Wonder Woofin II: Ply Like an Eagle

fwf-logo-columnsizeFor an introduction to what goes on in this column, click here.

Another Halloween has come and gone.

I happily observed several of my own favorite seasonal customs, including re-reading The Turn of the Screw, watching “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!” twice, and re-watching Sally Brown’s spectacular concluding tirade a dozen times.

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“YOU OWE ME RESTITUTION!” Image from “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!”courtesy and © Warner Home Video.

Then I wandered over to Walgreens at midnight and waited for them to put all the leftover candy on sale for half price.

Since last Thursday’s sneak preview, Rosamund has made the rounds in her new costume, knit from HiKoo Simpliworsted.

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Her heroic efforts to return the rabbits, squirrels, and pigeons of our Chicago neighborhood to the side of peace and justice earned her many cookies and pats on the head.

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“Come out here! It’s not too late–we can live in peace and harmony!”

She posed for souvenir photos with tourists visiting Wrigley Field. And she was quite the toast of our favorite hangout, Murphy’s Bleachers, when we paused for refreshment during a long patrol.

 

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Making the world safe is thirsty work.

We will call this a success.

I plan to raise the neckline about three inches to make it more suitable for long-term wear as part of Rosamund’s wardrobe of winter sweaters. She loves wearing clothes (except hats–therefore no tiara with the costume). And in our neck of the woods, no domesticated animal with a coat as fine as hers is safe outdoors in midwinter without extra warmth.

I’ve had many requests for the pattern, which is immensely flattering. Patterns for dog sweaters are notoriously problematic, though.

Dogs vary in shape and size to an extent that makes the grading system used to re-size human garments almost useless. A chihuahua, a dachshund, and a mastiff are the not same figure scaled upwards; you cannot just add stitches and rows to a chihuahua sweater to fit it on a mastiff. And that’s to say nothing at all of mixed breeds.

The best way to knit a sweater for a dog is to tailor the sweater to THAT dog. This is not particularly difficult, and in fact is a great way to dip your toe into the shallow end of the knit-to-fit pool.

Rosamund’s knit-to-fit Halloween sweater is the same basic shape I knit for her in this series and this series, with changes to color, ease, and detail.

If you wish to knit for your dog, the best thing to do is:

  • become familiar with the method of measuring and calculating I laid out in the first series and refined a bit in the second series,
  • sketch out some ideas for what shape, fit, and details you want,
  • take your dog’s measurements,
  • knit and measure an ample gauge swatch,
  • do a bit of math, and
  • cast on, knitting to fit as you go along.

That’s why I’m not going to take you through the whole process of making this sweater from start to finish. It’s ground we’ve covered before.

I was already familiar with the yarn–HiKoo Simpliworsted is fantastic for pet sweaters, being both tough and washable. I took a new set of measurements to see if Rosamund had changed shape appreciably. (She hadn’t.)

And I sketched, because sketching pushes me to think out those all-important transition points in a project. For example, should the costume’s waistband sit a Rosamund’s own natural waist, just behind her ribs? (Yes.) Should I attempt some sort of trompe l’oeil effect near the shoulders to suggest a strapless bustier? (No.) (NO.)

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After that, I knit to the measurements–simple. Well, simple except when my math was wrong and my rate of decrease at the neckline was so slow that by the time I sensed a problem, the neck of the sweater was long enough to accommodate a baby giraffe.

Big Yellow Birdie

A gold eagle across the chest was a must, as we were paying homage to the 1940s/50s vision of the superhero in question.

I thought I might do the eagle in intarsia, but ultimately settled on duplicate stitch–a form of embroidery also sometimes called Swiss darning. (I don’t know why it’s supposed to be Swiss. I couldn’t find a truly plausible explanation anywhere. Switzerland isn’t the only place it’s found, and in fact doesn’t seem to be any more proprietary about it than any other country full of knitters.)

Why duplicate stitch?

Partly for ease of working. I wanted to knit the upper part of the sweater in the round, with steeks for the legs. Intarsia can be done in the round, most happily with Anne Berk’s “Annetarsia” method–as we saw in this series. But intarsia is best for large, solid shapes; the eagle, as I first charted it out, had rather a lot of detail.

I thought of knitting the gold and afterwards using duplicate stitch to embroider the red details. That would have been silly, though–duplicate stitch will (especially at a worsted gauge) stand out a bit from the base fabric. We wouldn’t want the background overshadowing the foreground. So why not knit with red and duplicate stitch in gold?

The other advantage to duplicate stitch: I could look at the finished chest, count the available stitches and rows, and figure out exactly where to place the eagle.

Eagle Charting

If you’re going to work a motif in duplicate stitch, most likely you’ll want to follow a chart. If you make your own, on ready-made graph paper with a square grid, beware of the distortion this will cause. Your knit stitches are unlikely to be square, unless you achieve a plain stockinette gauge in which your stitch and row counts are identical.

So in plotting a duplicate stitch chart, take advantage of so-called “knitter’s” graph paper, in which the grid is made up of rectangles that mimic the proportions of your stitches. A little Web searching will uncover multiple sources of printable papers, some of which will allow you to type in numbers from your swatch and get a custom grid. (I hesitate to link to any, because the addresses of such sites change constantly.)

Knitter’s graph paper will allow you to create a design with the confidence that your finished motif will not be distorted. I began by sketching mine with a pencil, then moved over (in the interest of saving time) to a computer program. About an hour of messing around got me to this point.

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The working draft, jiggles and all.

The rough-and-ready cut-and-paste method I used in Adobe Illustrator to move the gold stitches around makes it rather jiggly, but it was enough to get a nod of approval from a friend whose comic book expertise I trust. I knew how many stitches and rows I had to work with because I was able to count them on the finished chest. (I counted three times, to make sure.)

With the chart ready and the sweater ready, I could start stitching.

Eagle Placement

Now, if you’ve never embroidered something like this before, you may well wonder how you know where to begin. The answer is that most embroidery (not all, most) will begin near the center of the design.

First, find the center of your chart and mark it with a line. Most often, you’ll mark the center horizontally and vertically. But you don’t have to do only that. You can mark whatever parts of the design you feel will help you keep track of where you are. On large designs like this, I often add guidelines either at regular intervals or (as with the eagle) along key points of the motif like the top and bottom of the body.

Here’s the chart with my guidelines added in white.

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Next, you mark those same guidelines on your fabric. There are many ways to do it, but on knitted or crochet fabrics I prefer thread tracing.

Grab a highly contrasting yarn or thread, one that does not appear anywhere in the embroidery. In this case I’m using some spare white Simpliworsted.  Thread it on your needle and sew a running/basting stitch lines in exactly the places your guidelines appear on the chart.

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(I had to use my phone camera in the available lousy light on an airplane–therefore the lousy picture. I think it will, at least, show you the idea.)

Usually I’d prefer to use something finer to trace the lines, like a doubled strand of sewing thread. But as I was working away from home, on an airplane, without recourse to stash, I used what I had. That’s what you do. That’s life.

Once your fabric is marked, it’s merely a question of counting out from a guideline to your starting point of choice and beginning to embroider. As your thread-traced lines gradually grow superfluous, it’s okay to take them out.

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So let’s talk about how duplicate stitch is worked.

Eagle Stitching

Duplicate stitch is one of the simplest forms of embroidery, and is so called because the embroidery stitches mimic the shapes of the knit stitches underneath. Ideally, once duplicate stitch is complete it looks as though the embroidery is part of the knitting. Often, it’s used to add small details to intarsia projects when just a stitch or two of a certain color is needed.

It can be done on stockinette, ribbing, and garter stitch; but it’s easiest to learn on stockinette.

You’ll want to use a blunt needle–the sort you use for weaving in ends is fine–and a yarn the same weight as the yarn you used to knit the fabric.

The basic stitch is no more than this:

  1. Come up from the wrong side, at the base of the stitch to be duplicated–the point marked A in the diagram.
  2. Insert the needle beneath the “shoulders” of the stitch as shown in the diagram and pull the yarn through.
  3. Send the needle down to the wrong side again at point A, pulling the yarn through until the tension of the embroidered stitch matches the tension of the knitted stitch.
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Come up at A, behind the shoulders of the stitch, and go down at A.

To duplicate a block of stitches, you’ll generally want to work in rows from the bottom to the top, right to left. (Left-handed embroiderers may prefer to work bottom to top, left to right.) So, our next stitch in the row begun above would start at the asterisk (see diagram below), and proceed as directed above.

 

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Come up at the asterisk, which now serves as hole A, and repeat the directions above.

With every other row in a block of duplicate stitches, turn the work 180 degrees so that your first row is worked with the motif right-side up, the next with the motif upside-down. This isn’t strictly necessary, but may be less taxing on your fingers, and means you will always be working right-to-left or left-to-right. The stitching will be identical, though hole A will be above the stitch you’re duplicating rather than below it (see diagram below).

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The first row of three stitches having been completed, the work is rotated 180 degrees. The first stitch of the new row begins at A.

For single columns of duplicate stitches (there are lots of those in the eagle), work from the bottom to the top.

Tips:

 

If you want to work different parts of the design with the same length of yarn, take care not to carry the embroidery yarn more than a scant inch across the wrong side. It gets messy, causing lumps that distort the right side of the work.

Start and end each length of yarn by leaving 6-inch tails on the wrong side of the fabric. When that group is complete, weave the tails under the stitches on the wrong side to secure them and trim the tail short.

That’s all there is to it. Stop and examine your work-in-progress frequently. Not only will this help you catch and fix errors before you are very far gone; but it may also help you improve your design.

I found as I worked that a lot of the stitches I’d charted to shape the top of the wings were overkill–I only needed about two blocks across the top to get a perfectly fine effect. Since tons and tons of duplicate stitching can interfere with the stretch and drape of a piece of knitting, paring it down to just what’s essential is always advisable.

The finished eagle:

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Coming Up: Star Booty and Muffin Top

The costume also needed decoration at the other end: five-pointed stars across the tush. I could have used duplicate stitch for those, as well; but instead went with an embroidery stitch that gave me a far better result and was fun to work, too. In two weeks, I’ll give you the full details in glorious color.

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The lasso is made from lucet cord–but that’s a topic for another day.

And speaking of glorious color, we’ll also be releasing a free pattern for the Tricolor Muffin hat, with suggestions for alternate color trios in HiKoo Simplicity and coordinating LOVaFur Pompoms. Red, white, and blue will be far from your only options. Both Simplicity yarns and the LOVaFur pompoms are presently on sale…

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The Tricolor Muffin:Free Pattern Arriving Soon

Tools and Materials Appearing in This Issue

HiKoo Simpliworsted (55% Merino Wool, 25% Acrylic, 17% Nylon. 140 yards per 100 gram hank)
HiKoo Simplicity (55% Merino Wool, 28% Acrylic, 17% Nylon. 117 yards per 50 gram hank)
LOVaFUR Handmade Vegan Fur Pompom (shown in red/white/blue)
addi® Click Turbo Interchangeable Needle

About Franklin

Designer, teacher, author and illustrator Franklin Habit is the author of It Itches: A Stash of Knitting Cartoons (Interweave Press, 2008). His newest book, I Dream of Yarn: A Knit and Crochet Coloring Book 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, the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, Squam Arts Workshops, the Taos Wool Festival, 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 KnittingYarn Market News, Interweave KnitsInterweave CrochetPieceWorkTwist Collective; and a regular columns and cartoons for Mason-Dixon Knitting, PLY Magazine, Lion Brand Yarns, and Skacel Collection/Makers’ Mercantile. 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 (presently on hiatus).

Franklin lives in Chicago, Illinois, cohabiting shamelessly with 15,000 books, a Schacht spinning wheel, four looms, and a colony of yarn that multiplies whenever his back is turned.

Follow Franklin online via Twitter (@franklinhabit), Instagram (@franklin.habit), his Web site (franklinhabit.com) or his Facebook page.

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