Friday, April 20, 2012

Things I learned at VKL, part 3

When you sit down with a group of knitters of any size, you'll hear a lot of opinions. (I mean that in both senses, by the way; the group can be any size, and the knitters themselves can be any size.) The number and strength of opinions is generally--but not always--directly proportional to size, too. When I was at VKL last fall, spending the days with hundreds of knitters in every possible configuration, I was definitely expecting to get an earful, and I did!

One of the things that I was most surprised by was the strong distaste several of the designers and workshop instructors expressed for seamless sweaters--and specifically, the top-down raglan style of construction. Given how many of the trendiest, everyone's-making-one-these-days patterns for the last couple of years have been seamless or required minimal finishing (February Lady Sweater, Whisper Cardigan, Owls...I'm looking at you, here!), all these voices united in abhorrence of the very idea of top-down-seamlessness may well have crossed the threshold into "backlash" territory. Now, it wasn't unanimous, by any means, but it was definitely a thing--so much so that one or two people were kind of back-pedally on the topic (e.g. "Now, I don't have anything against top-down seamless styles personally, if you like that sort of thing, that's fine, I just personally, for myself, would never make one, and here's why...") or seemed to feel a need to justify their acceptance of the technique in the face of the backlash ("Now, this design is a top-down one, but I think in this one instance it really works because..."). It was eye-opening, to say the least, and I started taking notes so I could sort out where I stood on what I didn't even realize was a Big Divisive Knitting World Issue. Here's my summary of the Seamless vs. Seamed debate:

Team Seamless says:

1) OMG so easy! When you're done, you're done! No more UFOs!
2) Seams are itchy, especially at the back of the neck or under the arms. Get rid of 'em!
3) It's one garment; why not knit it in one piece?

Whereas the Seams Team says:

1) Seams give you structure where you need it most--the shoulders, back of the neck, the sides of a garment. Sweaters with no seams quickly lose what little shape they had to begin with!
2) Knitting in the round yields a spiral fabric, not a flat one. Seamless garments twist around the body and won't hang straight.
3) Come on, people; finishing's not THAT big a deal. Don't knit crappy sweaters just because you're lazy.

I've been mulling this over for months* and I honestly still haven't picked a side for myself. Many of my designs, after all, ARE seamless, and some are top-down, to boot! There's also a difference between less-seaming, and seamless, if you know what I mean. Sometimes it really doesn't make sense to knit something in pieces and then sew those pieces together, and sometimes it makes such a huge difference in the amount of time you need to make a single garment that it'd be senseless not to try to cut down at least a bit on the seaming wherever you can. None other than the inspired and wonderful Jared Flood did a series of features in Vogue Knitting on how to convert "ordinary" garment patterns into seamless ones, and that man is anything BUT lazy or finishing-phobic. And of course, different yarns and knitted fabrics work differently when seamed--fine yarn and lace fabrics don't necessarily combine well with seams of any kind. (It all kind of reminds me of the more-product-less-process approach to archival processing, which is also the subject of great debate within its constituent community...but that wouldn't interest most of you.)

What I've finally landed on is "let the people decide."** Which is more or less exactly what the original Opinionated Knitter, Elizabeth Zimmerman, used to say, only more succinctly: "Knitter's choice."

Please ignore the fact that EZ was also the innovator who brought us the Phoney Seam and many, many variations on the seamless-construction theme. Seamless was her CHOICE, not her gospel. I would also like for you all to ignore the fact that the new project I'm working on right now is...a seamed sweater. And with set-in sleeves, no less!

*That's my excuse for that looooooong lag between blog posts, and I'm sticking to it. We shall never speak of this matter again.

**OK, that's what Magic 8 Ball said. I really, really still haven't made up my mind.


Anonymous said...

What a timely post for me, as I've just been going through my books and looking for cardigan patterns. I am definitely on team seamless.

Seamless clothes twist? I have not noticed that actually happen. What about socks? Do socks twist?

Yes, I am that lazy, if lazy means that I have limited time for knitting and it has to compete for time with everything else I like doing and making, and the very many things I don't like but have to do if I want to eat and not be naked.


Dixie said...

I love top down seamless, not because I'm lazy, but because I need to be able to try on as I go. Who among us has the perfect body. I know I don't. I often need to decrease the upper bodice, lengthen the torso and arms, etc. Its much easier to make adjustments when you can be sure they are correct.

TT820 said...

Dixie, that is SO TRUE. I completely forgot about the "trying on as you go" bonus of top-down seamless construction. It's definitely more of a "what you see is what you get" approach than pieced constructions. Score one more for seamless, I say...

Steven said...

I find I pay more attention to the final garment -- what it's going to look like, how it's going to fit, etc. Whether it has seams or not isn't as important. I like raglan shaping and I like the fit of set-in sleeves, both. But I've come to despise sleeves that are sewn into a square body -- not because of the sewing, but because of all the useless baggy underarm fabric. So there you go.

Amy Munson said...

I was a bit surprised to hear there are those out there that don’t like top down seamless. (I will crawl back under my rock now) I tend to favor no seam, but I certainly have made my share of sweaters with seams and bottom up. I guess when I think about designing a sweater I would want to design it to appeal to the widest audience; I may be mistakenly thinking this was the top down no seams folks. Definitely something to mull over.

FriendlyFossil said...

I enjoy knitting sweaters, but I don't like the way raglan sweaters look on me. The raglan lines tend to frame the very part of my body that is most prominent. I have seen many really well designed raglan sweaters and wonder if I might like wearing one of the designs that have high, narrow shoulder areas. In my opinion, it sometimes makes more sense to knit a garment seamlessly (Fair Isle, stripes, lace, etc.) and sometimes knitting with seams makes a better garment (alpaca yarn, plant fiber yarns, style lines, etc.). I think that both seamless and seamed constructions have their place.