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,



Takumi Sweater


Finally, I released the Zen Variations into the wild.  For the next week or so, I will post about the designs individually.

TAKUMI is the Japanese word for ‚Äėartisan‚Äô. The cardigan features a¬†flattering wrap-style, with a longer length, ¬ĺ sleeves, and is finished¬†with i-cord trim worked simultaneously with the sweater.

Takumi Cardigan knitting pattern by Renée CallahanThe cardigan is inspired by the samue, a garment traditionally worn by Zen monks while working, Japanese artisans and manual labourers. The samue is the ultimate in workwear, meant to be the most practical of garments.

Kinfolk Cover

Image copyright of Kinfolk, featured on the cover of Vol 8.

This Kinfolk cover image was one of the first up on my moodboard and was a touchstone for the collection. I love the Mona-Lisa smile and the whole feel of the image.

Zen buddhist monk photographed by John Lander

Photograph copyright: John Lander

This picture by photographer John Lander of a monk at work wearing a samue really sums up the collection for me: mindful work done with a quiet heart. 
Takumi Cardigan knitting pattern by Renée Callahan1

Takumi is my interpretation of the garment retains some of key elements, such as the cross over fronts, which form a v-neck, a longer length and tie closures. Takumi Cardigan knitting pattern by Renée Callahan

(83, 89, 92.5, 96.5, 102)(110.5, 114.5, 120, 125.5, 129.5)cm or
31.25 (32.75, 35, 36.5, 38, 40.25)(43.5, 45, 47.25, 49.5, 51) ‚ÄĚ
The sweater is intended to be worn with 5cm / 2‚ÄĚ of positive¬†ease.

Takumi wrap schematic plain
The Fibre Co. Acadia (60% merino wool, 20% baby alpaca, 20% silk; 133m (145yds) per 50g hank); shown in Blueberry 9 (9, 10, 10, 11, 11)(12, 12, 13, 14, 14) hanks.

Acadia is a DK weight yarn. Takumi uses approximately:

415 (445, 470, 490, 515, 545)(580, 600, 635, 660, 690) grams

1210 (1295, 1365, 1425, 1500, 1585)(1690, 1745, 1850, 1920, 2005) yards

1105 (1185, 1250, 1305, 1370, 1450)(1545, 1595, 1690, 1755, 1835) metres

21 sts x 31 rows = 10cm (4‚ÄĚ) in St st blocked with¬†3.75mm (US 5) or size needed to get gauge.

Zen Variations Knitting pattern by Renée Callahan-45

The Zen Variations patterns are for sale individually for £5 and the collection of all 6 sweater patterns can be purchased for £15.

The Takumi Pattern: 

The Zen Variations:

Happy knitting,


Note: The Zen Variations were beautifully photographed by Tommy Martin for The Fibre Co.