What with one thing and another, I’ve not written about making things much of late. There was some Christmas crafting — but I rather scaled it down this year, and I have to say that I was really glad I did. Tom was pleased with his pair of plain blue socks, and he and my Dad each received a manhat (my Dad’s in some wonderful handspun manx loaghtan that I bought from lovely Anne Kemp last year). I also knit my Ma a Saroyan (rav link) — which I think is a great wee pattern — but then, of course, I managed to wrap and gift it before taking a picture. And during my spare time, I’m also working on several new designs, so the making of things, as well as the thinking about the making, never really stops. But a couple of weeks ago I came over all seasonal, and had a sudden desire to whip myself up a wintery knitted treat.

Two things inspired me. First, at the beginning of December a sweater appeared on TV which fueled my knitting desire. This sweater featured on a Morrisons advert fronted by glib and irritating Richard Hammond (the horror) accompanied by an obligatory sleighbell rendition of Take That’s “Let it Shine” — a confection of steaming puddings, giant hams and turkeys, fake snow, and a bunch of senselessly happy Christmas shoppers, all sporting an assortment of jolly knitwear. Among the crowd (who seemed to be dementedly following Hammond with their supermarket trolleys, as if he were the berloody pied piper or something) was a woman wearing a grey-and-cream festive sweater. The yoke of this sweater was a glorious vision of galloping reindeer and falling snow — I saw it for a split second — then the advert ended and it disappeared. Over the next couple of weeks I found myself actually wanting the advert to come on, just waiting for Hammond’s squashy phiz and stringy mane to appear with their message of commercial Christmas cheer, just so that I could catch another glimpse of that sweater. Amidst this madness, Mel turned up. She had knitted her friend a chullo (rav link) out of Artesano Aran and was very pleased with it. I looked at the chullo. I liked the chullo. Its muted, natural palette was gorgeous, and there was just something so smooth and soft and even about the colourwork. This was really a fantastic hat. I put it on my head. Oh my. It was so soft. So cosy. So very, very pleasing! The tones and texture of the yarn were just amazing. We enthused together about the qualities of both yarn and hat for quite some time — something had clearly taken hold — and I knew I was going to have to knit with those shades of that yarn as soon as possible. The minute that Mel was out the door, I was online ordering myself some Artesano aran.

On Christmas eve, I began to knit. I decided I wanted a close-fitting tunic-style dress with (predictably) a festive yoke. Now, the downside of knitted dresses, it seems to me, is that they sometimes fit rather poorly, or sag, and don’t maintain their structure. To ensure the dress would keep its structure, I knit the yarn (which is quite a heavy aran) as if it were dk, on 4 and 4.5 mm needles, and worked it to my exact dimensions with around 2 inches of negative ease. And to attain a good, flattering fit, I decided to keep the front of the garment entirely increase/ decrease free, and to put all the shaping in the back which is, frankly, where I have most shape. I began with some 2×3 ribbing then added sets of increases at two points — the, um, two pointiest points of my arse. I then decreased (in the same way my arse decreases) and nipped the dress in dramatically at the waist (all working to 2 inches less than my actual dimensions). At this point, my knitting looked like a tube with a gigantic arse-sized pleat in it. More than a little concerning. But I tried it on, and found that the shaping worked a treat. Here is what the arse / waist looks like unworn (the bottom arrow shows the increases, the middle one the arse shaping at its widest point, and the top one indicates the waist decreases).

On a hanger, the back of the dress looks very odd to say the least — like a funny, folded bustle. But on a person, it transforms magically into a three dimensional arse accommodator. Now, I confess it feels a little peculiar showing you me woolly behind on the interweb, but I do so in order for you to see just how the shaping works.

I will definitely use this shaping technique again when making / designing something tunic-length. Working the yarn quite densely, the fabric flattens out across the front (which is flattering) and the back attains a pleasing corset-like effect. I continued the shaping up the back (much as I did on the o w l s sweater), but then, when I came to position the armholes, set them half an inch further back to allow for a little more space in the front of the garment.

Much of the knitting of this was done on the fly while the business of the holidays went on as usual — I knitted in the car, in other people’s houses, in Blackpool and St Annes, in the Lake District, and the Highlands. Its been a speedy and a satisfying project. By the time the holidays were coming to an end, I was getting to the yoke, and my eyes and brain were starting to suffer from perusing a gazillion different Selbu stars and Norweigan snowflakes in my pattern books (I felt they were all merging into one, somehow). In the end I showed Tom a shortlist of about 15 designs, and he selected the one he thought was most ‘flaky’. Its a large repeat (25 sts), and I ummed and ahed about where to put it on the yoke — what I didn’t want was for the pattern to be positioned on my chest as if I had two giant snowflakes resting above each boob. So I shifted the pattern around a little — its worked out fine, but if I was knitting this again I would move the repeat just a tad more to the right for maximum symmetry.

A quick word about this yarn — which I really love. It is very well spun, with a great hand, and I know from knitting with it before that it wears extremely well. Being 50% alpaca and 50% wool it is warm and dense and heavy — but that is really just what you need in this weather — and it works well for this dress, which is toasty, easy to wear, and flexible to move about in (I walked 8 snowy miles in it yesterday). And I have to say that someone at Artesano is very good indeed at blending colours — since this yarn has something I’ve noticed as a feature of some other well-put together yarn ranges (most notably the Alice Starmore Hebridean) — which is the common thread of (sometimes unexpected) colours running through every shade in the palette. This common thread produces a tonal match between each shade — barely perceptible when you look at each one individually — but it means that the whole palette works together in a very satisfying way. In the case of these natural shades of Artesano Aran, it may surprise you when I say that the magic common thread here is red — the greys, and fawns, and creams, and deep chocolate browns of this yarn are all blended with teeny-tiny strands of exactly the same brick red colour. You can hardly notice this in the finished skein, as I say (unless you, like me, routinely pull blended yarn to pieces in full daylight to examine its colour composition) but once you knit the colours alongside one another, you can really tell what a difference these tiny amounts of blended red make. I think the common thread is what gives this palette of natural shades such an even, harmonious appearance when used together– this is the feature that Mel and I both marvelled at in her chullo — and I was very pleased with the final effect of these different but tonally similar colours on the yoke and edgings of this dress.

I don’t intend working this up into a pattern, but I’ve really enjoyed making it, and have learnt things about shaping that I will definitely put to use in future designs.

Name: Cold Snap. By me.
Yarn: Artesano Aran (5 skeins rosewood; 1 each of mahogany, oak, ash, and walnut).
Needles: 4 and 4.5mm addi circs.
Ravelled here.


(apologies for the crazed expression. I am in mid air)

(Oh, and for anyone who might be interested in seeing the reindeer-adorned sweater on the Hammond/ Morrisons advert — I’ve found it here on youtube. Someone actually uploaded it! The sweater is to be seen in the closing moments of the ad. I also noticed that Hammond seems completely incapable of steering his trolley in a safe and responsible manner — at one point he’s struggling down some icy steps with it — “potential death trap!” (as Lynn Faulds Wood would say).

79 thoughts on “cold snap

  1. it might sound weird- but i fall in love with your sweater and thought you might be able to replicate it and sell it? i know it sounds strange and i should do it myself, use my own creativity but i had an accident and can’t knit anymore which i used to do all the time. all my winter clothes where done by myself, partly because i have an unusual body size, partly because i don’t like the mainstream look of H&M.
    so if you have a heart for ex knitters, please reply if you see a chance to help me expand my wardrobe…

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  2. You are some kind of shaping genius. How on earth do you shape as you go – how do you know which bit of your body you’re up to exactly? (Hardly-beginner knitter). Did you use circular needles?

    I reckon I’m similar in body-shape (maybe? wishful thinking?) to you, I sooo want to copy. Probably not going to happen:( Oh well I can dream!

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  3. Arse-shaping! That’s brilliant and so flattering. I have to say that if I found myself walking behind you in the street I would probably look embarrassingly lecherous as I admired the workmanship.

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  4. The dress is gorgeous, and the shaping very flattering. I wish I had the courage to wear such shapely garments and show my legs a bit more! (and the time to knit a whole dress over the holidays… but I did manage an Owlet for my baby daughter)

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  5. Gracious, I just love this dress. It’s beautiful. If only I lived in a climate where a woolen dress would see use more than twice a year. Ah well.

    Love the gloves, too.

    –Melissa G in Texas

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  6. That is fabulous! What elegant use of shaping. A marvellous example of function and form blending. I so envy your ability to see your way through the shaping. Love it!

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  7. Also made me really laugh about ber-loody Richard Hammond and THAT advert! (I share the horror but found myself singing a long before christmas!), also thought very interesting about colour blending and will find myself examining yarn more closely. Lx

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  8. Absolutely gorgeous! Love the snowflakes, the tones and think the wool looks lovely. The back shaping is amazing and has made it really flattering and fitted. (Kirsty and I spend a lot of time talking about dress/skirts and the saggy problem because it is what tends to put me off.)

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  9. Oh my. That shaping is quite wonderful, and the whole, even with snowflakes (not my thing, but you picked an unusually liveable-with design), altogether droolworthy. If only I had the knitterly confidence (read, willingness to undo things and start again when things go awry, as they always do when I get creative) to emulate it.

    That said, had I that sort of confidence, the world would be at risk of the first ever cheery-red guernsey dress with arse accommodation. Perhaps it’s better not.

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  10. This is gorgeous and the shaping really does look nice and very flattering. I love the choice of colors and your matching mits! I very much want to make one for myself!

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  11. PLEASE write up the pattern! It looks amazing, and as someone who is a bit, well, bootylicious, I would really appreciate something with a bit of arse shaping! Wow, who knew something good could come out of those bloody Richard Hammond adverts!

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  12. Beautiful! or Booty-full as they would say in the States, hee,hee. Thank you for teaching me so much about the composition of yarn which I am thinking about constantly now when choosing a product for each project. I’m off to investigate your link for this yarn. Love your blog, Kim in Newfoundland

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  13. Hi Kate – Just found your blog by googling Henry Moore Textiles, I just got his book – we are a little behind in the textile scene here in the states. Loved your 2008 review of the exhibit and I LOVE your knitwear. So beautiful. I work in fiber a little bit, but have never attempted knitting. All your work is very inspiring. So glad I could leave a comment and thank you again for your Henry Moore review and the inspiration of your life’s work. Fran

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  14. Superb dress and such an interesting post.. I find it fascinating reading about the construction of garments. Oh, and I found all the talk of your “arse” hilarious… My Mum hates it when I call mine that!

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  15. Kate, what an amazingly beautiful dress. I could NEVER pull off such a form-fitting garment, but you certainly do. It looks so great on you. And I think the off-set snowflakes are brilliant.

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  16. This tunic turned out brilliantly!! I am continually impressed by your genius talent.

    And I’m fairly impressed by your lovely and shapely “woolly behind”. (Were you afraid to show it because we’d think you were showing off? :-)

    Fantastic work, Kate – inspired!

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  17. My eyes reached out with delight when this page loaded–there was something so…perfect, so trim, so lovely about the dress itself, and about the mood of the photographs. It’s wonderful and inspiring to see someone making something that so perfectly suits her. I also really, really enjoyed the narrative of its making and the details you gave about the construction–very helpful and I have a feeling they will come in handy some day. I second what others have said–I suspect you will be getting eager requests for the pattern…

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  18. I’m so too old for negative ease, but it’s just lovely and I see it as a pullover (that’s “jumper” to you!) incorporating the shaping, with positive ease! You are very talented…looks quite composed with the mitts.

    Wendy

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  19. Kate it is truly amazing. The beauty! And the speed!

    I confess my heart dropped when I read you were not planning on writing a pattern. It is the only knitted thing I have seen in *years* that has made said organ do a loop-the-loop.

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  20. Love this dress on you! Not something I could ever where myself, but I like you you used such a large-scale pattern on the yoke. My attempts at this idea recently have looked much more homemade or simplistic somehow, whereas yours absolutely transcends this problem. Good job!

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  21. I am drooling. Thank you so much for the detailed and informative post. I so wish I could convince you to convert it to pattern. I am making plans to order some artesano RIGHT NOW. Great job.

    The mittens are really brilliant, too. Did you Ravel those?

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  22. VERY nice and thanks for all the details! Very clever on the shaping and I just might try it myself someday as apparently I am all behind.

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  23. Wow! I’m in awe of your pattern-creating-shaping-abilities – it looks lovely, love the rib stripes.

    I wore the owl jumper a lot last week, spending a very snowy Hogmanay in the Borders – would love to turn it into a tunic-dress but couldn’t begin to imagine how to accommodate my behind in a manner that would be as flattering as your dress. Will definitely look up that yarn though. All the best for 2010.

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  24. I too *love* Artesano Aran, you are so right about the colour blends – they are incredibly clever. I’ve not knitted anything as grand or beautiful as your dress with it yet but have so far managed 2 fab ear flap hats similar to the Chullo and OH can vouch for the warmth and comfort factor of the yarn too!

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  25. That was the loveliest bum shot I have ever seen! It caught me off guard with all it’s brilliant splendour. Never did I believe that a sweater could fit that neatly over the body before. I am thoroughly impressed. Well done!

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  26. I LOVE your tunic. The shape, the back detail with the increases/decreases/the asymmetry of the snowflakes. Even the (kind of) matching mittens. AMAZING. I’m sure many people would be interested if you wrote it up and sold the pattern.

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  27. Magnificent shaping techniques, beautiful colours, really helpful notes here on how you put the whole thing together, and EXTREMELY lovely eventual FO!

    It’s gorgeous and you look extremely fine being an aeroplane or snowflake in it!

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  28. Well, I must say, I think you are a bit of a genius. That has to be the most flattering knitted dress I have seen (I’m including handmade and shop), the shaping is so flattering and the colours gorgeous.

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  29. Love this! It fits so perfectly and is soo cute on you! I wonder, though, is it tricky to get into? Or is it fairly forgiving?

    BTW, I’d like to mention this dress on my blog. Would you mind if I posted one or two of these photos?

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  30. OK, so I am reading this at my desk while eating lunch and just shot Pepsi out of my nose when I read “arse accomodator.” I am getting some funky looks from the guys I share an office with.

    I think the dress is brilliant!

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  31. What a delightful sweater dress! The shaping is perfect and shows off your curves. I’m glad that you finished it in time for a christening in the cold and snow.

    Off to take a peek at the ad.

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  32. It looks lovely – and so do you!
    Really like the way that you have shaped the dress to fit the behind. It makes the waist area on the back very interesting. I´m looking forward to seeing more of your knitting and designs in this new year 2010.

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  33. Beautiful work! I’ve been plotting for weeks to use the shaping from Owls to make a grey tunic dress, and you’ve gone and beaten me to it! Lovely stuff.

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  34. That is the most beautifully fitted sweater dress I have ever seen. I would pay (a lot) of money for that pattern, but I suppose it would be pretty tough to write up how to get it to fit everyone. It does just look perfect though, and so flattering, and reasonably quick to knit as well, and warm! I need to get better at patterns so I can follow your notes and make this, I am in love.

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