of pleats. . . and i-cord


At some point toward the end of last semester, I became distracted in a meeting. There is nothing novel in this situation, except that the source of my distraction was a cardigan. My colleague, Kate C is a very stylish person, and often wears clothes I find inspiring and curiosity-inducing. This cardigan was both. It was a well-made machine-knit piece in a sort of egg-yolk yellow. The fabric was plain stockinette, and a neat fit was created with minimal shaping, except for a feature neckline, formed by a sunburst of pleats. These pleats were very pleasing. They set off the rest of Kate C’s outfit nicely, and made a focal point of the neckline that was both simple and elegant. How I liked those pleats! After the meeting, I talked to Kate C about the cardigan. She had bought it in New York, and, being a knitter herself, completely understood my fascination with the neckline. On the train home that evening, I thought about cardigan construction, and sketched up my own pleaty design. The challenge would be to create a simple garment as elegant and well-fitting as Kate C’s through the use of pleats and gathers, rather than conventional shaping. I drew pleats a-plenty and added puffed-out pockets and gathered wrists (which did not feature on Kate C’s original). Then I went to Skye and I bought this yarn.


I knew that after swatching with this yarn that it was ideal for my pleaty project. It had fabulous drape, some firmness and body, and a pleasing fuzzy halo. Then I did something that will suggest to you the sorry depths of my obsession with clothing and design. I found a dress in Fenwicks that I felt would suit the imagined cardigan ideally: a garment whose sole purpose was to set off an outfit that existed only in my mind. I bought the dress, and hung it in the wardrobe, where it remained unworn while it waited for the cardigan.

Then I began to knit. I began with a provisional cast on, and worked bottom-up, with minimal shaping through the body — just enough to give a slight A-line. The sleeves began with an i-cord cast on, were gathered at the wrist and joined at the yoke. I then shaped the neckline into a deep scoop with what, to myself and my knitting comrades, are known as “Sunday short rows” (so-called because Mel first encountered this technique in a design by the very talented Carol Sunday). These short rows are quite similar to the conventional Japanese method, but I find them much easier to execute and to describe. They are also the neatest method of working short rows I’ve come across, which was important, as I didn’t want traces of the turning points displayed across the cardigan fronts. I then knit the yoke straight to the shoulder line, and reduced two thirds of the stitches by working pleats. Until that point, I had felt like I’d been knitting a sort of giant box — but, as I pleated the top of the cardigan, the box suddenly transformed itself into a shapely garment. Here’s the neckline. I’m hoping that the only trace of the short rows you can really see is that sort of curved line two inches below the pleats.


You will note that there is i-cord around the neckline, and will be unsurprised to discover that i-cord features everywhere in the finishing of this garment. It is worked along the pocket tops . . .


. . . across the the bottom edge of the cardigan, up the button bands, and forms the button holes. . .


Please take a moment to examine the i-cord buttonhole. Note, if you will, what a neat edge it produces along a garter stitch border. Compare its superior qualities to those of lesser buttonholes. Observe how un-wonky an opening it creates, how there are no stray strands of yarn lurking annoyingly and untidily at its edges. Marvel at its ease of execution; utter a grateful encomium to Elizabeth Zimmermann; and assure yourself that your search for the perfect knitted buttonhole is over! Yes, I heart the i-cord buttonhole!


I found these vintage buttons on e-bay. I like the fact that they are made of glass, that they were (luckily) a precise tonal match for the yarn, and that they have been previously worn and used (as you can see from the button on the left).

When I finished knitting, I asked Kate C to name the design, as she had originally inspired it. She chose Manu, the name of the friend she was visiting in New York, where she bought her cardigan. So here are some shots of Manu from the side:


And a full-length, so you can see the dress too, which with its pleats and pockets, is actually a sort of echo of the cardigan.


I found the necklace in Philadelphia, where I finished working up this design. And Philadelphia has inspired another aspect of the pattern, which is now forthcoming. During my afternoon at Rosie’s, I had a chat with smart-and-interesting Lisa about garment design and sizing. She pointed out that my pattern size ranges were rather conservative, and didn’t really accommodate anyone whose body shape tended toward the Rubenesque. The good thing about this style of garment, it seems to me, is that it will fit and flatter most body shapes, including those who actually have a womanly chest, unlike myself. Women of all shapes and sizes successfully wear cardigans with this sort of yoked construction and triangular front opening — as can be seen in the range of knitters who look fabulous in Gudrun’s lovely Moch cardi, or Pam’s incomparable FLS. So, I am designing this pattern to fit a size range from a 30 to a 50 inch bust. More soon!

Name: Manu
By: me. pattern coming soon.
Yarn: Shilasdair ‘luxury’ DK in tansy/indigo.
amount: 3 and-a-bit 100g skeins. Approx 1000 metres.
Needles: 3.75 and 4.5mm. All worked with Addi turbo circs.
Ravelled here.