Monday, November 22, 2010

Neck Warmers

Sometimes called cowls, but this brings to mind  Batman and sweaters from the 70's, so I'm going with neck warmers. I have been designing & knitting these at a great rate over the past couple of weeks, partly because it's getting cold & my neck is likewise getting cold, & partly because they make great gifts. "Tis the season, after all... :)

The prototype is made from Scheepjes Voluma, no doubt long discontinued. I have a bunch of skeins left over from a long-ago purchase from Elann. It's acrylic & mohair, with enough fuzz to be cosy, but soft enough to wear next to the skin (very important!). Unfortunately, it's also somewhere between a fingering & sport weight, so the prototype didn't further the design process much, but I wear it in the evening when I get cold, & Brendan calls me "mommy ninja" when I pull it up over my nose :) I found the lace pattern in a book called "A Creative Guide to Knitted Lace" by Jan Eaton. I have no idea where I picked it up or when, but it has charted lace which makes the design process much easier.

The dimensions I'm basing my designs on came from the new Interweave Knits holiday supplement. As I was browsing through, the idea of neck warmers appealed to me but neither of the designs in the book did. I wanted lace! Elegant, flowing lace... I swatched the lace for the grey neck warmer & then calculated it for the larger, bottom end, which worked well for the lace I'd chosen, and for the method of decrease I'd worked out for getting it from the larger diameter to the smaller... The neck warmer patterns I'd looked at had used a consistent decrease throughout, so the prototype looks like a blunt-topped triangle. And although I like it very much & wear it all the time, I came up with some better ideas that I have incorporated in the designs for the others.

For one thing, although starting at the bottom does take advantage of the stretchy cast-on (I use the basic cast-on loops because they are the stretchiest, in my experience), but where you really need the stretch is the neck edge, so all the subsequent neck-warmers have been from the top-down. Another design feature I've added is, rather than consistently increase as I go up, I knit around in the cast-on number of stitches for ~4 inches, then I start increasing drastically (8-11 stitches, every 4-6 rounds) so there's less fabric pooling around the neck. I like the elegant look of this design, plus you can see the lace better. For the bottom edges I've been either crocheting-off in loops or using a knitted picot bind-off (found in Meg Swansen's "A Gathering of Lace" also a wonderful source for charted lace patterns). The pink one is the picot. I tried using garter stitch at the bottom edge (as in the prototype), but it just curled up & didn't look pretty at all. I have been blocking them all, too, which makes the bottom edge behave very nicely.

White neck warmer on the needle...

...and finished...

...and on me!
As for fabric, I've settled on alpaca for softness & warmth, in a fingering weight yarn. The pink one is the exception, being made from KnitPicks Capra DK weight (wool & cashmere blend). All of the pictured neck warmers have used just one skein of yarn, except for the white one (which was the second one I made, while I was still experimanting. You'll also notice that the white one has the triangle- rather than funnel- shape, so there's more fabric draped around the neck.) The blue one is from Knitpicks fingering-weight alpaca, and the black & white ones are from Lion Brand's Baby Alpaca (which comes in a range of natural colours). When it comes to absolute softness, the Lion Brand is the winner, but the Knitpicks alpaca is good for colours outside the natural range, & I'm going to get some more of that for some of my more colour-conscious friends & family.  It's a real bonus that you can get a whole neck-warmer out of one skein of yarn, too. None of the yarns I've been using costs more than $7 or $8 per skein.
This one is for me! :)
The most interesting part of this design is getting from smaller circumference (neck) to larger (bottom). I've shown some close-ups of the lace so you can track where the increases have allowed me to add more repeats of lace. I've also had to come up with different ways of adding increases, sometimes double increases less often (as in the pink one) and sometimes single increases more often (blue, white, & black). With single increases I actually switch the method of increase depending on whether I've got an even or odd number of stitches within which to increase. I like using yarn-overs as increases when I can, since it adds to the lacy look.

When looking for likely lace patterns to use, I look for smallish repeats of 7-11 stitches (one not pictured here has a repeat of 16 stitches, which made it harder to work in the increases & made the neck warmer a bit less stretchy than the others). It's easiest to work the increases into the plain stitches at either side of the lace, so I don't worry about trying to find lace already charted in the round. Also, I change how many plain stitches there are between lace repeats to suit the pattern, as long as the resulting lace looks nice it's fine. I've only pulled-out one so far because the lace was so tedious to work. I've got a shetland lace pattern on the needle right now (I am working them all in the round, of course!) that has no knit rounds between the lace rounds ("String of Beads" from Sara Don), and although it is a challenge and the going is slower, I'm enjoying it & the resulting lace (in a rich brown alpaca- yummy!). As you can see, it's a good thing I slowed down & blogged this before there were even more pictures to load! (Maybe I'll put up more pictures as I go...) And, did I mention that I can get one of these done in about 1 1/2 evenings of knitting? Such fun... ;)

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