Stone’s Throw

For someone who waxes poetic about autumn at the slightest provocation, I am woefully unprepared for my favorite season. While I have a handful of rather dressy blazers and a quantity of hoodies that my husband loves to side-eye, all of my cardigans are lightweight and too close-fitting to wear with anything other than a camisole, meaning they function more like long-sleeved t-shirts than true layering pieces. Add to that the fact that all my button-ups save one are v-necks rather than a more traditional crew neck, making them unsuited for pairing with the basic cardigans you find at most retailers this time of year, and you can see how days with a 20-degree swing in temperature prove challenging.

Enter CustomFit, specifically the built-in design Stonington. V-neck? Check. Originally designed with a thicker yarn in mind? Check. Lots of stockinette for a classic look and a quick and relatively mindless knit? Check and check.

Caitlyn is leaning against a brick wall and wearing her CustomFit Stonington cardigan by Amy Herzog

The green of Caitlyn's CustomFit Stonington contrasts with the orange-red brick behind her

The yarn is Swans Island Washable Wool Collection DK in color Pesto. I got it from my beloved Warm ‘n Fuzzy during their summer sale in 2017. Although there were only eight skeins, it looked like they were in the original bag from the wholesaler, so I assumed they were all the same dye lot. They were not, but I did not immediately discover this fact, in part because I didn’t even wind the yarn to start knitting until April 2018.

By sheer coincidence, all of the skeins I grabbed for the back of the sweater were the same lot. It wasn’t until I was partway through the first front that I discovered I had six skeins of one lot (of a bluer hue) and two skeins of another lot (of a yellower hue).

I ripped back and decided to alternate skeins on the fronts and sleeves. There are noticeable stripes, but I think they’re softened somewhat by the semi-solid dye, producing an overall effect that resembles a tonal yarn to my eye. The difference in lots is obvious at the side seam, where the solid back meets the two-tone stripes.

A close-up up of the side seam of Caitlyn's CustomFit Stonington, showing how the yarn's dye lots differ on the front and back

A bigger issue than the dye lots, however, was coming up short on yarn to complete the sleeves. I searched online for more of the dye lot I needed, but the couple of shops I contacted either didn’t have the correct one or didn’t respond to my inquiry. At least one shop sold out of the Pesto color entirely while I was waiting for responses, increasing the pressure to find something before the yarn was no longer available.

I decided to gamble on a mystery skein from WEBS, which turned out to be a third dye lot. While certainly not ideal, it was close enough to one of the two I was using that I thought I’d go with it.

Unfortunately, even with a ninth skein, I was going to be a little short. (Well, slightly less than nine, as I’d failed to account for the yarn already eaten up by my swatch, lying forgotten in a knitting bag somewhere.)

At this point, you might well be wondering how I could have miscalculated the amount of yarn I’d need this badly, and why I didn’t choose a different pattern if I wouldn’t have enough. The truth is that CustomFit will estimate the yardage you need based on your swatch size and weight. I just…chose not to trust it. My experience with yardage estimates, much like fabric cutting layouts, is that they’re more than generous. I figured I’d squeak in just under the estimate with my nine skeins.

It’s at this point, in a bit a panic because many shops no longer listed this yarn at all, that I realized I should have turned to the Ravelry community from the beginning. After searching through other users’ stashes, I was able to find not one but two users with the dye lot I needed. About a week later, I had a tenth skein in hand. I ended up using less than one-tenth of that tenth skein, leaving almost a whole skein. Naturally, it became a matching hat—more on that another day!

Even after accounting for the time spent ripping, acquiring two extra skeins, and re-knitting, it’s hard to say why it took so long to finish this cardigan—long enough to cross the threshold into a new year. I could gesture vaguely toward blocking, seaming, knitting the band, and facing each side with grosgrain ribbon, but I’m not sure that was the reason? My notes, as usual, provide no clues.

I did spend some time trying to find worthy buttons. I came very close with one-of-a-kind marbled glass buttons at local knitting and sewing store Downtown Knits, but they didn’t have enough for my cardigan and weren’t able to source more. I looked around at a few other places, and ended up settling for plastic ones from JoAnn that I stitched on by hand. They’re an interesting shape, but I may yet switch them out if I find something else I like better.

The buttons on Caitlyn's CustomFit Stonington are green plastic and shaped like stylized dogwood flowers

Overall the fit is good but not really what I was aiming for. Amy’s original Stonington was designed to hit at the low hip, but I’d been chosen a slightly higher (but not high hip) hem; I definitely ended up with the same low hip fit she got anyway.

The sleeves also ended up a lot longer than I’d planned. I tend to shoot for about one inch past the wrist; these cover my palms and most of my fingers. I wear them cuffed, which looks okay but isn’t ideal.

These length issues are probably a result of the superwash yarn as much as my measurement set. I wet-blocked my swatch but laid it flat to dry. Instead, I should have hung it to dry with clothespins clipped to the bottom edge to simulate the weight of the sweater pulling on itself.

In terms of ease, I chose an average rather than close fit because that’s what CustomFit recommends when you plan to wear your sweater over a long-sleeved button-up or t-shirt. That ended up being more than enough ease for comfort, and I’d personally prefer a slimmer fit, especially through the back. Looking at the pictures, I could probably stand to narrow the shoulders a smidge too.

The back view of Caitlyn's CustomFit Stonington, showing wrinkles around the lower back

The less-than-perfect silhouette hasn’t once stopped me from wearing this sweater, and I really thought it might. I had a hard time choosing pictures because so many of them revealed how the whole thing is a little too long, a little too loose, and a little too straight for my taste. But when it’s on, so long as I don’t linger in front of a mirror, I really don’t notice. It’s warm, soft, and comfortable over the shirts I live in during the work week through the fall and early winter. It’s a fine alternative to a jacket when it’s chilly in the morning but temperate by lunch time.

The pattern is one I could easily see becoming a staple knit up in a bunch of colors. Not for me, mind you—I enjoy variety in my knitting if not my knitwear (I own an embarrassing number of identical v-neck pullovers in different colors), so I doubt I’ll make another one. But the idea of getting more mileage out of a knitting pattern is a nice thought. Right? Right.

Here are three more pictures that don’t show any useful details of the cardigan itself, but I like them too much not to share them.

Turning Point

Caitlyn is standing in a local park with one hand on a tree and the other on her hip. She's wearing a striped sweater and jeans and smiling directly at the camera.

Caitlyn is standing with her back to the camera and her hair pulled forward over her shoulder. Her striped sweater has alternating rows of fuchsia, turquoise, lime, and light grey with light grey ribbing at the neckline and hem.

Caitlyn is hugging her chest and looking playfully over her shoulder at the camera while showing off how the pink, blue, green, and grey stripes on her sweater match across the side seam.

A close-up of Caitlyn's forearms and hands. Her striped sweater has wider fuchsia, turquoise, and lime stripes alternating with thinner light grey stripes, and light grey ribbed cuffs.

Caitlyn is resting her hands on the back of a green park bench and smiling at the camera. The stripes on her sweater aligned across the body and sleeves, and the ribbing on the cuffs is echoed at the hem.

Given this sweater was on the needles for two years and two months, is it any surprise the photos sat on my phone for nine more months after that?

I kicked off this project right at the end of 2015, and I showed my progress on it at the beginning of June 2016. I’d just started on the sleeves when we experienced the basement flood that derailed the remainder of our summer, and that cemented 2016 as a terrible year for us. (There were many terrible things that happened that year. It was a bad year for everyone. But that was our personal tragedy.)

Eventually—I don’t remember when—I pulled the sleeves out of their abandoned project bag and finished knitting them. I’d ignored the CustomFit instructions for binding off the shoulders in favor of using short rows, as usual following the handy guides provided by TECHKnitting and Knitty. Seaming the shoulders was a cinch using a three-needle bind off.

Attempting to set in the sleeves (in the flat) revealed that I’d made a mistake on one of the sleeves and the cap wasn’t tall enough. I wish I could say where I’d gone wrong, but apparently I didn’t see fit to leave myself any explanatory notes about this. I ended up ripping out the sleeve cap to the underarm bind off and re-knitting, meticulously counting decreases on the second try.

Setting in the sleeves so that the stripes matched across the upper chest and the sleeve caps was a struggle and a half. I looked at many, many pictures of hand-knit and ready-to-wear tops with stripes to determine what properly matched stripes should look like. (I later discovered the Seamwork article “How to Match Stripes Like a Pro” also gives a clue.)

I concluded that a match stripe is typically located at the widest point on the chest, which generally corresponds to the lowest point of the armhole. You can place the match stripe at a higher point on the chest and sleeve, especially if you’re cutting and sewing a garment, but the armhole bind off provides a convenient matching point to work from on hand-knits. Importantly, you may be able to match more than one stripe above it, depending on the height of your stripes, but the closer you get to the top of the sleeve cap, the less likely the stripes are to match.

This should have been obvious to me, since I had specifically worked out what color stripe to begin the sleeves with precisely so my stripes would align at the armhole. But when it came time to seam, I got it in my head that I should be able to match all of the stripes on the sleeve cap to those on the body. That was an evening of self-induced crazy-making, let me tell you.

Once I finally stopped trying to achieve an impossible perfection in stripe-matching, setting in the sleeves and then sewing up the side and sleeve seams proceeded as usual—mattress stitch all the way!

I mentioned in my progress post that I was using one of TECHKnitter’s eight tricks for weaving in as you go. I chose the overcast method because it can be used for same-color or different-color joins in both flat and circular knitting (so versatile!) and because it’s recommended for fine yarn (no added bulk!). Unfortunately, I haven’t mastered the proper tension required to make this work well, because the tails are distorting the stitches they’re trapped against. Some stitches are pulled taller and other are squashed shorter, making it looks like there’s jog in the stripes. It’s not visible at a distance, but I can see it when I’m looking at the sweater up close and it bugs me (probably more than it should). My solution will be to only knit stripes where the unused yarn can be carried up the edge of the work. Or knit fewer striped garments. (AHHAHAHA yeah, right. Like I can stop myself.)

Even weaving in as I knit, I had an unforgivable number of ends to deal with. To stave off utter despair, I made myself weave in about half of them before I let myself pick up and knit the neckline. It helped. Somewhat. I still had to weave them in, but breaking the work up over a couple of evenings before and after the final knitting sprint did keep my twitching eye in check.

Now that I’ve not only come to the ends of the ends, but also worn the finished sweater a couple of times, I feel like I’ve formed an honest opinion of it.

I’m glad I knit a CustomFit design more or less as written. My previous CustomFit sweater involved heavy modification due to less-than-optimal yarn selection. This sweater has given me an opportunity to evaluate my measurements and what CustomFit thinks of as a close fit, including the placement of bust darts, the circumference of sleeves, and so on. Overall, I’m happy with the silhouette, and I’m less inclined to tinker with the pattern generator to try to get an even slimmer fit (which could result in unflattering straining or wrinkling).

When I wore it out for the first time, I was lukewarm about my yarn choice. I love Cascade Heritage Silk (blogged evidence here, additional proof on Ravelry) because it’s an affordably priced wool–silk blend that offers next-to-skin softness and a rainbow of colors. But the drape of the silk means that it can feel like it’s bagging out when I bend or sit and sagging over the course of the day. But after multiple wears, I’ve realized this is mostly in my head. While it’s true it doesn’t have the recovery of 100% wool, it doesn’t actually grow with wear or get sloppy-looking. For a lightweight sweater worn on its own or over a camisole, it’s a solid choice and I’d recommend it.

The turning point this sweater is named for was the realization that this sweater pairs exclusively with jeans and gym shoes. It doesn’t look like any of the other sweaters in my drawer; it doesn’t go with anything else in my closet. It clashes with my complexion, especially now that I’m a redhead.

The candy-colored yarns that were irresistible on the shelf seem strangely muted when knitted up together. (I know that’s hard to believe, looking at those photos.) Their vibrancy waned with my enthusiasm, and didn’t return even after I finished the project.

I remember when I got those yarns, from the now-closed Yarn Tree Studio in Raleigh. I bought them first and foremost because they looked good together, like they belonged together. Not because I wanted to wear them. Which is so silly, in hindsight, because I’d always intended to wear them—as a sweater, as a shawl, as a something. I only saw them as “pretty yarns,” and didn’t for a moment consider them as “the stuff to make clothes.”

I could defend my decision by saying I bought the yarn six months before I did Wardrobe Architect for the first time, but I find I’m not actually interested in justifying this sweater to myself. Instead, I feel like I’ve finally learned something that all of the meditations and mood boards didn’t drive home for me: just because something looks good on the rack/on the yarn or fabric shelf/on someone else, and just because I like how it looks, doesn’t mean I need to own it or wear it.

If my goal right now is to have more things in my closet that work together to create cohesive outfits, then I need to think about my buying and making in terms of projects that support that goal. There’s nothing wrong with owning styles that aren’t “flattering” or are one-of-a-kind, unless my goal is to have more garments in flattering colors and remixable shapes—then I’m just going out of my way to dilute my closet and increase the chance I’ll have “nothing to wear.”

I don’t like making mistakes, and the idea of learning from my failure has never captivated me—I’d much rather save time and heartache by learning from the mistakes other people have already made, if that’s an option. Despite reading and observing other people’s style journeys, it took personal experience to learn this particular lesson about making what I want to wear. It was a long walk, but I got there in the end.

I’ve already seen the payoff: during a trip to the New York City Garment District this summer, I went with a plan to look for specific fabrics intended for specific garments, all of which should work together in a variety of combinations. As soon as I catch up on my backlog of finished projects from the last few months, I’ll share my autumn/winter sewing plan, which is already in full swing!

Caitlyn is sitting on a green park bench facing away from the camera toward houses in the distance.