Friday, 5 June 2009

Adventures in t-shirt land

I am looking forward to travelling up to Coventry tonight for the UK Ravelry Day tomorrow. For anyone who isn't familiar with Ravelry, it is an online community and resource for knitters and other fibre enthusiasts, at However, the weather forecasts are absolutely awful, heavy rain and cool temperatures, which could impact the outdoor shopping yarn market area. It's a pity because we have been enjoying some lovely summer weather the past few weeks. I'm certainly going to pack my raincoat.

I'm debating whether to wear the knitted t-shirt I just finished today, "Marble", a design by Kaffe Fassett in the Rowan 41 magazine. This has been a bit of a triumph (or disappointment) over common sense. I was at the Liberty department store yarn sale the summer before last, and they were having a huge sale on Rowan yarns including Rowan 4-ply Cotton. I was fingering the cotton wondering what I could make out of it, and the helpful sales assistant showed me 'Marble' which looked so pretty that I bought all the yarn. Even on sale it was a bit of an investment because it is knit with two strands held together.

Now if I was using an ounce of common sense I would have taken a step back and thought about how bulky two strands of 4 ply cotton were going to be knitted up. And I would have read the pattern more carefully to discover that on top of that bulk, Kaffe's design features buttoned up shoulder seams right down to the sleeve hem, and buttoned up side seams, which are all faced so that you have a double layer of this thick fabric. I might also have taken in the cropped length and thought about how the world really is not ready to see my belly hanging out below a t-shirt.

But no, I was too dazzled by the pretty colours and the 'Sale' sign.

Back home a grain of reality trickled in as I read through the pattern, and right away I decided to eliminate the double-thickness buttoned flaps and just have a one piece sleeve, and normal shoulder/side seams. I also looked at the complicated stripe sequence (120 rows using different combinations of 10 colours held two strands at a time) and decided there would be much less potential for tangling if I knit it on my chunky knitting machine.

I did a tension sample - I really did. Then last summer I started the long process of knitting. Even on a knitting machine it was relatively slow as every few rows I had to unthread the machine and rethread the two new colours. At least I was able to weave in all the ends as I went along.

Finally, last month, I finished the front, back and one sleeve. Items tend to come off the machine stretched wider and shorter than their final measurements, so I wasn't too bothered at the initial dimensions. However, even washed and pressed, it became quickly evident that my garment was far too wide, and far too cropped. And there was no way I was going to unpick all those stripes and end up with a zillion lengths of different coloured yarn. At this point, one begins to consider throwing the item out and pretending that none of it every happened.

But I persevered. I picked up the live stitches from the waste yarn at the hem edge of each piece, and lengthened it with the bird's eye stitch from page 16 of Nicky Epstein's 'Knitting Beyond the Edge'. I joined the shoulders and handknit the rolled trim as per the pattern, and I handknit the rolled trim on the bottom of the sleeve. Then I tried the garment on to see where I should mark the side seams.

About now it became apparent that I had created the 100% cotton equivalent of chain mail. This garment is as stiff as a robust dishcloth - so if I do give up on it, I can still use squares from it to scrub my dishes with. But I persevered.

I mattress stitched the side seams and tried it on again, ignoring my inch-and-a-half seam allowances. I marked where the armhole seam should fall on the shoulders, then threadbasted a matching curve from that point to mark the new armhole. I backstitched the sleeve right sides together along that curve, then turned it out and mattress stitched the sleeve seam.

That looked ok so I went back out to the knitting shed and knit the other sleeve. Did I mention I have loads of yarn left over? The requirements obviously allowed for all the flaps that I haven't knit. Then I repeated the steps for the other sleeve. Then I washed it all again to give it a chance to shrink up a bit.

Now comes the dodgy part (yes, even dodgier than all that stuff above). I hauled out my overlocker (serger), threaded up with a neutral colour, and did a four-thread overlock from the hem, up the side seam, all the way around the armhole and back down the other side of the sleeve, trimming down the seam allowance as I went with my cutter blade. This did not go smoothly as the overlocker really did not like having the folded bulk of the knitted garment under its presser foot. I had to do some fixing afterwards with matching 4-ply cotton.

Then I pressed all the seams, and the garment. And here is the finished result. It is wearable, but I'm not sure I want another knitter within 10 yards of it in case they want to look at the inside. It is extremely thick, and has somewhat uncomfortable bulk under the arms due to how the sleeve fits the shirt. It is still a bit cropped for my tastes but at least I'm not going to scare anyone.

Will I wear it? I honestly don't know. I think the problem with summer knits for me is that if it is warm enough for me to feel comfortable having my arms bare, it is likely too warm to wear a knitted garment. And this is really thick. The stripes and colours look great, but it is not a cool garment. I may try it over a long-sleeve t-shirt and see if it works as a pullover.


Moogsmum said...

I've just found you via Ravelry. Well done for persevering on this! It was well worth the effort.
If it's too hot for summer, it'll look lovely with a long sleeved black t-shirt under it when the weather cools down.
Gorgeous colours!

Sew Create It - Jane said...

Hope you have a wonderful time at the meet up...wish I'd known earlier...I might have made it...I'm only in Rugby (just east of Coventry)...but I already have plans for the day.

Elsa Xenia said...

I liked the look and shape of this top too, when I saw it in the Rowan magazine. I had no wish to knit it because, like you, I need long sleeves with thick jumpers, and when I knit with colours I prefer to do my own combinations. I didn't realise it would feel so thick. The buttoning was part of the attraction for me. Yours still looks nice, and I hope you will be able to wear it.

Teresa said...

I am so impressed with how you put this together. It looks great, but like you, I think it might be too hot for summer wear. Sure would look pretty over a long sleeve knit top in the winter though.

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