Unpicking the Stitches: How I designed the Alpine cardigan

K162_P23-34_Gallery 01.inddThis project took a slightly unusual route into the world.  It’s one of those ideas which ends up being very different to your original vision, but somehow works out anyway!

Here’s what the Alpine cardigan could have been:

  • A jumper
  • Published in October
  • Knitted in a shade of brown or green

One thing that didn’t change was the yarn used, for that was my main inspiration.  I’d heard of Manos del Uruguay, but not read about its origins in any great depth.  However, all that changed when a lovely big box arrived, full of gorgeous yarn!

And so I became fascinated with the Manos story: the production of the yarn, the women who make it, and Uruguay itself.  I did as much research I could within the time, and foremost in my mind was that 1) the yarn is made in rural communities; and 2) the prairie landscape and abundance of ferns and herbs.  I began to think of ways in which I could capture my new feelings and discoveries.

The dyeing process of Manos yarn makes it perfect for capturing the wide variety of colours you’d expect to see in grassland areas, so luckily I knew I just had to find the right shade of green or brown that worked with the October theme.  Many of the colours in the Manos range are vibrant and beautifully rich, but there was a subtle brown-based colour called Seal in the Serena line that was close to my my idea.

Of course the texture had to be leafy.  I could’ve gone for an embossed leaf, but I couldn’t help imagining the way that light falls through leaves and bushes – much like you see it as a child when you hide in the woods.  Some rays of light pass straight through; some beams bounce around as the boughs blow; others never make it to the ground and cast shadows.  I needed to engineer a pattern that said something about those tricks of light and their varying depths.  Here’s my first little swatch:

alpinefirstlittleswatchI was happy with the diamond shape because creating a half-drop repeat would be easy.  The variety in depth through the stitch pattern was there, but I needed more.  Then it hit me: if I moved the decreases at the central small diamond to the centre and worked them as per the traditional Falling Leaves pattern, that would do it!  I made some more technical and aesthetic decisions: it would be a panel rather than an all-over pattern to showcase the beauty of the yarn; within that panel, the space between each half-drop was left at 3 stitches to let the motifs ‘breathe’ and the eye dance around the colour and pattern a bit more; finally, a single stitch-width in garter would mark the line at the side edges of the panel.  Subtle, but firm.  Here’s the final test swatch of the leafy fern pattern:

alpinefinaltestswatchIn the final sketch, I decided to present it as a cardigan to give Christine, the editor of Knitting, options (always a good idea!).  Instead of cutting the panel straight down the middle, I opted for asymmetry so that there’d be two-thirds of the panel on one side and one-third on the other.  Something a bit different, but I felt that I’d lose too much detail otherwise; plus, it might be nice to do something else with a cardigan than just chopping a jumper front in half.

I reknitted the final swatch in Seal brown, and a smaller one in stocking stitch to compare the yarn’s appearance between the two textures, and with that the email was sent and fingers tightly, but routinely, crossed.

alpineswatch2alpinesketchback alpinesketchfront









Or, in other words, life happened!  A colleague’s illness and some rejigging of the original plan meant that the still-unnamed design would be published in December, not October.  The palette changed from autumn to winter; the design would definitely be a cardigan; and it was time to get a move on!  I started work on this design in late spring, thinking of October, but ended up casting on in July, thinking of winter.   Christine had chosen the Alpine shade of Serena, which is how the cardigan got its name.

alpinecuffdetail alpinevariegatedtexture








The Serena yarn drapes beautifully.  It’s very difficult to make bad things happen when you combine alpaca and cotton.  As I doggedly knitted the L-O-N-G rows of the dolman, I was buoyed by the thought of how nicely the finished garment would hang on the body, open up the lace pattern, and show off the colours in the yarn.  Admittedly, I was still hung up on the fact that it wasn’t going to be the leafy grassland I’d originally conceived, but then again, that’s equally part of being a designer.  You have to be creative in unplanned ways and not too precious about your work: ideas have a life of their own and although it might not be what you have in mind, is it such a bad thing so long as they breathe and be?  And – most importantly – that others see the goodness of the idea?

alpinehalfdone(Apologies for the light variation.)

It would have been easy for Christine to abandon the design completely, but she didn’t, and saw potential in it where I hadn’t, because I was set on one look or interpretation.  For that, I am humbled and grateful: in a way, the cardigan you see – and the fact that you see it at all! – is due to the eye of a great editor.  The Alpine name isn’t just for the yarn, but Christine’s choice of it for the final garment and her role in making it a success.

Incidentally, as I write this (Monday morning), the December issue has just plopped through my door and Alpine is sitting right next to Afterglow, designed by Christine herself.  Synchronicity never fails to surprise.  Must remember that… šŸ˜‰

alpineandafterglowP.S. Next week, the inspiration behind the Kim poncho.

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