the oak leaves and acorns were when I drafted the proposal in February, but by the time I was knitting the sample in May the pattern had personal significance for me. My father passed away in late April, so I ended up spending late April and the first part of May in my childhood home in Virginia with my mom. I hadn't been back since my brother's memorial service over eight years ago because the memories were just too painful and the thought of facing our old life completely changed felt totally overwhelming to me. Surprisingly, it ended up being one of the easiest, and strangely happiest, of my visits there. My mother and I had a week to ourselves talking and pulling things together, and after that we had about a week and a half with Griffin there, too, making us laugh and reminding us that there was still life and that it was good.

G and J with Red Oak
Griffin gets in on the photoshoot.

During the week we had alone I spent nights working on the final calculations for the Red Oak coat, and then feverishly knitting it. Our house has a life and a personality of its own, and I often think of it as the fifth member of our family. My parents restored it themselves when we were kids, so we know the ins and outs of it more intimately than you might normally know a house. One of the house's defining characteristics is a fairly severe lean where a huge old oak tree's roots have lifted the foundation out of kilter. Our house is surrounded by old oaks, but the one pushing up the house is by far the largest and oldest. I'm not completely certain, but if two people were to stand on opposite sides of the tree and try to link hands, I don't think they could. When the oak goes, it is taking the house with it, and to me that feels right - the two are inseparable.

Anyway, the room that I slept in as I worked on Red Oak was the one right next to the tree - you can touch it if you lean way out of the window. At night I could hear the sound of the trains down by the river, the crickets, and the rustling of the oak leaves. I cannot imagine more comforting sounds. We knitters often talk about the memories worked into our knitting. This coat has more of those than almost any other knit I can think of - rivaled only by husband's wedding sweater. I like to think there is a little piece of my dad in it, too. I wish he had lived to see it on the cover of Twist, just as I wish he had lived to see so many much more important things, not the least of which is Griffin toddling all over his house and garden. But I take comfort in the fact that he left the world just as he would have wanted, reading his morning paper in his house, under his oak trees, and I am grateful to have had the time that I did sitting under those trees knitting, laughing at my son with my mother, and thinking about him.

P.S. As Elli so astutely noticed, there is a photo with a little bit of the camel coat showing on my archive masthead. I don't have a full length photo, and didn't remember that I had any photos at all, so I didn't link to a picture. Although this just gives a little snippet of what it looks like, it's worth a peek if you are curious.

Issara: Customizing & Tips

Anne Kuo Lukito

Anne Kuo Lukito offers us a second blog post about Issara, with some wonderful tips for customizing this fantastic knit. This is a cross post from her blog

I know I promised this post a while back, but better late than never, right? Here are some ideas and tips for customizing your Issara

Issara Front Issara Back 

Blocking:

Issara is rather bulky and heavy, which can make blocking challenging, especially with the pleat. Before wet blocking, I suggest basting the pleat closed and in place with a high contrast waste yarn. Then, to shorten your blocking time by several days, I would put it in your washer on spin cycle. Do not actually run it through the washing machine. Once your machine has done all the work of sucking off the excess water, you can block the coat as you would normally do.

I was a bit impatient when blocking the sample, especially for the stubborn pleat, which remained damp when other parts of the coat had dried. This is due to the thickness of the multiple layers. Thus, I sped up the process in the pesky areas with a hairdryer. You can also face a fan towards your garment, which will shorten the overall time considerably.

After the coat had dried both naturally and with the help of my handy hairdryer, I fine-tuned blocking some of the other elements, such as the pleat and the edging, with my steam iron. When you steam-block with an iron, make sure that you are not touching your garment with the iron, especially if your yarn contains synthetic fabrics. You don’t want to melt your yarn! Instead, hover above your garment by about 0.5″ to 1″.

Adding More Waist Details:

If you would like to add a more substantial and visual waistline than the single purl ridge, then I’d suggest omitting the purl ridge and instead, work in about 4-5 rows (or more, if desired) of seed stitch right after the folding of the pleat. You can also do a reverse Stockinette stitch band, though I think doing the seed stitch will be more unifying design-wise with the rest of the garment.

If you’d like to add a belt that’s 1.5″/ 4cm wide, CO 5 sts. Row 1: Sl1, [k1, p1] twice. Repeat Row 1 until desired length and BO. Then, for the belt loops, I’d crochet 3 or 4 chains that are a little longer than the width of the belt and attach the loops right above or over the waist ridge. Don’t forget that you’ll need to allot extra yarn for this.

Shortening the Coat:

If you’re a bit short, or would just like a shorter coat, the best way is to reduce the number of Stockinette stitch rows between the skirt shaping. The gauge works out to 4.5 rows per 1″/ 2.5cm. Thus, if you’d like your coat to be 2″/ 5cm shorter, then I would omit 8 or 10 St. st rows in the skirt. I would disperse throughout the skirt to maintain the gradual A-line shape.

If I had more ample assets in the hip area as well, I’d probably work the omissions closer to the top of the skirt. This way, I’m shorting the skirt, but also do so in a way that gives my hips more room. For example, if I was working size 39 3/4, instead of working the Decrease row every 10 rows in the 6th and 7th repeat, I’d work the Decrease row every 6 rows.

Making it a Jacket:

I you are in a warmer climate or just prefer a jacket over a coat, you can omit the pleat and make it a shorter, hip-length jacket. The following instructions will get you a jacket that measures about 5.25″/ 13.5cm below the waistline of Issara, which would give you a length of 17.25 (17.5, 18.25, 18.75, 19.25, 20.25, 20.5) from shoulder to hem. Of course, you should modify it further as desired to accommodate your needs and preferences.

CO 125 (133, 137, 149, 153, 161, 169)
Set up  1 (WS): Sl1, [p1, k1] to last st, p1.
Set up 2 (RS): Sl1, [k1, p1] to last st, k1.
Rep Set up rows 1 and 2 again.
Using removable markers, place marker after the first and last 31 (33, 34, 37, 38, 40, 42) sts.
Row 1 (WS): Sl1, [p1, k1] twice, purl to last 4 sts, [k1, p1] twice.
Row 2 (RS): Sl1, [k1, p1] twice, knit to last 4 sts, [p1, k1] twice.
Rep Row 1.
Dec Row: Sl1, [k1, p1] twice, knit until 2 sts before marker, ssk, sm, k2tog, knit until 2 sts before next marker, ssk, sm, k2tog, knit to last 4 sts, [p1, k1] twice.
Work as established, working Dec Row every 6 rows 3 more times. – 109 (117, 121, 133, 137, 145, 153) sts.
Next (Waist Ridge, WS): Sl1, [p1, k1] twice, knit to last 4 sts, [k1, p1] twice.
Next: Rep previous row.
Work Bodice and the rest of the of Issara as instructed in the pattern.

Tutorial & FAQ:

In case you are not aware, I try to post tutorials/FAQ pages for many of my patterns, especially those that require some special, unusual or more intermediate techniques.Click here for an index of all the tutorials on this site. Click here for the Issaratutorial/FAQ. If you have a question that’s not addressed in the tutorial, you can post your question in the comments or go to my Ravelry group.

Sandridge: Origins

Elizabeth McCarten

Elizabeth McCarten's debut pattern for Twist Collective, is the versatile and flattering Sandridge Cardigan which includes instructions for a men's or women's version with a zipper or button closure. This cross post from her blog covers the design inspiration behind this beautiful and wearable piece

sandridge_c_500.jpg

I'm very fortunate to have two young adult kids who enjoy wearing my knits. Perhaps I've just trained them to wear sweaters, but I like to think it's because I listen when they tell me what they want. When my son, James, announced that he really wanted a zip-front jacket, I cringed--in part because he would be leaving for the start of his third year at the University of Toronto in only a week, and in part because zippers really weren't my thing. I'd made the mistake of showing James the photo of Jared Flood wearing his version of Paton's Urban Aran. James thought he'd look totally cool wearing it, and I did too, but I had concerns:

  1. James hasn't inherited his father's height; he's about 5'9". Respectable, even average, but sometimes it's hard to get sweaters to be an absolutely perfect fit if they're knit in pieces. The sleeves might be just a little too long. Ditto the body, and it's a major hassle to change things knitted in pieces, especially once you've started the sewing. I wanted a top-down design so that he could try it on as I knitted. 
  2. I also wanted cables, but not too many. The jacket had to be interesting to knit, but not too interesting to look at, because guys generally don't want to stand out.
  3. I wanted to complete the whole thing in one week. I wanted a fairly easy, quick knit.
  4. I was prepared to deal with the 2-way zipper, but I was determined to insert it in such a way that it would be easy, neat, and the teeth of the zipper wouldn't show. I'll blog more about the zipper insertion in another post.

Next, I thought about where James would be wearing his new jacket. The University of Toronto is broken down into colleges. James is a student of Trinity College. Trin's Strachan (pronounced Stron) Hall is a beautiful dark grey stone building in the gothic style. If you look closely up near the roof, you can see stone snakes zigzagging back and forth just under the eaves--at least, I think they look like snakes. So,the sweater was born in time for the first cool weather of the season. 
While it was being created, I tried it on myself, just out of curiosity. I loved the way the cables made me feel taller and thinner (always a good thing), but I wanted room for my hips and a longer, more feminine silhouette. Soon I had a twin version for myself. I wore it with everything and everywhere, particularly when I went walking on the grassy heath along Sandridge Road near our then home in Ottawa. 

Sandridge Women's Gray Sandridge Women's Purple


Then, the Christmas season rolled around and Isabel, my daughter requested a version, but more fitted, please. She's very petite, even bird-like. So, this time I made the jacket fitted to the waist and found some ancient, Rowan buttons from my stash that looked unusually well with the purple heather wool Isabel had chosen. 
Three sweaters, related, but each with its own personality.

Tolovana: The Making Of

I put a lot more time into planning my wedding shawl than I did my actual wedding and to be honest, that's not saying much because my wedding planning amounted to sending an email to my closest family, booking a hotel room, getting a license and hoping for the best. If only knitwear design were so easy. Though, to be fair, I find designing pretty fun but would be entirely content to never plan another wedding.

So to start, I pulled out my entire collection of stitch dictionaries looking for motifs to pair together. I didn't have a strong sense for what I wanted but I knew I wanted to take what I learned from designing La Cumparsita and expand on it, making a project that had more details, and a strongly scalloped hem. I ended up choosing only a single motif and scaling it up and down to form three versions, a border and transitions between each.

At the same time, I started to think about yarn. I wasn't sure what I was going to be wearing but I thought red might be pretty so I ordered three Grafton Batts from Amy.


sweet batts are sweeter with candy

It was a little challenging but I did my best to work all three batts as one to maintaining the color transitions these batts are so well known for.


I ended up with about 1100 yards of rich glorious fingering/sport weight singles and began the swatching and knitting and charting and calculating. I was cranking along and doing great until I actually decided to start looking at dresses.

I suppose this my have been an acceptable reason to consider a white or ivory dress, but as I am already a brilliant shade of "fish belly" and since *ahem* the symbolism associated with wearing white most certainly wouldn't apply to me, I was determined to wear some other color and some other color I found. It just turns out that blue-green doesn't actually go terribly well with red and burgundy.


so sad, don't let the door hit you on the way out

At this point, spinning another 1000 yards or so of fiber just wasn't going to be an option, but I had some purple Handmaiden Seasilk burning a hole in my stash that was more than up to the task.


The final shawl is incredibly delicate and actually snagged quite dramatically right before the wedding. But really, what's a wedding without at least one moment of panic? The fibers smoothed out as easily as they snagged, but it was clear to me that this would always be a special occasion sort of wrap, not one to to throw around my neck before heading out to the city.


When Kate asked me if I'd like to publish the pattern in Twist Collective, I jumped at the chance. Instead of the delicate seasilk we decided to go for two uniquely different yarns and offer two variations of the pattern.

The green version is worked in Sundara Sock. The lace has larger expanses of stockinette for a warmer, denser feel. This is the version I'd use as my all purpose, scarf/wrap on chilly winter days. It's washable, strong, tightly spun and the colors are rich, yet it unfurls into a beautiful shawl that looks great wrapped around your shoulders while you are out on a dinner date.


The violet version is more true to the original, and worked in Sundara Silky Merino which offers the drape and sheen of the prototype with a little of that merino resiliency I love so much. The more delicate and open version of the lace pattern makes it a great option to wear for more formal occasions, but it's not so delicate that you'd be afraid to put it to good use.

It was really a fun design to come up with and as someone who knit the pattern twice (I did hire a sample knitter to knit the third one) I found it really enjoyable too. This may have something to do with my fond feelings for the whole project but I do hope that others will find it equally enjoyable. If you are interested in knitting Tolovana, you can get it here. And of course, don't forget to check out all the otherbeautiful patterns available at Twist Collective.

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