My next knitting project

I haven’t even finished my first knitting project and I am thinking about the next one. Not a problem – as the thinking and planning time is the most important aspect of a project, in my view. And I need help! Oh yes. Quite a lot of help.

I want to knit another top. Probably another jumper (not ready to move on to a cardigan yet) or perhaps a sleeveless jumper (tank top). I would like to try a new technique and I am keen to add some colour. So I am thinking a kind of fair isle type pattern. I think I am ready to learn how to do the stranding across the back. Maybe it’s a bit ambitious, but I am keen to learn, as you know. Here is a nice old pattern I got in a charity shop.

BP 1940s Fairisle
1940s four ply “Swedish sweater”

The two issues I have are fit, and fabric. There is so much information out there about knitting but I don’t really know where to start, or if it is reliable. When I consult the internet for sewing information I can judge the quality of the information. With knitting I am so inexperienced – I haven’t even made one garment yet.

The world appears to be absolutely full of both patterns (selling dreams, according to Bunny) and yarns. I do not know where to start in making a selection.

Let me explain my worries and issues, and what I would like some suggestions on. .

Fit

When I selected my first jumper project I didn’t think too much about fit. I just wanted something I could pull on over my head and I assumed, with it being a knit, that it would mould to the body so long as it wasn’t too baggy. But my first jumper is a tube. Readers suggested I might want a more fitted shape. And of course I am attracted to those 1940s patterns that show off the waist. But there are several alarm bells here for me.

  • Getting a close fit will be much more difficult in terms of knitting
  • I would have to get a pattern made for my size – these vintage patterns seem to be one sized and I haven’t got enough experience to grade up or down (is that even a word in knitting?)
  • Vintage patterns were knitted in vintage yarns eg 3 ply which doesn’t seem to be a standard product anymore. One web site suggests using 4 ply and smaller needles – most of her patterns are 34 bust and she says that the 4ply should produce closer to a 36″ bust (which I definitely don’t want).
  • I have no idea if modern yarns will work for vintage patterns, and if they do how to convert them so that they perform in a similar way in terms of size
  • With Fair Isle I get the impression that the garment is basically double thickness due to carrying the other yarn across the back of the garment. I imagine this affects flexibility and stretch. Does this affect fit too?
  • So far I don’t have the confidence even to lengthen a knitted garment in the torso or sleeve, although I am pretty sure it just involves knitting extra rows in a place where there is no pattern or shaping – using my sewing experience. How do I cope with making a garment to fit?

Fabric

If I make a well fitted garment, by definition I will be wearing it next to the skin, therefore I need it to be soft and comfortable. This is probably my biggest issue. As a child I resolutely refused to wear anything made out of wool – knitted or sewn. The thought of a scratchy collar on a tweedy coat is one of my absolute nightmare childhood experiences (I know, compared to most people’s childhood, that is nothing). Instead of a coat we settled on a wind-jammer (which had some sort of polyester wadding in it) , and instead of woollies I would wear velour type tops, or acrylic (the only side effect being electrified hair). The jersey below was white with light blue stripes. I think the windjammer was light blue too. The alice band was red.

These days I wouldn’t buy an acrylic pullover (sweaty, cheap looking), so I generally buy cashmere jumpers for comfort, beauty, durability and colour.

  • What sort of fibre has the right combination of strength, flexibility and softness? I used alpaca for “my first jumper” and it is quite soft, although I have been warned it will pill? What about cotton, silk, merino or alpaca for a fair-isle? Is it possible to knit with cashmere – if so any suggestions of what type and from where?
  • Would you consider synthetics eg microfiber? Probably the ideal is a mix?
  • If I choose say a four ply merino yarn, for example, do I have to stick to the same brand for all my colours (rather limiting) or can I combine with other four plys? Or just merino four plys? Is this all about washing the garment or is the standard “four ply” or “double knit” rather vague?
  • If we need to stick to one brand and type there cannot be much subtlely to the design as there is “red”, “pink”, “blue” etc when I might actually like three or four shades of a similar colour – when I made an embroidered blouse I was able to buy around seven shades of the same bluish pink.
    Folkwear embroidery Fabrickated
    McCalls 1385 Embroidered yokes

    That’s what I would like, ideally.

  • The yarns that come in lots of colours (probably ideally suited for colour work rather than knitting entire garments) seem to be at the scratchy/hardwearing end of the softness spectrum.

I will carry on doing my own research, but (as ever) I would appreciate your feedback. I will also look in the shops this weekend.

60 Responses

  1. IMO tension is the single most important skill to master in order to produce a sweater which has stranded color patterns. If your tension varies it will look very ‘home made’ in the least happy sense. I would strongly encourage you to knit a child’s faire isle cardigan sweater because you would find out how well you can manage tension both for the stranding and for the size and it won’t ruin the project if you end up with a chest size of 16″ instead of 18″, a charity will still gladly accept it. A cardigan is no more difficult than the ‘tube’ you are currently knitting. Anyone who can knit in the dark on their first sweater is both fearless and skillful. You’ll figure it out with very little effort.
    Cashmere yarn is very expensive and I’ve only found it in fingering which is the ultra fine gauge. My choice would be merino because it is available in the widest range of colors and gauges. Unfortunately, I suggest you buy only one brand for this first sweater. Even though two yarns by different companies could be dk and appear to be exactly the same size you might find they knit up just slightly different, but enough that all of, for example, the dark green areas are a slightly thinner fabric than everywhere else. OTOH if you knit the infant sweater in wools from different companies using exactly the wool you want to use for your own sweater it would give you a chance to test drive their compatibility.
    (I can’t supply an opinion on any of the synthetic yarns since I don’t use them. Almost all of my knitting is done for charity using 100% wool I find at charity shops or reclaim from sweaters purchased at charity shops so I’ve had lots of experience making stranded patterns with yarn from different companies.)
    I don’t know if shipping would be prohibitive but I recommend the interchangeable needles from Knit Picks (http://www.knitpicks.com/ ). I’m not associated with the company but love their needles, the cables come in many, many lengths and they always stay flexible. I’ve also purchased some of their yarns and have been happy with them but I’d think you could source yarn from much closer to home.
    Knitty.com is a free online knitting magazine whose articles may be helpful and if you haven’t joined Ravelry yet do.it.now.

    • Dear Verity – thank you so much for this wonderful information. And how nice that you specifically knit for charity. I often feel that half my sewing is effectively for the charity shop (but usually because i don’t really want to wear what I make) – whereas I am sure that your knitting is purposeful and really loved by the recipients. I will research various online vendors – generally buying from the US (where you have the best of everything available because of your huge market and amazingly wide range of manufacturers) is expensive for us due to import duties. At the moment we still have the whole of Europe….

  2. I know next-to-nothing except that the Ravelry web site seems to be the place where knitters share everything there is to know. I wonder if you want to try everything at once, or perhaps one thing at a time, e.g., first color work, then fitting. There are so many ways to cast on for example, each having its place. For sheer gloriousness take a look at Kate Davies website.

    • A yes, a sensible approach, and one I probably will follow dear Elle. Build up my expertise and skill gradually. First use colour. Then create a shaped garment. Then try cables. Then Fair Isle. Then a shaped, vintage, fair isle top that I have adjusted to fit. And finally design your own jumper. Then try an advanced pattern, or something using a very fine yarn, or maybe socks. I assume they are the worst, but that could be wrong. I may be grown up and sensible enough to proceed in this way. Or I may just go with something exciting, well beyond me and either win or lose, but spectacularly.

  3. I’ve only done fairisle on a knitting machine. It did turn out thicker than stocking stitch in the same yarn due to carrying the yarns across the back. I wonder if you should buy a few different yarns and do some samples? Jamieson and Smith do 2 ply wool, I’ve used cotton, silk, and bamboo in crochet.

    • Samples Jay! That is the answer. Thank you for suggesting it. And machine knitting really appeals to me, except for the equipment which would worry me.

  4. To be honest I think getting a vintage sweater pattern to fit might be quite difficult if you aren’t used to working with different yarns or techniques, but the good news is that there are a lot of modern designers who write lovely patterns that you can get to fit

    You might try Ysolda Teague, her book Little Red in the City talks a lot about fit. Amy Herzog is also a fitting expert.

    Another designer I like a lot is Debbie Bliss. She has a lot of lovely patterns many of which have that vintage feel about them. She also does a range of yarns so you don’t have the worry of whether you are using the right wool or not.

    Your namesake Kate Davies is also wonderful, although I have struggled to get the tension she requires. Her blog is inspirational and if it’s fair isle you are after you cant go to a better place.

    Ravelry is a good place to start if you want to look up these designers!

    • I am begining to reduce my ambitions at the moment! I now think using modern patterns is a better idea at this stage in my knitting development.

  5. Oh you are a very brave woman, Kate. Fair Isle (IMO) is really really hard and I have been knitting for 100 years or so. I made various items for my eldest when she was a toddler and they were gorgeous and cute, but that was on a much smaller scale, literally. My problem is with making sure there are no holes and no tight bits where you change colours. And of course toddler jumpers are not fitted so I didn’t have that worry. With fit I would be looking for a modern pattern because shapes (fashion) have changed a lot over the decades. 4 ply wool takes oh so much longer to knit but produces a nice fine Fair Isle, and 8 ply is quicker to knit with (obviously!) If using different brands of wool, you would need to make sure the wool is the same ply, the same mix, for example I like to knit with a mix of 60% alpaca and 40% wool (from Bendigo Woollen Mills). I guess self-patterned yarn is out of the question? I’m really looking forward to reading other replies as everyone is so helpful and encouraging with their comments! Good luck!

    • Yes, you and everyone else, have been so encouraging and helpful and I have already learned a lot. I have gone off the Fair Isle a bit since writing this. I think I am going to knit a simple garment but introduce colour. Maybe just one line of Fair Isle? But right now I haven’t been able to finish the first jumper. So I am going on holiday and will have another go when we get back.

  6. How about looking at Susan Crawford patterns – she translates vintage patterns so that they work with modern yarns and are in multiple sizes. In terms of colourwork, maybe start with something a bit less ambitious than a jumper. Or pick a jumper where the colourwork is just round the yoke (so that you don’t have to steek – cut your knitting – for the armholes; stranded colourwork is much easier on the knit side, so jumpers and cardigans are normally done in the round and then cut). Kate Davies (who has the best knitting blog, along with Yarn Harlot) has done an book devoted to colourwork yokes.

    • Ah yes – colour at the yoke – brilliant idea. I am just struggling with the yoke on my first jumper at the moment, so maybe the hat idea is better. Thanks.

  7. And do a small project in the round (like a hat for one of your grandchildren) so you can get the hang of stranded colourwork using both hands (right = English knitting, left = continental) – vastly easier. And do it….colourwork is REALLY fun.

    • My grandsons are actually in a knitting pattern book – wearing hats! I will have to share that in due course. Thanks Miriana.

  8. I’ve had some more thoughts – hope this isn’t bombarding you with too much information but you have inspired me to think about knitting again and I’m getting all excited about the thought of winter jumpers.

    Another favourite designer of mine is Kim Hargreaves. You can find her books online or in John Lewis. I also suggest that if you are over near Islington to visit Loop which is the knitting shop to end all knitting shops.

    In terms of yarn. Can I suggest you trying somethings in cotton? Alternatively you might want to look at Cashmerino which is a very smooth yarn often used for baby clothing. It comes in different weights and I think is sold by both Rowan and Debbie Bliss. There are also lots of very luxurious yarns many of which are handmade by artisanal spinners. It really depends on how much you want to spend

    • Well, I don’t want to spend too much at first, but I do want to buy a quality yarn as I want comfort and durability. As ever we seem to want it all Jane. Good tips and I will have to try Loop in my Lunch hour. See you soon!

  9. Barbarags

    If you are looking for fine yarns then you might look at the Yeoman yarns web site. I admit that these are intended chiefly for machine knitters and thus come on cone in the main. For softness I like Drops Silk and Alpaca, avaibable in 4 ply and lace weight. Bamboo is also soft but there is limited plies available.
    Fair Isle does give a thicker garment than just knitting with one yarn. It is essential that you are confident about being able to be produce a consistent tension despite changing yarns. Therefore, if I were a beginner, I would not use different makes of yarns in the same garment. I think Kerry’s suggestion of trying it out in a yoke only. Or Miriana about trying a hat, there are lots of patterns for Fair Isle berets around and they do not take much yarn. My library seems to be full of books to knit hats for adults and children so you could browse your local library.

    • Barbara – thanks for the tips. I have just ordered some Drops (silk and alpaca) in four ply – so much cheaper than other brands – on your recommendation. I have managed to procure some ex-library and second hand knitting books that I will now investigate. Thanks so much for your advice and support.

  10. In terms of vintage patterns being redrafted, there are some books by Christina Probert, ‘Knitting in Vogue’, published in the 1980s. She takes old patterns and offers an update on both sizing and wool types. The info about yarns is itself out of date now, but the whole series is fascinating – I’m knitting a cotton cardigan originally from 1951 this summer. There are some Fair Isle patterns, too. All books available in second-hand editions through Amazon this morning!

    • Guess what Catherine? I got two of her books with some amazing patterns in them. I had owned one of them back in the 1980s and they are perfect and just what I wanted. Many thanks for reminding me.

  11. Agree with all of the above about tension. If you pull the threads too tight it will look puckered and come out smaller, and never lay straight. Remember if blocking when using natural fibres Im sure you can shrink or stretch to size , within reason. Im quite new to blocking, though I have knitted since being a child, so I would look into that further. Another tip I find working with two strands in one row is a lot easier than three for a beginner.
    Mixing yarns is okay, I would say. obviously same ply, and fibre content and same twist. Wool preference; I like using Drops wool, they make wool with mostly natural fibres and its a good price, Debbie Bliss and Rowando good wools too. It is a minefield, too much choice.
    Ravelry really is a brilliant site and I would definitely have a good look around it for help and advice (how I wish there was a sewing site designed the same as Ravelry, wouldnt that be fantastic, SewingPatternRevew is closest but still not as good) Increasing or decreasing length is just how you thought less or more rows. Knitting isn’t complicated, Its just all the resources out there that makes it all confusing.
    I have to say put Knit pro interchangeable needles on you Christmas list if you are going to do lots of knittings they are such a clever design if you enjoy knitting with circulars.
    Last resort. You could find a 4ply pattern and transfer the design of the above onto the pattern I found this pattern in 4 ply http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/oakworth which is fairly similar shape, make the rib a little deeper. You are very clever and creative and you could easily do this,maybe with the help of graph paper. Hope Im not baffling you more 🙂

  12. http://www.deramores.com is a really good online shop for all types of wool. They sell not just their own but also from France and other countries overseas. They have a huge variety and the prices vary. I am so pleased you are interested interested in fair isle. It is my absolute favourite and timeless.

  13. Yep, tension, and Ravelry. I’ve always been lucky [on the rare occasions I knot] as I seem to naturally keep tension fine. I do have a weird death grip approach with the needles though, so my hands hurt like hell after protracted knitting stints [the only way I do it, about one garment every 5 or 6 years]
    I know where you’re coming from though- there is nothing more vile to my mind than miles of ‘plain’ knitting…other tha n knitting rib of course. Ech. I love aran and fair isle, but baby clothes are best for starters. Getting those yarn loops nice and even is a beast. Oooh, idea for quick practice: a fair isle tea cosy!

    • Two garments a decade Demented Fairy! That’s a surprise given your dominance of the stitching world. And yes plain knitting would have driven me mad at one stage, but actually I think I am coming to that stage of life when restful, zen like, activity may be the thing I crave. An a tea cosy is a fun idea although I am unfortunately a tea bag lady (even though you may be a loose tea lady!).

  14. There’s some good advice here. I can see some obvious pitfalls that may throw an inexperienced knitter, decreasing in pattern, picking up dropped stitches, and undoing multiple strand work, all of which may be necessary for any knitter regardless of experience.

    Limit yourself to two colours and a small project, headband, coaster, they may seem boring but aren’t really much bigger than swatches and will give you time to practice working with more than one yarn at a time.

    This may be useful: http://www.womansweekly.com/knitting/fair-isle-knitting-5-top-tips-perfect-colourwork-15094/

  15. Stephanie

    Well this is a minefield! You have received good advice and you are adventurous and so I am sure you will give this a go. Tension is key, as everyone says. Options are many and resizing a little bit is not hard – amounting for you to adding a few rows and increasing a few stitches here and there, provided you are nor measing wit a detailed colourwork part. For ideas you could look at Sarah Dallas’s Vintage Knits book if you can find it in your local library. She updated a few vintage knits with simple Fair Isle in that book and also for Rowan for a number of years back. That said I think her patterns are written for flat knitting, which you’d likely want to adapt.

    It’s blasphemous in the knitting community to say this, but while I love and admire Kate Davies’s writing and research I am not in love with her design aesthetic in jumpers and her fit always looks unflattering to me (snug armholes, wide bottom bands or details that look unbalanced). That said I am sure the patterns are well written and easy to follow. She has some simple yoke patterns in her Yokes book including one or two with flowers that I have thought of adapting. It is too bad that Gudrun Johnson hasn’t yet ventured much into Fair Isle yet as she writes a nice pattern.

    Yarn choices are more difficult if you crave softness rather than the traditional wool for this kind of knitting. There are tons of options though and I think you have much more choice in England in the finer weights than I do over here. I am not an expert FI knitter but as always am happy to offer an opinion if I have one. I certainly wouldn’t be the expert on this project. Oh you could take a look at Brooklyn Tweed patterns to for ideas as to how to add a bit of Fair Isle to a design that has a big impact without being overly difficult to knit.

  16. The reason fairisle is done with the more rustic wools is that the “stickiness” makes for a better fabric and is a must when you are making a “steeked” (cut with scissors) cardigan. Stranded cardigan’s are done that way so that you do not have to do color work on purl rounds. Fair isle is just one type of stranded color work.

    It isn’t hard, but I do suggest a smaller project first, hats or maybe just a band of it on a mostly plain sweater.

    I highly recommend the videos on the Philosopher’s Wool website for 2 handed color work.

    https://www.philosopherswool.com/Pages/Twohandedvideo.htm

    Also however you hold your yarn in your dominate hand, you must hold the yarn in the same method with the other. That was the trick that made it work for me.

    • I have now had a chance to research fairisle Carol and I know what you mean about stickiness. I am going to have a practice at the two handed knitting – it sounds very intriguing to me. I have now got a few patterns that might work on a small scale and want to try a hat. However I especially can’t stand itchy wool around the face and head so I will have to do it with something soft. It’s all learning, isn’t it? Thanks for your comment and link Carol.

    • I was going to comment on this too – Cotton won’t work for the traditional fairisle since you really do knit big tubes and then cut them into pieces! First time I did it I was terrified and added in some machine zigzagging along the seam lines for added security – it wasn’t really necessary since the wool held on to itself so well. Cotton fairisle garments usually get around this by having you knit back and forth so that there aren’t cut ends – but I really don’t enjoy doing color work backwards on each row! 2-handed, 2-color work really feels amazing when you’re on a roll.

      Knit picks was already mentioned – their standard inexpensive “palette” line is quite good for fairisle and pretty soft. Their Merino/silk “Gloss” line is to die for. When I was in the UK this spring I had some yarn shipped to me and it was surprisingly inexpensive.

      One other note – fairisles with long floats (i.e., one colored stitch occasionally with long running threads in between) can be less stretchy if you’re not careful to “weave in” the float and keep it loose. 2-handed work is great for this since there’s a little twist you can do with each color to weave in every 2-3 stitches in a way that is invisible from the front.

      • Thank you Rowena – you definitely have added quite a lot there for me. I can really visualise the steeking – especially zig zagging first – and the mention of how to manage the floats. Yes – I really understand what you mean here. Thanks alot.

  17. Anne Frances

    Can i second the suggestion that you join ravelry and put these questions – or some of them – there? You will get a lot of helpful ideas.
    If you are thinking of interchangeable needles I would say it might be worth looking at Hiya hiya. I really like mine. They are available in the UK online, and the yarn shop in Oxford stocks them, which might be accessible on the way to your new house! (They also seem to have three ply yarn). I found that Knitpicks tend to untwist their joins as I knit. This must be something to do with how I handle the needles making each stitch. Hiya hiya have some sort of swivel mechanism in them so the joint between needle point and cable doesn’t untwist. I believe Chiagoo do too, but I haven’t seen or tried them. But Loop in Islington stock them, apparently, if, as far as I can see, only in the very small lace/sock knitting sizes. But you could talk to them about that – they must be close enough to get to in the lunch hour!
    Good luck!
    Anne

    • I joined Ravlery Anne, but again find it a bit like turning up in a forest without a map – a little intimidating, but I will surely find my way around once I have a few basics mastered. And thanks for the tips off about the Yarn Shop Oxford and Loop in Islington. My experience in John Lewis was desultory.

      • birdmommy

        Ravelry can be helpful once you find a yarn you think you’d like to use. Take a look at the reviews: is it in a lot of stashes (i.e. a lot of people use it)? Does it have a good rating? You can also see what projects people chose to use the yarn for. Do you like the finished look of their projects? Did they knit the same type of project you’re thinking of?

        I’m interested in trying Any Herzog’s Custom Fit patterns. It does all the math for stuff like bust shaping, and you tell it what gauge you got with your preferred yarn, needle size, and stitch pattern.

  18. Just to add…
    1. I prefer hand dyed yarns…but be careful because some may bleed colour on washing…a disaster for fair isle. Also, no dye lots…so alternate rows, using 2 skeins at once….to blend colour.
    2. Avoid scratchy wool by buying “super wash”. Has been chemically treated to remove the scratch….and is machine washable. More money, but nicer!
    3. Go on Ravelry.com. Single best thing you can do. I am “Afriendlyknitter”.
    4. Buy “Vogue Knitting…the ultimate knitting book”. The bible.
    5. Buy a good set of interchangeable circular needles. Try them out in the store first…it is preference. I chose “Addi Lace”. Love them. German made. Smooth joints.
    6. Warning: wool has spring…cotton and linen do not. Therefore, if you make a sweater using cotton for a sweater that was meant for wool you will get a much different fit. Also, alpaca droops…..so your sweater will “grow” in length.
    7. My philosophy: you get what you pay for. If you are going to spend hours and hours painstakingly knitting a garment, go the distance and buy quality yarn. Cheap yarn will look cheap….why bother?
    8. I think we have differing tastes in clothes….but one of my favorite designers is Stephan West. Right now I am knitting The Doodler Shawl. It’s absolutely gorgeous, and the most fun to knit! I plan to make more…and give as gifts. Also bought one of his vest patterns as I tried it on in my local yarn shop and loved it. – BTW, I plan to drop into his shop in Amsterdam in a coupe of weeks. Very exciting! ~
    9. Knitting is addictive. Remember to rest your hands every 20-30 min…and stretch them….or you will have pain! Posture matters too!
    10. I wish you lived closer…I think we could be great friends!

    • I accidentally bought Addi circular needles and really like them – the idea of an interchangeable set is very appealing. I am glad to hear that Alpaca will grow (I used to have an Acrylic sweater as a kid that did that – alarmingly!) as my first sweater is a bit small for wearing over things, I think. I am only knitting in bursts really – to be honest as a break from sewing, but thanks so much for the health and safety tips. I bought a lovely Vogue pattern book – I think it is a brand I can trust. Finally I am not really a shawl type person although I do love the work you, and other lacey types, have achieved with colour. I wish you lived closer too – we have lots in common – why not pop over when you are in the Netherlands?

      • The funny thing is, that I don’t wear shawls either…but I have seen The Doodler now twice and loved both. I found out on Ravelry that it is VERY popular. I am almost done…then I will block it and snap a photo.
        We actually considered going to England prior Sweden…but I have already been there (although over 30 years ago)….so we chose Amsderdam. I missed it during my back packing days….and have always been curious. Plus, we both enjoy looking at great art…and oh my gosh….there will lots of that!
        If you have interest in a simple tank top to make, I have made “Newest leaves tank” 3 times now. No seams, knit in the round. The bonus when working in the round is that you never do purl stitches…always just knit stitches…which I find easier….
        Knitting is magic, isn’t it?

  19. I forgot to add….you can make “Top-down” sweaters. I have made a tank top that is top-down and on circular needles in the round. I like it so much that I have made it now 3 times…and have perfected the fit.
    Benefits:
    a) I can try it on and make it as long as I like
    b) no seams! It is completely seamless. It is called “Newest Leaves Tank” by Kristina McGowan in her book “More modern top down knitting”. You can buy it on Ravelery I think. (I like it both with and without the I-cord edging. 2 different looks.)

  20. You certainly have raised many questions. As others have said, tension and gauge are the most important. It isn’t difficult to resize instructions, it just takes some math and being certain of the gauge you get with the yarn and needles you have chosen. I knit a test square about 4 inches (100 cm) and measure the inner 3 inches. Count stitches carefully as being off by 1/2 a stitch will make your garment several inches too big or small. Then readjust your stitch count proportionally. If your finished garment is to measure 18 inches across the front chest and the instructions are written for a gauge of 6 stitches/inch (108 stitches) but you are knitting to 5 stitches/inch, then cast on 90 stitches (18 x 5) and you will end up with the correct size. Do the same for the row count. Knitted in cables or designs will make it more difficult as you will need to adjust the design to fit your stitch count.
    You are right that lighter weight yarns are more appropriate for intarsia or Fair Isle as both yarns get carried across the piece. I does take some practice to get the tension right as you don’t want the yarn being carried across the back to pull or be too loose and form loops. Also you need to twist the yarns when changing colors to avoid holes where the color changes.
    You should do fine. As someone noted, if you are already knitting in the dark, you’ve mastered the basics very quickly. From the responses there are loads of experienced knitters willing to help. I’m looking forward to seeing your finished works.

    • Sweet Mary – I had no idea until I picked this up that you had such expertise in knitting as well as clothes making, pattern cutting and draping. You are my hero! I am taking it all in, and I apologise for all the questions but I am keen to see if I can make a go of knitting. I have made so many clothes I really don’t need any more – at least not for a while. So I am thinking of learning new skills – knitting and hat making – in the meantime.

  21. Getting a well fitting pattern isn’t as hard as it seems, particularly for someone with your pattern drafting experience. Imagine putting a transparent grid over a flat pattern, and you have the essence of a knitting pattern. When considered with this perspective, it isn’t difficult to chart a pattern that fits you from a sloper and to use the elements of the vintage pattern you like onto your chart. I design knitwear, and that’s how I work – but I use vector software to convert digitized flat patterns to knitting charts.

    Stranded knitting is not difficult either (I only call patterns Fair Isle if that’s where they originate from). Try knitting with each hand carrying a yarn. As a continental knitter, I taught myself to throw with the right hand. It’s faster than to pick up whichever yarn you need when you need it.

    Wool is mostly used for stranded knitting, as it sticks to itself and steeks are easier (a steek is a cut in knitted fabric, necessary for flat knitted items worked circularly). I haven’t knit stranded in cashmere, but have in alpaca and used machine sewn steeks instead of hand worked ones. The fabric isn’t doubled, exactly, but the strands do add some bulk.

    My one caution is too regard knit fabric as a stable knit. Many rely on its flexibility, but the final result is distorted because of the fit (cables aren’s vertical, stranded patterns do not lie properly, etc). I do recommend you purchase a book – you really can’t go wrong with a general information knitting book, and Montse Stanley’s was a favourite of mine when I began to knit after years spent sewing and pattern drafting.

    • Thank you, dear Veronik, for providing such expert help and advice. I am beginning to think that maybe I could make my own patterns once I master the basics of knitting. I need more experience, of course, but your point here about a grid on a flat pattern is very helpful. And thank you for the correction on the stranded knitting – I will use that term in future. Are most sweaters effectively unisex? Is a large child’s size good for a woman? Thank you.

      • There’s no need to master knitting to tackle a pattern for oneself – the patterns are as they are for sewn knitting, but you are creating your fabric as you go along. Experience will be gained in the process.

        Nowadays, most sweaters aren’t unisex. Some can still be, but incorporate more ease than the pattern you are looking at. The circumference of a child’s large may seem like similar to a woman’s pattern, but the lengths may be off. Can you check your local library for modern books and magazines? Almost all patterns include schematics nowadays so that you may compare the finished measurements to yours, and the differences in shaping for men, women and children will be apparent. It also makes custom fitting much easier.

        • Thanks Veronik – you make me feel brave! Everything everyone has offered has caused me to think and to do more research. I am currently struggling with the shaping on my first jumper so I may be some time.

        • I am thinking of trying a child’s T shaped knit next. I like the simplicity of the design, although I know that a T won’t fit as well as something shaped for bust and waist.

    • Lots of great advice here Veronik – and below – you are very generous. I think regarding knitting as stable fabric is a huge insight for me. And I will try the two handed knitting. In fact I think I will make some samples of different stitches to get some practice and insight.

  22. Wow, so many issues to tackle with one project! First, figure out what you like about the vintage pattern so that you can incorporate those elements. Those yarns will no longer be available, so you’ll have to use something else that gets you what you want. Fortunately, there are many more choices now.
    1. Fit. Given your sewing background, you might like Shirley Paden’s book, Knitwear Desigh Workshop, shows you exactly how to design your own pattern. It is very detailed, and walks you through all the maths. An easier way would be to let Amy Herzog do the math with a custom fit pattern. You can base the design details on the vintage pattern you like. Both are on Ravelry.
    2. Any choice requires a gauge swatch with your chosen yarn. A small (child’s or bear) sweater would be perfect to practice everything, including auditioning yarns, and give you a better gauge for your own sweater.
    3. Stranded color work generally uses wool yarn because wool naturally “fills in” to make a cohesive fabric and cover the stranded yarn in back. Additionally, it has a natural stretch which is important . I made a baby sweater in stranded color work once out of cotton yarn which was totally unwearable because the strands across the back didn’t stretch. These days you can find very soft wools with some alpaca or cashmere which would work fine.
    4. yarn choices. You can mix yarns, but you do have to be aware of slight differences in thickness. The meters/gram will give you a pretty good approximation of how close different yarns are. Also yarnsub.com can help find similar yarns. There are some companies that have a broad color range, which would help. If you like her color palate, Carol Sunday, sundayknits.com, has very soft yarns in a wide variety of colors. Berocco Ultra Alpaca is a 50/50 mix of wool & alpaca (making it soft) that has a pretty good color range and different weights. Both are from the US, so shipping & exchange rate may be an issue. Keep looking. You don’t need a hundred colors, just a few that you like together.
    Good luck! You will certainly learn a lot!

    • Carin – thank you so much for taking the trouble to respond in such detail and with such expert advice. I had a hunch that Fairisle was best in wool, but I had no idea why. Also the idea of designing my own pattern really appeals to me as that is generally how I go with dressmaking. I am already hatching an idea of taking a plain sweater and putting a design into it. Not sure how yet, but I suspect I could learn.

    • This information is absolutely invaluable Carin. I am so grateful. I think I will stagger my knitting projects so I learn one new technique at a time. Having a crisis at the moment as my first jumper has hit a problem in terms of the yoke. I will have to pause and come back to it. Thank you for taking so much time and trouble to advise me.

  23. Quick response as heading out….. My suggestion… http://untangling-knots.com/shop/patterns/garments/geraldine/
    Andi Satterlunds patterns are vintage inspired and designed for a shaped waist – I have made a sweater and cardigan from her patterns – very detailed instructions and lots of made up examples on Ravelry.

  24. Hi Kate,
    I might be repeating what has already been said, but I haven’t read through all the replies. Do you belong to the library? If so, pop along and see if they have any books on Vintage style knitting (my library has about half a dozen). They will have taken inspiration from vintage patterns, or just updated actual vintage patterns, and made them suitable for present day yarns. I think Fairisle with multiple colours is a tad ambitious for a second project, so I’d go for a plain colour 4ply, but with a space dyed 4ply to work the patterning. You’ll only have two yarns to cope with, and I have seen the space dyed yarn give great results as a kind of Fairisle-lite!
    Good luck x (only about 4 weeks to moving countdown, fingers crossed) Gill

    • I have just bought a few second hand books from Amazon and I will make some plans after they arrive. I think I am being put off FI by a few people so will go with stripes or blocks of colour next time. It must be hard work packing everything up for your move. I do hope it goes well Gill. Thanks for your sweet comments – I always appreciate your thoughts, and I am enjoying my needle case.

  25. You have already had a lot of good advice and I’ll repeat what others have said:
    -Meaure a sweater that has a fit you like- find out what the bust, waist and hip measurements are and how much positive or negative ease you like and want in those areas- your knitting will need to replicate that and that’s achieved through the gauge (stitches per inch) of your knitting.
    Sheep wool has more elasticity than alpaca, so it’s easier to knit evenly especially when you are just learning and your tension is uneven,
    Join Ravelry- great community and beautiful, functional web design- discussion and reviews of yarns, patterns, etc.
    Amy Herzog: Fit to Flatter, I have never tried one of her custom fit designs but many swear by it.
    Deborah Newton: Good Measure
    Andi Satterlund- vintage inspired designs but be aware she like a lot of negative ease in her designs and usually cropped but length is easy to adjust.
    You are brave to try a fair isle design using a vintage pattern – I’ve saved a few (non-fair-isle) patterns from the V and A archive and they are written very differently compared to modern patterns.

    • Great advice from someone who produces lovely knitted garments Su – many thanks. I am moving away from genuine vintage to start with. I think I need a few more experiences under my belt before I design my own/use older patterns. Thanks, as ever.

  26. So many questions – not quite sure where to start (and I only landed on this page by accident while looking for something quite unrelated).

    I knit vintage patterns and I am itching to give advice – my mother collected Vogue Knitting magazines in the 50’s and 60’s, and I learned from them at her knee, and I still use them today (and she used them almost till the end of her life) – and I LOVE the styles and the shaping. Shaping actually makes the knitting much more interesting than long rectangles of “no change” every row, and is not difficult. Like others have said, tension is KEY, together with having a well crafted pattern.

    Vintage patterns often come in a range of sizes (bracketed) and are pretty good about stating tensions and giving finished sizes; if you have one that is “one size only”, and it is not your size, it may just be one to avoid.

    Many of the old yarns are not available – even Jaeger eventually went out of business – and it is VERY difficult sometimes to replicate them, but if you check the tensions gauges given with yarns that are available to you, you can get a fair idea of whether something is in the same ball park as the tension on the pattern; then you just have to try them out in tension squares – adjusting needle sizes sometimes helps, as can doubling/tripling up on finer yarns, but it is far from an exact science and trial and error just a part of the process.

    One other word of warning, vintage patterns quoting oz’s don’t always translate to metric either – it is the yardage/metreage on a ball of yarn that is often more telling than the weight – it often pays to buy extra, or go to a shop where they will put wool aside for you to buy as you use (not many do any more, sadly) – you can’t afford to run out of yarn in a particular dye lot when you are knitting a garment – a change in shade is horribly obvious!

    If it were me doing the choosing, I would stick to a yarn with some stretch for a fair isle (ie more likely a “wool” than cotton or silk), especially for a first project I would probably avoid cashmere unless you are sure you are going to love the result (too costly), and like others have advised, some practice in technique is helpful so that you don’t end up with a jumper that looks inconsistent as tension etc improves along with your technique (I once knitted coasters that were quick, easy, and useful for Christmas – pattern by Martin Storey, I think, a Nordic book).

    Fair Isle knitting should not tighten up your tension or make for an inflexible garment – if it does there is something wrong with the tension – the floating yarns at the back should be on the neat side of relaxed, should not be tight enough to create “rippling” on the front, and should not be loose enough to catch fingers in – you can carry across at the back if you are likely to get long “floats”.

    Learning to knit with both right and left handed techniques also helps – you can strand one colour yarn on one hand and another one (or two) on the other – sounds hard, but if you can already knit, not that hard to do in practice and stops the knitting being a bit of a chore of picking up and dropping yarns.

    For old 3 ply patterns, you can use 2ply Shetland yarn from Jamiesons (http://www.shetlandwoolbrokers.co.uk/2ply-Lace-Yarn), although you might find it scratchy. You can improve some of the scratch out of wool by washing it in Eucalan. You don’t have to stick to one brand of yarn, but you will, as a rule, have to choose to put together yarns that will give the same tension as each other.

    One last piece of “advice” – the pattern that you have here looks like it might suffer from sizing issues for a modern wearer – it appears to be quite tight waisted, high necked and high “armholed”, as are many patterns from that era (50’s onward are, to my subjective mind, can be a little more “modern” and forgiving). It is, however, a lovely easy fair isle as there are only a few rows where you will be working with more than two colours in any given row – probably something to consider in any pattern that you choose as a novice. More than two colours should not be a deal breaker, but it does mean you have more paddling to do underneath the water.

    • Wow! So much wonderful advice and insight. I am very grateful that you came by and have left so much more than you took! I have had so much great advice from my myriad of questions and my thoughts are beginning to come together. I will report back on my plans in a week or two. Anyway your points are invaluable, for which many thanks. Do let me know if I can help you in any way.

  27. I’m glad you already got the message about knitting fair isle with a yarn with “tooth”. Non-superwash wool is the best bet.

    My sister practiced fair isle by making a hat for my daughter. The resulting hat was too itchy to wear but I use it as a tea cozy now.

    You can make a wool pillow cover or tea cozy with traditional fair isle yarn. When you get better, you can work with softer wools.

    Alternatively, you can use Icelandic wools and make a sweater with Lopi Lett (lighter, DK weight.)

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