Allez! yarn success. . .design fail

Warning! Lengthy post, probably only of interest to knitters!
One day in March, when I was still in residential rehab, I returned to my bed from a hard morning’s physio to find two packages. Both were promisingly squishy and clearly contained yarn. How exciting! I opened the first package. It came from one of my correspondents, Séverine, in France and its contents are above – a hand-dyed sampler from Renaissance Dyeing’s Troubador Range. How lovely! I pawed and cooed over the yarn for quite some time. So springy! So sheepy! The colours so rich and so unmistabkably naturally dyed! How I loved this yarn! Then I opened the second package. This one came from my friend Anne, and contained skeins of hand-dyed yarn in different shades of woad from . . . the troubador range at Renaissance Dyeing. Two kind people had separately sent me the same marvelous yarn, on the same day! Spooky!

I had discussed British sheep breeds and the virtues of WOAD several times with Anne, so it made sense for her to be sending me a thoughtful woolly gift, and I imagine Séverine had a good sense of the kind of traditional, sheepy yarn I like from reading this blog. In any case, I was incredibly excited to receive two batches of the same amazing yarn on the same day! I loved it. The yarn comes from Poll Dorset sheep, who are raised on the Italian border, close to Renaissance Dyeing’s headquarters in the Pyrénées. It has a wonderful hand, a quite unique elasticity, and it knits up really, really evenly.

As soon as I’d swatched with it, I knew that the yarn wanted to be a jersey, of the old-fashioned sporting variety. It was so fabulously stretchy and would so obviously wear well. I did a little more swatching – the colours complemented each other perfectly – and my only other criterion for the design was that the garment I made would have to feature a selection from all of the yarn that Anne and Séverine sent me. There was less than 25g of each colour in Séverine’s sampler, and Anne’s package contained 100g each of a pale blue and a teal shade. Could I design a garment using these colours and that amount of yarn? I sketched a t-shirt style jersey, and swatched up a simple, sporty colourwork design. . .

Diamonds! How pleasing! With literally one round to remember, this surely had to be the simplest, most addictive colourwork pattern in the world! My swatches looked so satisfying. I could make a whole garment out of Anne and Séverine’s yarn – it would have a pale blue body, a yoke featuring the diamond pattern and contrasting teal-coloured set-in sleeves. So I began knitting, and managed, as I’d hoped, to squeeze a whole body out of the one 100g pale blue skein, at which point the garment started to really remind me of a cycling jersey and everything fell into place . . . the yarn came from the Pyrénées, I was knitting it while enjoying the the Tour de France. . . the tour was celebrating a centenary in the Pyrénées this year . . . it all seemed to fit. The name of the jersey, would, I decided, be ALLEZ! I worked the yoke (fun!), cut the armhole steeks and knit a pair of short-row set in sleeves – it was all looking very tasty. But then things started to go awry. . .

. . .please to examine, for the last time, my nice, neat shoulder with my nice, neat picked-up sleeve stitches and my nice, neat neck edging just waiting to be knitted neatly. Ah me. It was not to be.

First, Bruce, who had been showing an unhealthy interest in my handiwork, contrived, when I popped into the kitchen to make a cup of tea, to pull the sweater off the sofa where I had been knitting it, pull the circular out of the neck edging, unravel the stitches in several places, and give the whole thing a good ol’ chew for good measure. Naughty puppy!

I managed to get the damn thing from him and to fix things as best I could, but the neck edging at the front of the sweater now looks, to be frank, as if it has been chewed by a dog.


(This picture was taken when I later caught him sticking his head up the chimney, but you get the general idea)

So although my beauteous, even neck edging was no longer beauteous – or even – everything else was still OK . . .wasn’t it? I blocked the sweater. It looked fine. Then I tried it on for the first time, and I showed Tom. “Very nice,” he said, “but what’s going on there with the sleeves?”

With me inside the jersey, the picked up stitches around the steeks had decided not to hold, and both sleeve seams had completely given way! HORRORS!

Dear Knitters, if you are ever in doubt about the stickiness of your yarn, or about whether or not a steek will hold. . . take heed: use a good reinforcement method like a crocheted steek for crissakes, or you will end up in my sorry situation. Working with Shetland yarn has clearly made me totally blasé where steeks are concerned. . . I just cut up my knitting without bothering to reinforce things, and by the time I have blocked and tried on the garment, everything has already, happily stuck together. But Poll Dorset yarn clearly does not behave like a Shetland. . . Poll Dorset yarn is stretchy and a wee bit slippery and its trimmed steeks have a tendency to. . . UNRAVEL!

I just can’t bring myself to show you a close up of how utterly shite my sleeve seams look now. . .but you can click and enlarge the following image if you really want to see. . .

. . . matters were urgent – I was in danger of having no yoke or sleeves at all – so I patched things up as best I could. With their hideous, poky repair-stitches in place of the nice, neat short rows, those seams now make me very, very sad. The garment had gone from having a gorgeous, neat finish, to having the worst finish of anything I have knit ever. You can see the Bruce-damaged crappy neck edging, too, in this next shot. . . Not at all satisfactory!

In fact, the more I looked at it, the more unpleasing things I noticed about the garment. First, I should have started the diamond pattern in a darker colour to give a greater contrast with the pale blue of the body. Second, because of the tailored effect of the set-in sleeves, I should have begun the colourwork an inch or two below the underarms rather than, as with other yoked constructions , right at the underarms themselves. Mandy has the right idea here, in the diamond-patterned vest she has also recently finished.

Here is a pic from the other day to illustrate the jersey’s third and most significant problem. The colours of the yoke are a lot darker than that of the body, and the fact that the pattern starts quite high up gives it a curious visual effect when worn: the top of my torso seems to lengthen and recede, with the consequence that my meagre bosom appears more prominent than usual, and in completely the wrong position. See what I mean? If the jersey gives me, who have no boobs, a whole new set where they shouldn’t be, just imagine what it would do to someone with a normally proportioned pair. The mind boggles.

Waist boobz! AIGHIGH!

(The less said about this unfortunately suggestive shot the better . . . )

The most one can say about this top, then is that it looks OK in a slightly blurry shot from behind and the best words for it are, sadly, DESIGN FAIL. Hey ho.

I do wonder whether, in a sense, I was trying too hard – I loved what Anne and Séverine had sent me so much, that most of all, I wanted the garment to be a showcase for their gift. Perhaps if I had started at a different place, I would have had different ideas. . . Anyway, as you might imagine, I am not going to make a pattern for Allez!, though I do love the yarn and diamond pattern inordinately, and think they might perhaps work very well together on a hat. And I have learnt three important lessons from simply making this sweater: 1) keep your knitting away from Bruce 2) always reinforce your steeks 3) never design anything featuring waist boobz.

Thankyou, Anne and Séverine, for the wonderful yarn! I will try to design a hat that will do it justice!