The Rainbow Spiral

Note from Stephanie: Dudes, it has become traditional, as I fall toward a book deadline and am reduced to singlular focus on that goal, for my good friend That Laurie to step up and guest blog. That Laurie is sadly, blogless (sorry Rachel H. …I mean “blog-free”) and these guest blogs are an opportunity for us to learn from her genius. That Laurie’s handspun, hand knit sweaters are always the darling of every fibre ball, and anyone who knows her knows that her answer to questions about how she comes up with this stuff is usually “I’ll do a guest blog and tell you”. Here you go. I couldn’t be more grateful for her timing. Please give a warm welcome to my friend and yours…That Laurie.

Before we spiral into spinning for a rainbow yoke, please note that Meg Swansen’s Spiral Yoke sweater is actually designed from the bottom up. Moreover, I freely acknowledge the appeal of that upward knitting trajectory. After all, knitting UP holds out the promise of the “exciting knitting” to get you through miles and miles of stockinette; perhaps as a result, knitting from the bottom up is by far the more common direction in sweater designs. In fact, most of the patterns I will mention here are written from the bottom up.

So why do I, perversely, insist on descending down the bodies of my yoke sweaters, perilously anchored on mathematical calculations that I could avoid? Top-down knitting is really the refuge of those, like me, who want to make shaping adjustments and check them by trying on the work in progress:


(consider this a teaser for NEXT post!)

That’s the high-minded reason. But, basically, I have serious issues with sheer indecisiveness and yarn quantities. I always have trouble deciding about the bottom of the sweater: how long do I want it? What edging do I want? Will ribbing draw too much attention where I do not want it to go? Do I want a shirttail hem? Moreover, when I am using my handspun, I am never 100% sure how much I will need for a given sweater. I would rather run out as I barrel toward the bottom of the thing than just as I reach the upper parts of the yoke.

I may even have a VERY limited amount of something delicious that I have spun up. I know there is not enough for a sweater, but it will be enough for the yoke, as long as I knit from the top down.


For this one, I had only four ounces of a precious, handdyed, shiny Icelandic roving, but I had a lot of black Galway in my stash! For both this sweater and the one featured in the previous post, I used mosaic stitches from Barbara Walker’s Mosaic Knitting for some rounds, increased the yoke, using EZ’s percentage system on the NON patterned rows, and changed the stitch pattern, if necessary, to accommodate the new number of stitches. Another good resource is Roxanne Barlett’s Slip Stitch Knitting”Slip-Stitch Knitting: Color Pattern the Easy Way” (Roxana Bartlett). It sounds more complicated than it is.

This strategy has appeared recently in Shannon Okey’s Spin to Knit; however, the use of handspun delights as yoke accents comes up in Spin-Off and in Lee Raven’s Hands on Spinning.

The decision between top-down or bottom-up is a very personal one, and, frankly, top-down sweaters pose unusual challenges. Folks who WANT to work from the top down but face a pattern with the other orientation have a few things to consider and some resources. The first question is whether your stitch pattern in the sweater looks the same from the bottom up as from the top down. Some do: stockinette, seed/moss stitch, ribbing of all kinds, and so on. If the stitch pattern DOESN’T look the same, well, you may want to rethink. Second is the vexing question of sleeve construction. Some, like set-in sleeves, require careful thought and work best in simultaneous sleeve-knitting.

The best resource for these matters that I know is Barbara Walker’s Knitting From The Top. Basically, she tells you how to convert ANY bottom-up sweater pattern into a top-down version. Raglan? Piece of cake! Fairisle or Icelandic Yoke sweater? No problem. Even set-in sleeves (as we shall see when I start mixing it up with Nora Gaughan.)

Where, you ask, is the rainbow spiral and what has it to do all this stuff about top down knitting? I am glad you asked! Since that sweater is basically stockinette, the straight knitting sections will look the same either way. The yoke, I thought, could be negotiated, but first I tested one of the variations on the spiral yoke sweater Meg Swansen offers:


As you can see, this version gives you a two-color spiral, and it inspired me to imagine what I could do by using some of my handdyed roving with the slow color changes. (See the previous guest blogs on dyeing roving). Basically, I dyed my roving in a rainbow of colors, spun it and then navajo-plied it to keep the colors together. Then I went about knitting the Spiral yoke from the top down. To get the effect I wanted, I combined the two versions of the pattern: the stitches travel AND the two-color knitting introduces the rainbow.


I even started from a provisional cast one so I could decide later how to treat the neck—I wasn’t so sure about how ribbing would work. Here is a closer look at the color changes:


I admit to fudging JUST a little when it looked as if the gold section was going to be too dominant. And I miscalculated so that I had some colors left over from my rainbow spinning. So I used them for the cuffs. An excuse for a final picture:


My bet is that this variation on the SYS (Spiral Yoke Sweater) would work just as well, though to slightly different effect, with a Noro yarn, perhaps Silk Garden Lite, which would match more closely the worsted commercial yarns you might want as a contrast.

Next time. Quiggling the Spiral: In which we explore yet another variation on the spiral yoke, this time using ribbing and color gradations produced in another way!