FO: Argyle Vest
Posted on December 28, 2009 - 9:54pm
Steeked Argyle Vest
Yarn: Vermont Organic Fiber Company O-Wool Legacy DK (Organic Merino), about 600 yards Charcoal and 300 Desert Blush
Needles: US size 4 24 inch circular, 16 inch circular, and Double Pointed Needles
Construction: This was a pretty difficult project, featuring many unusual and complicated techniques. I knitted this vest in the round from the bottom up, starting off with a 2X2 tubular cast on for the hem. I set up the false seam on each side of the sweater and worked in ribbing in the Charcoal yarn for a few inches. Then I began working the allover colorwork pattern, a traditional Argyle design. Argyle is actually a very old pattern, derived from a Scottish clan's tartan. I think the pink and grey make this motif look sort of 1950's sweater girl though, which is what I was going for.
I wanted the sweater to be very very fitted so I worked deep waist decreases, ultimately making the waist about 12 inches smaller around than the hips. Since fair isle knitting has very little give, I made the sweater to my exact measurements with zero ease for a perfect fit. I continued the false seam (contrast color purl stitch on either side of the garment - check out the last picture in this post if you want to see what I mean) so that the pattern would not appear to be disrupted. Here is a picture of the sweater about 30 percent complete:
I worked bust increases flanking each false seam and simultaneously set up for the main front steek.The sweater has a very deep v-neck so I started the steek quite low on the body of the sweater. Steeking is a technique that was developed either in Scandanavia or the Shetland archipeligo, I've heard both and am not sure which is correct. Essentially it involves creating a bridge of waste stitches that are intended to be cut apart upon completion of the garment, thus allowing colorwork to continue uninterrupted in the round. Working fair isle in the round has many advantages. When you are knitting stockinette stitch in the round, you never have to purl. Knitting is easier than purling and shows colorwork better. Also, because a garment knitted in the round is basicially a very long spiral, you are always working on the right side of the garment so you can see the colorwork pattern as you knit it rather than just counting stitches. It's also easier to maintain an even tension using this method. Steeks are usually made in either a checkerboard or a striped pattern, and have between 4 - 10 stitches generally. For this garment I used a 9 stitch striped steek for all four steeks.
After setting the first steek, I worked symmetrical decreases on each side of the steek to create the tapered shape of the v-neck. When I reached the appropriate point I set up the two armhole steeks the same as I set up the front one. I continued decreasing rapidly on each side of the armholes and the v-neck. Finally I set up the back steek, to give the sweater a slight dip at the nape of the neck, and worked about another inch in the argyle pattern. By this point I had decreased so much that I had to complete the knitting on double pointed needles, which are used to knit very small circumferences in the round, such as for socks. I finished up the main body with a three needle bind off on each shoulder. Whew! Here's a close-up of how it looked with the steeks in place and not yet cut. The red yarn is holding live stitches for the underarms.
The next thing I did was to set up crocheted edgings on the steeks. This is to hold the stitches in place so the sweater doesn't unravel, thus rendering about 100 hours of work a complete waste. There are other ways to hold steeks in place, most commonly with a sewing machine, but that method doesn't allow the same elasticity that the crocheted steek does. For some yarns, most notably the "sticky" Shetland wool, the yarn holds itself together so thorougly that no reinforcement is needed at all. But this wool is a softer Merino and needed reinforcement. Here is a picture of me crocheting the steek edging on the vest (in the purple yarn). The purple yarn is still there on the inside of the vest, but the steek creates a facing that I've sewed down so it's invisible when the sweater is worn.
Once I had worked all the crocheted edgings, I carefully cut down the middle of each steek. Yikes! Cutting a steek is a very scary thing for a knitter to do. I used a pair of fingernail scissors and cut just one strand at a time to make sure I did not accidently cut into the crocheted reinforcement.
Finally, all that was left was the ribbed edging. This process took forever because I had to pick up and knit what seemed like billions of stitches around the neck and armholes, and then do boring ribbing till I was ready to scream. I actually put this project aside for a couple days I got so tired of knitting that ribbing. But finally it was finished. And I love it. It's one of the most difficult things I've ever made, but it is fun and unique and special. Best of all, it's made from 100 percent organic and fair trade wool.