Pattern: Knitted Garter Stitch Blanket in Sheepsdown (Ravelry)
Source: The Opinionated Knitter by Elizabeth Zimmermann
Materials: Cascade Eco Wool (100% undyed Peruvian) #8063; yarn held double
Amount: Just over 9 skeins; approx. 4500 yards, 5lbs (!)
Needles: US13 circulars (although straights will work too)
Finished Dimensions: 80 x 53 inches
Started: October 2007
Finished: May 2008
Here is another example of how far a simple, clever design can go. The pattern originally appeared in Elizabeth Zimmermann's 9th Wool Gathering Newsletter in the Fall of 1962. It is available now in The Opinionated Knitter (a collection of Elizabeth's newsletters) with both the original texts (typewritten and all) and diagrams alongside Meg's present-day suggestions and updates to each pattern.
The original pattern calls to be knit in Sheepsdown, Schoolhouse's super bulky, lightly spun, undyed wool. Gorgeous stuff, and I had grand plans of knitting with it before I got economical and turned to my stash to find a plethora of Eco Wool begging for attention. Holding Eco Wool double gave me a bulky gauge (not as bulky as Sheepsdown, but close) and a wonderful squishy, cozy fabric that seemed like a dream to work up a whole afghan with.
Now, about the simplicity and the genius: the entire blanket is composed of four interlocking pieces, all of equal width, which are formed by simple mitered corners. The beauty, to me, is that throughout the entire process you always have 24 stitches on your needle. Always. And there is nary a purl stitch to be found. Netflix Knitters Dream Project? Yes.
Because my gauge was 3 sts per inch and the pattern calls for 2sts per inch, I upped my stitch count from 24 to 36 in hopes of having a very large, very substantial piece of knitting upon finishing. Another benefit of the design is its complete ease in resizing - because the only shaping involved is a mitered corner and you only have one number to worry about (24sts), you can essentially knit this in any weight of yarn at any size depending on how many stitches are cast on. I think a baby-blanket version in a nice soft DK weight wool would be lovely.
Whenever there's this much garter stitch, and this much weight, stretching and distorting of fabric can become a valid concern. Another built-in advantage of the design is that the fabric's consistent directional changes due to the mitered corners gives more structure while mainting wonderful stretchiness. The addition of the I-cord edging also frames the entire piece with added structure to keep everything in shape, and I think cleans up the design for a very nice finish. The I-cord edging is a suggestion from Meg, and one I definitely think is worth the extra time at the end - I love how it turned out.
The directional patterning also makes a wonderful texture and a wonderful play with light and shade, as different parts of the whole catch light differently (see photo below). The finished dimensions on mine came out to about 80"x53" - nice and big, and fits perfectly on the surface of a queen-sized bed. Also a favorite for snuggly folks on couches.
Finishing on this one is a big job and also entails some important decisions. There are many ways to seam up garter stitch, and I tried different methods to see what I liked best. I first tried an invisible garter graft, which looked nice on the RS, but not as nice on the WS, and was too weak in my opinion to hold this beast together. I decided in the end on using a single crochet chain seam to join all the pieces. The crochet seam has some major advantages here: first and most important, because the geometry is strong and completely carries the aesthetic, I wanted a visible seam that accented the construction in a clean way (and had an acceptable WS look). Aside from the aesthetic aspect, a crochet chain is strong and can really take a beating without a flinch. Because this thing weighs about 5 lbs (!) a strong, sturdy seam is essential.
As I mentioned above I trimmed the whole thing with a 3 stitch I-Cord, both for looks and structural help. After all the pieces were sewn together, I knit up one stitch for every ridge and attached the I-Cord all the way around, grafting the first and last row together invisibly.
Another quick tip: I recommend a sewn bind-off on all pieces. It keeps the ends of each piece stretchy and matches the cast on (I did a long-tail).
I'm totally enamored and think this is a lifer - good sturdy wool in a good sturdy pattern is sure to hold up for the long haul. I want to thank my models, Ryan and Joelle, for being total champs and swathing themselves in this thing during 96 degree heat without complaint. That's a feat unto itself.
And although you're folded up for summer, dear blanket, when September rolls around again you'll know how truly loved you are. Happy knitting one and all.
Edited to Add: Oops! Looks like I forgot to take a picture of the beast in its entirety! Had to strap on the wide-angle lens and clear out the living room... but I got it. You can see the full shot here.