Monday, July 6, 2009

Fjörgyn: once more with felting (er, *feeling*)

There is an old math joke of which I am extremely fond, that runs like this: 2 + 2 = *5* (for exceptionally large values of 2).

A similar logic would suit the "one size fits all" designation for Elsebeth Lavold's cabled Icelandic wool sweater-coat that goes by the name of Fjörgyn, after the Norse Earth goddess who is mother to Thor. Sure, one size fits all, if you (re)define "all" narrowly enough. In this case, only card-carrying Walkyrie need apply.

[[ Anyone who enjoyed the After Dark screensavers as much as I did will understand why my imagination is full of flying toasters right about now. ]]

Copyright rules prohibit me from reproducing the original photo from the pattern book, but suffice to say that the model is a tall Nordic beauty whose friendly smile masks a physique that no legendary warrior maiden could possibly despise.

In other words, the sweater is HUGE. The pattern specifies finished garment measurements of a 51" chest and a 33" length from the shoulder.

So when I set out roughly 2 years ago to create His & Hers sweaters for my husband & myself using this design, I knew that I faced a challenge. For we are by no means the same size. But neither one of us could ever be mistaken for a Walkyre either, even at 50 ft. away in the densest imaginable fog.

At any rate, I decided to make his sweater first, since he is larger than I am, which meant that I could stick relatively closely to the original design. It made sense to wait with mine until I had been through the pattern once and become more familiar with it, so that I could figure out how to modify it to fit me.

I finished knitting his sweater in time for Christmas of 2007. Here is what it looked like (click for a larger view).

Unfortunately, it soon went into hibernation as an unfinished & unsatisfactory knitting project rather than into his closet as a functional garment, because it plainly still needed more work: (a) the hood was the wrong shape, because it stuck out at the back & deprived him of peripheral vision, (b) the sleeves were about 3" too long, and (c) the whole thing was just WAY too big and floppy in general. I would have to shrink the sweater and/or modify the pattern somewhat before he could ever wear it.

At that point I laid it aside, not ready to face it again just yet, or even quite sure what to do, & there it sat. And sat. And sat — until a few days ago when I finally dragged it out & made him try it on again, so that I could assess the situation anew and come up with a workable game-plan. If at all possible, I really wanted to lay this project to rest before the end of the summer.

Reshaping the hood held every promise of posing a design challenge, but to my surprise and delight, my husband announced that he would actually prefer a high rolled rib collar instead. Easy!!

Meanwhile I had read on Ravelry about several people who had been driven to use hot water in the washing machine — gentle felting, really — to make the over-sized proportions of this sweater work for them, and that knowledge emboldened me to tackle my own problem with confidence.

As it turned out, I was able to complete the switch from hood to collar in a single day. The first step was to rip out the existing hood and button plackets (which had been knitted all of-a-piece), winding the yarn as I went. Then I picked up the reserved stitches from around the neckline again onto a flexible circular needle and knitted 8" of k2p2 ribbing, so that the finished collar would measure roughly 3 1/2" high when the edge had been rolled over & sewn in place. After that new button plackets were quickly knitted separately down either side of the front, which had the added benefit of creating a convenient gap at the throat, so that the bulky collar would never threaten to strangle the wearer.

The real moment of truth arrived the next day, as I carted the newly (re)finished sweater off to the laundry room for a hot-water wash. I had calculated that it needed to be shrunk all over by approximately 10%. But it was important that the fabric not be so thoroughly felted as to obscure the lovely intricate cable design on the front & sleeves (shown here before washing).

Soaking wool in HOT water went against every instinct that I possess, but it worked like a charm. Two delicate wash cycles on hot, and one rinse on cold, were sufficient to achieve the desired result. After confirming that the measurements were right, I got out my drying rack & let the sweater dry flat.

Happy ending. It now fits him perfectly, and the slightly felted fabric feels very substantial & cozy. The best part is that the cables are still entirely visible, although their outlines are fuzzier & more muted than before.

The finishing touch was to sew on the lovely walnut buttons that I had purchased on-line from a retailer in Canada.

Here are some pictures of the finished product. As usual, click on any one of the images for a larger view.

I am especially pleased with the collar. In fact, I like the idea so much that I now intend to adopt it for my own burgundy Fjörgyn, which is back on the "active duty" list again, after many months of hibernation alongside its blue counterpart

The two pieces of the front (shown here in this "teaser" photo) were completed last fall, and I have just begun the back, with the addition of a cable panel running up & down the center to match the front (the original pattern calls for straight stockinette).

I feel energized & enthused about this project again, now that the sweater for him has turned out so successfully at long last. I want to have both of them finished before the snow flies. More to come as "Fjörgyn burgundy" progresses...

No comments:

Post a Comment