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Cocoknits Sweater Workshop – a comprehensive guide to a favourite sweater construction

April 14, 2017

I’ve long admired Julie Weisenberger, aka Cocoknits, for her wearable designs and down to earth approach to accessible garment knitting, and sense of humour! Julie’s a popular teacher, and is known for giving knitters the confidence to make their own sweaters using her well thought out methods for “elegant—and manageable—knitting patterns.” In her first book, Cocoknits Sweater Workshop, Julie aims to reach more knitters than she can with in-person classes in a format that’s easier to refer to at your own pace.

The book focuses on one sweater construction method, which happens to be a personal favourite of mine. In a simultaneous set in sleeve construction the front and back pieces are worked flat to the shoulders, stitches are picked up for the top of the sleeve, and then the front, back and sleeves are all worked simultaneously to the underarm. It’s a fun way to knit a cleanly tailored garment without seams, with lots of potential for varying the initial shoulder shaping to create different style lines and / or fits. Ideally, for a good fit you want some kind of slope from the side of the neck to the edge of the shoulder. 

The basic process for knitting a top-down simultaneous set in sleeve sweater.
The basic process for knitting a top-down simultaneous set in sleeve sweater.

The Cocoknits Method shapes only the back piece. This is sometimes called an English tailored shoulder, and as Julie describes in the book it’s very common in ready to wear knitwear and t-shirts but less frequently seen in hand knitting. You might recognise the diagonal back shoulder line from my Cria pattern which uses a similar construction—the garter stitch ridges make it clear that the horizontal edge of the front piece is attached to the diagonal edge of the back.

Emma version A from Cocoknits Sweater Workshop.
Emma version A from Cocoknits Sweater Workshop.

Personally I rather like the style line created, but there’s also a big construction advantage for knitters. According to my sizing chart, an average shoulder slope, i.e. the angle between the side of the neck and the outer point of the shoulder, is about 20 degrees. If that’s split equally between the front and back, so the shoulder seam runs along the centre of the shoulder, the slope is too shallow to shape with increases or decreases and must be shaped with short rows. However, by moving all of the shaping to the back a steeper slope is required which can be shaped with increases, for a top down garment, or decreases, for a bottom up one. The other advantage is that, if the front piece is longer than the back and wraps over the top of the shoulder, then the back neck will be naturally lowered without any effort. 

Here’s how it works. If the slope shaping is split equally between front and back both pieces will look something like this.

Once seamed together (or when working top-down, they the front might be picked up from the back) it would look like this when laid flat. On the body the seam line would run along the centre of the shoulder. The finished garment laid flat would fold along the seam line to create that 20º shoulder slope. 

Moving all of the shaping to the back piece would look more like this, while the front would be straight. 

Once those pieces are joined together the seam line is swivelled towards the back, at the shoulder edge. You can see how the centre line of the shoulder and the seam diverge, but that once folded it would result in the same 20º slope. The shape of the garment hasn’t changed, just the placement of the seam / style line. 

Of course you could shape either slope with short rows, but here’s the magical thing. Increasing on every row (every single row, not every right side row), as Julie does in the patterns in the book, results in this:

A protractor, apparently, is not in my usual design toolkit but you can see that this is not quite half of the 90º T square—it's pretty much exactly the 40º slope we wanted. Isn't that satisfying?
A protractor, apparently, is not in my usual design toolkit but you can see that this is not quite half of the 90º T square—it’s pretty much exactly the 40º slope we wanted. Isn’t that satisfying?

Cocoknits Sweater Workshop is both a pattern book and a detailed how to guide for the construction method, illustrated and explained exceptionally clearly. 

Melanie Falick, who, in her role at STC Craft, brought many of my most beloved knitting and craft books to life, edited. It’s a joy to see that her signature balance of beauty and clear instructions transfers so well to a self-published project. 

The patterns are exactly what you’d expect from Cocoknits, simple and wearable with well thought out details. There are five base patterns with different shoulder shaping, some of which features variations which result in quite different garments and are sure to inspire knitters to create their own styles. This is Emma, intended as an introduction the method, I think it would also be a great first-ever-sweater pattern.

A unique worksheet is included to help you keep track of the different body and sleeve shaping in the yoke at a glance. There’s a version you can photocopy in the back of the book and each pattern includes instructions for exactly what to write in. I can see this being very helpful if you want to make adjustments to stitch counts to fit your body. 

Not surprisingly Julie is a kindred spirit when it comes to being incredibly detail oriented. None of the techniques used in the book will be especially challenging for newer knitters, but she is particular about which she prefers. Fortunately clearly photographed tutorials are included for all cast-on, increasing, short row, bind-off, and finishing techniques used. 

Although the book delves deeply into the how of this construction method it isn’t specifically a design book. Julie does tantalisingly hint, in the introduction, that one might in the works. Even so, as a designer, I love this addition to my library, and I’m sure it will serve as an excellent jumping off point for many knitters who want to knit the garments they imagine. 

Slowly I’ve been growing the collection of books offered in my online store to include those that I love and use frequently myself. Adding this one was a no-brainer and you can order it here. You may also be able to find it in your local yarn store, or you can order it directly from Cocoknits. That’s going to make a lot more sense than buying it from me if you’re in the USA. 

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