Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Gauge the Situation: Interdependencies

One of the more complicated aspects of Bettie's Pullover pattern is establishing gauge. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that gauge - horizontal or vertical - is generally super clear, but vertical gauge (in multiple combos of stockinette, rib and feather and fan) is very hard to suss. Add to the equation that one's needle size is changing every couple of vertical inches and it's almost impossible to pre-determine how the length (never mind width) will turn out.

I'm used to getting quite fussed about horizontal gauge, what with the narrow shoulders and proportionately large boobs, but vertical gauge (and I do consider it before I begin any project) generally turns out to be a non-starter. Depending on the pattern, I can simply work more or fewer rows to hit my target dimensions.

Not so much with this sweater.

The reason why it's SO important, with this particular pattern, to make notes (which prove to you beyond a shadow of a doubt that you'll hit the right stitch numbers at key points and that you know what's coming next and how to make it happen) is because, based on the way this sweater is worked, your vertical gauge is as key as the horizontal. And, since you're going from the bottom up, you can't just add length at the end of it and hope no one notices that proportion is off.

Here's the basic sequence of construction as indicated in the pattern. (It's important to have some sense of this in order to understand the rest of this post):

Part 1:

Bottom of sweater (begins in the round) - ribbing with middle-size needle)

Part 1B:

  • Just above the hem ribbing, short row shaping to establish the stockinette backdrop for the undulating feather and fan pattern (this is kind of mind-blowing) (largest needle size)
  • Feather and Fan (largest needle size)
  • Feather and Fan (middle-needle size)
  • Feather and Fan (smallest needle size)
  • Feather and fan (middle needle size)
  • Feather and fan (largest needle size)
  • Short row shaping to re-establish the stockinette backdrop for the upper part of the sweater (Then you put the body aside.)

Part 2:

Create the sleeves, one at a time, in the round. (middle-needle size)

Part 3:

Then you use a crazy mechanism of knitting rows with all kinds of decreases to affix the sleeves to the body. You shape the sleeves and lower armscye at the same time. (middle needle size)

Part 3B:

Eventually, once you've knitted to about half way up the armscye length, you leave knitting in the round and start working back and forth because the neckline begins. You continue to work sleeve and armscye shaping throughout the rows as you also begin to shape the neck. Now the pattern begins referring to WS and RS instructions. (middle needle size)

Part 4:

After that, you do some more short rows to shape the sleeve cap and shoulders. You work each side separately. (middle needle size)

Part 5:
  • Finally, you kitchener stitch the underarms (to close them up)
  • Three-needle bind off the shoulders (to close them up); and 
  • Knit the neckband. (middle needle size)

Now, one of the ways in which this pattern rocks is that the schematic is VERY detailed. It shows you how every horizontal and vertical segment work together. That's key for me because my proportions are fairly, if subtly, different than those the sweater calls for. 

In brief:
  1. My armscye needs to be 6.25", 1 inch shorter than the pattern instructs.
  2. My upper chest is also shorter than the pattern assumes - fortunately by about the same amount as the armscye / what the pattern suggests, though not quite as much.
  3. I'm planning on adding a bit more length to the middle of the sweater through to the bust portion to get over my full bust. 
  4. I want a shorter sleeve than the pattern calls for because a just-below the elbow is elegant and also I need to conserve yarn (yeah, yeah, the story of my life). 
Sure, I'm only talking about adding a vertical inch here and subtracting it there, but we know how establishing proportional length makes the difference between a sweater that looks custom made (cuz it is) and one that would fit someone else better.

Here's the thing with this particular pattern: When you get to the section of the sleeve shaping (Part 3) - and going on up from there - the actions you work in one section (i.e. the knitting on of the sleeves with the complex associated decreases), to establish those proportions, are inextricable from the actions relating to other sections (armscye shaping and neck shaping happen at the same time in different spots on the same rows). Moreover, all of these relate intimately, from a vertical shaping perspective, to the sleeve cap shaping that happens thereafter.

The way the pattern is worked, arm depth is carefully aligned with neck shaping. You can't really detangle them because you're working the vertical length of one in conjunction (though slightly out of phase) with the other. How - in addition to this - I am expected to manage numerous HORIZONTAL considerations (side front, side back, sleeve front, sleeve back and neck decrease shaping on a row by row basis while ensuring that they occur in the right sequence and at the right time to accord with vertical gauge) is practically beyond me, though I'm sticking with it.

I've adjusted my schematic, I've rewritten the me-adjusted version of the pattern numerous times - not changing the overall actions, just changing up where they occur on my version of the sweater. Every time, I've reconsidered the impact of these adjustments, imagined a fatal flaw (potentially incorrectly), and started again. It's like there's a nutty loop going on in the back of brain right now...

At my current stage of construction (about 7 inches of the bottom of the sweater, including a couple of different gauge's worth of feather and fan pattern) I think my overall vertical gauge is going to work out to be about 7 rows to an inch (nowhere near what the pattern gauge suggests in any of the needle sizes?!). I estimate that, as I continue to work - even as I have decided to use the different needle sizes (for horizontal shaping purposes) at different sections in the garment to try and mitigate the potential challenge of a sweater that may still be too wide, I may discover that my vertical gauge is being substantively impacted by all of my horizontal experimentation. 

Neither gauge exists in a vacuum, of course, though sometimes you can pretend as much if the pattern isn't too complex. The only thing worse than having your proportional shaping carefully determined by vertical gauge (in addition to the regular impact of horizontal gauge) is to experience said scenario while you also cannot predict what your vertical gauge (some rows up) is going to be. It's what we call tap dancing.

All this talk aside, I don't know how else to approach this project. I've got to resolve the horizontal shaping challenges as they emerge or overall vertical proportion won't matter. It'll look all wrong for a totally different reason.

At any rate, that's the Bettie story du jour.

Now questions for you: If you've made this sweater, I'd love to hear about your experience. If you've made other bottom up sweaters that conform to this construction, have you been equally challenged? I'd love to know your thoughts. 

I realize I'm making it sound very complicated. Mind you, that's because, in my opinion, it IS very complicated. However, it's also some very enjoyable planning and super-fun knitting. Perhaps I'm past the point of being able to assure you that it's worth your effort to give this pattern a go (well, maybe we should see how mine turns out!), especially when I whine at such length.

Many of you seem quite intrigued by the specifics of this pattern so I've really gone into the weeds in the hopes that this post will be of benefit to that subset of readers.

I'll leave it on this note: The actual knitting (Japanese short rows aside) is quite easy. Rib and stockinette are simple, as is feather and fan stitch (F&F). F&F is just a 4 round pattern, 2 rows of which are K, 1 row of which is P and the fourth row is the one with the lace-work. As far as lace-work goes, this is repetitive but not boring. You need to be alert, but not in any way anxious. The pattern reveals itself quickly and is fancy.


  1. Well, at least the F&F part is easy! I hope you have the same experience that I've had a few times with heels of socks - it sounds massively complicated, but then when you get to the actual knitting it makes perfect sense.

    1. I know, good about that! I don't know that it's been quite as fun as your sock heel experience. I do love that kind of outcome.

  2. Sounds complicated as hell!! It makes my head spin! Bottom up knitting is so weird and freaky to me lol :)

    1. It IS weird and freaky. Why do people do this?? And why am I knitting it?

  3. I love your knitting posts. It's both interesting and useful to see someone else's thought processes.

    And thank you also, for your previous assistance on short row bust shaping which I've now done for my cardigan and it's worked rather well. I also used this tutorial (along with one you let me know about) in case you're interested.


    1. Thanks so much Miriana! And I'm super glad to hear that your bust shaping went well. I will check out that link!

  4. Goodness, this pattern sure sounds complicated but you're right - it is fancy! Thanks for all the detailed explanations. I'll be sure to refer to them in the new year when I get started with my own Bettie.

    1. Andrea: It's just starting to become clear (subject for another post) that this thing is rather see through due to the yarn over lace work. I thought, on the smallest needles, the holes would be tinier, but that doesn't seem to be the case. It doesn't bother me so much, but I wonder how it will be when I finally put it on...

  5. Ouch...makes my head hurt! Maths is not my strongest subject. ;-)

    1. I hear you. I choose to call it "engineering". Makes it seem more like design than math. :-)