Monday, November 23, 2015

Knitting in Progress: L'Enveloppe

You know I've been making L'enveloppe - this strange shawl-poncho-scarf hybrid. Well, it's just about done so I thought I share some of my feelings about the pattern and the process.

Here's a shot of where I was at last weekend (I'm almost finished now and my next post will show photos of the finished garment):

The garment is based on this main piece which, when finished will be left-right symmetrical.
About the Pattern: In short, I find this pattern to be wildly overwritten which is hilarious given that I - of all peeps - love too much detail. The problem with the instruction is that it isn't particularly clear. There's precious little rationale. In fact, the designer urges one (in all kinds of fora) simply to follow the instructions and it'll all work out as long as one doesn't over-think it?!

For all that, I made my first mistake at cast-on, where I mistook crochet cast on (something I have no experience of and which the author simply urges you to learn how to do) for provisional crochet cast on. Note to reader: They're not the same thing. Crochet cast on is NOT provisional crochet cast on. It produces fully cast on, not live (but held), stitches.

So, after making the main piece of the garment (a strangely shaped, symmetrical, clefted trapezoid). I had to go back, undo the crochet chain holding live stitches, pick up those live stitches and immediately cast off two cast on edges (I did the provisional cast on at the at the neck too, stupidly). Thankfully, it seems to have worked, though I cast off backwards on one of the edges - the neck - so now the front and back don't match exactly (the whole point of doing the provisional cast on in the first place).

Another confusing element of the pattern - which one can wrap one's head around with some experience of knitting - though for a newbie I suspect that circuits would be blown - is the degree of choice ascribed to yarn usage. This garment isn't simply sized by small, med, large, wherein one uses a yarn of a particular gauge and one ensures that ones gauge swatch, yarn-circumference notwithstanding, matches that prescribed. It's also "sized" to allow one to use any number of yarn circumferences producing horizontal gauge of 13, 14, 15 or 16 stitches per 4 inches. My point being: Too much info. Too much choice.

An experienced knitter will know how to make those changes and a newbie just wants to sit down and cast on.

I wish the designer had spent more time explaining how this pattern works - how one turns a clefted trapezoid into a 3-dimensional shawl - than explaining how to make said trapezoid using 4 thicknesses of yarn.

A propos of which, could she not include a schematic that clearly labels what the various edges of the garment are destined to become? Lettered segments go a long way so that you can say - fold the edges such that A touches D (for example). It took me 30 minutes to figure out how to block this thing because what becomes what is not well-described (and I'm not an idiot).

Why not explain, specifically, how this becomes a piece, worn on the bias, because you're going to rotate the pattern when you cast on for the left arm-piece? The designer spends a lot time telling you how complicated it is (till you've made it) and how you should just trust her - time could have been better spent just telling you about what the fuck is going on.

So let me just say this:
  • You're going to knit the wacky trapezoid.
  • You're going to fold it longways in half, along the clefted edge so that it looks like half a trapezoid. The clefted long edge will be horizontal and partly open at the neck (this is the fold-line edge), the other long edge is diagonal.
  • As mentioned, the horizontal fold-line edge is half open (the cleft part). That's the neck. The closed half of that edge, when rotated, will form the right shoulder and, when seamed, will produce a kind of kimono sleeve. You can ignore it till the final stage.
  • The short edge perpendicular to the neck edge (that open part on the horizontal fold) needs to be partly seamed up to create the collar fall. The side that meets the neck edge will be left opened i.e. unseamed. The part that meets the diagonal edge of the folded work will be seamed half way to the top edge. This seamed part forms the left shoulder which, at this point, will likely be entirely unclear to you. Once you've sewn up @ half of that short edge (a quick 4 inches or so), forget about the neck and collar.
  • At that now-seamed end of the short side - the part that touches the diagonal edge - you'll pick up the stitches that will form the left shoulder piece (a short-row shaped "cape" for the shoulder - it's not a sleeve). Those instructions are pretty clear just remember that, in this set up, you need only to pick up the stitches - don't pick up and knit. Picking up the stitches is as simple as putting one leg of the stitch on the needle.
  • Once you finish knitting the left arm piece, it becomes apparent that, in order for the left arm piece to cover the left arm (and the shoulder seam to sit on the shoulder) the garment will have to be rotated and will therefore hang on the bias. The part that hangs down (front and back) to produce that triangle point that veers to the right is made up of approximately half of the diagonal edge of the original trapezoid, the half that hasn't been used to produce the left arm piece. 
  • Finally, you'll produce the right kimono sleeve by seaming @ the middle third of the remaining edge - the long edge perpendicular to the horizontal fold line, opposite that short edge onto which you knitted the left arm piece.
If I could be bothered, I'd make this a thousand times easier by labeling each of the edges with letters and creating a schematic that showed those letters next to the relevant edges. But it ain't my pattern and this is the most I can be motivated to do. Hopefully it will help someone. I know it would have helped me.

About Yarn-Choice and Stitch-Choice: Enough bitching about the instructions. Now I'd like to bitch about the stitch pattern I chose (garter) and the yarn I used. You get to choose between seed and garter. If you're a newbie, choose garter because it's easier. Otherwise choose seed. It produces a more elegant and firmer fabric which is a key feature when you're going to wear something HEAVY (lots o' yarn in this thing, perhaps aran weight or thicker) and ON THE BIAS, which stretches on wear, (see para above).

Garter stitch uses way more yarn than stockinette stitch, btw, and somewhat more than seed stitch. So keep that in mind when buying. I will have ended up using 675 yards for size small - the pattern indicates that small in 16 gauge should take about 560 yards. I've also seen a post wherein the designer indicates that the arm piece doesn't take up much yarn. I disagree. Mine will have taken 175 yards - or 25 per cent of my pattern ration.

Garter also stretches like a bitch which, when you add super wash yarn to the mix, see below, is a challenge.

I chose a splitty, silky, super wash yarn (Rowan SuperFine Merino Aran) and I wouldn't use it again. Partly that's cuz it's splitty. Partly it's cuz superwash yarn always seems to stretch absurdly (even if I do get gauge after wet-blocking a swatch, and in this case I did). Look, the questionable yarn choice is on me. I was aiming for good drape and my choices for aran-weight (at my LYS) weren't robust.  I do want to say that this yarn isn't inherently bad, splitty-ness aside. It's of high quality and I suspect it will wear well.

In retrospect, were I to make this again - and since I haven't quite finished it, I don't know if it's headed for disaster or wearablility (it's one of those garments) - I'd make the seed stitch pattern using worsted-weight yarn that's got a lot of spring (maybe woolen spun - though that won't drape optimally) or something like Madeline Tosh or Quince (Lark or Owl). Ironically, that would put my gauge out of the spectrum of the 4 options provided (mine would probably become 17 stitches in 4 inches) so I'd be on my own in terms of altering the sizing.

A couple of important things to keep in mind when you're making L'envellope: 
  • Go down an needle size if you feel your fabric is "open" when you block your swatch. It's only going to get worse as the fabric grows and gets heavier. You don't want the drag to produce a flimsy looking garment. Lord knows, you've got enough gauge options to work from that this will be easy enough for most. A propos of this, this is an interesting video tutorial about determining that your fabric is optimal for your garment. It's geared towards sweaters but the info is widely applicable.
  • Use the size which best suits your shoulder-width, not your bust.
  • Pick up enough stitches to make the finished left arm piece at least half the length of the long diagonal edge. If you don't, that pointy bit that hangs down is going to droop (as many photos in Ravelry show) and it will look like a weird, floppy shark tail - not like a holistic part of the garment. FYI, I followed the pattern instructions and I did get a left arm piece of the appropriate dimensions, but it appears that lots of other people didn't - as photos show. The smaller your gauge, the larger the number of stitches you'll have to pick up. The pattern doesn't make this explicit but that's how it goes. And remember newbies - 16 stitches per inch is a smaller gauge than 13 inches per inch.
The problem with the majority of the more than 700 versions shown on the Ravelry projects page is that they're made using the wrong yarn in the wrong size. Ain't it always the way. Alas, with this pattern, that's a deal-breaker.

So, that's my 2 cents. Thoughts or feelings?

PS: Next post will show the finished garment...


  1. Ooh, I feel this one slipping lower in the queue -- too much thinking for a simple, if interesting, accessory. Your Ravelry mannequin shot looks stylish -- hope to see you modeling it soon.

  2. Thank you for your posts on this. I started it a few days ago and am just coming to the opening section, knitting the back side. Your comments and photos have been very helpful.

  3. I laughed out loud reading your post. I have just started on the second tapering side of the trapezoid and have determined I must start completely over. I consider myself a fairly experienced knitter, but this pattern has me quite bamboozled - for exactly the reasons you list. Nevertheless, I am determined to complete this garment. Your comments have encouraged me and are most helpful. I only wish you were here to help me in person.

    1. Keep on with it! I'm sure, if you start over, you'll be happier with the finished product but, man, that is painful :-) I honestly believe that if everybody were to do what I suggested here, they'd love the end result! Of course, I might just be a bit biased.

  4. Thank you for your excellent helpful review, I am a fairly experienced knitter but baffled and bewitched by the instructions and diagrams. I am just beginning the short rows section 3 and frankly bumbling along after knitting back 3xs. still not sure if I
    'm on track as I am creating a very "holy" edge. Always wanted to try this pattern, finally broke down and purchased when our Canuck $ was down .35 cents lol I shall persevere, good news I am using a lively worsted as you suggest and chose the easy road of garter....

  5. So happy that this post may have facilitated your knitting process. The instructions, as written, really are bewildering.