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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.