A Vest for Dan

My boyfriend Dan is extremely picky? discerning when it comes to knitwear.

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It can make making things for him somewhat challenging, but after being together for 10 years, you learn how to make things work. He has very strong opinions about vests in particular. They have to have buttons. They have to be all one color. They have to have a stitch pattern, but it can’t be cables or anything too too fancy. They have to look good with blue button-down shirts.

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They have to be BB-8 approved.

Okay, maybe I made that last one up.

Point is, there are a lot of rules. And how do we get around this, being the incredibly patient knitter that we are? We make Dan pick out every single aspect of the project. We sit together for two hours on Ravelry, going through every single listed knit vest pattern for men, until it is narrowed down to only one.

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The winner? A Vest for Charles by Kathleen Dames, fromĀ The Best of Jane Austen Knits. This one ticks every box up there: buttons, all one color, an unobtrusive but lovely brocade-inspired stitch pattern…perfection for the picky man.

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The yarn? Well, this is the first time in my life that I have ever done this, but this project is knit in exactly the same yarn and colorway as pictured in the original pattern, Brooklyn Tweed Shelter in the color Truffle Hunt. (Click the link to buy some from Loop! They were super fast and super friendly! Highly recommended.) I gave Dan several suggestions as to other worsted weight yarns and tweedy options, but he had his heart set on the exact one in the picture.

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And you know what? He couldn’t have been more right. Truffle Hunt is a gorgeous color, somewhere between gray and brown (as you can probably tell from the fact that it looks like a completely different color in almost every single picture), with tiny flecks of teal green, dark blue, gold, brown, and white interspersed throughout. And because Shelter is what’s called a “woolen-spun” yarn, it’s very soft, light, and airy, while somehow also providing amazing stitch definition and warmth.

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I mean, look at all that double-diamond action. I’m definitely going to invest in some more when it’s time to make a sweater for me.

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Jane Austen Knits is a really fun book for those who are into regency-influenced fashion, so I felt like I needed to get a picture of Dan enjoying a bit of Persuasion. Fitting, as it’s the character Charles Musgrove for which the pattern is named.

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As for the pattern, although it’s absolutely perfect for my slender, just made-for-an-ascot-looking counterpart, it has its ups and downs. The charts are easy-to-follow, but more complex than they appear at first glance. Keep your stitch markers going (even though it’ll seem ridiculous at first) and take plenty of notes as to where you start and stop for each section of pattern when you get to dividing up for the sleeves. You’ll thank me later.

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Keep close track of your buttonhole rows, because they don’t line up with the stitch pattern at all, even though in the finished project, they look like they do.

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Speaking of buttonholes, this is actually one of the things that I thought was really marvelous about this pattern. While you’re knitting, you knit in buttonholes on either side of the chest closure at the same time, resulting in doubled matching buttonholes all the way up. This is for two reasons: one, so that the vest can be unisex and you can choose for yourself which side to sew the buttons onto; and two, so that when you are ready to sew, you know exactly where that button is to be placed, down to the exact stitch.

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It’s not super easy to see, but the post on that button is going to land directly into the yarnover, which matches exactly with the other side. I know that all knitters have had that moment where, no matter how well you measure and mark out your buttons and pin out everything perfectly, the buttons never, ever look exactly evenly spaced. I’m so happy to know that there’s a solution to that problem.

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The buttons? Dan picked those out, too. Well, more like he was guided into choosing them by the amazing staff at Promenade Fine Fabrics on St. Charles Ave. here in New Orleans. If you go to their website, the fantastic man who helped us is the owner, Herbert Halpern, the distinguished-looking gentleman on the left in the photo at the bottom right corner. He came right over to us, picked up the vest, steered us away from the wooden buttons, and found the absolute perfect match. Dill 1942 Full Metal, style 6486, if you’re wondering.

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They’re just exactly the right mix of modest and military. And just like the yarn, they change color depending on the light. I ended up using 13 buttons instead of the 11 called for in the pattern, because even though I made the 36″ chest circumference size, Dan’s torso is really long in proportion to the rest of him. The result? A super-flattering slim fit that makes him look taller. And even though I made the vest that much longer, I still somehow ended up with an extra skein of yarn left over. Maybe a hat to match? Or an ascot?

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Last, but not least, Dan got to pick out our photo shoot location. Grow Dat Youth Farm is one of our favorite places in the city.

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They teach kids all about sustainable agriculture and sell their food through farm stands and CSA boxes throughout the year. We finally became CSA share members this year, after debating for some time, and we’ve been having a lot of fun so far preparing the seasonal vegetables that they provide.

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I am all about those purple carrots now.

So, if your boyfriend wants to show off his brand-new sweater vest by running around in a field of greens that you’re probably going to eat later, you let him.

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Squares and Squares and Squares

Or maybe, more properly, Rectangles and Rectangles and Rectangles.

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Now, I have knitted a number of projects in the past with finicky finishing work. A Dale of Norway ski sweater, complete with terrifying steeks and zippers. Tiny toys, with hand-stitched felt eyes and itty-bitty ears. Duplicate stitched snowflakes for days on end. I could go on and on.

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However, now that I have completed a Warm Up America! Afghan…I feel as though I have summited some sort of insane mountain of mattress-stitch achievement.

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Let me step back and explain.

My brother got married back in September of last year, and in proper fashion, I told him and his wife that I would be happy to make them a new afghan for their house and their new life together. Knowing that my sister-in-law is partial to purple, I decided to go with something patchworky with greens and browns, too, to match their decor. However, all of this planning in my mind for the perfect blanket for them had to go on the back burner while I finished nursing school and then got a real-life job. What I originally thought would end up being a first anniversary present instead ended up being a Christmas present, a fact that I know is making all of the knitters nod their head in solidarity.

Projects like this seem so simple at first. You get pulled in to the allure of the patchwork square. It’s the same seductive pull that makes you start working on something that involves thousands of granny squares, not even thinking about how all of those squares are going to put themselves together.

You start thinking about what would be the perfect afghan and think back on the beautiful one you saw in the fantastic book Knitting for Peace, the Warm Up America! Afghan…8 different types of squares with simple stitch patterns, perfect for beginners or for some mindless knitting while you watch Jessica Jones on Netflix.

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You see all of those little squares and think, “Oh, it’ll take no time at all to make one of those! And they’ll be small, and portable! I can knit those anywhere! Gosh darn it, I am so smart. There’s no way this will backfire.”

You order up a whole boatload of Knit Picks Brava Worsted so that you can get started. You figure, “Oh, acrylic will be such a good choice for this. Easy to wash and take care of, tons of color options. Yes, this will be fantastic.” (Note: Knit Picks Brava is pretty fantastic, don’t get me wrong. However, acrylic will come back to bite you in the ass later, don’t you worry.)

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You start cranking out squares like it’s going out of style. (I know some people want to know the colors, so here we go: Alfalfa, Almond, Brindle, Cream, Dublin, Mulberry, Peapod, and Sienna, 3 skeins each.)

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You knit squares (rectangles, actually) at every opportunity, and since you are now working as a night-shift pediatric RN, you have lots of weird time alone at night to get to know these squares since you can’t force the entire house of Dan and cats to get onto your new bizarro schedule.

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The cats try their best to help. They are unsuccessful.

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You realize quickly that every single “square” of this pattern is completely different in terms of gauge, especially row gauge (which is something that knitters really don’t end up having to think about or compensate much for, which made it even more crazy-making), and that you have to do a fair amount of math to get each square to come out to roughly the same length.

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You take the time out of making squares to procrastinate a little and make a little chart to figure out just how many more squares you need to make after you are done procrastinating. You start kicking yourself for deciding that you were going to make the blanket a little bit larger than the pattern originally called for, mostly because when they provide 8 different stitch patterns but tell you to only make 49 squares, your brain explodes a little bit. 64 squares is much more pleasing to your psyche in terms of a finished project, but when you realize how many more squares you have left to go…you start to hate squares.

All of those beautiful patchwork blankets in your head start to taunt you and mock you for your hubris. You keep knitting until you just can’t knit any more, slogging your way through stupid, stupid, lovely garter stitch in the name of love for your family.

And when you finally finish…

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There is absolutely no relief at all. Now you have to join those squares together. Those squares whose sizes have seemingly absolutely nothing at all to do with one another, no matter how good your math or tension was.

That stack of lovely squares right there is a bit deceiving. The squares come of the needles looking a lot more like this:

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Now, if this was wool or cotton, our blocking situation would just be washing and laying things out, or perhaps a light iron. However, acrylic makes you work hard for the kind of squariness you desire. You dutifully haul out the steam iron and blocking wires and T-pins.

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Every square needs to be pinned out to match the 7″x9″ dimensions needed, some adopting this position easier than others. Then, (and don’t freak out), you use your steam iron to intentionally ruin your fabric.

It’s called “killing” acrylic, and usually it’s a terrible thing to accidentally do to a beloved article of clothing, melting the plastic in the yarn. However, in a controlled environment, the right amount of heat (as little as possible to make steam and staying away from actually touching the fabric) and dedication will coax those squares into flattening out their edges, opening up their stitch patterns, and fitting themselves into the straight edges and corners you need to sew them up without wanting to gouge your eyes out.

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You do this, 3 squares at a time, until everything is perfect and lovely and you are so done.

But, you are definitely nowhere near done. Now…the sewing.

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You lay out all of those squares, trying to make things pleasantly random, taking care not to let 2 of the same color or stitch patterns touch each other. (I did originally try to make each row and column have only one of each color or pattern, but it turned into an endless unwinnable sudoku game because I absolutely did not want to do diagonal stripes. I settled for each row having only 1 of each color, and then let the chips fall where they may for everything else, just to save my sanity.) You put off the inevitable sewing process just a little longer by taking moody, artful pictures of your little squares all lined up.

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Mattress stitching is your stitch of choice, of course, because you want everything to line up as nicely as possible. (You must go here and learn its ways right this second, if you don’t already know.) The pattern gives you very, very little guidance here, but joining the squares into columns actually goes really fast and easy, due to all of the squares being either 35 or 36 stitches wide. Sewing things up when they are actually the same exact size is quick and satisfying.

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Zipping up those seams feels pretty good.

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The vertical seams are not the same cakewalk. First things first, you have to pin out the seam between squares.

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Then, you sew up the sides using the ladders between the first and second stitches from the edge of the row, zig-zagging between the squares.

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But, as you remember from earlier, every single stitch pattern is a completely different length in terms of number of rows, so you’ve got to do some creative stitching.

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You watch your pins carefully, and try to see if they are leaning in one direction or another. In the above picture, the pin is leaning to the left, meaning that there’s more fabric up there to be incorporated into the seam. Therefore, you need to fit more of those rows into a smaller amount of rows on the bottom (picking up 2 ladders on the top and just 1 on the bottom) to ease everything in.

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When it goes right, it goes so right and you feel like a finishing genius. When it doesn’t, you think, “Eh, people don’t look at the corners anyway, right? I don’t need to take a picture of that one. Or that one. Or that one back there.”

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What corners? Low-angle photography makes corners not matter, right?

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Finish up the edges with 2 rows of single crochet, just to make those corners nice and neat, and then hit it again with a tiny blast of steam so that everything lays down nice.

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Then, take a breath and weave in all those ends.

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There are a lot, so it would be good for you to take some breaks between and do this as you go along as a relief from the sewing-up frustration.

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Wait. What frustration? It all melts away when you see that final finished project, exactly as you envisioned it in your head.

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Fields of green and brown and purple, looking like farmland from an airplane.

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Those slightly wonky edges and corners just don’t matter anymore, because it’s so perfect all of a sudden.

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You know that your brother and sister-in-law are going to absolutely love it, and all of the work is worth it. The endorphins kick in and shape the experience in such a way that you start to think, you know, I should make another one of those for Dan and I, as soon as I have some more free time.

But maybe in cotton next time.