Thursday, November 13, 2014

Behind the Design of the Snowy Penguin Vest

When I met with Save the Children to discuss Make the World Better with a Sweater Day (December 12!!  Don't forget!) the timing worked out perfectly with the release of Lucky's Snowy Penguin Vest. The pattern is available for purchase on Ravelry, and I will be donating half of the earnings on this pattern to Save the Children through the end of December 2014.

The Snowy Penguin Vest is a whimsical colorwork vest featuring tons of colorwork penguins and snowflakes. This was intended to be my son’s “ugly” holiday sweater, but I don’t think there is anything ugly about it!

  • Finished size unblocked – 9.25” wide, 12” hem to shoulder. The sample is on a ~20 lb 12 month old, Lucky. The vest is fitted on Lucky with room to stretch further.
  • Yarn: 1 ball Cascade 220 Superwash (C1 Color 817; white) and 1 ball of Cascade 220 Superwash Quatro (C2 Color 1954; purple). Sample used 56 g, ~125 yards white; 51 g, ~115 yards purple.
  • Skills: stranded colorwork following a chart, knitting in the round on circular and double pointed needles, knitting increases and decreases, picking up stitches.
  • Notions: stitch marker to note beginning of round, waste yarn or stitch holder, yarn needles, blocking mats and pins (optional).
Snowy Penguin Vest Knitting Pattern © 2014 ChemKnits ( This pattern has been purchased for your personal or charity use. You are not to copy or distribute this pattern without the permission of the publisher, ChemKnits.

Behind the Design

I really wanted to design Lucky an "ugly" holiday sweater for his first Christmas, but given that he was only 2 months old when we went to Boston for the holidays this was a bit ambitious.  I had no way to predict what size he'd be!  I've loved putting vests on Lucky over the summer, and as soon as I  finished the Owl Cable Vest I knew that I needed to finally design a colorwork pattern.

I started looking through all of the charts I had designed for my family's Christmas stockings, but nothing really seemed right.  The scale of the dinosaurs was a bit too big.  What could I make smaller so I could incorporate many of them into a toddler sized vest?  I was also waffling on the color, but then when I saw the multi-toned Cascade 220 Quatro Superwash I was inspired by the shades of purple.  Purple... purple... purple penguins!  My penguin charts went through multiple iterations before I arrived at the adult versions, but I just kept sketching in excel until I had something I was happy with.

I started by checking my gauge with Cascade 220 superwash on size 5 knitting needles.  On plain stockinette, I got 22 sts/4".  Over colorwork, my gauge ended up being 24 sts/4", something that I wish I had taken into account when I started designing.

I cast on and was so excited that I had to share a teaser on Facebook.

I kept comparing this vest to the size and fit of Lucky's Owl Cable vest.  I wanted the size to be similar but despite working with the same size needles and worsted weight yarn, this vest is about 0.5" thinner than the owl vest and much less stretchy because of the colorwork floats.   I hope that Lucky can at least FIT into the sample!

I couldn't help trying the sample onto Lucky while I was knitting.  He is such a good sport!  It fits pretty fantastic right now (October), but I'm afraid about how it will fit come time for Christmas in December.  I did put thick board book int he fron tand hte floats weren't pulling badly, so maybe there is some hope.  (The vest that I made without colowork is much more forgiving for different sizes.)

Just before the arm holes

I made sure to take a lot of pictures during the construction.  I like to have intermediate pictures from different steps because it helps me when I make a garment again in the future.   It is pretty fun to watch my little toddler toddle around while still attached to my balls of yarn.

Did I make the front pieces long enough?  I did!, phew!  
Before the shoulder join. 
Trying the vest on Lucky served another purpose.  By checking the size against his proportion, I was able to modify the charts while he was knitting to try to get the desired fit.

RS of the shoulder join
WS of the shoulder join 
After 4 days of knitting I finished the body of the sweater.  Lucky will be waking up from a nap at any moment and I can't wait to try it on him to see how it fits without the last bit of ribbing!   This is also a perfect time to get started weaving in the million of loose ends that I have on this vest.

The sweater is in one piece!

After joined the shoulder pieces together, I took a deep breath. The last time I made a vest I had an issue picking up stitches for the neck and shoulders.  I didn't have to worry, I got a great distribution of stitches the first time around.

Call me silly, but I happen to think that the floats from the inside of the garment look really pretty.  Didn't I do a nice, even job?  Sometimes the WS of my colorowork projects looks so messy.  If my work hadn't been so even the vest would have had more stretch...  Oh well.

I soaked the vest for 30 min before laying it flat to block.  I did not use any pins, just subtle blocking to make things lay better.  The overall size didn't change with blocking, it just neatened up my work.  Before I soaked the vest, I couldn't help by post another sneak peak on Facebook.  Can you tell it is a penguin now that you know?

As soon as the vest was done I did a mini-photoshoot of Lucky inside my apartment.  There is very little natural light in my unit, so I wasn't thrilled with how the photos came out.  (Not to mention that it is so hard to keep Lucky standing still to snap a picture, even with a nice camera!)  Thankfully we ended up having a 70 degree day in Chicago in October, so I was able to move the shoot outside and get Lucky running around.  

The only problem with this plan is that I couldn't really capture his attention, the leaves were very exciting!  This shoot ended up being joyful both for selling the Snowy Penguin Vest Knitting Pattern and as a mother to have some wonderful images of my little Lucky.  

I would love to give you a peak inside my design notebook to see my sketches of the vest, but you will have to wait because there is an additional surprise!  If you really can't wait, check out the ChemKnits Designs Pattern Store on Ravelry.  


December 12 is National Sweater Day.  Make the World Better with a Sweater by wearing your most festive sweater and Donating $5 to Save the Children.  Don't forget to spread the word to get your friends and family involved!  Donations may be made by texting SWEATER to 20222; online at; or mailed to Save the Children, 501 Kings Hwy E, Fairfield, Connecticut 06825.