Zen Variations: the Sleeve


Zen Variations Kaizen cardigan Knitting pattern by Renée Callahan-29

I think one of the challenges of working a set-in sleeve is that it isn’t obvious what is going on as it’s being worked, and one of the challenges of explaining the set-in sleeve is that the work is no longer flat, but 3-D, making the illustrating of the technique also less than obvious. Today I’ll attempt it anyway.

For a Zen Variations sweater, the Front and Back have been worked separately and then the body has been worked in the round, with stitches added on at the underarm (12). This leaves us with an empty armhole to fill with a sleeve as follows:

Diagram of sleeve on Zen Variations by Renée Callahan

13. Pick up Sleeve sts from around the armhole.
14. Knit across the flat of the sleeve head (A), and work the sleeve head with short rows: working back and forth between sides B and C; W&T each st along the armhole sides until the sts cast on for the underarm (12) are reached. Then work sleeve in the round to cuff.

For a different perspective on a similar fit, it may help to have a look at this diagram of a sweater by the Knitting Fiend, which is worked flat but may help to give a larger overview of how the elements are fitting together.

And that is it! The next step in working your Zen Variation sweater is to weave in ends, block it and wear it forevermore.

So, I would love to hear from you–what is your favourite sleeve? To knit and to wear, are they the same?

Happy knitting,


Enso Progress


What is more beautiful than a clear and crisp day of Autumnal sunshine? A day like today makes me wonder why I don’t own a single Aran or Guernsey sweater, as they have suddenly sprung up everywhere, like beautiful ecru wild flowers. So I am resisting the urge to cast on, even though I really, really want to. I think I have to finish at least 2 sweaters before I am allowed to cast on anything else. That is, certainly, the reasonable thing to do…

I started this Enso sweater at the beginning of September for the Zen Variations knit along, and I am onto the sleeves now. The end is in sight!

Here is the progress so far:

Tea time #ensosweater progress update: rib hem underway. 👍 #zenvariationsknitalong #eastlondonknit #sweaterknitting

A photo posted by Renee EastLondonKnit (@eastlondonknit) on

Let there be knit!

A video posted by Renee EastLondonKnit (@eastlondonknit) on

I’m knitting the sleeves with the 2-at-a-time magic loop method, which is really my method of choice. I was convinced that I wanted to knit them with double-pointed needles, but when I tried it, I felt like a had no patience for constantly shifting the needles around. Maybe one of these days I will try Karen Templer’s method of knitting them flat, but for now, round and round I go!

How is your Slow Fashion October going? I am working on some more posts about it and really enjoying the conversation on Instagram and the Fringe Association blog. What do you think?

Happy knitting,


Zen Variations the Front


Autumn is here!! Whoop!! Bring on the sweaters and cast on ALL THE THINGS!

This is my mantra and I am practicing what I preach by having 4 sweaters on the needles at the moment. My monogamous knitting is, apparently, a thing of the past.  I’m not sorry! It’s great to have the option of knitting on different projects and not worrying about running out of knitting, or sweaters for that matter. I’m probably not the only one who constantly thinks the next sweater is going to be the perfect sweater of dreams.

If your dream sweater is a top-down, seamless construction like those of the Zen Variations, then let’s talk construction! A post published few weeks ago, I discussed beginning a Zen sweater with the back. Today we are carrying on, working the fronts to the same point.

Zen Variations by Renée Callahan Left front

After knitting the back to the underarms, work the fronts individually:

7. Pick up stitches for the Left Front along the Left Shoulder.
8. Work straight for the length of the flat at the top of the sleeve head (see A below).
9. Begin Left Neck increases: this will be a different instruction for every sweater (+).
10. Work Left Front Underarm increases (+).
11. Put the Left Front sts on waste yarn and work the Right Front in the mirror image.

It should be starting to look like the top of a sweater now!

If you are interested in learning more about the process of knitting top-down seamless sweaters, please do join me you can join me at one of the Zen and the Art of Sweater construction classes coming up:

1 October (this Saturday) I will have the whole Zen Variations collection at Wild and Woolly for a trunk show and little party to celebrate sweater season!

6 October Zen and the Art of Sweater Construction at Wild and Woolly, London

8 October Zen and the Art of Sweater Construction at Ida’s House, Caterham.

16 October Zen and the Art of Sweater Construction at A Yarn Story, Bath

Also, I have just found out the Curious Handmade Country House retreat has a couple of places left. It promises to be a wonderful weekend–do join us if you can!

Happy knitting,


Colors of Fall 2015


Aren’t make-alongs great? I am a big fan.

I joined the Yarniacs Colours of Fall knit-along to spur me on to make myself a Yama cardigan, and, well, it worked.

Although I don’t think you can tell from my face in the photo below, I am really pleased with my finished Yama! Admittedly, it is not the most adventurous of versions, but I wanted a wardrobe staple and I got one. It is perfect for wearing over dresses and with higher-waisted skirts.


I’m not bragging (well, I am), but I not only managed to finish the cardigan, I also finished a long-languishing dress for a whole outfit.


I am especially proud of this dress. Not because I designed it: I didn’t, it’s based on a favourite dress of mine from Old Town. And not because it is a perfect fit; it’s not (I refer you to the innovative ‘bust darts’). But because it is my first attempt at ‘clean work’, that is to say, a sewn garment with all of the fabric edges enclosed in the seams.


This was relatively simple in the case of the side seams and the fact that it is a sleeveless dress was also helpful. That said, I nearly broke my brain trying to figure out how to make the belt hole placket ‘clean’ and I had to admit defeat when it came to the patch pocket.


As for the difference in the fabric between fronts and back, I really don’t even know what happened there, as I cut all the pieces from a single piece of fabric. It was clearly fated to be a learning project.

I feel like this is a slippery slope: I have to make the dress again, this time with improved fit, matching fabric and there must be a clever way of working those pockets…. (read: the beginning of an obsession here… :0)

Happy knitting (and sewing),


Zen inspirations: the European Shoulder Seam.


As a result of my background in fashion design and particularly machine knitting, the Zen Variations sweaters are constructed slightly differently from some of the other top-down sweater patterns.

Whereas many patterns call for matching short rows on both the front and back shoulders to create a shoulder slope, with machine knitting, the knitter works as many straight bits of knitting as possible to increase the speed at which a sweater can be produced. By pushing all of the short rows to the back shoulders, a steeper shoulder slope is created and the front can be knit straight–in other words very quickly.

I hadn’t really thought through this construction as a hand-knitting technique until I noticed the work of Linda, aka the Gauginator, on Ravelry. Linda has had an impressive career to date working for major yarn companies and developed a recipe for what she calls the ‘ESS’ or European Shoulder Seam. She has been perfecting this recipe with some beautiful sweaters:

Gauginator's ESS ( European Shoulder Seam)

These details from a couple of Linda’s designs showcase the beauty of the design: above the ESS (European Shoulder Seam) and below: Martina.

Gauginator's Martina hand knit sweater

I asked Linda about how she came to this process and she send me a wonderful email detailing her knitting adventures:
 I wanted something that mimicked a set-in sleeve, where the sleeve cap seam was in closer to the proper chest width.
Also, having the shoulder seam positioned further back on the shoulder provides for a much better hang to the sweater. As we know, a proper fit in any garment emanates from a perfect fit in the shoulder.
At the time there were a few commercial patterns out there that pushed the shoulder seam toward the back of the shoulder, but they were very cumbersome and bulky; simply sewing the seams together to force them to fit. I’ve seen this construction referred to as English-, Italian-, French-shoulder seams … I decided to call it European Shoulder Seam (“ESS”) to encompass all the countries😉
So I took to my drafting paper and literally created a sewing sloper to achieve the three-dimensional shoulder portion. From there I applied my knitting gauge and off I went.
The magic of it all lies within the Front shoulder section which, surprisingly, is just a straight piece with no shaping. The way that piece “torques” over the shoulder is what causes the perfect fit. I had to go on faith, because I can’t “quantify” that torque. All I know is that it works in all gauges. Since that’s the case I’m happy to not be able to explain ‘how’ it works, just that it does😉
Gauginator's Notched Lapel

Linda’s Notched Lapel cardigan.


While I had appreciated the idea of the set-in sleeve construction for its simplicity and for the speed at which a sweater could be produced, I had never considered the ‘torque’ aspect of the shoulder and how that makes it equally as relevant to hand-knitting as machine knitting. I am indebted to Linda for bring it to my attention!

Happy knitting,


Constructing the Zen Variations


I’m visiting the family in Seattle this week, but I am not neglecting the Zen Variations knit-along while I am away! As I mentioned in a previous post, my travel knitting is the Enso sweater, knit in Kettle Yarn Co. Islington DK.

It’s all the rage to knit seamless, top-down sweaters and it is a construction I really love for a few good reasons.

With top-down, you can try as you go, checking the fit at the crucial junctures, making the armhole deeper if you want to, or shorter, and of course making the sweater body and sleeves as long as you want them.

Today I want to begin a step by step tutorial for knitting a Zen Variation sweater, which starts with the upper back:

Zen Variations by Renée Callahan back

In this schematic, we are looking at the Back from the right side, and working from casting on at the top down to the underarm/bottom of the sleeve opening.

1. Cast on the number of stitches required for both shoulders and back neck (the red line).
2. Place markers (m) to mark shoulders.
3. Work short rows to create shoulder slope: knit across Right Shoulder and Back Neck to Left Shoulder, wrap and turn (W&T) the next st; purl back to Right Shoulder, W&T the next st; knit back to the 1st wrapped st, k3 (wrapped st + 2 more) W&T, purl back to 2nd wrapped st., k3 (wrapped st + 2 more), W&T, etc.
4. Work straight until the back armhole is as long as necessary.
5. Work increases (+) at the underarm edge until the full back measurement (minus the stitches that will be cast on for the underarm) is reached.
6. Put Back sts on waste yarn.

I will continue the tutorial with the Fronts in a couple of weeks.

If you are interested in learning more, I will be teaching a several workshops in and around London, and further afield, leading students through understanding the construction as well as all the techniques associated with the design (working the wrapped short-rows, picking up stitches for a beautiful set-in sleeve, a perfect finish for  your new sweater) as well as choosing the right size, making modifications, and more. I’m teaching Zen and Art of Sweater Construction in several places this Autumn:

25 September  the Village Haberdashery.

1 October I will have the whole Zen Variations collection at Wild and Woolly for a trunk show and little party to celebrate sweater season!

6 October Wild and Woolly

16 October A Yarn Story. 

Mon, Oct 24 to Fri, Oct 28 I will be in Romania teaching a number of knitting classes at the Taking a Moment in Time  Weaving, spinning, knitting and photography retreat.

12 November The Yarn Dispensary

For a more complete list of classes, including Brioche Stitch Basics among others, please sign up to the newsletter here.

Happy knitting,


A whole lotta Zen


The EastLondonKnit KAL starts in just a couple of days and I thought I should declare my own goals and intentions to get things started. So here it is: I am going to knit an Enso sweater for myself. I wrote about the inspiration and the original sample here, and I have been hankering after a version just for me ever since.

Zen Variations Enso Knitting pattern by Renée Callahan skirt

I was lucky to have some amazing test knitters who left me with some very inspiring ideas.

Yarn-Tan-Tethera's Enso sweater

Yarn-Tan-Tethera used her own beautiful hand-dyed yarns in the stunning interpretation above. I think the simplicity of the design is ideally suited to show off amazing yarn.

squaresandstripes' Enso sweater

I love how squaresandstripes stayed true to her aesthetic and kept the stripe game strong!

thespinnacle's Enso sweaterthespinnacle's Enso sweaterThespinnacle made a really lovely everyday sweater–the type that gets used year after year, which is exactly what I am hoping for.

For my own version I’ll be using Kettle Yarn Co.’s Islington DK yarn in the awesomely titled ‘Siren Call’ colour way. I plan to make a few adjustments: one is adding in a bit of positive ease. You can see from the photos above that the sweater is usually worn with approximately 2 inches/5 cm of positive ease. I am going to increase that by adding in some stitches at the underarm on either side when I get there and decreasing the long length of the body to create a slightly more boxy silhouette.

Wish me luck or better yet, join me! The Zen Variations knit-along runs from 1 September to the end of the year and you can make any EastLondonKnit design to participate. I have already bragged blogged about the amazing prize packages, but the real pleasure is in the making.

Happy knitting,