Not exactly Nina's design

Posted by Sylvia Olsen on

What better project for a cross-country road trip than to design and knit a maple leaf dress? I drew my first maple leaf before we left home and bought some Cascade 220 in two shades of grey, black and red. I decided to let the rest emerge. Like every design it takes time and it’s still emerging. But my maple leaf dress is another story.

For now it’s enough to say that I put my dress back in the bag when we got to Carstairs, Alberta. At Custom Woolen Mills Fen gave me samples of their soft-spun 6 strand. I was excited to test run the new product. I pulled out nine double pointed, 7 mm needles and got started.

From Carstairs to Saskatoon I knit this little sweater. I washed it in the sink, rolled it in all the Bessborough Hotel’s towels I could find and hung it out the window in the sun to dry. When we got back on the road I continued to knit my maple leaf dress—until Sioux Lookout when I met the Northern Knitters and was inspired to join them in making baby hats. I finished my hat wool by the time we reached Huntsville, blocked the hats, and again picked up my maple leaf dress. 

When we got to Scarborough two things happened. First, the weather had changed and second, I met Nina Klecki at Creative Yarns. 

It was like the times I go grocery shopping when I’m thirsty and come home with a dozen things to drink. By the time we got to Scarborough I realized I had been buying cotton and linen—the weather had convinced me to make my seasonal change of yarn but I was still working on a winter project. It wasn’t until I met Nina that I knew what I wanted to make. She was wearing a sleeveless, grey, finger length tunic with short rows of an interesting hemmed texture on one side. I wanted one. The truth is I wanted the one she was wearing.

Nina’s shop was full of unique design samples and if there had been something cool and ready to wear I would have bought it on the spot. But what I really wanted was the shirt off her back.

It turns out Nina hadn’t used a pattern for her tunic nor had she made one. “It was easy,” she said. She pulled out a sticky note and drew a quick sketch. “It’s Zooey, from Juniper Moon Farm. It’s cotton and linen and it drapes…wears like an old rag.” I bought a size 3.5 circular needle and when we left Scarborough I was ready to start.


There was something desperately wrong with the stitch count so I did a quick swatch, which didn’t work out very well either. I started knitting at the bust with provisional cast on and worked the hemmed short rows as I imagined Nina had knit made them. Again there was something desperately wrong (someday I will figure out how she did it.) I pulled it out, started again and made up my own texture with a simple switch from stockinette to garter stitch.

I wanted an A-line so I worked an increase in the front and back every 4 rows and continued until the body was the right width and length. It sounds straightforward but in truth it started out too small so I ended up knitting it about 6 inches longer than I needed in order to get it wide enough. Then I pulled it out at the top to get it the right width at the bust.

I finished the bottom three times…first with a rib…didn’t like it…then a roll…didn’t like it…then a garter stitch border. Why didn’t I do that the first time?

If this makes sense then you know I was ready to pick up under the arms and knit the top. By this time I was tired of plain grey and I wanted colourwork on the piece. I had few choices left, but what better place than around the neck? I scooped the neck shaping wide enough to knit on a border. Even though it was perhaps the most complicated part of the design the neck was the only part of this tunic I didn’t have to do several times. 

I didn’t worry about the armholes thinking that I would add a garter stitch trim like Nina had done.

In the Gaspereau Valley I slip it over my head…easy

The neck lays flat…I love the colourwork

Good length…just past the fingertips

Good width…the tunic I mean…I pull in my stomach…but my butt…they have both grown…the sitting…road trip restaurant food…not a good width

Stop the body analysis Sylvia…stick to the tunic

I hate the armholes…sleeveless is not looking good

Solution…sleeves…another opportunity for colourwork

Elbow length…keep it cool

In St. John's I slip it over my head

I love it

It looks…perfect

It feels…can perfect get any better…like an old rag…already


At home I slip my new pendent over my head, my new rag, my harem pants and I'm ready to graduate one of the loves of my life--my granddaughter, Yetsa Olsen.



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