Week 1 – Making a seamless sweater with a colourful patterned yoke the Elizabeth Zimmermann way – #EZYokeKAL

posted in: knitting, Tips and Techniques | 25

This post is dedicated to my friend Lois who says “My knitting skills are limited to plain and pearl, learnt as a very young child.”  And to Felicia who hates the way that many jerseys have tight ribbing at the end. “I would be very interested in a blog post with instructions for making a generic knitted sweater. I’m about ready to do some knitting again and have wool for two sweaters. But I’m still so unhappy with the sweater I made a few years ago and I want a better result next time! I like the waist on this one — it’s not one of those standard ribbed knit affairs that pull in.” And finally to Michelle who writes: “I learned to knit a very long time ago (flat knitting, two needles, follow the instructions stitch by stitch), and I have been intrigued by your experiences with Elizabeth Zimmerman’s method. So much so that I got a copy of her book. I’m still intrigued, but now also a little confused, so a ‘how to’ post would be much appreciated!”. I sent my annotated copy of the pattern to Giorgia M – so you can join too if you like!

So, no pressure ladies. Or gentlemen. But if you would like to join in you just need some yarn, circular needles and the ability to knit. Even if you can’t knit yet you can easily learn over the next 7 days. I will be making a third version of this sweater with you and I will share tips that I have learnt from Elizabeth Zimmermann, or from my own trial and error.

To start you off let’s just go through some of the basics.

  1. We are going to make a virtually seamless jersey. This is because making pieces and sewing them together can be quite challenging for a beginner and often looks a bit rubbish. By avoiding seams you are likely to get a better looking jumper. Also seamless allows you to make the jersey on circular needles. This means you can avoid knitting purl stitches which many knitters dislike, even Mrs Zimmerman. Finally I think seamless garments are more streamlined and elegant.
  2. The main idea is to create three tubes of seamless knitting (from the bottom up) – one body piece and two sleeves. Once knitted up to the underarms, you will put them together on the circular needles and then knit the yoke. Starting at the widest part – the width of your body including the arms – you then decrease stitches to make the jersey smaller until you get to the neckline – the hole for the head.
    Jersey once yoke is knitted. Seams at underarm are open and hems/ribbing to come
  3. The size of the jersey is determined by you, not the pattern. This is actually freeing rather than frightening. There are some rules of thumb you will quickly work out for yourself, but the most important thing is to measure an existing sweater that you like to wear rather than your body, and then to work out how many stitches to cast on for the body. The measurements you will need are – jersey circumference, length from underarm to hem (eg waist length, high hip etc) and  sleeve length (from underarm to cuff). Measure an existing wooly or just decide on the design you want. The gauge is the number of stitches to create an inch (or 2.5 cms) of knitting. This is a bore but it is important. My dear friend Aida made a huge jersey recently because she got this wrong. (Sorry to embarrass you darling!)
    Me trying on Aida’s too large sweater
  4. You can check the gauge by using say 5mm needles and DK yarn; or say 3.5mm needles and 4 ply yarn. This is just a suggestion – you do have to make your own mind up, or use what you have! Cast on say 20 stitches and knit in stocking stitch for say 20 rows. Then measure one inch or 2.5cms across and count how many stitches are included in this length. It is likely to be a whole number and a part of a number eg 4.25. This is the figure you times by your chest/bust circumference measurement to find out how many stitches you need to cast on. The width is the important measurement – depth is not important as will be measuring the length of the jersey with your tape measure as you go along, rather than counting rows.
  5. Now you know how many stitches you need to cast on for the body. For me (s8 UK), with my personal knitting tension, I have used 160 stitches for DK and 200 stitches for the four ply. This is just a point of reference – you may be smaller or bigger, and knit tighter or looser. The other casting on you do is for the sleeves and the number of stitches is a percentage of your first cast on number for the body ie 160 or 200 in my case. I will explain this as we go.
  6. This jersey has the option of a bit of patterning at the yoke. This is the lovely, fun bit that makes your jumper unique. You can choose four colours (or one, two or three) that helps your jumper match your skirts and trousers. But you don’t have to do the colourwork – the jersey would be very nice plain.
    Elizabeth Zimmermann
    EZ seamless yoked sweater in pink
  7. How much yarn to you need to make a jersey? This is a hard question for me to answer as I am not an expert. I never have quite enough and my own prototype jerseys were made with insufficient yarn and I just added similar colours together. A lot depends on the size you are making – for a baby, a man or a child or for yourself. But if you are buying yarn specially I would say get enough –  it is uncomfortable to worry about running out. You can buy nice wool at less than £5 a ball and you will need about 6 x 50 grm balls for a woman’s jersey. You could use synthetic fibres or luxury yarns if you like but mine was done with Merino yarn and it is nice and soft and I am happy with it against my skin. Maybe, first time, use up something you have at home, and do a better version second time? If you toile with your dressmaking there is nothing wrong with doing a practice version. If you are short of yarn you can do shorter sleeves or waist length. My pink one has 3/4 length sleeves and comes to the high hip.

That is enough for now.

Work out your gauge and I will show you how to do the maths. Very easy maths! I am barely numerate but I find the Elizabeth Zimmermann’s “per centage system” much easier to follow than a pattern that tells you exactly how to knit each stitch. I have found these commercial patterns difficult to follow as you don’t have the idea in your head to start with. It’s a bit like being taught to dance with diagrams of the steps. Perhaps it is easier if you first learn to express your own rhythm and move to music before you try to learn specific steps. Did you know that Argentinian tango is entirely improvised (not in a show, but when danced freely in a dance hall or on the streets) – the woman follows the man who makes up the steps as he goes along. This sort of knitting, to my mind, is much easier than following a pattern eg K3, P2, skpo, etc. Although it has a few instructions like that you will understand what you are doing and you are much less likely to make mistakes.

Do let me know if you are thinking of joining in, by commenting below.  I know I am “the blind leading the blind” – what right have I to teach others to knit? Only that I battled to get the skills I have and I think I know a good way to learn and to teach. So if you want to have a go too – it is very satisfying to make a nice jersey, and it is fairly quick – then get some needles, yarn and practice making a swatch and I’ll see you next week.

Sad News

A few of you asked me to update you about Jessica – my friend’s young niece who lived with her Mum and sister in the Grenfell Tower

I am very sorry to tell you that the police, the school and the family have now confirmed that Jessica very likely perished in the fire. Despite their very strong family ties, an incredibly supportive network, great friends and a strong religious faith the family is understandably distraught. Please hold them all in your thoughts and prayers at this unbearable time. Thank you.

A missing poster for Jessica Urbano put up after the fire in Grenfell Tower, West London. June 16 2017. A huge tribute wall set up for the victims of the Grenfell Tower blaze is demanding ‘jail for those responsible’. Seven people are named on the wall with the message rest in peace, they include: K Maliki, S Meerabux, D Miles, Maria Kelopatra, Ray, Marley, Yasin and Jess. Residents, victims and well wishers were making pilgrimages to the 18ft wall near – the tower, all of Thursday morning. Boxes of coloured feltip pens have been left for people to scribe messages of the support.

25 Responses

  1. Shelagh

    I’m in! I’ve followed Elizabeth Zimmerman’s technique for top-down knitting and I loved it. I have all the wool ready for a navy jumper with a colourwork yarn. I can’t wait to start. Thanks for organising it.

  2. felicia

    Whoa Nelly, this is a bit fast! Well, I’m an hour or so away from finishing the blouse I’m currently sewing, and was thinking that would be the last item I’d sew for now. I have enough summer clothes. So, okay, I can knit a swatch for next week. One question, will we be decreasing at around the waist, or no? It looks like this is a straight tube (for the body). Should I aim for a bit of negative ease at the bust? (I couldn’t tell that the too large sweater was too large!) But the one sweater I knitted is too large. Your sweaters all look like they have negative ease. That’s something that I have liked about them. They don’t look bulky.

  3. Pam

    You will get a more accurate gauge measurement if you knit a bigger swatch. I aim for over 4 inches (10 cm) wide and then I measure the number of stitches within 4 inches and divide by 4. Better knitters than I recommend even BIGGER swatches. And also washing and drying the swatch in whatever way will be correct for the yarn and garment before measuring. Doing the former (big swatch) keeps little glitches in the evenness of your stitches from having too big of an impact. Doing the latter matters if your yarn, or style of knitting, tends to create fabric that stretches (more often in my experience) or shrinks. Good luck – this is a great project!

    I’m sorry to hear about your young friend.

  4. Anne Frances

    I love the yoke designs of both sweaters. But I thin EZ’s “tubes” method works well only for those with figures more or less in proportion. If, like me, you have hips that are definitely wide in proportion to waist and bust, anything that goes around your hips is likely to be too large around the bust. Aida’s sweater looks OK up to bust level! So I think some structure is needed in the torso. I recently used a pattern (Seachange from Ravelry) that is seamless, went with the cast on size for my hip width, looked at the number of stitches for the size that fits my waist, calculated the decrease rate and then the (rather small)increase rate back to my smallish bust, and was very pleased with the result. It does involve a bit of maths, but no worse than the percentage calculations! And those who are short – especially if like me they are short from bustpoint to shoulder need to think about the length of the yoke too. Fitting like that is why I sew and I don’t think you can avoid it in knitting either!
    best of luck – I look forward to followingyour progress.

  5. Giorgia

    A prayer sweater for Jessica. Every stitch a though of love for the broken families to get strenght, and for us to remember. I’m in Kate! Need to make up my mind on yarn.. really want to try your wonderful colourmart but i’m struggling with the colours (no news there!)

  6. Sue

    Oh, I would love to knit along with you, but I’m away from tomorrow for a week, so won’t get the opportunity. However, I have the Zimmerman book, so may play catchup when I get home. What a lovely initiative. I am so sorry to hear about Jessica, so, so sad. However, this terrible event may prevent more incidences, as I note all the testing going on, even here in Australia.

  7. Michelle

    Thanks so much for this, Kate. I’ve read the post through several times now and am beginning to see the different approach rather more clearly. I think perhaps I was so constrained by the way I was taught (all those years ago!) that I couldn’t even consider an alternative, but you’re right, this method gives a lot more freedom and flexibility. And I really like the idea of looking at my first attempt as a knitted toile. I shall get some wool next week and knit along with you.

    The news of Jessica was so sad. I thought Giorgia’s idea of a prayer sweater was lovely.

    • fabrickated

      So excited that you are joining us Michelle. The method is much better I think than the explanation of knit each stitch as instructed. I found it so easy to get lost and so hard to understand what I was doing. This EZ method is great at building confidence and as Kerry says, lots of things don’t matter too much. I will indicate if something is very important to get right, and distinguish this from areas where it doesn’t matter so much.

  8. Hélène

    Yes, yes, yes, count me in! Will report on IG tagging you and #EZYokeKAL. Never knitted an adorned yoke jumper before – that will be fun. Love the simplicity of the process or, should I say better, the simple way you deciphered the project for us. What a great knit along initiative, Kate, thank you!

  9. Hélène

    Oh, so sad for Jessica. My thoughts are with them. Do you ever recover the loss of a child? This is truly horrible. Love and courage xx

  10. Nina

    I’m cautiously thinking about this. My knitting skills have always been awful, but I’d really like to give it another try. Do you think it’d be a feasible total beginner’s project? If so, I’ll start and see if I get anywhere (without creating several hundred extra stitches along the way hopefully…).

    • fabrickated

      I do think this is feasible for a beginner project, yes. The colourwork took me several goes to get right but mainly the issue is tension, which we can talk about. I had an idea that instead of colour work you could stick with one colour but purl the pattern so that you get a textured yoke without having to cope with a second yarn. Just a thought I may come back to Nina.

  11. ceci

    So sorry to learn of Jessica.

    Its very hot here and the idea of knitting is unattractive….I’m slowly finishing a linen shirt and I suspect the next project will be more linen, its all I want to wear at the moment, and it will be like this for the next 3 months. THEN knitting will start to appeal!


  12. Maggie

    I would love to join in. I am doing Camp Loopy and I am both very tall and very plus sized, so I am bound to straggle a bit. I have a heather brown yarn and some red for the yoke.I need to consider what Anne said above about maybe neeeing some shaping for fit, and I generally need to knit yokes taller than specified.

    • fabrickated

      I am so excited you will be joining in Maggie as we can all learn from you. You are such a skilled craftsperson across lots of different areas. I know you have had to design your own clothes patterns to get the right fit. So hopefully you will share here as we all come in such different shapes and sizes.

  13. Kerry

    Sad news regarding Jessica and tragic for her family. Thank you Kate for updating us. I imagine there are many other families facing the same news with their loved ones. Very sad indeed.

    Kate, you are very brave to attempt a knitathon, but I am sure you will do it with panache! Since beginning reading your blog less than a year ago you have helped me to rediscover my enjoyment of knitting and so far I have knitted a cardigan and I am nearly finished a jumper. On the strength of your comments I was curious to read more about Elizabeth Zimmermann and her method of knitting, so I bought a copy of her Knitting Without Tears from Better World Books. I love her common sense approach and I found it both a revelation and freeing. When I knit somehow I always end up missing an increase or two, but post-EZ it no longer matters because I am in charge and I can fudge it rather pulling out a few rows and trying again!

    I had been planning my next attempt – a yoke jumper with colour work – and would love to join in but I will be travelling until the beginning of August so I think I will be content to vicariously watch what others achieve while I am on holidays!

  14. Valerie

    So sorry about Jessica. Those posters were up in the thousands here in NYC following the World Trade Center disaster.
    FYI while your slenderness is enviable, most women will require more than 6 50 gram balls of yarn for a long sleeved jumper or sweater. The standard figure is 500 grams which is a little generous but close to the norm.

      • Kerry

        I agree with Valerie on the yarn requirements. I buy my wool from our local woollen mills and they sell it in 200 gram balls and I usually knit a size medium (size 12) which uses up approximately 2.5 balls or 500 grams (give or take depending on length of the garment) and using an 8 ply yarn.

        • Giorgia

          Oh! I think I also read somewhere that the thickness of the yarn affects the overall weight. So if you knit with 4 ply the same jumper you would use less yardage. Is this true? I’ve read this on the colourmart website i think!

          • fabrickated

            OK! I will make it clear on my next post that everyone needs more yarn than I said. I am so stringy! I always try to make do with the bare minimum. Thanks for your advice Kerry and Valerie.

  15. Helen

    Great idea Kate. When I have seen your posts on the finished garments I wonder how it they are actually knitted. I’ve got a busy few weeks then off on holiday so I won’t be joining but will read with interest and try it out after the summer. on a good note I am slowly getting over my lack of enthusiasm and have started knitting the body to my rainbow jumper!
    Good luck!

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