This week we are knitting the colourful patterned yoke for our seamless Elizabeth Zimmermann sweater.
And here, to get you in the mood, is the inspiration picture from Knitting without Tears.
Although the picture is grainy. I was enthused by the retro look. (If you ask me Mrs Z is better on the design side when she makes traditional items in the 1950s, rather than earnest 1970s experiments). Having made it up twice in pink and blue remnants this time I decided to make it up in 1940s colours. I went with teal, red and lemon.
As usual Mrs Zimmermann doesn’t instruct you precisely so the patterns and the exact shaping are down to you. Let’s go through the stages.
Bringing it all together
Before you join the sleeves and body you need to put a few stitches from each sleeve and the same number from each side of the body onto waste yarn or a safety-pin. This is so you can knit in the round despite there being three cylinders. The left out stitches will later be woven together under the arms in a nearly invisible join. How many? Again go back to the number you first thought of and find 8%. With my 160 stitches that means I need to take 13 stitches at the underarm. The exact number doesn’t matter too much. 11 will be fine if you are using DK.
Then the exciting moment comes when you join them all together on your circular needles. Here is the charming diagram – and I am sure it is in Elizabeth’s own hand. The Zimmermann enterprise of self publishing has a warm, wholesome and “non-expert” style which is rather appealing (although some of her designs are just a bit too earnest for me – another time – we can have a laugh).
Elizabeth Zimmermann emphasises that they must be diametrically opposite so I will leave you to count the stitches to ensure this is the case. You want the back and front to be the same width.
Now let’s talk about dimensions. EZ tells us that the depth of the yoke is about 1/4 of the body circumference, so 8″ for me. You will have to take your own decision on this but for me that is way too long. If you look at the top picture you will see that the jersey seems to come right up to the chin, creating a sort of turtle neck look. My advice, if you want a more elegant neckline, is to make your yoke about 1/6 of the body measurement. My three sweaters are about 6″ deep (from the start of the first round of joined together knitting to the start of the back neck shaping/ribbing etc. It’s a design decision and one for you alone, but I found the neck too high.
Anyway you need to decide on the overall depth before you decrease, as EZ’s decreases are at the 5″, 7″ and 10″ points. You have to work out when to narrow your yoke depending on the overall depth of the yoke and the arrangement of your patterning. I just put my three decrease rounds in, after each motif. Finish the motif, do one round of background colour knitting, then one round of decreasing. The decreasing with this style of jersey is, as Mrs Z writes, “brutal” in that you knit 1, knit 2 together until you have finished the round. It is satisfyingly quick and means once you get into it the jersey is finished fairly fast. For reference, on my current sweater, I decreased at 5″, 6″ and 7″.
Now comes the crescendo. You are going to knit in colour! You have had five weeks to work out what colours you are going to use. But if you have used a gaudy wool – Sue Stoney I am looking at you – you won’t want to do any colour work. Never mind. This jersey is lovely as a plain jumper.
For colourwork knitting I have some tips for the actual knitting here.
What about designs? You can use the ones EZ supplies, get them off the internet or from a book, or you can make up your own. For the first two versions I used EZ’s suggestions and a couple of my own ideas. For this one I exaggerated EZs ski-sweater lozenges, and added a kind of strawberry – suggested by my beige and red yarns. I have reproduced it (below) if you want to copy it. On the other hand it is easy to make up your own motifs. The only thing to remember is that there have to be the right number of stitches – you don’t want half a motif. So you will need to count to ensure your motif will fit precisely. With my strawberry it has 6 stitches and I needed to decrease an extra stitch to fit it in. This is fine. Just do it! Increase or decrease discreetly.
So you do your first motif and a second one if you like, until your knitting measures about 5″ deep from the underarm. Then you carry on until your yoke is deep enough, you have all your colours in, and you have done your decreases. EZ says you should have about 40% of the stitches you first started with on your body. In my case this would be 64 stitches. The truth is this time I only did two rounds of decreasing as I wanted a slightly wider neck. So I finished with about 80 stitches. I didn’t want to say this as it might confuse you. On my first two sweaters I did the three rounds are got to about 60 stitches and that was good. I just prefer a more open neck.
Building up the back neck is a key, almost defining, feature of a Zimmermann creation. Many modern top down and seamless sweaters include it. Mrs Z even goes so far as to say “We come to the most important part of the whole sweater – the back-of-neck shaping.” Her italics. I don’t agree with this statement.
As a dressmaker you will know that the back is different to the front, and I am not just talking about bust shaping. Our backs are longer than our fronts and curve outwards over the shoulders into the neck. This is why a bodice block will have small darts at the back shoulder. So there is a case for fixing it when you make a knitted item, especially when it is essentially a boxy tube. There is also a case for making the back length a little longer but this is not possible with a knitted in the round tube. So I suppose giving a little extra length at the back neck helps counteract the issue we have with the front body being shorter than the back body. Two of my sweaters have it (pink and blue ones) but with my newer one I left it off and I have created a nice neckline that doesn’t come up high. So what I am saying is – it is optional. And here is another idea from a very experienced knitter.
If you want the back neck shaping the principle is that you do short rows from the left shoulder position to the same place on the right, first doing a purl row, then a knit so that you keep the stocking stitch pattern. Each row you must knit or purl two extra stitches from the remaining stitches to make the new slope smooth. You do six short rows. Then you knit around the whole circumference. I have previously done short rows using two different techniques to this and I think some of the more sophisticated approaches are better, but I have no expertise here. You may like to consult an expert or the internet.
How this works out depends on how you are going to finish your neckline – it is probably easiest if you decide on ribbing as you can do the whole built up back neckthing in ribbing – which avoids knitting purl rows, and this is indeed the approach Elizabeth Zimmermann outlines in the book. I ribbed on my pink and blue sweaters, giving a deeper rib at the back. But if you are going to finish the sweater with a hem (like I did with the beige jersey) you can build up the back neck on the body of the sweater first. Which I didn’t do this time in order to have a wider neck.
I am sorry if this sounds complicated. The knitting is not complicated, but the decisions maybe trying. I will just give you pictures of my different back necks which might help you make the choice.
We are also sliding into the area of finishes, but is the topic of my final post next Saturday. Can you wait? The end is near!
In case you have stumbled across this blog, or have been following and now want to join in, here are the first four posts. Do let us all know how you are getting on!
I can’t wait to get to my colourwork! I’m about 7″ in my bodice tube and doing sleeves a couple of rows at time on the tube. Looking at dofferent yokes for ispiration 🙂 i love the skiing lozanges on yours, and I’m attracted by triengles. Your strawberries are the cutest! Also need to remember not to have too many colours at once… oh the choices! Also I like the hem more than the ribbing so looking forward to next post!
You are making good progress. We are meeting soon so I hope you will have the bodice and sleeves done by then! The choices are quite hard – unlike other menthods you are the designer!
Wow indeed, inspired and terrified. Now on second sleeve having wrestled magic loop to the ground! So generally feeling slightlly clever however despite what it says on the cover I think there might be tears ahead. My charcoal wool is definitely not gaudy, (would love to see Sue’s choice), but I think I might be better to stick with one colour this time. Its been 30 years since I last knitted anything this ambitious. I have had ago at some practice colour work. I think my colour selection is suspect and my yarn management skills are poor. I’m loathe to wreck a promising sweater so close to the end. Although does fortune favour the brave? Also if it looks a mess, I am much better at recovering from a mistake than I was. Ripping it up, doesn’t usually mean starting again, these days. Charcoal and …? I have some, paler grey, black & red. Not sure if any of them worked. xxx
I know how you feel Karen. Such a huge round of applause for the magic loop. It’s really easy and useful when you get the hang of it, isn’t it? I think I am going to encourage you to have a go with the colour. It’s worth trying. If you can manage both hands at once I think you will find it quite fast. But even dropping one colour and doing the next in the normal way will give good results. Only thing to remember is LOOOOOOSE! Even baggy is good. And not to be disheartened because when you wash it all the unevenness seems to vanish. Don’t be scared! As you say it can be unravelled. And as for the colours I would say they sound perfect!!
These posts are going to be so useful if I get around to hand knitting again. It’s going to be another winner in your wardrobe.
I hope you give it a go at some point Jay. I find the knitting very soothing and less stressful than dressmaking. Somehow it is easier to correct mistakes.
I’m saving all this information to try in the future. Your explanations are good so I’m sure I will be comfortable trying this on my own. The great thing about this method is that you really can use up whatever you have available. It will be great for shifting stashed yarn.
You are already a competent knitter Kim and will swiftly get through one of these. And yes you could use a range of weights and needle sizes. I think EZs sweater is in four or even two ply but DK is great and even Aran would work I would say. My first two used up small balls of similar coloured yarns. Certainly ideal for the colour work!
I’m really enjoying reading these posts! I feel quite inspired.
Hopefully I can start in a few weeks though I feel guilty when I already have another jumper on the go.
I’ve never done colourwork but have googled and found a number of good sites to follow. So I think there’ll need to be some practising first.
Thank you Helen. I had no idea if they interest people who are not joining in, but I think the subject matter is interesting. I am excited that you will join in later. I am hopeful that I might feature some photographs later this year. They are also great as a Christmas sweater. I am wondering about one with reindeers, holly or Christmas puddings on it!
I’m getting there… long inch by long inch but nowhere near the yoke yet. I will get there.
Not enough boxsets on TV!
I know what you mean! I have think I have watched everything I am going to watch on Netflix. Now trying the Podcasts. Malcolm Gladwell Revisionist History and Tim Harford 50 things that made the modern economy.
Just like Karen, I’m also feeling a bit chuffed that I’ve got two ‘magic loop’ sleeves done. And you were right, Kate, the second looks a lot neater than the first! It’s a great technique and I’m so glad I persevered with it.
The bodice tube, however, continued to play on my mind. Despite my best attempts at persuading myself the baggy look would be fine, I just wasn’t convinced so yesterday (having finally tried it on for confirmation) I undid it all and started again with 10 less stitches. Somehow, I am almost up to the yoke and hopefully will get bodice and sleeves on one needle tomorrow. I’m excited to tackle the colourwork, and your tips, alongside the book, are so helpful. I shall probably stick to EZ’s pattern, I don’t think I’m ready for designing my own motifs quite yet!
Oh Michelle – I am so proud of you. That magic loop is so useful and I think your third sleeve (for your third arm ha ha) will be perfect. Next time, eh? On the actual body I know what you mean, but I have honestly found that 10 to 20 stitches don’t make much difference. I generally prefer a slim fit (to be worn over a thin T shirt) but I also quite like a sloppier, outdoors jumper to wear over other layers. Also you may find that laundering stretches out your knitting, or conversely it may tighten up. It’s a lottery! I know some people are very careful with guage and soak and block and press their swatches, but being much lazier than the more experienced knitter I just wing it. Having said that I have ripped out whole sections too. It is the only way and so easy in that you can correct just about every error. Elizabeth’s patterns are nice – but I found the top one a bit wishy washy. If you have the book there are lots of motifs in it – look at the Patterned Ski Sweater patterns on p58 and 59. There are some small ones there. My strawberry came out well, but the next time I will make it denser.
I’ve finished my cotton un patterned sweater! Well, sort of. All the way through, I’ve been worried about how much yarn I had and how it would shrink when knitted up so I bound it off a bit too early. It looks great – cropped and wide at the neck but it’s a bit too wide at the neck and slips off my shoulder all the time. I’m going to put it back on the needles and get as much more as I can out of the yarn left in the cone. As I unpick the bind off, I’ll measure the amount of yarn it takes, so I make sure I’ve enough left for the final bind off.
In other news, the botttom-up method has inspired me to do a combined knitting machine/hand knitted sweater. I knitted the three tubes in my machine in red Marino yarn from Yeomans, which took less than three hours. Now I’m handknitting them together on my circulars, using green and white to make a Christmas jumper for my daughter. I’ll do the ribbing at the bottom and ends of arms by hand too, maybe adding some colour work there too if the length permits. It’s looking great so far – rather hoping it fits me better than her!
Interesting feedback from your experiences Anne. I know what you mean by not having enough yarn. I have felt my heart beat really fast when knitting with just about enough, but not quite! I think your solution sounds very sensible in terms of making the neck a bit smaller. Have you used ribbing at the neckline? If you have you could do this in a contrasting yarn and add the same to the sleeves and hem. Also I want pictures!! I would like to do a follow up post at the end, so if you are willing and able to send me a photo (as big as possible in terms of resolution), especially of you wearing it if possible, please do so. I am firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you!