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Behind the Pattern: Sunny Every Day

LBHandknits

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Seeing that many of my patterns involve some sort of backstory, I have been encouraged to document these stories here. So I shall give it a try - starting with Sunny Every Day, my new cardigan pattern released in collaboration with Studio Donegal last week. (And before I begin, if you are distracted by wondering whether I am wearing pajama bottoms in these photos - the answer is Yes. Yes I am. I could elaborate, but then this post would be endless, so let's just leave it at that!)

Back to the sweater! While Sunny Every Day is not my first published knitting pattern, the concept behind it played a large role in motivating me to start writing patterns. And for that reason, I do sort of think of it as the One That Started It All.

The idea was born nearly two years ago, when I was visiting Studio Donegal in Kilcar and choosing yarn  - for the bespoke knitting work I was then doing - from their stunning wall-to-wall 'tweed rainbow' display. It was a dark, stormy day, and it struck me how cheerful this one particular shade of pale yellow yarn looked in the dreary light conditions. And then I thought, wouldn't it be cool to make a sweater, that made everything feel 'sunny' even when the weather was decidedly not? So even though I am not a big wearer of yellow myself, and didn't tend to get many requests for yellow garments, I bought the yarn. Then, some months later, the mood struck and I knitted this:

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In its original iteration, Sunny was a raglan sleeve cardigan, worked at a fairly relaxed gauge, with honeycomb cable panels and some ribbing along the yoke, hem and cuffs. I am not sure how well this photo shows it off, but you can see me wearing this version all through last year if you scroll through the #sunnyeverydaycardi tag on instagram. 

I received a very positive response to this cardigan (it really did seem to cheer everyone up!), both in person and whenever I would post photos. People were asking for the pattern. And it was largely this that finally motivated me to start converting my design process into standardised written patterns (more on that here). 

But as I sat down to start writing and calculating, I realised that, while I liked the idea behind this design, I wasn't entirely in love with the garment itself. On a conceptual level, it began to bother me that I had chosen a boatneck raglan construction. For a 'sunny' theme, a circular yoke would certainly have been more appropriate?

But moreover, the cardigan wasn't as comfortable as I'd hoped it would be. You see, due to its rustic nature, Donegal tweed is quite gauge-versatile, so that even at a loose gauge the knitted fabric will 'fill in' after washing and look respectably solid. It is tempting to take this as an invitation to knit at a relaxed gauge - thereby ending up with a lightweight garment and using less yarn. However, there are drawbacks to doing this. In active wear, the loose gauge caused this cardigan to stretch and lose its shape, riding up here, twisting there, so that I found myself constantly tugging at it. I put the design on hold, and tried to live with the sweater for some time. But in the end (and a year later), I decided to rip it out and start again.

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By this time I had already written and published some patterns over the previous year. And I felt ready to approach the 'real' Sunny design with more planning, thought, and care than I'd given to the original version.

It was also around this time that I met - in the online sense of the word - Melissa of Knitting the Stash. As we interacted, I found that we shared many common tastes and interests, yet had very different approaches to knitting - mine being more intuitive and visual, and Melissa's being more calculated and analytical. So when I started designing the new version of Sunny Every Day, I invited  Melissa to 'sit in' on my process as a sort of critical test knitter. 

 ' flawless  armpits!...'

'flawless armpits!...'

I sent Melissa the pattern in sections, 'live,' as it were, as soon as I would finish each section myself. I would then wait to continue, until I received Melissa's feedback on her experience knitting from my instructions (which I was trying to make less 'whimsical' and more in line with what a typical knitter might expect). I should explain here also, that I design through knitting, as it were - meaning: I don't think up the design, write it down, then knit, but rather the design emerges with the knitting, as a parallel process.

So basically, we were knitting the sweater roughly at the same time, me being one step ahead of Melissa. It was a bit like a mystery knit-along for her, as poor Melissa had no pictures to refer to of what the finished sweater was meant to look like! That aspect of things was actually extra useful to me, because it meant Melissa was forced to rely on my instructions alone. If she did not understand what I meant, she could not refer to a picture of the finished sweater and figure it out. This in turn ensured that I received feedback about anything that might need clarifying. 

So that was the process. And all throughout, we were having a continuous discussion about the pattern, as well as about design and knitting in general. I found this back and forth very helpful, and hope that Melissa - who is considering becoming a designer herself - got something out of the experience as well. You can get her take on the experience on Episode 36 of the Knitting the Stash podcast, and see her robin's egg blue version of this sweater on her ravelry project page

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As for the design itself... Everything just fell into place. As you can see, the cables are rather different from the original. I was initially simply going to make a circular yoke version of the same honeycomb and rib pattern as last time. But visually, the old stitch motif on a circular yoke wasn't really working for me. And so, through pure trial and error, I ended up with an entirely new cable pattern, which I absolutely love.

I am also quite happy with how organically the ribbing in the upper part of the yoke integrates with the cables. Perhaps for some, it might be a rather too literal stylised rendering of the sun. But that was exactly what I was hoping for.

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The Studio Donegal aran tweed is a very 'fast' yarn to knit with, and being recycled after nearly a year of wear did not do it any harm (I need to write about this in detail in a separate post!). The soft yet rustic yellow yarn was very pleasant and encouraging to have on the needles as I worked on the design.

As for fit and comfort, tightening up the gauge transformed how well the fabric behaves in everyday wear. For the cardigan sample I knit in my size, I kept the measurements roughly the same as those of the original version, but worked at a tighter gauge. I did use an extra 50g skein of yarn in the process (500g total), but the sweater does not feel heavy or stiff. If anything, I don't really 'feel' it at all, since I am not constantly tugging at it and adjusting it. 

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But I think what pleases me the most about the finished Sunny Every Day pattern, is that - for me - it represents an idea that was scooped out of the chaos of my thought process, and brought to an elegant resolution, rather than casually discarded when it didn't quite work out as planned in the initial stages (as would be my usual tendency). Over the past several months, I have been trying to critically examine and improve my work process, and this design gives me hope that I am moving in a good direction.

With thanks, as always, for your support!

...

pattern: Sunny Every Day
designed for: Studio Donegal
test knitting: Melissa of Knitting the Stash
tech editing: Sarah of Tricot Edit
modeling: my friend Kirsty, and Emma of Woolly Mammoth Fibre Co.
photography: me