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A Strange Brew for John

April 1, 2019

As I explained in this post, last autumn I stated my ambitious goal to make my family four yoke sweaters, each an improvised design using the Strange Brew recipe pattern, and all before Christmas. Before you write me off as totally unreasonable (I am), know that from the beginning, my plan was to make the body and sleeves of each garment on my knitting machine, and then finish the yokes by hand. While this wasn’t an absolutely unreachable aim, it did end up being beyond my ability to complete!

There have been a lot of questions about my knitting machine so I promise a post on that coming soon!

This was the final Christmas photo! I finished John’s yoke, and Max’s yoke. Neve’s wearing this sweater, and I’m wearing this one, which is also a Strange Brew yoke, but was not the one that I had planned for Christmas.

John’s yoke DID get finished before Christmas, and I am very proud of it. I love it to bits, and whenever I saw him wearing it (most days over the holidays) I loved him a little bit more. Is there anything better than seeing people you love, and AT THE SAME TIME admiring work that you’re super proud of?! Yup, it’s the best. I’ve decided that John wearing a sweater I love is even BETTER than me wearing a sweater I love; because I don’t really see myself most of the time!

Anyways, enough waxing poetic about how great knitting is; we know it is, you know it is – that’s why you’re here!

Developing this yoke took some elbow grease. In the end I had to knit it 3 times to get it ‘right’, that is to get it to match the vision I had for it in my head.

the messy process

I began with a chart that interested me, then made a swatch. The swatch told me things about what I liked and what I didn’t like, and I used this to make a second chart.

Chart of the first yoke attempt.

I honestly thought with this chart, I would be able to go forth and knit the complete yoke, and get it ‘right enough’ on the first go. But that didn’t turn out to be the truth (which, in hindsight is pretty predictable). While this first attempt had some interesting forms, and colour combinations, all things considered, I found it too bright and dare I say it had a bit of a…..circus vibe?

Too bright and ‘clowny’ for me. But I DO like some of those motifs that were cut… they might have to come back again later in another design…

I felt like this yoke design was too frenetic, too intensely colourful, and bottom line I just didn’t think it looked excellent on John. I felt anxious he might not wear it. So I took the photo, and then ripped.

Chart of the second yoke attempt.

Given the things that I had liked best in the first yoke, I started over, and this time toned my palette WAY back, keeping only the bright coral as a high-contrast colour to the rest. This iteration of the yoke came MUCH closer to satisfying me, but with a sinking heart, as I bound off I realized it still hadn’t quite hit the mark; that feeling of ‘rightness’ that I aim for when designing something.

So RIP RIP RIP, it was time to take it WAY back. I decided to eliminate the brights entirely and focus on deep, intense, jewel colours alongside the olive that looks so great with his green eyes. These colours are quite bold hues (I love that deep purply red, the navy with purple undertones, and the glowing cobalt) but the palette doesn’t have the same high level of contrast that the others did. I also simplified the pattern design even further.

Charting the process: on the left is the first attempt; you can see the colours are brighter, the forms are more detailed; there’s more going on. In the middle is the second attempt (you can see I ripped back to round 13). I really liked what I developed from rounds 26-46 in the second iteration, so I ripped and reworked from the very bottom of the yoke when working the last and final version!

And in the end, it was ALL worth it.

Perhaps what I’m learning is that it always takes (at least) three attempts to arrive at the ‘right’ place when I’m designing. Well, this isn’t ALWAYS the case. There are some things that come very easily, and just work out the first time without too many iterations. But the reality is this occurs fairly seldom in my own design work. If it weren’t such a demanding process, if I didn’t keep setting more difficult and interesting problems in front of myself as a designer, there’s no way I’d find this work so rewarding.

Strange Brew; our deep dive into colourwork

The main reason that I was fully behind the concept of turning our Strange Brew recipe pattern into a full-fledged book, and thus spending a year and a half doing a ‘deep dive’ into colourwork, was that I knew it would be a MASSIVE learning curve, an area into which I could go deeper and deeper and learn more each and every time. Colourwork can be the work of a lifetime, and for designers (like Alice Starmore, Kaffe Fasset, and many others) it has been. Alexa and I are only just sticking our toes into the water. And at the same time, we want to invite all of you to do the same!

If you’d like to make a Strange Brew yoke sweater similar to this one, you can buy the recipe pattern here, and check out our tutorials on designing your own yoke here. Or just use the chart above, and make one the same as John’s! Details on the palette of yarns I used is on Ravelry here.

my love of cobalt, and combining different yarns in colourwork

Look at how VIVID the cobalt looks here in a palette alongside browns and golds! We’ve got an entire blog post that explores the application of colour to stranded motifs here.

As John’s yoke design developed, I found myself including more cobalt! This is a colour I LOVE, and it’s a shade that can be difficult to find. When I find it, I snap it up and keep it in my stash, waiting for the right moment! It is so very effective in colourwork. This is why I LOVE combining yarns across brands, styles, and even different weights. Once you realize this is possible, you can really extend your palette for colourwork.

Do you have favourite shades, or favourite combinations? In a previous post we talked about keeping a catalog of colour combinations you love as a way to help you choose colours when you’re feeling less-than-inspired!

Image credits: Syncopation Adoration by Stephen West, branwynnemay’s Posies & Robins’ Eggs, yarnosaurus’ Syncopation Not So, and album art from Byron the Aquarius
3 Comments leave one →
  1. Anna permalink
    October 18, 2021 5:04 am

    Wonderfull thanks for these ideas. What I love is a combination of orange : orange and turquoise, orange and purple, orange and olive.

  2. April 8, 2019 10:32 pm

    “Is there anything better than seeing people you love, and AT THE SAME TIME admiring work that you’re super proud of?!” LOL so true, I love it! Cheers, Sally at One Family, One Planet blog

  3. April 1, 2019 4:28 pm

    It’s gorgeous!

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