sweater doctor, heal thyself

My Farmer's Market Cardigan

One of the classes that I teach is called Sweater Triage. The folks in the class bring in sweaters they’ve knit (along with the pattern and schematic), sweaters that don’t turn out to fit they way they expect, or sweaters that look Just Plain Wrong somehow. I have them try on the sweater up in front of the class, and then I walk everyone through What Went Wrong and How To Fix It. Sometimes there are ways to fix a problem without re-knitting, sometimes a bit has to be ripped out and re-done, and sometimes, well, sometimes I just say, “Here’s what you’ll do next time you knit this pattern.”

It’s a fun class (no, really), and we all learn a lot from addressing specific Sweater Problems.

I think this one turned out nicely!

This week, I had to send Dr. Sandi herself right back to class.

I’ve been working on a Particular Hoodie on and off for a while now. (For reasons which will become clear, I won’t name the pattern nor the designer here; suffice to say, it is not my design and thus I don’t have the right to be too critical.)

I love the yarn, which is Cascade 220.

That’s not a Cascade colourway, obviously; when I was given the yarn several years ago, the colour was, shall we say, an unfortunate choice for my skin tone. Given that I had three sweater lots of the stuff (yes, someone gave me three sweater lots of Cascade 220, all in The Same Unfortunate Colour–odd, they simply left the box for me without a note…), I decided that professional help was required. I asked Kim of Indigodragonfly if I could pay her to Make It Pretty, and when she sent it back, it wasn’t pretty, it was GORGEOUS: one lot was the sapphire blue you see here, one was amethyst purples, and one was leafy greens. (Kim rocks.)

So the yarn is awesome, and I love hoodies, and my gauge was spot on, and I even added a bit of shaping at the waist, bust, and hips to fit my womanly curves.

(Yes, I’ve deliberately obscured identifying details so that you can’t tell which pattern it is. I want to illustrate how to solve a problem without pointing fingers at any one particular pattern or designer.)

I enjoyed the pattern and it went quickly. I did have a twinge or two when I was knitting the sleeve caps, as they looked odd to me. I’m a bit obsessed with sleeve cap shaping at the moment, as I just finished the calculations for sleeve cap shaping on the WiseSweater Project (after a very long period of delay and number crunching, my WiseSweater peeps have been extremely patient with me!), I was interested to see what this particular designer had done with her sleeve shaping.

But I ignored the twinges, and brushed away the misgivings about the tall narrow sleeve cap, and in general Turned My Brain Off during the sleeve knitting, the blocking, and the seaming up.

Turning one’s brain off: NEVER A GOOD IDEA, folks.

That’s me, trying on the sweater this morning after stitching up one sleeve and sewing it into the armhole. Notice anything?

Yeah. The top of the cap is a hot mess, very pointy and squared-off; it won’t lay flat on my shoulder. The bottom of the armhole hits me about two-thirds of the way up my bicep, pulling the armhole and the body of the sweater away from my body. And even though the armhole seems tight, as you can see, there is extra fabric at the top of the cap.

I went back and checked the measurements of the other sleeve (not yet sewn up) against the schematic and the pattern. All fine there. I checked the armhole measurements, ditto, and all fine there as well.

I tried the sweater on again. This time, I looked at how the armhole itself fit, without the sleeve.

Well, looky thar. That’s a nice armhole. It’s roomy, and fits, and lays flat, and all those good things.

So the armhole is not the problem. The body is not the problem.

The problem is in the sleeve, and specifically in the sleeve cap shaping. Take a look.

No wonder I was having Twinges and Misgivings while I was knitting it. Yes, it matches the schematic and pattern measurements, but gollygeewhiz, that sleeve cap is one tall narrow drink of indigo knitting. The curve of the cap really isn’t a curve at all; it’s a triangle.

I knew something was really wrong as I was seaming the cap into the top of the armhole. It just didn’t fit, and I had to practically do magic tricks to get the seams to look nice.

Put all this information together, and it becomes obvious what the issue is: The sleeve cap is too narrow, so that it covers only the top half of my upper arm, pulling the armhole up and away from my body. If it were wider, it would cover my arm properly (with a bit of room for movement), and the armhole would lay flat against my body, like it is supposed to.

The other problem is that the top of the cap is so pointy and narrow that I literally can’t fit the top of my shoulder into it. Looking at the place where the armhole hits me under my arm, it looks as though the armhole is too tight; however, when you look up at the top of the cap, there’s an extra inch or more there in the pointy corner bit.

The Cure

I’m going to have to take the sleeve out of the armhole (sniff, all the lovely seaming). Then, I have to rip the sleeve caps back down to somewhere around my elbow, and re-do them. The caps have to be wider overall, starting a few inches above my elbow; the caps have to have a bit more curve to them from base to top; and the top itself has to be wider.

When I tried the sweater on, I did some measuring and pinning, so I have an idea of the adjustments I need to make. But methinks I am going to use the new formulas I just did for the WiseSweater sleeve cap to calculate these caps, as a trial run after Nicholas programs them into the software.

Sleeve caps are a bitch to design from scratch. A BITCH. It’s not uncommon for a designer to have a few tried-and-trusted sleeve cap formulas that she uses for all her set-in sleeve sweaters, with tweaks here and there for style. As you can see, however, an unfortunate sleeve cap can make the difference between a sweater that fits and looks great, and a sweater that looks awful and ends up in the back of your closet (or worse, frogged).

THAT’s why I’ve spent so much time on the WiseSweater sleeve cap formulas. It’s bad enough when you are trying to get a sleeve cap that works for the eight sizes you put in a published pattern. I had the audacity to think I could come up with something that would produce something reasonable for all sorts of individual measurements and body types.

I think I’ve done it. Now all I have to do is explain what I did to Nicholas so that he can tell the software how to spit out a readable pattern. That’s our challenge for the immediate future.

But I’m not going to put myself through ripping out all my lovely seaming and knitting before we do the coding; the coding comes first. I think the Blue Hoodie and I need some time apart, to think about our communication issues.

The Blue Hoodie has thus been sent to the Naughty Corner, where Tim keeps a watchful eye on it to make sure it doesn’t get into further mischief.

In Other News

I haven’t forgotten that you folks wanted me to share What I Learned At SOAR with you. Also, some crazy llama has been banging on my window, insisting that she has yarn to give away…silly camelid.

On top of all that, Zoe says I haven’t posted a photo of her loveliness for a while. (She believes that humans need to spend a certain amount of time staring at beautiful cats to stay mentally healthy.)

There. You have all had your Zoe Dose for this week. (You’re welcome.)

It’s been a rough few weeks here at Chez Wiseheart, what with deadlines and grant writing and meetings and a certain chronic illness which appears to think it should be the boss of me. (NOT. NOT THE BOSS OF ME.) I’ve sifted through my travel experiences and the goodies I brought back, and I have some of that put together for you, but it’s not quite baked yet. Soooooon, my pretties. Soon.

little sparks of inspiration and fun

Yet another wacky TARDIS, this one done in balloons. I applaud the originality and tenacity of this person. (I am also convinced they have neither cats nor children.)

Recipe time! From the wonder that is my Twitter feed, two recipes for homemade pop tarts: Here, and here. I really want to do a bake-off…

While we’re in the kitchen: Nutella Cookies. (My Twitter peeps, they rock. Plus, they have the best food that I can’t eat because it’s too far away.)

Last but not least: I got a really, really lovely email from Maureen, who said all sorts of nice things and made me blush and smile at the same time. Maureen also sent a link to an article about an amazing knitted art object by the esteemed Canadian author Margaret Atwood. How cool is that? Thank you, Maureen, for your wonderful note and for sharing this link with all of us!

And this concludes today’s fun! Thanks for dropping by, and next time will come sooner than it did this time. (If that makes sense. Sure it does.)

OH. And your brain? Don’t turn it off. It’s there for a reason. Listen to your instincts and that little voice inside yourself, and you won’t end up with bad sleeve caps or other (worse) follies.

About sandi

Knitter. Spinner. Quilter. UFO Wrangler. Sometime bead artist and weaver. Two toddler-age kittens, 1 permakitten, 2 grownup cats, 1 beloved dog angel, 1 spouse, 1 crazy life. I suppose that the 5 cats make me 1 crazy cat lady; OTOH, apparently, yes, I do need that much feline supervision.
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18 Responses to sweater doctor, heal thyself

  1. Barbara Bonn says:

    And here is Margaret Atwood’s great auk!

    The fix you did for that sweater (and of course your detailed explanation of how you figured out the problem gives me hope for several unwearable FO’s at the bottom of my closet. Thanks, Sandi.


  2. Cat says:

    I love all your articles and especially those on the practical side of knitting. The problem you faced is why I hardly ever follow a pattern any more. I just have to change too much to get a sweater to fit.


  3. Lisa says:

    Can Zoe come visit for a day or two? I miss having a cat to snorgle, but Family Allergies mean No Cats Allowed. Will you be my surrogate snorgler please?


  4. Meg says:

    I love how you can show how to to look at knitting problems and break down the steps to figure out what to do. I’ve learned so much from you. Thanks so much! I hope that you and Blue Hoodie can come to terms because that color is fabulous!

    Is the change of seasons affecting that certain chronic illness? Mine decided fall was reason to knock me on my ass, but, you are right, IT’S NOT THE BOSS OF ME!! At least I can find plenty of yarny stuff to do while I’m reclining 🙂 Feel better soon!


  5. Tamara says:

    Zoe is soooo beautiful–what a breathtaking color of sable she is.

    If anyone hasn’t seen the Smitten Kitchen blog before, <a href:"http://www.flickr.com/photos/smitten/6240883640/in/photostream&quot; here's a pic of her ridiculously adorable child, Jacob (like the Pop Tarts weren’t enough!).

    And I’m glad to hear sleeve caps are a bitch, because that’s how I’ve always felt about them, but I just assumed my math retardation had something to do with that.


  6. molly says:

    thank you for the reminder, sandi – too often it is tempting to turn off the brain….i’m SURE they must be right – they’re professionals, right?
    yup – we all have off days…
    p.s. beautiful kitties!


  7. Arla Schmaltz says:

    I’m so glad you’re in Dr. Sandi mode again!!! I’m quite interested in what your dear man comes up with on the computer for a solution…I usually end up using graph paper to draw out the directions for shaping and that takes quite a bit of time…never thought of using the computer for generating solutions to my problems…I mostly use it to house all the patterns (and helps, techniques, and other such crafting related stuff) that I’ve downloaded from the net.
    Anyway, happy to hear that you enjoyed your time away, learning all sorts of things to share with us,
    and happy that you’re back home, too!!!


  8. Rachel says:

    Zoe is absolutely right — although having a cat snuggling on your lap while typing is also a mental health aid (as I type George has decided her forehead must rest against my wrist — makes typing interesting).
    And thank you — it is good to remember that I am not the only one who turns off her brain on occasion while following a pattern (and that hoodie will be gorgeous once you teach it who is boss, the color is glorious)


  9. My cat decided I should knit with her on my lap. And she’s, um, generously sized. But we did it.

    Kudos to you for figuring out the sleeve cap. That was one tall and pointy one. I’m generally afraid of altering them because of the math, but I know it can be done.

    And boy, did you ever pick the right person to make your unfortunate color fortunate. That is gorgeous yarn, sleeve cap be darned!


  10. enallagma9 says:

    Did I ever show you my first handspun sweater? You know, the one that’s not quite finished, the one stuffed in the back of some closet somewhere because it has wonky sleeve caps JUST LIKE YOURS? Yeah, that one. If you really want to teach us all how to make proper sleeve caps, feel free to remake mine. I haven’t had the strength of character to redo them AGAIN.

    I wish I liked vests.


  11. MsVicki says:

    I wish I’d read this earlier. No really.

    Like, around 4:15 this afternoon. Yep, right around 4:15. That would have been right before I … no … no … I can’t even bring myself to tell.

    But that part about, “And your brain? Don’t turn it off. It’s there for a reason. Listen to your instincts and that little voice inside yourself … ”

    She’s right. Pay attention.


  12. Jerri says:

    Thanks for the sweater-fix lesson. I am storing up bits of wisdom before I tackle a set-in sleeve sweater. You take the mystery out of the process and help me visualize how it should work.

    Ah, cute cats, can’t help but love’em.


  13. Teri says:

    Sandi –
    You look really great in that sweater!


  14. Bonnie says:

    The Farmer’s Market cardi looks fantastic. It makes me want to knit one for myself. The blue is gorgeous (Kim is a genius), and I’m so glad you’re going to redo the cap sleeves to it can be loved and worn. It’s going to be very beautiful.


  15. Seanna Lea says:

    Most of the time I ignore my brain I do it by knitting with the wrong yarn for the project. It feels like it should be completely unforgiveable, because the evidence is in your hands the entire time!


  16. What a great post, Sandi. With just a quick glance at that blue sleeve, I would have assumed it was either part of a raglan or something involving a yoke. A set-in sleeve would not have crossed my mind.
    It took me years to reach the point where, despite utmost respect for the designer’s vision, I was able to say to myself “That can’t be right!” without feeling pretentious, or as though I were being difficult. The first time was almost thirty years ago, when, while shaping the armholes for a bed-jacket for my mother, I kept thinking “This is too short”. I ignored my doubts and persevered, if only because the picture was lovely and the pattern came from a (still) well-known and well-respected source.
    Wrong! The end result was lovely but completely unwearable by anyone whose upper arms were larger than their wrists.
    Lesson learned.


  17. JJ says:

    Zoe has such gorgeous eyes. I come across a lot of cats in my profession, and she is in the top tier for gorgeous green eyes.

    We did the Smitten pop tarts a couple of weekends ago. I loved them, BF liked them. We are supposed to try the other recipe for comparison. Hopefully next weekend.


  18. Carol Ann Burden says:

    Hi Sandi – Again an awesome post about a problem many of us have had. I am at the age where I need really direct instructions! Where can I find the WiseSweater sleeve cap formulas? Sounds like they could really help me with an ongoing problem!! Absolutely adore the blue yarn and hope the hoodie will reach it’s finishing point soon.


    Carol Ann – Nova Scotia


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