Sheltered: Introducing Modern Tartan

c Meg Kelly 2010

Hello, all. I hope you are each encased in human and yarny love today. Here in Austin, it’s 55 degrees and pouring rain, but tomorrow we’re headed to Baltimore from a more traditional winter wonderland.

I got an extra Christmas present this year: today, Hill Country Weavers released its pattern line featuring Shelter yarn: and the men’s sweater pictured above is my contribution. Hill Country Weavers is the big local yarn store here in Austin, and is one of nine flagship stores carrying Shelter, the beautiful new yarn designed by Jared Flood, aka Brooklyn Tweed.

Jared, of course, has his own beautiful line of patterns for his yarn. A group of designers here in Austin decided to try our own hand at the yarn, seeing what it would do under an Austin influence, thanks to some prompting from HCW’s owner, Suzanne Middlebrooks. The whole pattern line is gorgeous — and gorgeously photographed.

c Meg Rice 2010

This men’s pullover, called Modern Tartan, looks complicated, but is actually quite simple to knit. Not just simple, but also fun, since you start at the top and knit down, leaving very little seaming. You do have to cut a little — that zippered neck there comes from a steek that you cut down from the collar. But do not fear the steek, dear knitter — especially when the steek is to be cut into such a lovely, sticky wool like this one. This yarn wants to hang onto itself like so much velcro.

There is another way that the yarn and design marry well together: Shelter is so lofty in its construction that the sweater stays quite light — a good feature for the average hot-blooded male.

Design-wise, the trickiest thing to figure out on this sweater was how to make the raglan increases play nicely with the stranded color work. I finally landed on an easy explanation for how to do the increases that I think makes the final product look much more polished.

c Meg Kelly 2010

If a men’s sweater in five different colors of Shelter is too spendy for you, there are certainly viable alternatives. The wool you use needs to be worsted-weight, pretty sheepy (no super-softy, drapey wools), and relatively light. Berroco’s Blackstone Tweed or – even cheaper – Shepherd’s Wool from Stonehedge Fiber Mill would be great alternate choices.

Really, most classic worsted-weight wools would work — like Cascade 220 (ooh, I’d love to see this in a bunch of their tweed colors) — but just be advised that those heavier wools would make a warmer sweater. Seriously warm and toasty might be just the sort of thing you’re looking for right now.

Merry Christmas, and warmest wishes to everyone, whether this is your holiday or no.

Lace love/hate

Here’s the latest thing off my needles, the Alhambra scarf, designed by Anne Hanson of Knitspot. (I can show it to you because I didn’t design it — weird how that works, isn’t it?) It’s knit out of some lovely KnitPicks Shadow that a thoughtful former student gave to me.

Like so many of Anne’s designs, Alhambra hits that sweet spot where complex-looking lace meets actually-not-so-difficult stitch pattern. Just enough repetition that you don’t have to be a slave to the chart, but just enough variation that you don’t want to cut yourself to death ever so slowly with your thindly thinny little laceweight yarn.

Here’s the thing, though: I’m not a fan of lace, generally speaking. It would seem that in the universe of knitters, this makes me the inhabitant of a remote planet, population 4. Knitters get FREAKY for lace. Even women in their 20s are churning out lace shawls as if they had actually come back into style.

Don’t get me wrong — I kid you lace lovers because I love. And I get the delight in the technical challenge that is lace. My tastes just run on the other end of the spectrum from Super Femme.

But this scarf? It has a different quality that isn’t quite so…. lacy. I think it would be possible for a man to wear it, too. What do you think?

Finally, I can show you one!

After much (by necessity) secretive knitting, I can finally show you a completed design. A few days ago, KnitPicks posted my pattern –called Dawson — for a men’s shawl-collared pullover knit from their new merino-cashmere blend.

There’s my dear boy modeling it on a typical, blistering summer day here in Austin. Impressive how he’s not even breaking a sweat, isn’t it? I had to arrange the shots carefully so as not to show in the background the 20-somethings in bathing suits diving off their boats into the river and the 30- and 40-somethings on shore who were dripping sweat into their iced coffees.

I’m really proud of this design, mainly because I calculated all the measurements completely from scratch. That is, I took the standard measurements for men of different sizes and calculated how that would translate into directions for each size. This was a bit of a nightmare when it came to the set-in sleeves because the shaping on that kind of sleeve is complex.

I’m also really happy with how well the stitch pattern married up with the yarn. Capra, the yarn used in this design, develops a slight halo after being knit and worn, so you need a stitch pattern with some sharpness to it. But then, most sharply defined stitch patterns are either ribs or cables — totally expected for a men’s sweater, yawn — or a bit too femme. After much swatching with different stitches, this simple combination of knits and purls fit the bill.

I loved working with this yarn. It provides rather affordable access to cashmere. While $90 for a size small might seem like a lot, it is a cashmere blend, and that is a men’s small we’re talking about.

I’d be grateful for any feedback you are willing to offer.  Also, let me know what patterns for boys and men you wish were available. I’m in the market for new ideas to pursue!

Vintage men’s patterns? Hilarious!

Many knitting magazines send out their calls for designs with “inspiration boards” or “mood boards.” (For example, you can see the inspiration board for the spring 2011 issue of Interweave Knits here.) These documents give designers some themes, images, and other gentle shoves to get the creative juices flowing — and to ensure that many of the submitted designs will work together.

As a college instructor, I can appreciate the wisdom in this. If you give a student this as a writing assignment — “Write a paper about anything under the sun.” — most of the time you’re going to get a whole lotta crapola on a stick. Give students a starting line and a direction and they can run a lot farther.

So, the stupendous new online knitting magazine called Twist Collective recently put out its call for winter 2010 designs. If you follow that last link, you will see that this issue’s three themes are vintage ice-skating gear, 1940s glam, and something to do with sari colors (couldn’t quite figure out that last one — I think it was mainly a color inspiration mixed with a push toward fantasy).

The first theme gripped me. As you have seen, I have been trying to carve out a niche as a designer of boys’ and men’s knitwear, so I immediately started to think about vintage-inspired garments of the type that men would have worn ice skating once upon a time. I soon found Truman Capote looking rather dashing:

There are two problems here: first, most American men would no longer be caught dead in a fair-isle sweater of this boldness. The standard-issue heterosexual man might dabble with the metrosexual look by daring to have Shoes with no Laces fer Crying Out Loud. But let this heterosexual man and his overblown sense of fashion adventure suffer no delusions: Truman Capote can still skate circles around him.

Second, the pullover shown above is about as good as it gets: most knits that men wore back in the heyday of ice skating at Rockefeller Center are nothing short of hideous. (If you want a good 20 minutes of rolling on the floor laughing, check these out. I especially love the dudes using pipes and books as props. Cables make me smart and peppy!)

The challenge, as always, with designing menswear is to hit that sweet spot between “I’ve seen that a million times before” and “You couldn’t get me to wear that if you were my dying mother and you knit that for me with your gnarled fingers.” With women, older girls and young children, there’s a pretty wide margin between those two points. With older boys and men, the margin is about as wide as my tolerance for BP Oil.

This designer, Jared Flood, seems to have mastered that fine art. What makes his designs so wildly popular with men? I think it’s the careful pairing of just the right semi-luxurious yarn with expert but simple shaping. OK, the guy is also a brilliant photographer, which doesn’t hurt.

So now I’m off to try to pull off something like that. Here are some more of my inspiration images: