Princess Diana’s Black Sheep Sweater

It’s been a year since I’ve had a machine knitting project for myself. I’ve felt a bit guilty lately about not putting in the effort to get better at machine knitting. No fault of the hobby, I just always have something to sew. I’ve been sewing for 25 years so I’m also just better and faster at it.

With this in mind, I tackled the black sheep sweater made famous by Princess Diana and attempted my first fair isle project, my first cut and sew and using AYAB for more than a sample.

Yarn is “firefighter” from Made in America Yarns (MIAY). MIAY is based out of Philadelphia and comes on a cone, a win win for choosing my fiber. I wish it was a brighter red, in person it’s a more muted color that I’d call watermelon. Cones from MIAY are $25 for a pound vs twice as much other places. It also didn’t have to travel from far, so it got to me around the holidays in two weeks (normally takes a day from Philly). So not counting my time, I made this for around $100. It’s selling from Rowing Blazers at the moment for $300. Which after having made this and done a crazy amount of handwork to get those black eyes, if I had $300 and couldn’t make it for myself and enjoy the making process, I would just buy it, lol.

This is the shade of red I wish this sweater was. Deeper, more blue and vibrant

I’m pretty pleased with myself. I did many things for this first time on this sweater and pushed myself. While the sweater isn’t perfect (will get into that below) I’m very proud of myself.

I’m going to get into some really specific details in case any other machine knitters, Garment Designer or AYAB users come across my post

Float Control

First swatch

My first sample had crazy floats. I did work out a ladder back jacquard that locks the floats down using your ribber. But it’s VERY labor intensive (two carriage passes for one row of fair isle) and with my wool, kept dropping stitches at the ear. This wasn’t a problem in acrylic testing.

Ladderback jacquard

So the combo of yarn and the 30+ stitch distance between the ears created a problem. Instead I just abused my fabric when blocking to help it fuse better. I also disnegaged the MC button and removed the white yarn when knitting rows of stockinette.

Final sweater, post wet block

Cut and Sew

This was my first attempt at cut and sew. Part out of necessity, but also to learn a skill and level up. For the back, I’d forgotten to subtract the rows needed for the hip band in calculating the number of rows and repeats I would need for the bodice. I’d also done shaping on the shoulder slope and found the back too long by 3″. I realized I’d need to do cut and sew to fix that, so I knit the front with no shaping, since I know I’d need to cut my garment anyway. This was much simpler.

Front and back on the machine so I can add the neckband

I can’t point to a great tutorial online for the neckline treatment. I did buy a tutorial that is *fine* on Ravelry. But the directions are for a stockinette fold over band and I wanted ribbing. I googled for some ribbing and cobbled this together. It’s not great but it’s better than having to do fair isle shaping at the neckline during construction.

Sizing / Garment Designer

This is operator error. I knit my swatch at T5, plugged in the dimensions from the handknitting pattern and got my shaping instructions. Except the pattern called for 214 needles on the front and back. My machine only has 200. No problem I said to myself. How much of a difference can 28 stitches make? Turns out three whole inches of difference. So this is drafted to to be 47″ (my full bust is 45″ and high hip 47″) and I tried to stretch the life out of it in blocking, but it’s a SNUG 60s fit vs the 80s oversized fit I envisioned. It also means the shoulders don’t drop as much as they should, since the garment isn’t wide enough.

The way around this was simple too. I just needed to increase my Tension dial from 5 to 6 or 7 to go up a size. I’m pretty annoyed with myself over this because it’s a rookie mistake and really a simple fix. My sleeves are also snug because I forgot to accommodate for my full biceps (a 1″ difference from the draft). I don’t really know that this sweater style is suited to a full busted, plus size body… but I care about that less than I do about the overall fit. So don’t be surprised when I make this again, bigger and in a different colorway. I shall be avenged!

AYAB limitations

The software to make easy fair isle patterning is free. You need to put together the device to talk between your computer and your machine. But it’s $100 vs $800 for professional software (I can’t justify the cost of pro software because I just don’t knit enough). The problem I had with it was a slight mispatterning. I don’t know if I did something, or my machine isn’t correctly fixed from a repair or if it’s AYAB. The biggest issue I ran into was row counting. AYAB counts by repeat AND row. So instead of it saying “Row 220” it will say “Repeat 6, Row 2”. So you have to work out how many repeats you need before you start knitting. Hence my miscalculation noted above.

So there you have it. A sweater I like a great deal, but do not love. Yet, I learned so much that I regret nothing. I’m looking forward to knitting this a second time since I’ve worked out techniques and preferences. In the future, I shouldn’t punish myself with knitting a yarn that isn’t quite what I was looking for. But, you know… I’d already spent the money 🙃.

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42 comments

    • Thanks, Leanne! I just realized I’m never going to grow my skills if I just stick with socks and scarves. I’ve already worn this twice the last week, so I’m getting what I can out of it.

  1. Your sweater is fab, I followed along on Ig as you were making this, and loved seeing it come together. You inspired me to take my machine Knitting seriously this year, and I signed up to an online knit community. In the last month it’s done more for my machine Knitting than I managed alone the last five years😆.

    • Gah. I need to sign up for something like this. I missed out on Diana Sullivan’s courses over the summer. Is this the Whitehall designs group? I really need something to motivate me to use my machines more.

      • Yes it’s the Machine Knit Community, run by Whitehall Studios. It opens up for new members again in April. I’ve been dipping in and out watching previous video events, and there are a few KALs run on different months also. It’s made me focus on learning my machine properly… paying for the membership was the kick in the ass I needed🤣.

        • Okay, Okay. I’m in, lol. I’ll get on the waiting list. I think there was a waiting list when I finally got around to checking it out.

  2. Hello, I am so in love with this. I remember this sweater so well. I sew and hand knit. I have a simple knitting machine (The Ultimate Sweater Machine) but just haven’t had good experiences. I’m so impressed what you tried and the problems you had-we all experience this, no matter what we do. I am now following you on IG.

    • Thank you! That’s how I view it too, it’s all an experience that makes you better. I always worry people think making a mistake was a waste of time, when it’s not.

  3. This is such a wonderful sweater! All those eyes! I can’t wait until we can meet and share knitting machine tips again. It has been such a long, long year.

  4. I love it! I’ve been obsessed with following the in-progress journey that was on Instagram, and I think the finished sweater is so cute! It looks like so much work but the result is amazing. Even if it’s not entirely the way you wanted, it’s still totally fabulous.

  5. Nice work. I’ve been following you for years but I didn’t know you knitted too 🙂

    • Yeah, I definitely am a sewist before anything else, lol. I got my first knitting machine about five years ago, but only use them once or twice a year.

    • Thanks, Meg! I’m probably being a little hard on myself, but I really wanted that oversized, slouchy 80s vibe. That said, it’s a really cute sweater.

    • Thank you, Deb. I went grocery shopping yesterday and the clerk stopped to tell me she recognized my sweater. It’s a rare time that I’m on trend!

  6. You look absolutely fab, and I have huge respect for your perseverence!

    • Thanks, Ruthie. I hope this is the summer I commit to knitting more. It’s hard to get better when I take a year off in between projects. I’ve also really enjoyed having a truly warm garment to wear around.

  7. That is a very pretty sweater and it looks great on you. I think knitting is an act of faith because, unlike sewing, you really can’t try on the project until you have put in a lot of work. I think the sweater looks and fits you perfectly; but, I know how it feels to make something that does not match your creative vision. When that happens to me, I let the project sit in a drawer for a couple of weeks and then try it again with fresh eyes. Sometimes this allows me to see the garment for what it is and not through the eyes of my expectations.

    • Funny you say that. I definitely like it better now than I did when I finished it two months ago. I used to think it needed to be shorter, but the length is fine and has grown on me. I think now it’s just about the shade of red and wanting a little more ease.

  8. I am in awe! The planning of machine knitting looks intimidating. You have to make so many decisions up front. I suppose that if I were a better hand knitter I would do that too, but I rely more on trying things on and making do.

    How lovely to end up with a perfectly fitting sweater! It is not just a conversation piece–you look great in it.

    • Oh, for sure! You spend a lot of time at the start of the project thinking it through because mid course correction really isn’t possible? If I were a better machine knitter (or did it with more frequency) I probably wouldn’t make the small stumbles I do.

  9. I like the fit on you. As long as it is comfortable to wear, enjoy it frequently.

  10. Great sweater and great saves! Personally I love the size it is on you, but I wasn’t a fan of the giant baggy sweaters even in the 80s. 😂 Machine knitting is so fascinating!

    • I was a fashion-loving teen in the 80s and the oversized sweaters looked SO terrible on me. Even at the time I knew it! 🙂

      • I think I wore sweater dresses, but not oversized sweaters? I’d really like the sleeves to have some more pouf and gathering. I don’t mind making it again since I’ve recruited a friend to do the most tedious parts.

  11. Honestly – I love the fit (and I do realize the point here is for you to love the fit!). Also, those sheep eyes make a big diff even if they were a misery to accomplish. If I were you, I’d put aside 20 bucks a month till you hit 800 dollars and then buy the software. In that case, it will be painless – and it’s not like the day won’t come when you’ve got the cash socked away. Then, you’ll be able to do things more easily, which may inspire you to machine knit more frequently – which will mean that you get even more competent, faster and with more enjoyment!

  12. As someone who doesn’t knit AT ALL, I am simply blown away by this sweater — it is absolutely gorgeous, intricate, and professional-looking. Enjoy this marvelous achievement!

    • Thank you so much, Peter! It’s one of the few trendy things I have and have been amazed by the number of people who have stopped me to ask about it.

  13. I’m pretty sure I told you this somewhere else but it bears repeating – this is FABULOUS and I’m very happy to know that even though you know about its flaws you are wearing the heck out of it.

  14. I sold my knitting machines many years ago and am now into quilting on my longarm, but this was a wonderful walk down memory lane! Thanks and beautiful sweater!

    • Don’t tempt me with talk of a longarm! I have to remind myself daily now that I only have so much space for quilts to live, lol.

  15. Gorgeous sweater! I love reading about your machine knitting but it really made me realize how non-sewers can hear us talking about sewing and due to their confusion be so sure that they could never do it. That’s how I feel hearing about everything you have to know and check on before the knitting starts. In the future, I’ll make sure to keep that in mind when explaining the sewing process to someone. Can’t wait to see your next black sheep 🐑sweater!

  16. Have you considered a charting attachment (such as the Brother Knitleader)? Could save you lots of money compared to expensive software. You could even use your sewing patterns’ designs on the knitting machines. The cost runs around $100 or so online these days.
    Glad you’re picking up knitting again.

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