May 3, 2015

Meet the Chrysler Cardigan

I was absolutely delighted to see that my Chrysler Cardigan design is featured on the cover of the new Interweave Knits Summer 2015 magazine. It was a real challenge to design, but I could not be more proud of the result.

I began working on this cardigan last October on the eve of my big West Coast book tour. The editor of IK, Lisa Shroyer, reached out with a challenge: design a Cowichan style cardigan inspired by my hometown.

I'm an Oklahoman transplant to NYC, so I felt I could draw inspiration from either locale. I sent Lisa 3 design concepts and she thought my New York inspired Chrysler Cardigan idea would be the best fit. Here's my original sketch for the sweater.

The design is inspired by the ornate decorations of a gleaming architectural icon in New York City, but the story behind the cardigan is really about a hike I took on the opposite side of the country in California.

Just one week after Lisa reached out, I had my contract and a big bag of yarn. With only 6 weeks left to write the pattern and knit the sample, I was really eager to get started! I was about to embark on a month long road trip, and so excited to have a new design to keep my fingers occupied.

As you can see from my initial sketch, I planned out the design motifs pretty well before I began writing, so I naively thought the pattern would be a breeze. I also thought I would have a ton of time to knit on my book tour. I could not have been more wrong!

Of course I should have known this by now, but it turns out pattern writing is work—difficult, thought intensive, time consuming work. Knitting is something you can do on your vacation—pattern writing is something entirely different.

Finding time to work on the road turned out to be one of the biggest challenges in completing this design. Book promotion efforts took up most of my time, and the few moments left were spent planning our route for the next morning. I managed to squeeze in an hour of work here and there, but it was very slow going.

The technical aspects of this design took much, much more time than I anticipated. I became very frustrated, and even wondered if I had gotten in over my head. I spent weeks working out the math, starting over, and reworking the math.

It was that beautiful yoke that gave me all the trouble. I wanted to create a single chart that would work for every size, but would also be straightforward enough for any knitter to follow. I could easily figure it out for one size, but the math proved to be extremely difficult for a one-size-fits-all approach, because of course I also wanted to achieve a beautiful fit for everyone.

It was challenging, but I was determined. I remember it all came together in a sort of epiphany moment. I realized I might finally have a solution, furiously adjusted the figures in my spreadsheets, and jumped to my feet. Bingo! After weeks of frustrating, tedious pattern writing I could finally start knitting— just a couple weeks before my deadline, yikes!

I finally began knitting the sample as my husband drove our giant rented RV to Yosemite for a little break we planned into the middle of the book tour.

Yosemite is the most beautiful place I've ever been. It was wonderful to finally begin working in earnest on such a hard fought project in the majestic shadows of those giant granite cliffs. It was spectacular and humbling. Feeling so tiny in that monumental landscape, thinking about the millions of years it took to create those incredible formations, beholding the Milky Way in the absence of city lights, sitting around a fire all night with the person I love most in this world—all this put my teeny tiny problems into perspective.

Our trip to Yosemite was very emotional for me. It was definitely the pinnacle of our trip, but it also seemed to symbolize something more for me. Since 2012, every extra moment had been devoted to my book, especially leading up to the tour. It was a great crescendo of anxiety and sleepless nights—what if they don't accept my book proposal; what if I can't make the deadlines; what if the book doesn't sell; what if no one comes to my book signings; what if we crash the RV and fall off a cliff?!! My difficulties designing the Chrysler Cardigan seemed to accentuate my feelings of self-doubt and doom. Yosemite was my turning point.

There was one especially significant and poignant moment for me when we hiked to the top of Nevada Falls. It was a difficult hike, 8.5 miles with about 1900 feet in elevation gain (that's 2 Chrysler buildings tall). The last 300 feet or so were a real challenge for me—panting, it seemed like the air was thinning with every step up. It took hours to get up there, my legs were very tired and I knew it would take hours to get back down.

When we arrived at the top, we unpacked our peanut butter sandwiches and took in the incredible views. I sat there for a while, knitting on the hem of my Chrysler Cardigan, and felt extreme satisfaction. I looked out on the valley so, so far below and felt powerful, triumphant that it was my own two legs that brought me up there. Soaking up the sunshine and with the wind in my hair, the experience felt like a metaphor for the last 2 years of my life. Finally getting to work on my troublesome Chrysler Cardigan seemed like the most appropriate thing for me to do.

I could hardly walk for a couple of days after that hike, but I didn't regret even one step. My Chrysler Cardigan trials were no different. My experiences have made me stronger and smarter, and for that I am grateful.

I actually missed my deadline by 2 weeks—something I never dreamed I would do, but sometimes it just takes a little longer to do a thing right. And now, every time I look at my Chrysler design I beam with pride.

I hope you pick up a copy of the Summer 2015 issue of Interweave Knits and knit yourself a Chrysler Cardigan. And I hope you see all the care and love I poured into writing the pattern to make it an absolute delight to knit and wear.

For more information about the design, visit the pattern page here. And I'd love to hear what you think about it in the comments section below.

Comments

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    Tien
    over 6 years ago

    It's beautiful! I've been on the hunt for a Cowichan inspired sweater pattern for quite a long time and now it's here. Love the design motifs. I've never knitted a pattern with steeks, but am excited to give it a go.

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    Alexis Winslow
    over 6 years ago

    Tien, thanks! Steeks are a little scary at first, but if you practice on your gauge swatch, you'll probably find that it's fun! I learned how to steek for this design, and now I want to steek everything.

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    Ginger
    over 6 years ago

    This is a beautiful design and a beautiful post! The sweater is a triumph!

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    Alexis Winslow
    over 6 years ago

    Thanks Ginger! What a wonderful comment :)

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    barb
    over 6 years ago

    Now I have to find out what a steek is. Loved the story and that you carried your knitting up the mountain.

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    MJ
    over 6 years ago

    Alexis, though you experienced frustration and setbacks along the way... you succeeded beyond belief. I find it interesting to be so confounded for so long and then have an epiphany answering all the problems of knitwear design (and other issues). Yosemite is a stunning place of epiphanies and complete release of stress for us. The first time I saw it I gasped but what came out of my mouth was a glorious song. I LOVE Yosemite and hope you return again and again. I love your story and your GORGEOUS new design. I think you have outdone yourself this time. Good for you and congratulations! I KNOW what I am knitting next :) Thank you!

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    Alexis Winslow
    over 6 years ago

    Thanks so much for your comment MJ. I'm so glad you enjoyed my story, and I really hope you enjoy my pattern too!

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    Melissa
    over 6 years ago

    It's a beautiful sweater Alexis! Isn't it funny how something that is supposed to be relaxing can bring about so much anxiety? Nature is such a wonderful release!

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