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!