Last September, we began receiving little hints from Japanese designer, Junko Okamoto, that she may be using a Verb yarn to create a new pattern. Tiny flashes of Verb yarn began appearing on her Instagram feed. Being a huge fan of Junko's work, my eyes widened. With great anticipation and curiosity, I watched and waited for new clues. Soon enough I learned she was indeed using Verb yarn. One of my favorites, due to its local providence (Sally Fox's farm) and woolly texture, Horizon.
I am drawn to Junko's designs because of how she plays with shape - oversized, balloon-shaped, puffed sleeves. She typically throws in some texture in the form of cables (and has used them for shaping, a technique I find ingenious), or a dash of colorwork (ok, sometimes a lot of colorwork, see Twigs). So what would she make with Horizon?
Papa Sweater! Junko emailed to let us know she was in the process of designing a sweater. She told us her inspiration was a child wearing an oversized sweater. The colorwork motif would be similar to a child's scribble of flowers. All of us in the dye studio ooohd' and ahhhh'd, loving the originality of her design. I mean if you are going to design a big, oversized sweater, why not throw some flowers on it to, right? Right!
Oh! And don't let me forget to mention, as far as I have seen from her many patterns I have downloaded, she offers one size. With all of the strides we knitters and knitwear designers have taken to disassemble and reassemble sweaters, and to debate with great fervor over what is the best way to knit a sweater for the best fit for your body type, I find this one size approach, which is essentially a blanket for your body, a welcome respite. No need to deliberate over which size I am! I get to focus on the yarn, swatch, and cast-on.
Since the release of this pattern, many people have asked me how difficult this sweater is to make, in terms of the colorwork. My understanding is that a lot of people are drawn to try colorwork for the first time, which is really exciting! The fact that this sweater only comes in one size plays in the knitter's favor in terms of colorwork. Because, if your gauge is off (a bit, and yes, you must do a swatch), it is not going to throw the fit of your sweater off. Whereas, if you are knitting a traditional Icelandic sweater, where the colorwork is typically in the yoke of the sweater, if your row gauge is off, at all, your yoke will be too long, and honestly, it will look strange. The fit will be off. The same is true if you make a colorwork hat or mittens (or god help us, socks), your stitch and row gauge must be absolutely accurate.
Fair enough, correct gauge when knitting colorwork is an absolute worthy goal. That said, when knitting colorwork, there are other techniques to perfect like making a beautiful fabric. So as you may know, when knitting colorwork, you are knitting with two strands of yarn. I knit with the yarn which I want to show up most clearly in my left hand, and the color which I want to fade into the background, with my right hand. I usually knit (a bastardized version of) continental, so it takes me a minute to adjust to using my right hand to knit. So just right there, a skill to practice and perfect.
Next skill: Managing your tension which knitting colorwork. When you are knitting with one of the yarns, you are carrying the other yarn with you, this yarn, as it lies behind the fabric, is called a float. It is important that your float mirrors the tension of the fabric you create when knitting. Otherwise, if you are pulling the float tightly on the backside of the sweater, the fabric on the front-side cannot block flat, and will pucker. Wool is stretchy - but not that stretchy. Some people say to carry your float loosely. Maybe. What I find most useful is to while I am knitting, when I get to a point where I am going to use the yarn in my left hand (in this case, the yarn I am using to knit the flower) to unbunch the fabric on my needle, so the fabric is relaxed and flat, I make sure my float's tension matches the same length as the fabric I have just knit. If anything, allow the float to be a little too loose. But matching is better. At first, I go slowly, and watch my tension in this way, then I find, once I get into the rhythm, I can just knit without doing that. However, I will every so often, stop, and check-in to make sure I haven't begun gathering my floats too tightly. ("Oh yeah, I am in the process of knitting! Not just zooming through to be able to wear the Papa - but I so badly just want to wear Papa - ok well then you are going to have a puckered Papa. Ok, fine I will slow down." This is basically the conversation in my head when I am knitting colorwork.)
Long floats. Papa does indeed have some long floats - in other words - long spaces between lines of the flowers. This tutorial and commentary on colorwork (aka stranded knitting) changed my life in the best way possible. One invaluable thing it taught me was how to catch my floats while knitting which makes long floats bearable. Yes! Read it over, I swear there are many good lessons.
It helps that Horizon is forgiving due to its woolly texture. It nicely fills in little gaps here and there, between your knit stitches, creating solid fabric. Plus, it is made from really cute sheep, who are grow a myriad of colorful fleece. I like thinking about them while I knit.
Kits for the Papa Sweater are available here.
Let me know if you have any questions!