Hello hello friends!
Despite my best intentions (and a backlog of things to tell you about), I’m still struggling to write here as often as I’d like. I’m going to give some thought to why that is and try to come up with a plan … I do really value this space and having a chance to chat in the comments and don’t want to let it completely fall by the wayside.
Case in point … I finished my Lotta Dress at the end of October, got photos a few weeks ago, and am only today managing to share it with you!
Often in my little “photo shoots” with Mr. N, I end up pulling awkward faces that don’t at all reflect my feelings about the project. But in this case, I feel like my face here pretty much sums up my feelings about this project. A smile, sure. But not an ear-to-ear, eyes-gone-all-squnity grin. I like it, and I think I’ll wear it a fair bit. But I had expected to love it, and it’s fallen just a bit short.
The pattern is Lotta by Marie Greene from Laine Vol. 5. In a rather boring move, I knit it in the sample yarn, right down to the color: Tukuwool Sock in Shade Auri (I can’t resist a good grey). I cast this on on June 22, along with my beautiful Momma, on a visit home, and cast off October 26. It was great travel knitting when I started it in June in the US, and I then worked on it on and off through the summer …. once I got past the yoke, the miles of stockinette made it my go to knit night project (when it wasn’t too hot). By the time we traveled back to the US in September, it was too big to come along, so sat neglected for pretty much all of September. Last month, I sporadically worked on the finishing.
There are a lot of things I like about this dress. It’s grey. It’s woolly. It’s warm. So far so good. It’s got lovely small details, like those little rows of twisted stitches, this nifty horizontal stitch, and, er, the pleat (more on that in a sec). The knitted fabric has nice drape, but no cling factor, one of my big concerns with a knit dress. And did I mention that it’s unbelievably cozy? (I’m actually feeling nice and toasty in it as I type this.)
Most of my … dissatisfaction is really too strong of a word, so let’s say qualms, stem from the yoke/bodice. The dress is designed to be worn with 2-3 inches of ease. It also has a really deep split with edges that want to roll. For me, this has resulted in a rather sloppy fit (even though I typically like a fair amount of ease!) with fronts that flop open. It’s a bit hard to capture in a photo (though I think you can see the suggestion of it in many of these), but the first day I wore the dress, the two fronts were constantly flapping about.
Which means that even if it was feasible that I would, like the model, wear this dress bare armed and bare legged (originally typed bear legged — quite a different thing, ha!) …
… it really wouldn’t be an option. Which bring me to my second issue with the top of the dress … when it’s cold enough to be wearing a woolly wool dress, bare arms aren’t an practical. This dress needs a top layered under it, but the deep slit makes finding a neckline that suits it more than a little difficult. I tried it with several different tops, and this maroon top I think is serviceable. I think the best solution would probably be a mock or full turtleneck, but I don’t have one at the minute.
Now, about the pleat. When Laine previewed the cover of Issue 5, it was seeing that little grey pleat that made my fingers itch and my heart go pitter patter. While I think the end result of my struggles is presentable, I found it enormously fiddly to try to get the pleat made and sewn down properly, and the instructions not really sufficient to the task at hand. While the directions make clear that you’ll be sewing through three layers of stockinette fabric to form the pleat, they offer no guidance about what to do with the flapping plackets other than that they should cross over each other. And while I got there in the end, trying to manage five bits of knitted fabric and get something that looked neat was a bit of a headache.
Indeed, I feel like my experience with the pleat is symptomatic of some other issues in the pattern. There are some outright erroneous bits, like the direction to join the neckline stitches in the round, or the inconsistencies in the pattern preface about how the pleat is constructed versus the actual pattern instructions.** Stitch counts for picking up stitches are vague, with a rate given but no even approximate totals for which to aim. And there are some ambiguous instructions which I found slightly maddening, like the recommendation to work “a generous 1-1.25 inches” or to pick up “nearly” every stitch. I recognize that the level of detail in a pattern is a matter of personal preference, and some designers (or publications — because some of this might come down house guidelines) prefer to spell things out more than others. But I maintain that there’s no such thing as a “generous” inch. I didn’t struggle with the instructions because I’m a relatively experienced knitter. But there’s no reason this pattern shouldn’t be suitable to a new-ish knitter, and I imagine the ambiguity and vagueness of some bits of it would be difficult for them to parse. And, as my friend Alix observed in her Ravelry project notes, the desire to skimp on directions — possibly motivated by space constraints — is particularly frustrating given there’s a completely blank page with an “advertise here” notice facing the pattern.
This was my first time knitting with Tukuwool Sock. I got my Tukuwool from Ysolda’s online shop, one of my favorites for online purchases here in the UK. They’ve got a beautiful selection of yarn and notions, ship quickly, and always seem happy to help — in fact, when I got worried I was going to run out of yarn and wanted to get some extra, they really helpfully pulled two of the same dyelot and got them to me right away (an unnecessary precaution it turned out … I didn’t touch the backup skeins and still have a fair amount of some of at least two balls I did use left). I like the woolliness of this yarn and think it’s going to wear well. I’ve noticed some slight persistent prickling, but the longer I wear it the less I notice it … and I imagine it’ll diminish with more wear. But I’ve concluded I don’t love the addition of nylon to such a woolly wool. As I knit, I encountered a large bit of what seemed to be plastic that was literally plied into the yarn, and which I could only remove with difficulty. It only happened with one skein, but it really brought home to me that I enjoy working with wool without any synthetic involved. Perhaps the nylon will make the dress wear better, but I think from here on out, if I’m tempted by Tukuwool’s beautiful colors (likely!), I’ll opt for their fingering yarn instead (which is a true 4-ply/fingering, while the Sock is sport weight — otherwise I would have just subbed it for this pattern).
Gosh, I sound like quite the curmudgeon today! I would like to end my little summing up by reiterating what I started with this post with: I like this dress, and I know I’ll wear it. If a friend (or a reader!) told me they were thinking of casting on, I wouldn’t discourage them — I’d just say try it on as you go and look at some of the very helpful notes on people’s Ravelry pages. Since taking the photos, I’ve also added a small vintage button and loop to the top of the placket — I’ve test driven the change today, and while I don’t have pictures of it on (I couldn’t get any before it got too dark), it’s definitely improved the fit: it’s made the whole top feel more secure and stopped the flapping.
But I’m not going to tell you I love something if I don’t. Sometimes, I struggle with being anything but positive in this space. Finding the balance between constructive criticism and damaging negativity (especially when talking about independent designers or small businesses) is hard. But really, if I can’t honestly and constructively document my makes here, I’m not sure what I’m doing with this space. My hope is that my comments about my particular experience making and wearing this dress are helpful if you’re thinking of knitting it. For me, the value lies in documenting what’s worked and what hasn’t, and using that knowledge to improve my own decision making when picking projects, gain confidence in my instincts when it comes to a pattern, and reflect on and clarify my own thoughts about best practices when it comes to communicating knitting instructions.
And now, on a completely different note (and because this post wasn’t quite long enough) I’ve got a bit of news. If you follow me on Instagram, you might have seen that today I announced something I’m really excited about … a Christmas collaboration with Northern Yarn! We’ve put together a mini skein set that celebrates small batch, breed-specific British wool and takes its inspiration from the Twelve Days of Christmas. The kit includes one 100 gram unddyed skein of Northern Yarn Jennett, a 100% Poll Dorset lambswool, single farm 4-ply/fingerng weight yarn + 12 mini skeins which have (with one natural shade exception) been handdyed by Manchester-based Rachel Sharman of Pook Yarn. We had so much fun putting the colors together, and as of this writing, the kits are available for pre-order! We’ve got a really limited number and won’t be able to make up any more before the holidays, so if you’re interested, get yourself over to the site and read more about it.
What are you working on this week?
More soon (I hope).
**Update: I linked to this post from Instagram, and Laine Magazine kindly read it and left this comment: “Thanks for your honest post, Katherine! Despite test knitting and tech editing, we have noticed that some inconsistencies and errata have slipped into this pattern and have worked with @oliveknits to get them fixed in the next printing. 🌿” So they’ll be a corrected version of the pattern in the next printing 🙂