A Season of Junko

Junko Okamoto is one of my favorite knitting designers, but I’m not usually an early adopter of her patterns based on the sample photos illustrating her patterns. Her sample sweaters are usually very minimalist, knitted in monochromatic neutrals, with understated, deemphasized details. When I saw her pictures for Hana, I didn’t have much reaction to the off-white modular squares of different cable patterns and the restrained pink embroidery at all the joins. I tend to not be inspired until I see other people’s versions. Then someone on my Ravelry group produced a version that was mostly white with pastel streaks going in the different directions of the modular sections and big wild bright-colored embroidery whose irregularity was a deconstructed design element, and I couldn’t get it out of my head.

I can knit cables but usually I don’t, and I like pastels but usually use saturated hues. But usually isn’t always. Since the pattern is knitted in modular sections, I decided to try out the cables of the first section during January 2023 Swatchathon, using some relatively light-colored fingering weight yarn left over from a 2020 project, held double with off-white alpaca sport weight yarn. A lot of the yarn I used for the colors in this piece were leftovers from my 2020 the-world-is-ending-must-buy-yarn spree. The fingering weight yarn is the multi I used in the sweater shown below, at full strength.

The off-white diluted the multi and made it pastel.

I did the cabling without a cable needle because cable needles always disappear on me and I hate them, and the cables were small enough to drop the stitches off the needle for a few seconds and safely pick them up again after crossing them in the right direction. It was such a fun Swatchathon swatch that I kept on going after I ended the Swatchathon. And going and going. This was a whole lot of knitting!

I supplemented my leftover yarns with some wise purchases. I liked the coziness of the alpaca mixed with the superwash fingering weight yarn, but I wanted to add even fuzzier textures. I got a very pale yellow mohair lace weight yarn to dilute the colors of other leftover yarns and warm the tones, and a blue/purple/brown multi lace weight mohair to pair with a light yellow DK that I used in my When Will This Sweater Be A Crime dress. I paired the pale yellow mohair with a blue-dominant marled self-striping yarn from Feederbrook Farms for the second modular section of the piece. I noticed something strange when I picked up stitches from the side edge of the first piece: the 3:4 ratio that Junko called for was closer to a 4:5 ratio. It wasn’t like Junko to be inaccurate about her numbers, but I shrugged it off. It wasn’t until I had finished that second piece and noticed that it was wider at the bottom than it was at the picked-up edge that I went back to the instructions for the first piece and realized that I had shorted it by 20 rows.

Back of cabled, modularly joined pullover

So the top edge of the back piece would be 20 rows shorter than the top edge of the front piece. There was plenty more knitting to do before I had to decide what to do about that 20-row discrepancy between front and back in the upper width across the shoulders, like finish the third modular piece of the back and knit the sweater front. Maybe not do anything? The construction of this garment was two rectangles seamed together, with big wide sleeves sewn onto the straight side seams, just like the shapeless square sweaters of the 1980’s and 1990’s whose necks cut across the throat, gapped at the back of the neck, and bunched up at the armpits. Maybe the construction could benefit from letting those 20 rows stay unattached in the seaming so that the front of the neck would dip down at the throat. Or maybe this design was somehow exempt from the fit problems of 1980’s sweaters, since the photos of the 200+ finished projects showed no signs of throat-cutting and armpit-bunching.

For the third modular section of the back, I used the pale yellow DK with the blue/purple/brown mohair multi lace. I fretted as I knitted it that the marling and variegation in the yarn combination would obscure the texture of the cabling. Actually, I fretted about that for all of the yarn combinations in every part of the sweater, except for the pale yellow mohair with the blue-dominant self-striping marl on the back and the orange/blue self-striping marl on the front. I also rued using my lightest natural white alpaca yarn in the combination with the turquoise/purple/brown fingering weight yarn.

I used that turquoise/purple/brown multi in the body of this sweater. Here it is at full strength.
Front piece of Hana pullover
Same yarn, paired with white alpaca. I didn’t love the yarn combo for the horizontal bottom piece, but the pink piece pulled everything together for me

When I chose that combination, I thought that the white would lighten that yarn, but it just emphasized the value contrast between the white alpaca and the multi, which seemed harsh and blotchy to me. That taught me that if the goal was to deemphasize the contrast, the solid neutral yarn needed to be closer in value to the multi yarn. I applied the lesson to the third section of the front piece, by pairing a bright pink multi fingering weight yarn with a tan natural alpaca. I also was mindful of this in my solution to the mistake I had made by knitting the first piece of the back 20 rows short, which was to add a 20-row strip to the side of the back piece so that the front and back were the same width across the shoulders. It was a bad gamble, I decided, to second-guess Junko’s numbers on the seam that was most vital to the fit of the garment, the shoulder seam.

For the sake of simplicity and the unified logic of the design, I decided to use one of the cable patterns that was already part of the texture patterning, and the one that could fit into a narrow 20-row strip was the honeycomb cable. I used Junko’s numbers for picking up stitches along the vertical edge, then decided how wide I wanted the plain areas at either side of the strip, and used her example to calculate the number of additional stitches I would need along the picked-up edge to accommodate the patterning. I still had a bit left of the blue/purple/brown mohair lace that I had paired with pale yellow yarn on the other side of the piece to produce an overall light green effect. Now I wanted to use that same mohair with the light gray alpaca sport weight yarn that I had used in the machine-knit preprogrammed pattern where I discovered my still unresolved needle selector problem.

Here’s that sweater in its mispatterned glory, pre-correction. I used the light gray again in a very different context. Also I used the white with the turquoise/purple/brown yarn, which I regretted

Combining the blue/purple/brown mohair with the light gray changed the effect so completely that one might not realize that I had used the same multi on either side of the same piece. Now the overall effect was almost-solid light slate blue instead of splotchy green.

The blue-purple-brown multi lace is completely different paired with the pale yellow yarn than the same yarn with gray alpaca

Finally, the sleeves. I bought a skein of a white and pastel multi that had been propositioning me at Melissa’s shop from the trunk show wall, and then I ran across an entire unwound skein in my stash of a light green/purplish multi left over from this project:

The skein I used was more like the lighter green-dominant stripes in the lower part of the body than the more purple yarn in the upper body and sleeves

And while I’m showing the original usages of my leftover yarns, this sweater is the source of the light-colored undyed alpaca yarn that I used for the pieces that didn’t use mohair lace:

I used the same cream-colored alpaca yarn in combination with the two yarns, one per sleeve. The cable patterns were familiar from other parts of the sweater, so the knitting was almost automatic. It just went on and on as the sleeves got longer and longer.

Now that all of the pieces were knitted, the next step was assembling them with visible stitching and then embroidering the modular joins and edges. Junko provided links to videos in which she demonstrated the various embroidery stitches she used for the visible seaming and embellished edges. Her stitches were small and precise, holding perfectly flat reverse stockinette fabric even flatter. How on earth did she manage that? Reverse stockinette rolls! It has to, it’s physics, because the purl side of stockinette stitch is longer than the knit side, so the purl side edge rolls up into the knit side. But not when Junko knits. Was it her blocking? Her yarn? A deal she made with her fabric to please lie flat for the pictures and videos and then it could do whatever it wanted to when it didn’t have a camera pointed at it? My knitting rolled a little more, not less, after I steam-blocked it, and I couldn’t talk it into lying flat just for the duration of a photograph, so I realized the rolling was just going to have to be a design element and I would have to adapt the embroidery to accommodate that reality.

Front pieces of Hana pullover prior to assembly, with colored yarn to for visible seaming and embellishment
Back pieces of Hana pullover prior to assembly, with colored yarn to for visible seaming and embellishment

I had thoughts about how I wanted to use the embroidery as a design element. The yarn was some acrylic DK leftover from a crocheted shawl kit, and the colors I chose for this purpose were the orangey-red, hot pink, neon lime green, and soft orange. I emphasized the visible stitching by holding the yarn double.

Crocheted shawl before additional embellishments on pink stripe

I was systematic about how I used the colors. The orange red outlined the horizontal lines of the orange-dominant top pieces on the front and back and the top of the pink piece vertically down the front, at the shoulder seams, around the neck, and across the bottom edge of the orange pieces. I liked the way that orange-red intensified the orange bands at the top and bottom of the top piece on the front and contrasted with the softer pastels on the back. I used the hot pink for the seaming of the sleeves and the side seams down to the slits, because of the proximity to the pink piece on the front and because I love pink with green, which is the dominant color of the sleeves and the vertical piece on the back. The additional blue-gray piece that I improvised to correct my 20-row shortfall had begged me to outline it with the neon lime green, and I used it for the other vertical lines because it lit up everything it touched. The orange went around the bottom edge at the hem and the slits because orange is my secret weapon. People don’t realize it goes with everything, so when you use it, it looks great and people think you’re a color genius.

When I did the stitching, I tried my best to make the stitches as even and regular as I could do it. But irregularity is baked into embroidery, unless you’re really, really good, which I’m not. It wasn’t hard to be fairly even at the seam and modular joins, but I had to adapt the blanket stitching around the hems and curling edges to affix the top of the roll in as straight a line as possible and keep the line of the decorative yarn at the bottom of the roll. That wasn’t all that even, and it produced a bit of a buckle along the slits, which I tried to minimize but eventually gave up and accepted it. I could have doubled down and tried to make the buckling a design feature, but no, I accept it as a technical flaw.

I knew while I was knitting the sleeves that they were going to be way too long to wear without rolling up the bottom many inches, and that was indeed the case when I tried on the garment after sewing the seams. It seemed both sloppy and a waste of my very nice cabling to roll up the cuffs so that the wrong side was outward-facing, so I folded the bottom three inches inside the sleeve, then folded those three inches outward so that the embroidery at the bottom edge was visible at the wrist again and the cabling faced outward.

Unfinished pullover with excessively long sleeves. One cuffed, one uncuffed.
Those sleeves really needed some help

I showed this solution to Melissa, and she told me to sew it down to hold the cuff in place. Embroidery with a purpose! I embroidered bullions and French knot in the hot pink, the color I used for the sleeve seaming, and the neon lime green, to pick up the green tones of the yarn I had used to knit the sleeves. Also because hot pink and neon green are delightful together.

Cuffs embroidered in hot pink and neon green French knots and bullions

And done!

Modeled front view of completed pullover
View of left side back showing improvised extra panel, visible joins, and embroidered embellishment
It’s an awkward pose, but it shows the 20-row improvised panel and a lot of embroidered detail
Full back view of pullover
This is an even more awkward pose, but getting good pictures from the back in a timed selfie is a miracle that didn’t happen here

I was so delighted with the cuffs that I couldn’t stop taking pictures that emphasized them and now I can’t stop posting them.

I started knitting this pullover in the middle of our too-warm winter and ended it in the middle of our too-warm spring. It was a lot of knitting, a lot of cabling without a cable needle, a lot of visible hand-sewing, for a solid three months. And now that I’m done, I kind of want to do it all over again. At least I want to reuse its techniques in different applications. I bought some rustic oatmeal-colored mohair yarn that smells of goats and am brewing an idea to knit it with cables and bobbles and embellish it with brightly colored embroidery. I’m planning a machine-knit summer top whose curling stockinette edges will be tamed with blanket stitch like the edges of this sweater. And I’m thinking about reknitting this same pattern in a smaller size, using stiffer yarn, maybe a color arrangement of monochromatic tonal intensities. That’s the genius of Junko Okamoto. She creates these carefully crafted and written designs that don’t look like much of anything on a first glance at her very minimal project pictures. But they’re invitations to build your own adventure. And after your self-built adventure, a new variant comes to mind. In fact I’m working on my third version of Junko’s Kurt pattern right now (the other two Kurts are described in Melissa’s Largesse and Machine Translation). Here’s a tease:

Unfinished machine-knit adaptation of Junko Okamoto's Kurt pattern using preprogrammed stranded pinstriping
Because two Kurts are never enough

6 thoughts on “A Season of Junko

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.