I recently finished an Icelandic Yoke sweater for my daughter, Caragh (who turned 17 yesterday! Geez, how does that happen!?).
Caragh admired my North Shore sweater quite a bit, and beguilingly asked me (begged, pleaded, etc. etc. haha) to make her one, too, except with a different yoke pattern. She wanted something a bit more geometric. And something SOFT.
So, I dug out my stash of undyed DK weight cashmere from one of my clubs several years ago, and we started talking color. Caragh is a beautiful redhead, with dark brown eyes and fair skin that still tans. She wanted a deep, dark green sweater with a pattern in tan, white and gray, all of which would go well with her hair and coloring.
I didn’t take too many photos of the sleeves and body, because dark green doesn’t show up so well in photos. Plus, boring!
The colorwork yoke is a different story :-). Pretty, oh so pretty. As tan likes to do sometimes, it broke in the dye bath into tan and light green. We (okay, I) decided to go with it, because I really like using a variegated yarn in colorwork projects. Now that it’s done, Caragh really loves the variegation, too.
Her sweater is basically a hack of the North Shore pattern. The DK cashmere yarn was the same gauge, so it was easy to modify (the cashmere is STF Elysium, only available in my Club a few years back, although I’m considering a special run of it … anyone interested in some cashmere?).
We decided on the size small, but Caragh wanted a sweatshirt styling, so I omitted the waist shaping I had added to my sweater. And she wanted “straighter” sleeves, so I adjusted the increases in the sleeves a bit, too.
Following the North Shore pattern up until the yoke pattern was so simple; it’s such a well-written pattern.
Once I had the body finished, we went in search of stitch patterns to use. I knew she wanted more geometric patterning, but I also knew I wanted the top and bottom patterns to be a “frame” for the center. And we needed to find patterns which would work with the stitch count (at least close enough to adjust).
You can see my graph charting work in the back of the above photo. The pattern for the first portion of the yoke pattern is directly out of Alice Stanmore’s wonderful book, “Charts for Color Knitting.” I used the pattern at the top of page 117. The second pattern (the diamonds) is another pattern from the book (unfortunately I forgot to write down which page it was on) that I modified to fit my stitch count, as well as modifying it to keep the motifs centered one above the other (notice how the bottom of the diamond lines up with the motifs above and below, and the center of the diamond also lines up with the motifs above and below? That kind of detail makes me very happy 🙂 ).
I added three rows of the tan/green color in the background of the center / second pattern to pull the patterns together more harmoniously. The second motif is fairly heavily modified: the original had more space between the diamonds, and a completely different pattern in the center of the diamond. I changed the center pattern so that it matched the small pattern details in the bottom pattern, and also carried this detail into the third pattern.
The third and final pattern is a significant modification of the first pattern. Again, I modified it to fit my stitch count and also to line up nicely with the first two patterns. I basically took the first pattern and played around with it, making a smaller version and a somewhat mirror image of the first, to create a “frame” for the center pattern.
If you look closely at the above photo, you can make out some of the decrease areas in the rows between the patterns. And can also see how everything lines up perfectly throughout. That’s an important detail in yoke design (at least it is for me, but I could be just a little obsessive about these things). I feel like having everything centered makes the flow uninterrupted and draws the eye across the overall pattern in a very pleasing way.
Graph paper is a great tool to have on hand to play with stitch patterns (see photo up above). I typically just use plain graph paper, but there are some free knitting graph paper resources online, which have the spaces laid out to mirror the less square dimensions of knit stitches:
Caragh wanted more white in the top and bottom patterns, so I duplicate stitched some white “lice” into both patterns. Because carrying three yarns at once is not actually my idea of a good time, plus it can create more bulk than just duplicate stitching does. I do think the additional white is a nice little detail.
Modifying a pattern like this is fun, and pretty much like working out a puzzle. You have your stitch count, which can be modified to start by doing a row with a few regularly placed decreases before you start the pattern work. For instance, if you have 162 stitches after you’ve joined the body and sleeves, and find a pattern you love that’s a repeat of 14 stitches: decrease 8 stitches evenly across that first row, and you’re all set to go (11 pattern repeats of 14 stitches = 154 stitches). I don’t think I’d go above decreasing 8-10 stitches for a DK weight sweater in this area, and less for worsted or bulky, because you don’t want your sweater to start snugging up too much this early, across the bust area.
I did one row of minor decreases to set up my stitch count for the first pattern. Unfortunately, I didn’t write down how many (this is a one-of-a-kind sweater, for sure. I’m posting about it to show you that these kinds of modifications to an existing pattern are not only totally possible, they’re also really fun and will give you a truly unique sweater for yourself or someone lucky enough to be the recipient of your creativity).
The first pattern was knit straight, with no decreases within the pattern itself. I then did a set of centered double decreases between the first and second pattern, to keep the stitches lined up where they needed to be to keep the patterns aligned properly. In playing around with the decreases, I found that they needed to be placed carefully to keep the patterns lining up properly.
Then, the second pattern was worked with no decreases until the last row, and then a third row of decreases worked directly after the second pattern. This row of decreases was pairs of right and left leaning decreases, also worked to ensure the stitches stayed where they needed to be to keep the patterns lined up.
Finally, another round of decreases was worked in tandem with the last row of the third pattern, and a final round of equally-spaced decreases was worked to end with the stitch count I wanted for the neckline.
My recommendation, if you’re interested in creating your own Icelandic Yoke sweater, is to purchase a really good pattern, like North Shore, and read through it. Notice how the decreases are handled, and work to mirror that plan as much as you can (I didn’t do this, because I felt comfortable enough making up my own decrease schedule, and also knew if it didn’t work out, I wouldn’t mind ripping it out and starting over). The decreases are important because they do two things: shape the yoke so it sits correctly at the shoulders, and decrease the yoke with the correct amount of space so it’s deep enough from bust to neck, but not too deep that the armpits end up at the elbows.
Caragh’s sweater has some growing room, both because she wanted a slouchy, roomy, comfy sweater, but also because she’s a tiny little thing at 17, but I’m betting her bust doesn’t stay quite like this forever (ahem, if she’s anything like her once flat-chested Mom, anyway, ha!). I wanted this to be a sweater she could, feasibly, wear forever and ever.
The only “mistake” I made was forgetting how short-waisted and long-legged she is, so it’s more of a tunic length on her ~ a bit longer in the body than she needs it to be. But, that’s easily fixed. If the length bugs her, I can cut the bottom off two inches shorter than she wants it, and then pick up the stitches and knit the 2″ bottom ribbing back on. Not really a fun exercise, but an invisible “edit” once it’s done (you really can’t tell the stitches are knit “upside down”).
I have so many stitch pattern books, and they are a constant source of inspiration for projects large and small. Some libraries carry at least a few of these books, if you don’t want to purchase your own copies (and inter-library loans are always a possibility, too!). These books are some of my most treasured books though so, if you’re like me, you may find yourself looking through them over and over again. I’ve definitely made very good use out of all my book purchases.
Anyway, looking through stitch pattern books, and colorwork instruction books, is super fun (maybe I need to get out more, huh?) ~ Alice Starmore, Janine Bajus, Mary Jane Mucklestone’s fabulous stitch motif books, Melissa Leapman, Barbara Walker, Shetlander’s Fair Isle Graph Book and, of course, Elizabeth Zimmermans’s Knitting Workshop (and her percentage system), for both inspiration and instruction on how to create yoked sweater patterns of your own (creating one is not so hard, it’s moving from that into multiple sizes that gives me giant pause!).
Next up and already on my needles is another North Shore Hack for my son, who nearly stole my North Shore until I promised I’d make him is own, and his could be in cashmere, too.
I don’t think I’m getting the good side of this deal at all. 😉