Endless Rose Cowl – Two Ways

(This post is a co-written venture by senior project editor Joni Coniglio and Knitscene assistant editor Louisa Demmitt. We’ve labeled paragraphs as “JC” and “LD” so you know who’s talking!)

LD: Jeffrey Wall’s Endless Rose Cowl from Interweave Knits Spring 2015 is one of my  favorite new patterns. The Knits team decided to put together an awesome kit of this cowl, so Joni and I thought it would be both helpful and fun to knit it up with some explanations. The cowl is knit in the round, in Fair Isle, following a gorgeous snowflake and rose chart. I had never done stranded colorwork in the round before, so this was a challenge from the get go. Joni and I started making our cowls at the same time and used knit provisional cast-ons. I had grafted knitting before, but never in the round. And never in a colorwork pattern!

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This was really daunting for me. Luckily Joni knows what’s what with grafting, and she walked me through it. We knit several rounds in waste yarn and then worked the first row of the cowl chart, using two colors. Then you just knit the chart several times. I knit colorwork with two hands (if there are only two colors at a time, which was thankfully the case in this pattern), and found that it worked really well. My tension was really tight when I started, I think because I was so nervous, but it relaxed out as I went along.

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I knit until the cowl was the desired length, knitting through Row 33 of the 34-row chart. Row 34 would be completed in the grafting stage. With this kind of grafting you’re doing Kitchener stitch without thinking about it. You don’t have to remember all the steps and once you see how you’re creating stitches, it all makes sense in such a cool way!

You are creating the last row of the chart with your grafting, so you are still using two colors. You need to put each strand of yarn on a separate tapestry needle, and transfer your live stitches to waste yarn. It’s easier to pick up the stitches (with your tapestry needle) from waste yarn than from a needle. With your two colors of yarn it’s helpful to keep them in a consistent position, one going above and one going below as you knit along. This way nothing gets twisted and you can stay organized. (Joni goes into a step by step of this below, I’m going to talk about removing the provisional cast-on.)

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The real trick while grafting this cowl is to remember to cut out the waste yarn from the provisional cast-on as you go. Once you’ve grafted about half of your stitches, you want to start trimming and pulling out the waste yarn. It’s really hard to take it all out when you only have a small number of stitches left to be grafted. Also, once you’ve stabilized your live stitches, you can pull out your waste yarn one stitch at a time (otherwise you end up knitting the waste yarn into the cowl!). You pull up a single stitch of the provisional cast-on to loosen it, and then snip it (small scissors are super helpful, as using larger ones can lead to accidentally cutting the wrong thing).

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It really feels like magic, the stitches that were once grounded to the provisional cast-on are now connected to one another, grafted!

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One tip that Joni gave me was to even out my stitches in groups. It’s important to keep your grafted stitches even, and they have a habit of looking sloppy and loose when you first create them. Once you’ve finished all of the stitches in that color section (such as three stitches in white), go back and gently tug the individual legs of the stitches so that they are uniform. That way, once you’re all done, the stitches will be indistinguishable from the others you made, and no one will be able to see where you grafted!

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As you get to the very end, it becomes even more important to cut away the provisional cast-on a little bit at a time. You do not want to try to pull out tons of waste yarn through a very small hole. It looks like there is a lot going on but it’s pretty easy to keep organized as long as you remember to follow your steps. And then when you’re done, voila!

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JC: I absolutely loved making this cowl. For one thing, the design itself is stunning and I want to make it over and over again just to see what it will look like using other color combinations. Another thing I loved about making the cowl is that it presented several technical challenges. The first challenge (for me) was the colorwork. I admit I’ve avoided colorwork in the past because it’s felt slow and awkward and I always had trouble maintaining a firm tension. I know that’s because I carry the colors in one hand and have to pick up one color at a time. This project presented the perfect opportunity to practice working with the yarn held in both hands. It was a bit of a struggle at first and my tension was pretty loose at the beginning, but I powered through the awkwardness and eventually found myself relaxing and enjoying the process. As a result, my stitches smoothed out and my tension became firmer and more even. I also found that knitting with two hands made the work progress much more quickly. I’m a convert to two-handed colorwork and look forward to using this technique again soon!

Another challenge with this cowl was the provisional cast-on and grafting. Because there are no solid-color rows in the chart pattern, both the provisional cast-on and the grafting had to be worked using two colors. (An alternative method, which we called for in the pattern in the magazine, is to cast on and graft using only the main color and then work duplicate stitch with the contrast color over these two rows.) In itself, working the provisional cast-on with two colors isn’t a problem; the difficulty is in placing the cast-on loops on the needle when you are getting ready to graft the two ends of the cowl together. The loops that are placed on the needle are actually the strands between the stitches that
were cast on originally, so wherever there is a main color stitch next to a contrasting color stitch there will be an X where the two colors cross each other instead of a single loop. Louisa and I decided to cast on with smooth cotton yarn in a contrasting color, and then knit a few rounds. We then started working the chart from Row 1 (technically, this is the provisional cast-on row because it’s the first row of working yarn loops worked over waste yarn stitches). The waste yarn held the two-color cast-on stitches firmly in place throughout the grafting process.

When the cowl was the desired length (I worked two more repeats of the chart pattern than Louisa did for her cowl because I wanted mine to be a bit longer), we ended with Row 33 of the chart, cut both yarns (leaving tails about 3 times the circumference of the cowl for the grafting) and placed the live stitches on a length of waste yarn. Normally, I graft with all the live stitches on needles, but in this case, because one set of stitches was already on waste yarn it seemed easier to place the other set of live stitches on waste yarn as well.  Using a length of waste yarn was sufficient for the live stitches. I don’t recommend knitting extra rounds with the waste yarn because if you do you’ll have to
remove two waste yarn sections before closing up the tube, which will be difficult. This way, we just had to cut the length of waste yarn as we went.

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We threaded each strand of grafting yarn onto a different tapestry needle. That way, we could pick up whichever strand we needed without having to thread it onto the tapestry needle each time. It really helped to keep one strand above the other at all times.

We grafted each stitch following Row 34 of the chart and working each stitch in three steps:

Step 1: Insert the tapestry needle from back to front (purlwise) through the stitch on the lower piece.

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Step 2: Insert the tapestry needle under both legs of the stitchon the upper piece.

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Step 3: Insert the tapestry needle from front to back (knitwise) through the same stitch on the lower piece as before.

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Here is a completed stitch from chart Row 34. In circular knitting, each row is a spiral, with the end of the row one row higher than the beginning. And the grafted row is no different. When the grafted row is complete, the last grafted stitch will meet the first stitch of the cast-on row (Row 1).

At the halfway point of the grafting, we cut one stitch of the waste yarn holding the cast-on stitches (as described by Louisa above) and used a tapestry needle to gently undo each waste yarn stitch from the cast-on row, working from the center out to each side. As more stitches were grafted and the opening got smaller and smaller, we removed more and more of the waste yarn until finally, before grafting the final stitch, we removed the remaining waste yarn.

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Because I made a longer cowl and didn’t want it to be too heavy, I used size 4 (3.5 mm) needles (instead of the size 2.5 [3 mm] needles called for in the pattern). My gauge was 28 stitches and 25 rounds (as opposed to 33 stitches and 32 rounds). And it ended up being 7.25″ wide and 39.5″ in circumference (instead of 6.25″ wide and 21.25″ in circumference). I used an extra skein of all the colors (though I probably would have been able to get away with using one skein of the contrast colors if my gauge had been consistent throughout).

A word about color choice: I decided to make the background darker than the motifs for a more muted effect. Here are the colors I chose: #SFN75 charcoal for MC, #O588 for CC1 and #I017 for CC2. But there are so many ways you can go with this pattern!

LD: This was a really fun project to work on with Joni, and I learned so much. I was completely intimidated at first but found that once I understood how I was creating stitches it was quite simple. It’s definitely something you need to pay attention to, but it is nowhere near as scary as I thought it would be! If you’re a fan of colorwork or not, new to grafting or an accomplished grafter, this is a pattern and a kit you are sure to love. It’s available in two fantastic colorways, get one for yourself and get knitting!

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