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Buttonband February 15, 2011

Somehow, every time I knit on my current cardi project, I have a Joan Harris moment.

All of a sudden, I, with my red french-twisted hair am wearing a tight pencil skirted dress and this sweater is draped around my shoulders as I sashay through my day…

Maybe not.

But it’s getting closer and closer to the finish line (and the days are getting longer and longer so who knows :p )

I’m at the buttonband stage of this frisky little turquoise cardigan and just for kicks and grins, I thought I’d portrait it inside out.

There’s a certain charm to seeing the architecture of the sweater this way – lots of little strings hanging everywhere, but a real sense of order too. Revealed is the functionality of the parts; the hopefulness of that cuff; the pleasure of that front band with its straight-edged picked up stitches.

I used a technique on this sweater that I really like. Now, for the most part, patterns call for ribbing to be stitched with needles in sizes that are much smaller than the body of the sweater.

The origin of this tradition is not from a fashion POV, but from a warmth factor. Tight ribbing = sealed edges: wrists, neck, hem. Out damn cold, OUT! But the 1×1 ribbing looks very sweet to my eyes…

Here we see it made with a needle two sizes down from the body size needle.

Because of the nature of the yarn (wool/aplaca) the end result is still pliable and can be smoothly blocked out to not strangle in the wearing.

But it’s just too big for what I want to do next: the buttonband.

So, in the making of it, I went down one more needle size so I could craft a denser non-floppy band. Button banding is one of the finest arts of sweater making – and maybe one of the least understood, most despised.

There are no 100% clear cut rules about the pickup ratios; all the ones in my repetoire are starting points. All the instructions given in a pattern are that as well, since the end result will be a function of YOUR row gauge and the characteristic of the yarn itself. In the top ten of help emails I receive are questions about why someone’s buttonband is different than that described by the pattern.

I try and do the math to incorporate the physical temperment and gauge of the yarn I used, but alas, milage will vary, even in my own work! It’s just the nature of the beast.

The silver lining in the cloud is that once you’ve done one or two, those parameters become second nature – and it’s easy to “read” the nature of your materials and the architecture of the sweater and understand if you’re going to deviate much from the baseline instructions. The idea of “reading” one’s knitting is something that is very exciting and possibly accompanies any EUREKA moment you’ve ever had. Your brain, sight and touch click together in a trinity of understanding that is quite wonderful.

And once you’ve learned a technique like buttonbands or discovered a characteristic of lace decreasing or learned how to shape an edge, you will be able to read those moments in advance on every project that comes next.

So my question to you, dear readers, is: if a pattern called for three needle sizes instead of the traditional two, would you oblige? Do most knitters have a range of needles to take advantage of this technique?

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