paperdolls redux

Probably the most rewarding aspect of designing is seeing what knitters actually do with one’s patterns. Ravelry is brilliant for this (as for so many things) and it is sad but true that I regularly peruse the project galleries, and am often to be found in a state of ludicrous excitement over the latest cute owlet or beautiful Manu. In the hands of great knitters, a pattern really takes on a life of its own, and undergoes many radical alterations. Different colourways, yarn choices, the addition of shaping, or other modifcations can completely change the feel of a pattern, enabling everyone to see it in a new way. I am often totally blown away by these creative transformations – perhaps most especially of my paperdolls design – and I wanted to share some examples with you that I particularly admire.

I just love the colours that Sandra chose for her sweater – there’s a wonderfully fresh end-of-Summer / beginning-of-Autumn feel about that beautiful combination of shades (echoed in the orchard in which she’s standing). Sandra used an additional fourth colour for the peerie pattern, and that tealy-blue really takes the yoke to another place for me.

You’ll note that Sandra’s dolls are sporting hair bunches — a common modification for those who aren’t keen on the slightly sinister bald-clone look of the dolls on my original. The bunches look especially cute when the pattern is made in the wee girl sizes, as in Circé’s sweet version. . .

. . more photos of which can be seen here

My (very basic) idea for the paperdolls pattern was that I could fit a deep and vertically continuous pattern onto a seamless yoke without the need for the fixed percentages of decreases that are commonly assumed to be necessary in this kind of sweater. (While one must not doubt the boundless knitterly genius of EZ, I personally find that her yoke percentage system produces a curiously tapering neckline reminiscent of a cluedo character). In fact, if the sweater is designed to fit closely to the upper chest and shoulders (the bit above the boobs), I reckon you can leave out most of the decreases until you are a few inches in (this is the basic principle of the yoke shaping of the owls sweater also). One can, indeed, fit just about anything onto a seamless yoke if one can be bothered to work out a customised rate of decrease around the particular requirements of a deep vertical pattern (ie, rather than, say, a fairisle pattern that is simply built around horizontal bands separated by decrease rounds.) Following this basic principle, and retaining the original details of the paperdolls sweater (icord, corrugated rib, peeries), some fabulous reworkings of paperdolls began to appear on ravelry. I have been wowed by the many creative ways in which knitters have made the design completely their own. Tanya has knitted several superb, and perfectly-fitting versions of the pattern, all with different yoke designs. I think this sweater featuring an elaborate Selbu star is my favourite . . .

. . . sometimes you just can’t beat the bold simplicity of two contrasting colours. Tanya’s choice of muted blue and yellow works wonderfully here, and I also love the elegant simplicity of Andrea’s two-colour re-interpretation of the pattern.

Andrea has used the chart and motifs from Kate Gilbert’s beautiful bird in hand mittens to stunning effect: rather than the snowy, wintry feel of the original mittens, this lovely sweater makes me think of white blossoms against a summer sky.

Now, I’ve been admiring all these reworked paperdolls for some months now, and have been meaning to write about them for a while, but the sweater that follows is the one that finally prompted me to produce this post. Pause for breath while I present to you . . .Marianne’s Totoro paperdolls!

There is only one reaction to such a sweater and that is to shriek loudly, excitedly, and incomprehensibly at the computer screen for several minutes I mean, TOTOROS? The woman is a genius.

And finally, another knitting genius, whose work I really admire is Momo. Everything she knits is impeccably made, in gorgeous yarn, often using interesting and unexpected colour combinations, and always in perfect taste. Momo knits wonderful garments, and I feel truly honoured that she has made herself six paperdolls. Above you see the yoke of her original sweater and below are some spectacular yokes featuring birds . . .

. . .owls

. . .snails (yes, snails!)

hedgehogs. . .

and, most recently elephants!

Momo is clearly knitting up a menagerie of yokes and I am already looking forward to seeing what she comes up with next!

Inspired by all of these fabulous projects, I decided to update the pattern. I wrote it last March – before I began using Adobe Illustrator – so I’ve added a more professional-looking chart and schematic. I’ve also made a few other changes.
These include:

-better layout (pattern fits on 2 pages, and chart on 1 page)
-new rate of decreases on yoke
-new short row table and Sunday short row instructions.
-removal of smallest child’s size (0)
And finally…

A note for those knitting the paperdolls sweater, or considering their own yoke customisations:
The downside of a dramatic rate of decreases worked toward the top of a yoke is that the fabric has a tendency to pucker. And the likelihood of puckering is increased by the shifts in tension that are inevitable in colourwork worked over long stretches. Your tension has to be really, really even in order to make a design like Marianne’s totoros or Momo’s hedgehogs work well, and for the front of the work to look smooth and professional. What you definitely do not want are patches of the contrasting colour showing through to the front of the work, spoiling the look and continuity of your design. The front of the work should look smooth and even.

My top tips to achieve this are:
1) knit the sweater with slight negative ease – choose the size closest to or just below your actual body dimensions. You want the sweater to stretch lightly across your shoulders, rather than droop over your chest.
2) Use a pure wool yarn (such as a shetland or the bowmont braf I used for the original paperdolls)
3) Do not weave in the floats along the back of the work. You will end up with long floats, but (particularly if you are using a pure wool yarn), these will even up and sort themselves out after a few wears.
4) When you are working a stretch of more than 8 stitches, fan the stitches out a little on the right hand needle before working the next stitch in the contrasting colour. This slows down the pace and flow of the knitting, but is particularly useful if your tension tends to be tight.(Don’t overdo it though! You don’t want the knitting to turn baggy!)
5) Block like a loon. Soak the sweater in cool water and wool wash for at least 20 minutes to allow it to relax and bloom, rinse carefully, then remove excess water by rolling and squashing between a couple of dry towels. Now turn the sweater inside out and stretch to shape, smoothing out the long floats. Spend five or ten minutes stretching and smoothing the back of the work (the floats should lie nice and flat) then turn the sweater the right way round. Stretch the fabric out to shape again, but do not rub or smooth the front of the work (to avoid any risk of felting). Again, spend a while over this, paying particular attention to any areas of fabric that look like they might want to pucker up. Pin the sweater out to the correct dimensions and allow to dry flat. About half way through the drying process, turn the sweater over and pin it out again (don’t stretch it again or change its shape when you are doing this: simply turn it over and pin it out). This enables both sides of the sweater to get the benefit of lying flat against the blocking surface. Now leave to dry completely.
6) Enjoy wearing your beautiful sweater!

With a big thanks to everyone who has knitted the sweater, sent me an email about it, written up their project notes and suggestions, and posted pictures on their blogs and ravelry. Cheers!

Edited to add: if you already bought the pattern, you should automatically receive the updated version, but if for some reason you haven’t received this, please email me.