The Adventure of the Warm Puppy: Part Two
For an introduction to what goes on in this column, click here.
For the the first part of this adventure, click here.
With my Hikoo Simpliworsted and measurements at the ready,
it was time begin to cooking up a sweater for Rosamund.
It would be a very simple sweater, likely quite imperfect, meant to serve as a fitting guide for other, more complex designs. Rosamund is going to need a whole wardrobe, you see. This is no ordinary dog. This is a dog so clever, good-tempered, and beautiful that she might well have a lucrative career ahead of her as a therapy dog, or even a Tumblr meme.
You can’t have a dog of such quality walking around in just any old thing.
Sketching It Out
Even when I’m planning a project this plain, it helps to do up a simple sketch that maps the key features.
Then I like to mark up the sketch with thoughts about what techniques might work best.
I reserve the right to change my mind at any time, of course. I usually do. But this gives me a place to start.
Down the Slope
In Part One, I wrote about a knitter I met who got her jollies by knitting fitted rock cozies. We didn’t get to know each other well, but she once showed me the fundamental principle for figuring where and how much to increase and decrease. I’ve used it ever since, in countless and varied projects.
Here’s an example of how I put it to work in shaping Rosamund’s new sweater, literally right at the start.
First, note two places in which you have a noticeable difference in circumference. In this case, the first was the neckline–where the sweater would begin–and the shoulders, where Roz’s legs join her body.
That’s a difference of seven inches.
And we note how long the distance is between these two measurements, along the shoulder slope.
Now we take into account what this means in terms of our gauge, which is 4.5 stitches and 6.5 rounds per inch.
A Brief Diversion on Fudging
The mathy among you will have noticed some funny business is going in the photograph above. For one thing, the neck measurement is 21 inches, and at 4.5 stitches to the inch, that means the neck should be 94.5 stitches around. Instead, it’s given as approximately 92 stitches.
Well, first of all–we can’t cast on half a stitch.
Second, our original sketch indicates that we want to begin this circular sweater with a collar of knit 2, purl 2 (k2p2) ribbing. That requires a number of stitches evenly divisible by 4, and neither 94 nor 94.5 will work.
So what do we do? We fudge. We find the nearest number to 94.5 that is divisible by 4. We could go higher, but I chose to go slightly lower, to 92 stitches.
It’s a tiny difference. It’s not going to throw the piece out of whack.
By the same token, we don’t worry that the shoulder measurement of 28 inches “should” require 126 stitches, not 124. We also want to end the sweater with k2p2 ribbing, and so it will be convenient if we maintain numbers evenly divisible by 4 throughout. Therefore, 124.
I could have chosen to use 128 as my fudged number, rather than 124. Why didn’t I? It just felt like the right thing to do at the time. If I had been worried that two stitches less would make the piece too small, I could have gone up. Instead, I decided that with a limited yarn supply (only two skeins to hand) it would be a good idea to eliminate stitches where possible, and went down.
A big part of becoming a confident, adventurous knitter is learning not to sweat the small stuff. Two stitches in a worsted weight dog sweater is small stuff.
Now, Back to the Math
So this is our problem (and it’s a math problem, but the sort of math problem even I can do).
We need to increase from 92 stitches to 124 stitches, a total of 32 stitches.
And we have, potentially, 32.5 (we’ll call it an even 32–more fudging) rounds over which to increase this number of stitches.
This is where things get slightly fuzzy, if you will pardon the expression. You have a choice to make based on your own judgement. Is the shaping gentle (like, for example, most sweater waist shaping) or sharp (like the explosion of stitches that shape a knitted tam)?
Roz’s shoulder slope looks to me gradual, which means we want to space the increases out over many rounds, rather than do them all at once. The nice thing about working with knitted fabric is that it is obligingly stretchy and drapey–it almost wants to fit whatever you put inside it. That means there’s not one correct answer, but a range of possible correct answers. So, we can take a guess and try it out.
Here’s my guess. To calculate 32 increases over 32 rows, we divide the number of rounds by the number of stitches. And we get…drum roll, please:
Which means 1 increase in every round.*
For gentle shaping, it’s usually best to put at least one plain round between increase rounds. (The more plain rounds between increases, the gentler the shaping will be.) So here, at Rosamund’s shoulders, I prefer to increase two stitches every other round. Spreading decreases out also gives the shaped area of the fabric a smoother line, though of course the change will still be noticeable.
A reasonable plan, right? Right. The only remaining question was where in each round to place the increases. It seemed logical to stick them opposite each other another along the lines of the shoulder. Where the body grows, so does the fabric.
To sum up:
- Figure the difference in stitches between Point A and Point B.
- Figure the number of rows/rounds between Point A and Point B.
- Divide the number of rows/rounds by the number of stitches to increase.** This will give you the number of increases per row/round. If you end up with fractions, choose a nearby whole number using your best judgment.
- Decide exactly where in your rows/rounds you want your shaping stitches to occur.
Decreases work the same way.
Many Rounds Later…
We’re going to jump ahead now to the first fitting. I had decided early on to work the entire body in one piece, in the round, with steeks for the leg holes. Perhaps you shudder at the mention of steeks–because there is a widespread misconception that steeks are frightening. They aren’t, but I want to set aside steek talk for our next installment.
Today, let’s look at where all the calculating and knitting and calculating and knitting got us.
These are catch-as-catch-can photos, because Rosamund was not as interested in showing off her sweater as she was in the squirrels making whoopee in the porch rafters.
Verdict: Not bad.
I could have given this another inch or two of length from neck to shoulder. And it might be cute to knit her a turtleneck. I think she could carry that off. (In case you’re wondering, the orange scrap yarn is holding live stitches conveniently created during the formation of the steeks.)
I used short rows to make the sweater longer on the back than the belly, so she’d be nice and warm at the rear but wouldn’t pee on my knitting. I could have done more short rows for additional back length. In fact, I could use an additional two to three inches all around here. So that’s duly noted for next time.
Clearly–meaning, you can see it from down the block–the biggest flaw is the size of the leg*** holes. After I opened the steeks I realized that my own biceps fit easily through them. I’m small, but I’m not as small as Roz–whose legs measure about nine inches around where they join her body.
This is what happens when you don’t trust your own numbers. I kept looking at pictures of her (as opposed to actual her, since my travel schedule meant much of the knitting had to be away from home) and thinking, “That’s not big enough. She’s so muscular. Thighs like a shot put champion. Man, I’d love to have those thigh muscles. Let’s make this just a bit wider. And she’ll need ease, so she can run around. Lots of ease.”
So I wound up with 14-inch leg holes.
Still, now I know what not to do. That’s the point of this exercise, after all–to figure out what basic measurements and shaping Rosamund’s sweaters should (and shouldn’t) have.
I believe I can do something about the legs and make this into a wearable sweater, good for early fall if not the coldest parts of winter. Let’s talk more about the legs, and about steeks, in two weeks. By which time it may well be winter in Chicago.
*Have you any idea how relieved I was that the math worked out so nicely? Pure chance, but I’ll take it.
**If the number of stitches to increase is greater than the number of rows/rounds across which you will increase, flip this around. Divide the number of stitches by the number of rounds.
***I keep typing “arm holes.” Knitting for an animal is kinda weird.
Tools and Materials Appearing in This Issue
Simpliworsted by Hikoo® (55% Merino Superwash, 28% Acrylic, 17% Nylon; 140 yds per 100g skein). Color: 611, Earth and Sky.
addi® Olive Wood circular needles size US 4, 16 inch (40 cm)
Designer, teacher, author and illustrator Franklin Habit is the author of It Itches: A Stash of Knitting Cartoons (Interweave Press, 2008). His new book, I Dream of Yarn: A Knit and Crochet Coloring Book has was brought out by Soho Publishing in May, 2016 and is in its second printing.
He travels constantly to teach knitters at shops and guilds across the country and internationally; and has been a popular member of the faculties of such festivals as Vogue Knitting Live!, STITCHES Events, Squam Arts Workshops, Sock Summit, and the Madrona Fiber Arts Winter Retreat.
Franklin’s varied experience in the fiber world includes contributions of writing and design to Vogue Knitting, Yarn Market News, Interweave Knits, Interweave Crochet, PieceWork, Twist Collective; and a regular columns and cartoons for Knitty.com, PLY Magazine, Lion Brand Yarns, and Skacel Collection. Many of his independently published designs are available via Ravelry.com.
He is the longtime proprietor of The Panopticon, one of the most popular knitting blogs on the Internet. On an average day, upwards of 2,500 readers worldwide drop in for a mix of essays, cartoons, and the continuing adventures of Dolores the Sheep.
Franklin lives in Chicago, Illinois, cohabiting shamelessly with 15,000 books, a Schacht spinning wheel, three looms, and a colony of yarn that multiplies whenever his back is turned.