Recently in Betty Jean McNeil Cardigan Category

New pattern: Betty Jean McNeil!


It took slightly longer than I anticipated (raise your hands, all you who tend to underestimate the time a project will take to finish), but the Betty Jean McNeil pattern is up and ready, complete with charts, photos, schematics, and sizing to fit bust sizes 30" through 54".


The essay/info page for this sweater is also up, right over here. I worked especially hard on the essay for this one, so head over and give it a look, if you get a chance. Betty Jean was a special part of my life, and I've really gotten a lot out of working on her Family Trunk project. I hope you enjoy the pattern!

Betty Jean, girl detective


I posted recently on Ravelry that one of my life ambitions is to look like Nancy Drew. Well here I am, living the dream.


This may just be my favorite self-designed project yet. Even though it's late July and hot as the dickens, I've hardly taken it off since I sewed on the final sleeve. Not only that, but the pattern is this close to being finished too, which is a first for me. There are certain aspects of sizing (sleevecap shaping, I'm looking at you) that almost always make me procrastinate about finishing patterns, but this one has been a breeze from start to (almost) finish.


I'm so pleased with the details on this sweater. I wanted a crisp, tailored look that retained visual interest, and I think the combination of turned hems and that narrow yellow border is quite snappy. And the buttons! It does take a while to get them all fastened, but oh, how I love a zillion little buttons, all in a row.


There are faux seams under the arms (which are also convenient reference points for the waist shaping), and the little i-cord neckband is sweet and simple, to go with a Peter Pan collar.


To take these photos, we went down to Cleveland High, the building where my grandmother went to school in the early 40's. Back then it was a secretarial school called Commerce, and offered courses in shorthand, typing, composition, and other skills that would outfit young women for the pre-war economy. (For you indie rock fans, Cleveland is also the setting for the Decemberists video Sixteen Military Wives.) My grandmother said that Commerce wasn't all-female - but she shook her head a bit over the quantity and caliber of boys in attendance. These days it's a standard public high school, but there are a number of original architectural details. Here's the sweater, investigating a case:


And here it is meditating in the crook of a tree that was probably planted around the time my grandmother was graduating from Commerce:


We brought Mr. Bingley with us on the shoot, and he got very upset when I went up into that tree. Judging from his reaction, and the joyous reception I received on my return, he assumed I was never coming back down. Either that, or he was afraid I was turning into a squirrel. Lest you think us cruel dog owners, we did take some time to chill with our little guy:


In any case, I'm extremely pleased. And if anyone else shares my fixation on looking like Nancy Drew (or my grandmother), the pattern should be ready very soon.




So close...




I am very, very pleased with how this is coming.


It's my first steeked project, and I continue to be surprised at my lack of nervousness about the dread Moment of Cutting. I do take a certain amount of pride in keeping knitting mishaps in perspective (ripping out is just part of the process, and so on), but I can't honestly say that an entire sweater-body unraveling before my eyes is something I could take in my stride without some serious weeping and gnashing of teeth. Nevertheless, I somehow managed to avoid stressing out about it at all. I think it's because I'm just having so much FUN with this sweater; my positive knitting force-field was keeping all the negativity at bay. Here it is approaching the cutting table:


I believe it's customary within the knitblogging community to include this shot:


And then, like magic, a malformed tube of knitting is transformed into a sweater!


It's no 48-hour garment, but I've been shocked at how quickly this sweater body has come together. And I just love - love, love LOVE - the results so far. This is my absolute favorite aesthetic: crisp, tailored, feminine, with clean lines and well-plotted details. I'm also surprised how much I'm enjoying the whole steeking process. Having a slew of pretty little facings all tacked down on the wrong side of the garment, creating clean, finished lines on the outside, injects just a touch of seamstress-like precision into my knitting experience, and the balance is very satisfying indeed.

I've pledged to finish the second sleeve for the Warren Johnson Jacket before casting on for the sleeves for this little treasure, which means I'm motivated. David and I are leaving on Thursday for a few days in California, and I want some plain stockinette sleeve knitting for the plane. Hopefully, I can have Warren Sleeve #2 felted and drying, and Betty Sleeve #1 cast on and flying by, when I board my flight. Wish me luck!

One skein in


I always love that point in a sweater project when I use up the first skein of yarn and move on to the second. To me, it's like that moment on a road trip when you finally get done with all of your grocery stops, car washes, and city driving, and are finally out on the open road. You are gathering momentum. All loose ends are tied up. You have a great adventure stretching out before you.


Of course, being one skein into a project when the previous one isn't quite done makes me feel a bit like a person who left on a cross-country trip with a pot of soup still simmering on the stove at home. Nevertheless, I'm enjoying this immensely. It's been so long (possibly EVER) since I've done a project involving this much plain knitting, and let me tell you: it's pretty darn easy! In fact, it just flies along, even though I'm using fingering-weight yarn on US size 1 needles. There will be a colorwork band farther along, which should hit just about when I'm sick of stockinette.


The first skein took me through the waist decreases, and I'm now (halfway through Skein #2) about an inch from beginning to increase again. I'm having fun!

And it just came to my attention while writing this entry that another lovely distraction is now available. I have some very special yarn slated for this project; I've been checking Ysolda's site on a daily basis, and planning to drop everything and cast on the moment she published the pattern. Now I'm not sure if that's exactly how things will go...but they might.

End with the beginning


When we come home from an excursion and let Mr. Bingley out of his crate, he rockets around our legs, twirling and cavorting, rushing back and forth between us and wiggling so exuberantly that his little body seems insufficient to contain the concentration of his excitement. That's kind of how I feel about getting started on this sweater.


There is still quite a bit to be done on the Warren Johnson jacket - David and I are going to make a little video tutorial on the "strandtarsia" technique, for anyone who wants to take a walk on the knitting wild side with me. After that I can finish the second sleeve, felt it, seam it, and add all those little finishing touches. Not to mention the sizing, final photo shoot (which ought to be fun - we'll be coordinating a trip out to Cascade Locks with my dad), essay composition, and so on.

BUT. All the while, I am absolutely chomping at the bit to get going on this next sweater, which will be a tribute to Warren's wife, my paternal grandmother, Betty McNeil.


Betty and Warnie (or Grandma and Papa, as I knew them) lived about a mile from my parents and I while I was growing up, and they both played big parts in my childhood. I'm glad to be doing "their" projects consecutively. Honestly, there isn't a day that goes by when I don't think about my Grandma Betty. She's the person who taught me to wave-jump in icy Pacific waters, to feel the allure of foreign places, to love the crisp, cold autumn. She told me that the only things she regretted were the ones she didn't do. She let my friend Sara and I cut up her old sheets for ghost costumes and ruin her lipsticks and walls playing "murdered waifs" on her stairs. She sat with me for hours in her cramped upstairs attic room under the slanted roof, listening with interest while I invented epic tales about my dinosaur figurines, or recited my picture-books by heart. I know she had bitterness in her heart at being disappointed by and for people she loved, but even in her most caustic moments she was still so good at loving us all.


It's odd to me to think of her as a high-school girl, but once upon a time she was. And the sweater I'm planning is inspired by Betty's high-school persona: crisp and tailored, yet feminine. I am so excited to cast on!

Almost there


At long last, it's actually starting to look like a garment.


One side, sleeve and back, felted and seamed together. The second front is done and waiting to be felted, and I'm about a third of the way done with the second sleeve. After that, it's just felting, seaming, and knitting the collar. And let me tell you, I am really ready to be moving on from this project. It's been a lot of fun and I'm excited about how it's turning out - the feel, in particular, is stunning - but I feel like I've been working on it for about a year.

In my experience, matching plaids is something about which one can get as neurotic as one chooses. In the excellent Eudora Welty collection The Golden Apples, there's a paragraph that opens "There's nothing Virgie Rainey likes better than struggling against a real hard plaid." Reading that, I know just what kind of woman Virgie must be. It's about the struggle and the triumph for her, and she has become less than present to those around her. In past sewing projects, I too have chosen to get hard-nosed about my plaids, but going that level of crazy on this jacket, what with the huge scale of the tartan and all of the other technical challenges, would have completely undone me. So I opted for the more manageable, "mildly neurotic" option, and ended up with a plaid that is more-or-less matched across the shoulder in front, and slightly less so across the back.





I have to admit that the reversed order of the grey and cream stripes across the shoulder in front was not intentional, and I thought about doing it over. But the effect has actually grown on me, and I've decided to keep it and just replicate the effect on the other side. My grandfather was a quirky man who did a lot of altering materials to fit circumstances. I think the slight discrepancy would have suited him.

On Father's Day, the jacket-in-progress came with me to a Dr. John/Neville Brothers show that David and I attended with my parents, and my dad tried it on. At this point, his enthusiasm is really helping me to keep up my own momentum on the project, and he was thrilled - especially about the sleeves, which are very different from the type of sleeve I normally design, but which he said "fits just like I like them." It's really good to hear, especially when I'm leaving my comfort zone in terms of style and size.

So, just the final sprint to go, plus the fine-tuning of the final pattern. I have to say, I am hankering to start my next project. I ordered some buttons for it off Etsy, and look at this perfect match:


Think 1940's schoolgirl cardigan, with a few extra treats thrown in for good measure. I can't wait to get started.