Goldilocks and the Three* Vests

Today I'm handing over the reins of the blog to Alix Pearson. Alix is one of the moderators in our Ravelry group, and is a fount of knowledge on both stranded knitting and adjusting patterns for fit. I have long admired her beautiful stranded vests, so today she is going to share some helpful tips on making your own. Over to you, Alix!

If you are all sitting comfortably...

I’ve knitted a lot of vests. If I’m going to a yarn festival, I often knit a vest to wear. People admire the vests and ask what the pattern is. Generally, there isn’t a pattern, or I’ve tweaked the heck out of it. In this guest post, Jen asked me if I could share some of the things I think about when I’m planning a vest.

If you are new to stranded knitting, I strongly recommend Mary Jane Mucklestone’s Craftsy Class ‘The Fair Isle Vest, Stranded and Steeked’. The pattern which accompanies this class was very inspirational to me.

The Porridge

Aren't there patterns out there?

There are loads of inspirational patterns out there – in books, in magazines, as downloads. I own quite a lot of vest patterns. And of course, as is true in life generally, you can’t always get what you want, all in one place.

Many vests I saw were scaled down versions of men’s vests and the proportions were all wrong for a wee girl like Goldilocks.

Many had V necks and very wide shoulders.

Some were knit at the wrong gauge for the yarn I like.

Lots had too much positive ease.

Some were just too ‘jazzy’ as my grandma would have said.

After a lot of sampling and adjustment, I figured out the five key components that made the biggest impact on the overall success of a vest.

Salt or Sugar?

It’s all a matter of personal taste, and the following is what I like, and why.

Shoulders I have found that too much fabric in the upper chest area is not very flattering. Careful attention needs to be paid to garment proportions in relation to the wearer’s body proportions: shoulders, neckline & boobage are all closely linked. I don’t have a magic formula, but generally, if you have larger boobs, you can get away with a lower neckline and you should have narrow shoulder straps. (But not too narrow or your vest will start to look like a racer back top). Smaller chested Goldilocks can take a higher neck and wider shoulders, but not extending beyond the point where the collar bone joins the upper arm. I favour fairly narrow shoulder straps of 14 sts for my size of about 86.5cm [34”]. Don't forget that your armbands will extend your shoulder.

Neckline I find deep V necklines rather masculine and many vest patterns break for the V-neck at the same time as breaking for the armholes. The main reason I am asked for my vest pattern, is because I always use rounded necks. I think a high neck where a shirt collar can peek over like a Peter Pan collar is very attractive. A scooped neckline is more like a tank top and can be difficult to put something underneath. What will you wear your vest with? Shirts? Or long-sleeved stretchy tops? You don’t want the neckline of your top to poke out above a high round neck, so get out your tape measure.

Design Details It is tempting to throw everything at a stranded vest; after all, you already have the yarn, why not use it? Multi-colour corrugated rib is a big statement. I find I prefer my vests when they have rib which matched my main colour. If you are choosing a vest, or designing your own, consider the scale of the pattern. Most traditionally inspired vests are made of horizontal bands of patterns. The narrower bands are called peerie patterns (‘peerie’ = small in Shetland dialect). The wider bands are called border patterns. Think about how much pattern you want to wear. If you want to wear a lot of pattern, there are some ‘allover’ vest designs, which avoid the horizontal lines which don’t suit some people.

Waist Shaping I don’t bother, but it is really important for some people. If you need a lot of waist shaping, then you should be brave and use proper shaping at your side seam markers. I wouldn’t use a faux seam, as you are working with a lot of different colours and stacking up a single stitch of several background colours at each side could look strange. If you keep to your pattern and decrease and increase right up to and after your marker, you will obviously lose your continuity in your pattern, but your vest will fit.

For more subtle shaping, you could gradually reduce your needle size as you approach the waist. Ten centimetres [4”] before your natural waist drop .25mm in needle size. At 5cm [2”] drop another .25mm. For 5cm [2”] round your waist, work with a needle which is 1mm smaller than your main fabric, the work back up again (these measurements are a guideline, and you may need to adjust them depending on your height).

Space A good way of calming a pattern and creating space in a garment, as well as giving you some speed breaks in your stranded knitting, is to add lots of plain rows into your design. Many vintage vest patterns use this design detail, so if you’d like to recreate the feel of a vest that you’ve seen in an old picture, add 3 rounds of background colour between pattern bands.

And Finally Watch where you place your patterns! 

*well actually quite a lot of vests...

Thank you so much for your insight Alix! I'm itching to knit some colourwork now... If you click on any of the images in this post, you can visit Alix's Ravelry pages, which will give you many more details about each project.

For further inspiration, why not check out some of the following patterns:
Mary Jane Mucklestone's Voe Vest
Mary Jane Mucklestone's Fair Isle Vest (Craftsy Class)
Alice Starmore's Oregon Cardigan and Vest
Ysolda Teague's Cruden Vest
Susan Crawford's Wartime Farm Sleeveless Pullover

And a well-stocked stranded colourwork yarn pantry will always help you on your way when designing a vest! You can purchase Jamieson & Smith 2ply Jumper Weight and Shetland Supreme Jumper Weight over on our website, as well as a selection of Jumper Weight Starter Bundles.

Happy vest knitting!