paperdolls redux

Probably the most rewarding aspect of designing is seeing what knitters actually do with one’s patterns. Ravelry is brilliant for this (as for so many things) and it is sad but true that I regularly peruse the project galleries, and am often to be found in a state of ludicrous excitement over the latest cute owlet or beautiful Manu. In the hands of great knitters, a pattern really takes on a life of its own, and undergoes many radical alterations. Different colourways, yarn choices, the addition of shaping, or other modifcations can completely change the feel of a pattern, enabling everyone to see it in a new way. I am often totally blown away by these creative transformations – perhaps most especially of my paperdolls design – and I wanted to share some examples with you that I particularly admire.

I just love the colours that Sandra chose for her sweater – there’s a wonderfully fresh end-of-Summer / beginning-of-Autumn feel about that beautiful combination of shades (echoed in the orchard in which she’s standing). Sandra used an additional fourth colour for the peerie pattern, and that tealy-blue really takes the yoke to another place for me.

You’ll note that Sandra’s dolls are sporting hair bunches — a common modification for those who aren’t keen on the slightly sinister bald-clone look of the dolls on my original. The bunches look especially cute when the pattern is made in the wee girl sizes, as in Circé’s sweet version. . .

. . more photos of which can be seen here

My (very basic) idea for the paperdolls pattern was that I could fit a deep and vertically continuous pattern onto a seamless yoke without the need for the fixed percentages of decreases that are commonly assumed to be necessary in this kind of sweater. (While one must not doubt the boundless knitterly genius of EZ, I personally find that her yoke percentage system produces a curiously tapering neckline reminiscent of a cluedo character). In fact, if the sweater is designed to fit closely to the upper chest and shoulders (the bit above the boobs), I reckon you can leave out most of the decreases until you are a few inches in (this is the basic principle of the yoke shaping of the owls sweater also). One can, indeed, fit just about anything onto a seamless yoke if one can be bothered to work out a customised rate of decrease around the particular requirements of a deep vertical pattern (ie, rather than, say, a fairisle pattern that is simply built around horizontal bands separated by decrease rounds.) Following this basic principle, and retaining the original details of the paperdolls sweater (icord, corrugated rib, peeries), some fabulous reworkings of paperdolls began to appear on ravelry. I have been wowed by the many creative ways in which knitters have made the design completely their own. Tanya has knitted several superb, and perfectly-fitting versions of the pattern, all with different yoke designs. I think this sweater featuring an elaborate Selbu star is my favourite . . .

. . . sometimes you just can’t beat the bold simplicity of two contrasting colours. Tanya’s choice of muted blue and yellow works wonderfully here, and I also love the elegant simplicity of Andrea’s two-colour re-interpretation of the pattern.

Andrea has used the chart and motifs from Kate Gilbert’s beautiful bird in hand mittens to stunning effect: rather than the snowy, wintry feel of the original mittens, this lovely sweater makes me think of white blossoms against a summer sky.

Now, I’ve been admiring all these reworked paperdolls for some months now, and have been meaning to write about them for a while, but the sweater that follows is the one that finally prompted me to produce this post. Pause for breath while I present to you . . .Marianne’s Totoro paperdolls!

There is only one reaction to such a sweater and that is to shriek loudly, excitedly, and incomprehensibly at the computer screen for several minutes I mean, TOTOROS? The woman is a genius.

And finally, another knitting genius, whose work I really admire is Momo. Everything she knits is impeccably made, in gorgeous yarn, often using interesting and unexpected colour combinations, and always in perfect taste. Momo knits wonderful garments, and I feel truly honoured that she has made herself six paperdolls. Above you see the yoke of her original sweater and below are some spectacular yokes featuring birds . . .

. . .owls

. . .snails (yes, snails!)

hedgehogs. . .

and, most recently elephants!

Momo is clearly knitting up a menagerie of yokes and I am already looking forward to seeing what she comes up with next!

Inspired by all of these fabulous projects, I decided to update the pattern. I wrote it last March – before I began using Adobe Illustrator – so I’ve added a more professional-looking chart and schematic. I’ve also made a few other changes.
These include:

-better layout (pattern fits on 2 pages, and chart on 1 page)
-new rate of decreases on yoke
-new short row table and Sunday short row instructions.
-removal of smallest child’s size (0)
And finally…

A note for those knitting the paperdolls sweater, or considering their own yoke customisations:
The downside of a dramatic rate of decreases worked toward the top of a yoke is that the fabric has a tendency to pucker. And the likelihood of puckering is increased by the shifts in tension that are inevitable in colourwork worked over long stretches. Your tension has to be really, really even in order to make a design like Marianne’s totoros or Momo’s hedgehogs work well, and for the front of the work to look smooth and professional. What you definitely do not want are patches of the contrasting colour showing through to the front of the work, spoiling the look and continuity of your design. The front of the work should look smooth and even.

My top tips to achieve this are:
1) knit the sweater with slight negative ease – choose the size closest to or just below your actual body dimensions. You want the sweater to stretch lightly across your shoulders, rather than droop over your chest.
2) Use a pure wool yarn (such as a shetland or the bowmont braf I used for the original paperdolls)
3) Do not weave in the floats along the back of the work. You will end up with long floats, but (particularly if you are using a pure wool yarn), these will even up and sort themselves out after a few wears.
4) When you are working a stretch of more than 8 stitches, fan the stitches out a little on the right hand needle before working the next stitch in the contrasting colour. This slows down the pace and flow of the knitting, but is particularly useful if your tension tends to be tight.(Don’t overdo it though! You don’t want the knitting to turn baggy!)
5) Block like a loon. Soak the sweater in cool water and wool wash for at least 20 minutes to allow it to relax and bloom, rinse carefully, then remove excess water by rolling and squashing between a couple of dry towels. Now turn the sweater inside out and stretch to shape, smoothing out the long floats. Spend five or ten minutes stretching and smoothing the back of the work (the floats should lie nice and flat) then turn the sweater the right way round. Stretch the fabric out to shape again, but do not rub or smooth the front of the work (to avoid any risk of felting). Again, spend a while over this, paying particular attention to any areas of fabric that look like they might want to pucker up. Pin the sweater out to the correct dimensions and allow to dry flat. About half way through the drying process, turn the sweater over and pin it out again (don’t stretch it again or change its shape when you are doing this: simply turn it over and pin it out). This enables both sides of the sweater to get the benefit of lying flat against the blocking surface. Now leave to dry completely.
6) Enjoy wearing your beautiful sweater!

With a big thanks to everyone who has knitted the sweater, sent me an email about it, written up their project notes and suggestions, and posted pictures on their blogs and ravelry. Cheers!

Edited to add: if you already bought the pattern, you should automatically receive the updated version, but if for some reason you haven’t received this, please email me.

48 responses

  1. So many creative re-interpretations of your already lovely sweater (which, I might add, I have been meaning to attempt for some time now.) I am especially pleased to see my owl motif from my Owlmittens/socks appear on the yoke of Momo’s Owl-paperdolls. I hadn’t seen that one before!

  2. Wow! It is really inspiring to see other people’s take on your design – and that wee girl is soooo cute!

    I particularly loved Sandra’s colour scheme – a great combination.

    Like you, I am continually trawling through Ravelry and am always amazed at how one pattern can look so different – that is the beauty of knitting.

  3. When I was at Woolfest I was just rememebering that I took a photo of you there last year wearing your paperdolls – I look forward to seeing you next year in another of your wonderful creations!

  4. I love Paperdolls so much. I was really keen to knit it this year, but I’m pregnant again, and don’t really think I’ll get much wear out of a beautiful, slim-fitting jumper for at least 12 months. I’ll make it in the New Year, while on the breastfeeding/cake diet, which should give me the impetus to lose weight.

    236 paper dolls, and all of them different. Knitting is wonderful.

  5. I love them especially the bird in the hand flowers, snails and hedgehogs! What fun! I’m so glad that people loved the lovely jumper and have modified it so successfully.

  6. oh Totoros! How cute can you get(and the nelephants were adorable too)? What gorgeous interpretations of your pattern! Seeing how different people interpret a pattern is what makes Ravelry the biggest time-suck on Earth.

  7. I’ve faved so many versions of this sweater on Ravelry because there are so many different interpretations of it. I didn’t realize that the hedgehogs and the elephants were knit by the same person. That’s pretty awesome. This sweater is still on the top of my queue.

  8. I have to knit your pattern! I love all of the alterations you show on your blog! Thanks for sharing the photos. My daughter and I are planning on stopping in at a yarn shop tomorrow morning on our daily walk. I will be looking for yarn for this project!

  9. I have a paperdolls on the needles, I still have to start the sleeves but then it turned too hot or there was something else. I already knew it would be on my list to start first thing in september or so,now I’m definitely sure. Thank you for sharing your tips & these inspiring exemples

  10. hi kate
    i’ve been dipping into your blog for some time now. love your designs!
    downloaded the “paper dolls” pattern last year and have just started to knit it up. my summer 2010 knitting project. working my way up the body just now and looking forward to knitting the dolls. i’ll post some piccies as i progress on my blog.
    thanks for design and inspiration,
    gill

  11. This has been in my to do list for ages and ages. But they’re all so wonderful. And it’s all your genius that started it off…..

  12. They are all beautiful and worn to perfection by the knitters (and you, too). If forced to choose, my favorite adaptations would be the Bird in Hand and the snails (clever, clever, and I don’t even like snails!). How thrilling for you.

  13. Wow. This is absolutely wonderful to see. The original is great, and it’s amazing to see all the wonderful ideas it sprouted.

  14. The Totoros and snails are so cute! I also love Koume’s Paper Cats (rav link). This is #3 in my queue right now and I can’t wait to make it.

  15. super to see knitting as a ‘community’ experience, sharing patterns and beautiful results.some comments are from novice needles hoping to aspire to this type of knitting. go for it! but if it looks too ‘ big’ why not try a baby item, and if you have no babies to knit for then prem baby charity knitting is a lovely place to get started.
    thanks for a lovely item

  16. reply to Ashley – I actually have very wide shoulders, but the paper dolls pattern shaping and a pattern for the yoke is amazing for making them look good. Please give it a try!

  17. Oh.My!! Loud, excited, incomprehensible shrieking is just about the reaction I had when I saw the Totoros! So many wonderful ‘reduxes’ of your great pattern!
    Also, I was very sorry to read about the bureaucratic bullsh*t you’re having to endure – it’s outrageous and you’re right to rant! Despite it all I hope you’re having a good weekend… is Edinburgh melting like Amsterdam?

  18. These versions of Doll Heid are spectacular. I had no idea that others’ creative tangents from your design would delight you , I must try ! (psst ! It’s me Jen, and I’ve finally figured out how to get an avatar which works automatically on WordPress. Not sure why, but I may appear as one or both, alternately with my Blogger identity (DownFromTheMountain)… I am sorting out the kinks gradually. See you around !)

  19. Thank you so much for this post that explains everything anyone could need to know about designing and executing a yoke sweater with a deep vertical pattern. You have done a great service to knit designers all over the world! I’m going to buy your pattern right now, and when I finally get around to making my yoke sweater (in line behind a lot of other knitting obligations), you won’t recognize it as based on your Paperdolls… but it will have been! Congratulations on a great success, and thank you again!

  20. Thank you so much for putting the pattern for sale on Rav! I haven’t bought it yet, but my daughter has and is making it for a friend. She hasn’t been knitting for very long, so I think she is brave to take on so many new skills, however, when she has finished, she will have a very good grounding in our craft! I think the variations others have made would make me yell with delight too if this was my pattern! It must be thrilling to have this happen! You are an inspiration!

  21. Paperdolls has been my favorite sweater on Ravelry for a while. But with a 48″-49″ bust, I don’t think the largest size would work for me (there’s negative ease, and then there’s negative ease). Any thought of adding an additional size? Pretty please?

    • sure, Grace – I’ll add a couple of sizes to take it up to a 50″ bust. Might take me a couple of weeks to fit it in, but I’ll be sure to let you know when I’ve updated the pattern.
      K

  22. I know this is an old thread, but I was wondering whether your paid pattern includes information for adapting the sweater design to a different motif? Having never dared to knit a sweater before, I’m not sure I could come up with my own; and while the dolls are cute, I really love some of the other designs people have come up with :).

  23. I love the Totoro and the hedgehogs! I’m not a knitter so I have no idea how to alter patterns. is there anywhere I could buy those patterns in their entirety so I can talk my mother or MIL into making them for me?

  24. Hi, I just love this for my granddaughter who will be two next winter. That gives me plenty of time to work on this. Will your smallest size fit a two year old?

  25. I made my husband an EZ seamless sweater and yes, I did find the yoke to be very strangely tapered! I wound up frogging it because he never wore it. I may give it another go with your method.

  26. I have been asking around Ravelry for help with altering the yoke for your Blaithin. Now THIS is what I’ve been looking for! Thanks so much. I am off to buy this pattern.

    But before I do that, I have been wondering what it is about some people’s knitting that makes the peerie row at the top of the yoke look stretched-out and weird, and other people’s (such as the sweaters in this blog entry) still looks neat and recognizable. I’m kind of afraid to ask on Ravelry, because I don’t want to seem mean to anyone’s sweater.

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