Looking out of my window here at Castle Codd, it is plainly obvious in the breezy golden light that Autumn is here. The crunch through the first few crisp leaves has been a feature of our walks to nursery on this first week back. These past two days I have worn an extra layer to acknowledge that slight chill.
My little boy has a favourite form of garment that he enjoys wearing to keep him snug: a tank top. Since he was only five days old he has mastered the art of looking cute in a tank top, and they really are perfect for keeping the chill off your chest, which, my Nan would always tell me, was essential in keeping well.
Tank Top vs Armwarmers
So, when August began, I had been considering a new toddler tank top anyway, but also really wanted to get on and join in the August Boost Your Knitting knitalong, which was revealed to be the glorious Skystone Armwarmers. Talk about being stuck between a ball of wool and a soft place… How do you choose? So, I knit both. At once. Kind of.
Images © Jesse Wild and used with permission of Arnall-Culliford Knitwear
I had the yarn for the beautiful Sky colourway, and the chart which you can use to plan your colour options. I can pretty much knit a tank top in my sleep now, so I decided to combine the two into one project. And thus, the Skystone Tank Top was born.
Lots Of Techniques
As hinted above, I can practically knit tank tops with my eyes closed. I’ve been knitting them for a good few years, even before my little boy was born, though my earliest ones were not so standard in shape, made to fit a chum of very different proportions. Since then, however, I have acquired some new techniques into my circus skills of knitting, and the ones I leant on here were all from past (and, it turns out, future) A Year Of Techniques and Boost Your Knitting projects and technique tutorials. This post may be a bit link-heavy, because I have revisited so many past tutorials and projects to make this. Click any links that spark your curiosity, or carry on reading along.
So, let me take you on a grand tour of this project (screen goes wibbly as we take you back to a few weeks ago… Mimi is sitting on the sofa, trying to corral a toddler into being measured…)
The first challenge was measuring the child. It was the hottest day of the year and though my boy was quite happy to play measuring, he did absolutely not have any desire to put a tshirt on to do so. Any wise person would wait until a cooler day or a time when said child was dressed. I measured him anyway. 55cm chest measurement. Add a bit for the missing layer he’d be wearing. Add a bit more for ease. Add a tiny bit more for room to grow (because I want it to fit him for more than a fortnight). Let’s say 70cm. I had a gauge of 28sts per 10cm, so 2.8sts per cm on my size 3.25mm needles; so 2.8 x 70 = 196sts. The Skystone Armwarmers chart is 6 stitches wide, so the closest multiple of 6 would give 198sts to cast on, with a final measurement of about 71cm. That’ll do. I have mathsed.
I wanted a neat, firm but elastic edge, because those are the best kind, so I went back to a previous Boost Your Knitting lesson and used the Tubular Cast on taught alongside the Totally Tubular mittens pattern.
Once I got past the ribbing section and onto the main pattern, I was enjoying myself greatly. I love the rhythm of simple colourwork, and happily knit my way through the rows of the chart. Yes, technically I made a mistake – a mere deviation from the original where I knit an extra row of one of the pattern lines, but you can’t see it and I won’t look for it. A few people asked on Instagram how my pre-blocked colourwork was so neat, and I didn’t truthfully think it was so neat on this project, but what neatness I did achieve is mostly down to a very obedient woolly yarn, and good yarn management through colour dominance (which, if you wanted to learn the secrets behind, is very well taught in the Shaila Mittens tutorial from A Year Of Techniques.
One of the other techniques I used to make my life a bit easier whilst knitting, was to splice the yarn joins when shifting between colours. As the background and foreground colours all shift only in their own colour groups, and to their nearest neighbour, I spliced them to avoid having any ends to weave in after the project. Good thinking, Past Mimi; looking after Future Mimi – I appreciate you.
What I did not realise was that how to splice yarns properly and elegantly is the subject of one of the future patterns and accompanying lessons in Boost Your Knitting: The Marangoni Hat. As the pattern and tutorials have all been released to subscribers now I can see that splicing is covered with another ingenious technique for joining in a new length of yarn with, and here’s the exciting bit, not having to weave your yarn tails in afterwards. Learn these techniques. Future you will love you for it, and Jen’s photo tutorials will show you the absolute best way of doing it.
Do The Splits
And the next technique we have up is the steeeeeeeeeeeeeks! Oh, to steek. What divides knitters more than the idea that cutting your knitting is genius/ridiculous. I’m on Team Genius. The first time that I used steeks in a project was for a previous tank top project: Oorik.
This darling little tank top and the tutorials on knitting, securing and cutting steeks was one of my favourite project from A Year of Techniques. It was just so freeing and made way for so many possibilities, and I have used it for a few projects since (most notably the Trilobite Tank Top)
So, I was well prepared for my next adventure in steeking and can’t imagine looking back to splitting and knitting the back and front shoulders side to side ever again. Instead, I put a steek in for each sleeve and after working another inch started one for the neck, also.
As the decreases at the sides of the neck and armholes are made, the steeked tank top begins to represent nothing more than a malformed bag with the bottom cut out. At this point it is common for me to ask myself ‘am I doing this right?’ I am, it just looks so weird.
As the neck decreases rise to almost the full intended length of the tank top there is one more steek to put in: one of the back-of-neck and shoulder shaping. I have found that, where possible, it is better to hold the back of neck stitches on a stitch holder/waste yarn and to knit the neck edging from them, rather than bind then off and pick up edging stitches, as it makes the edge more elastic and easy to put on. Anyone who is in charge of a toddler knows that their heads are disproportionately large, and that they really don’t like having tight necklines squeezed over them. If you don’t have a toddler, borrow a friend’s to look at. Look at that giant head. It has to be big to hold all of the cuteness in.
The shoulders were joined using a three needle bind off. I find that this gives a nice, stable seam in this area that takes a lot of the garment’s weight. Also, it’s very quick. (Yeah, that’s the main reason.)
The steeks are then reinforced with crochet either side of the cutting line, before the big scissors come out. Except, don’t use big scissors. Use some nice little accurate ones.
And suddenly there’s a neck hole where the neck hole should be. And space for a couple of little arms follows soon after.
Stitches are picked up for the neckline and around the arms. To try and maintain as much space for giant toddler heads as possible I knit a classic V neck but knit the ribbing back and forth in a strip without a front central decrease, letting the two ends of this strip overlap in the very centre of the V before sewing the ends discretely into place. This again maximises the elasticity and roominess of the neckline, making getting dressed easier on every single person in the vicinity.
Ready To Wear
After a quick soak in the sink and a very light blocking, the tank top was complete.
A quick check of both the front and the back, and I felt happy with what I had made. Looking over the colourwork on the back was very pleasing.
Once the wool was cleaned and fully dry, any remaining ends were trimmed and a label sewn in as a finishing touch.
I think a lot of the time we hope that our handknits for children might one day be handed down. I keep the ones that my little boy grows out of, just in case he should want them when he is older, either to look back on, or to hand down to someone else. I sew a little label in and write a little tag when I pack his hand knits away. I don’t know if he will feel it when he is older, but I want him to know that there was once love knit into every single stitch. I do not take my knitting too seriously (she says, with a website dedicated to this kind of thing), but I do find a meditation in my knitting, of loving the person I am knitting for (including those projects I am knitting for myself), so each of these projects is special.
The entire knitting of this tank top was a joy. The yarn, the colours, the item itself and the love I have for the little person it is for. He turns four next week, and this was a present for his birthday, but he watched me knit it, and asked about it every day. He loves a tank top.
I had to give it to him immediately.
He loves it.
I love it.
There’s so much joy wrapped up in this simple little tank top. I know that it’s something that he loves. I love that he chooses to wear tank tops and that they are so warm, and practical, and can be so full of fun and colour, and that these are also all qualities that I feel about my child. Maybe that’s why they are his perfect garment.