I have always relied on the kindness of strangers

Success! After ripping out the sleeve more times than I can count on this western shirt I’m designing, I finally have one that looks like a winner. I still think it looks slightly odd around the armpit, but only when it’s folded flat. When you put the sweater into its 3D shape (as if a little body were in it), it looks great.

This victory comes courtesy of Priscilla Gibson-Roberts and Deborah Robson’s Knitting in the Old Way, which has fabulous, clear instructions about how to make a top-down, set-in sleeve on pp. 114-15. Brilliant.

I’m actually perversely glad that I tried and failed to do this on my own so many times – I think it was about 12 failed attempts. Short of taking a whole slew of design courses (which I just can’t do at the moment), I think that the only way I’ll learn is through some combination of books and trial-and-error.

books I love

Speaking of fabulous books, I checked out the exhibit catalog for “Radical Lace and Subversive Knitting” that was at the Museum of Arts and Design in NYC last year. (It’s now at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art.) I don’t use the word “inspirational” a lot, because I am a little short on the effusive scale, but this is truly inspirational stuff.

The piece that really took my breath away was actually not in the exhibition itself, but made by one of the artists who contributed other pieces to the exhibit. It’s Janet Echelman’s enormous knitted net that hovers over a traffic circle in Porto, Portugal (which you can see in a great, short video here).

Geometry is not my friend

I think it’s time to frog my brain. For this toddler western shirt that I’m designing, I’m trying to do top-down, set-in sleeves done with short rows. Why? I don’t know. It must be my inner masochist talking.

I found a good tutorial online (which of course I cannot now find again), and merrily got to work.

Attempt #1: Blithely smoked my way down to the cuff. Found that in the cotton blend I’m using (Brown Sheep Cotton Fleece), the short row wraps + decreases look really gappy and strange. Decided to ignore this basic flaw. Got all the nice piping and button placket detailing done. Realized that I had misread the directions about how many decreases to do at the top of the sleeve. Blast.

Attempt #2: Did the correct number of decreases. Still had the gapping problem. Also noticing that the underarm looks like it has too many stitches. Double blast.

Attempt #3: Cast on fewer stitches under the arm (only 2 sts for every 3). It’s looking better, but I haven’t determined a solution for the gap problem. I want this pattern to be accessible to an intermediate knitter, so I need a reasonably simple solution.

Part of my problem is just seeing the geometry of the situation. I’m used to doing set-in sleeves as separate pieces and from the bottom up, so I know what needs to happen to make it the right shape. But I can’t seem to wrap my head around the spatial flip of doing it top-down and in the round and attached to the body all at the same time.

Perhaps it’s time to break down and buy the Maggie Righetti book? (OMG, did you know that you can preview the book on Google Books? Google Books rocks my world.) Montse Stanley, wonderful as she is, does not say boo about top-down, set-in sleeves.

Your intrepid fledgling designer soldiers on. I will leave you with this one riposte: I am not the proverbial knitter who is afraid of all math. I am chums with algebra. I have calculus over for tea. But geometry? It is my sworn enemy.