19 October 2010

Finishing School

About six months after I started "really" knitting, I began working on Melissa Wehrle's Emerald Isle Cardigan*.  It was well after my one year knitaversary and the weather had warmed back up by the time I finished, but I was really proud of myself.  It fit like a glove, the buttons buttoned, and the seams were smooth.  I'd even managed some minor modifications without incident.  It wasn't until the end of the summer rolled around and I started wearing it again that the gaping button band really started to bother me.

The cardigan fits pretty snugly - I knit it with zero ease - but the major contributor to the gaping was the fabric itself.  For the first and only time thus far in my knitting career, I had used the yarn recommended in the pattern.  In this case that meant a 100% alpaca yarn: Classic Elite Inca Marl.  It's incredibly soft and warm, but has very little structure on its own.  The button band couldn't support the weight of the buttons without deforming, and the button holes were getting stretched all out of shape.  I chalked it up to a learning experience, but still wanted to save the sweater - I liked everything else about it so well.

So I decided to adapt a trick I had seen used in some commercial knits, and heard about on the Knitmore Girls podcast - lining the button bands.  The Knitmores' tutorial involves grosgrain ribbon, but being the cheapskate - ahem - resourceful person that I am, I repurposed some fabric from one of the Hubbo's ratty old button down shirts.  After removing the buttons from the cardigan, I cut two strips of fabric just longer and narrower than its button bands.  Then I pinned and hand-sewed (whipstitch, I think?) the backing fabric on, being careful to first get the sweater fronts into their original, unstretched shapes.  Buttons were reattached, this time with backing buttons to support them and thread shanks.  Finally I opened up buttonholes in the backing fabric and stitched around those to secure them.  The whole shebang took a couple of hours - time well spent, if you ask me.

I didn't think to take action shots, or sad before photos for that matter, but here are the results:

A little wrinkly here,
but you get the idea.
Final verdict: this has become my favorite sweater, especially now that it's getting cold here in Germany.  It still has a few alpaca-related issues (pilling, shedding), but nothing that I can't deal with.  If I were to knit it again I would probably use merino or a blend - something still soft enough to wear with a short-sleeve shirt, but with a little more integral oomph.  And I really would consider knitting it again - it's a great pattern.


  1. I felt a little surprised reading that you'd never used the yarn recommended in a pattern until I realized, oh, wait, neither have I. Anyway, I've seen lining the button-bands a few times in patterns, mostly in the Glam Knits book, but I have never tried it. Looks like it could work well in one of my projects. Beautiful sweater :) Love the color.

  2. This is a lovely sweater! Im inspired to make one as well!