Fashion for the stars
A year ago, my friend Charlotte of Knot and Knit and I went to the Cocoknits booth at Stitches West and tried on a bunch of Julie Weisenberg’s designs. We both fell in love with the V-neck tunic, Gabrielle. The Cocoknits booth was fitted up like a chic clothing boutique with samples to try on and a full-length mirror. Once Charlotte and I had both tried on the tunic and realized how flattering it was, we were sold. The problem was, the pattern hadn’t been published yet.
I photographed the tunic to remember it, and then the stalking began. Every month Charlotte and I checked in about our obsessive pattern watch: not yet, not yet! Finally, the pattern was published and with squeals of excitement, we dove in.
I have admired Weisenberger from afar for some time and think this garment is very clever—the split hem and v neck create a flattering shape on the body. However, the pattern itself was problematic, in my opinion. Let me say immediately that I have not tried the top-down/worksheet fill-in method of Cocoknits before. But Charlotte and I REALLY wanted this tunic, and since the pattern was sold individually on ravelry for , we assumed it was complete. Anyway, we filled out the Cocoknits worksheets based on our size, paid the hefty price tag for the yarn, and cast on.
Shibui Knits Twig Yarn
Challenge 1: The yarn
The pattern requires you to double the yarn Shibui Knits Twig, which is made of 46% linen, 42% recycled silk and 12% wool. The knitted fabric drapes beautifully and has a wonderful sheen.
Closeup of Gabrielle tunic fabric
However, I found knitting with Twig similar to knotting a rope. It’s rough on the hands and so I found myself knitting more loosely to avoid finger pain. This meant I couldn’t get gauge and my fabric resembled a holey mesh. My LYS feels Twig can only be controlled through hand winding and keeping it in a bag to prevent horrid tangles. Charlotte and I still seemed to spend a fair amount of time untangling our yarn. Eventually, Charlotte persevered with the Twig,while I unraveled my work and switched to Rowan Hemp Tweed [75% wool, 25% hemp] in order to get gauge.
As you can see, this yarn substitution worked well, as the hemp was similar enough to the linen in the original yarn to give the drape this garment needs. The 75% wool was also easier on my fingers than recycled silk.
Challenge 2: The pattern
This was a top down, knit in-the-round construction that started from a middle section of the back and then instructed you to pick up stitches in different sections to build the rest of that piece. Charlotte and I puzzled over the instructions for a long time--pages of sentences unbroken by any visuals. This was not user friendly, but worse, the back section asked us to pick up the stitches for the sides of the upper back without clearly indicating where. I skimmed Weisenberger's Cocoknits Sweater workshop book but was unable to find any help there either. This led to another two unravelings of the back piece.
designer pattern photo, view from the back
The back instructions had mystified us for weeks, as two areas seemed equally likely for picking up stitches and we only had a pattern photograph of the whole back to help us try to puzzle it out. After we resolved this difficulty, we found the directions for the front were explicit for one side of the neck only and then two single sentences hinted at the shaping on the other side. I felt this was inadequate explanation for such an important part of the garment. After knitting the back piece four times, though, this directions gap only led me to reknit the front piece once. At this point, I was really beginning to wonder if anyone had test knitted this pattern, as the gaps in explanation seemed rather formidable. Really, I feel that for , a few drawings or a schematic indicating the front and back shaping is not unreasonable to expect. Instead, the directions inform you to "fill out the blank worksheet according to your size" and follow it as if the knitter, already confused by the pattern, would not just transfer any understanding gaps to the blank worksheet. Almost all the patterns I purchase include drawings, and there is an important reason for that as it reinforces the instructions as well as accomodating different learning styles.
Luckily, Charlotte and I met in a wonderful LYS where we could get help from very experienced knitters. If it had not been for Charlotte’s superior deductive skills as well as Clementine’s instruction at our shop, I would never have been able to pick up my stitches in the right place. [I completed this project before I recieved a concussion at Easter, so I can't blame the difficulty I experienced with the pattern on that.] What bothers me is that I have been knitting garments for over 25 years and I have completed about 100 on my own, leading me to wonder how less inexperienced knitters would feel about the way this pattern relies on vague verbal instruction in crucial areas.
I really love my finished tunic and I have already worn it several times. However, I would rate this pattern at an advanced level of skill and recommend making at least one garment in Julie Weisenberger’s Cocoknits Sweater Workshop before casting on Gabrielle. This is not because you need to improve your skills before knitting it but because Weisenberger’s instructions in the Gabrielle pattern seem quixotic, assuming that you understand the writer’s approach without necessarily putting it into words in a cohesive or straightforward manner. More illustrations would be an enormous help! Now that I’ve invested the time and energy, I feel I could probably knit another Cocoknits pattern successfully but I’m not sure if every one of my readers would want to invest that much time. I would hope patterns from the Cocoknits Sweater Worshop book received more technical editing/test knitting and as they seem simpler in construction, they are probably a better value.
Here Charlotte and I are at our LYS, wearing our knits side by side! You can see from our expressions how proud we are to have finished our projects and I feel given the challenges, that we had a right to be!
By the way, I just got back from Paris. So I'll be posting more about that fun trip soon!