Elizabeth Zimmermann Colour work Yoke Sweater.

You may remember that back in May at the time of my last post my enthusiasm for anything craft related had left me. A family bereavement and notice of redundancy had really got me down. I did make a skirt in June but it’s not been worn mainly due to the miserable summer weather.

One thing that did get me enthused was Kate who blogs at Fabrickated and her adventures in knitting. Back in July Kate started a knit along to make an Elizabeth Zimmermann colourful yoked sweater. I decided to join in after I returned from holiday in August. Even though I couldn’t face sewing I felt I could get some pleasure out of giving this ago. I had never tried colourwork before so it was going to be a challenge.

To start with let me direct you to this post of Kate’s where she showcases some of the finished sweaters knitted by her readers. At the bottom of her post there is a link to all the 6 weekly posts in the knitalong. In these posts you’ll find everything you need to know if you feel like taking up the challenge.

The book Kate has been following is Elizabeth Zimmermann’s “Knitting without tears”. I found myself a second hand copy on Amazon for just over £5. The book was as new and looked like it had never been used. It has an inscription inside. Judging by the immaculate condition it was in I don’t think Amanda made any use of the present given to her by Irene. You don’t need the book as every thing you need to know is detailed in the knitalong posts.


It took me a while to decide on colours. Kate had done a great post on choosing colours and I loved the selection with the red and orange so this is the path I took.

I settled on a mid grey for the main colour and chose red, orange & taupe for the 3 colours in the pattern. I took ages choosing the quality of wool. For my first attempt I didn’t want to spend too much but neither did I want 100% acrylic. I choose a Stylecraft DK 75% acrylic 25% wool and the cost came in under £20. In fact I had bought more than I needed and was able to send 200gms back for refund out of the 500gms that I original bought in the grey.

So before I started I needed to learn how to do the colourwork. The advice on knitting colourwork is to knit on circular needles on the round so you are only ever doing a ‘knit’ stitch. So I cast on enough stitches for a 50cm circular needle which was the smallest length I had. EZ recommends that you learn to knit ‘continental style’ which is holding your yarn in the left hand. This then enables  you to have a yarn in your right hand and one in your left hand and the two balls of yarn will never get tangled. To learn the technique I found Knit Freedom which has great YouTube videos. I slowly got the hang of using my left hand – which feels very strange when you have only ever held your yarn in the right hand. Then once I had done a few rounds I started on the colourwork. Again Knit Freedom had a video tutorial.


So once I’d go the hang of the colour work and my yarn had arrived from Love Knitting I started by knitting a square to measure the gauge. It’s recommended that you test the gauge on the circular needle but I used single pointed as I didn’t want to knit more than necessary and I just wanted to get started on the real thing. My gauge worked out as stated on the label for the DK using 4mm needles. Once I’d worked out the maths for how many stitches I needed I started by knitting a rib. EZ adds on ribs for cuffs and hems once the garment is finished but I felt happier doing this first.

I knitted up to the armhole depth then I started on the sleeves. I knitted the whole length of the sleeves using 4 double pointed needles. The sleeves are shaped by adding a stitch either side of the underarm line every 5 rows until you have your required number of stitches – which is worked out as a percentage of the body stitches.

Once the sleeves are up to the armhole point the body and sleeves are joined together leaving a number of stitches at the underarm points on both the sleeves and the body. Then the fun starts with the colour work on the yoke.

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For simplicity I followed the pattern design in the book. it is a repeat over 4 stitches. Two points EZ makes about colour work is to only use 2 colours of yarn in a row and don’t carry the yarn more than 5 stitches. I did two rows of the orange circle as I really liked the colour and wanted more of it. The taupe didn’t work so well as the contrast between that and the mid grey is not so noticeable. But it’s not terrible. When I started the red colourwork it was taking about half an hour to do one circuit which was about 250 stitches, I did my first decrease after the red which reduced the stitches by about 1/3 so the orange knitted up faster.

One step to do before finishing is building up the back neck. This makes sense as on most garments the back neck is higher than the front neck. This is done by working ‘short rows’. 1 had 100 stitches around my neck. I worked on just the back 50 then picked up another 2 at the end of the first row then turned and knitted back picking up 2 stitches at the other end. I did this for 6 rows.  I chose to do the building up in stocking stitch the same as the body of the jumper but you could incorporate it into the rib.

P1060025 (1824 x 1368)

this is a photo of the right shoulder, you can see how the back neck has been built up.

I finished off with 5 rows of 1×1 rib then cast off. Twice. First time I cast off I started to the front of the left shoulder and when you knit on the round you get left with a step at the join. So I undid the cast off and took it back to the back of the left shoulder and started again.

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Cast off tail too far towards the front of the neck.

I read up about ‘blocking’ the jumper. I found conflicting advise over blocking acrylic some said no need, others said it should be done. But as this has 25% wool I went ahead. So I thoroughly wetted my jumper in warm water then put it between towels and rolled to get rid of excess water. Finally I pinned to a towel setting the chest and hem width. I’m no expert but I think this has worked OK.

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Yoke area after the blocking, you can tell that the stitches are laying flatter and smoother than in the photo with the cast off tail pre blocking.

The size has turned out exactly as I wanted. The body width is perfect, I wanted 34″ and got it. The sleeves are the right length and fit. I’m reasonably happy with the neck, maybe it could have been a bit lower and a little bit wider. But as a first attempt I am really pleased with this. Thank you Kate for inspiring me and many others to give this a go.I now understand colourwork and have got to grips with Continental style knitting.

Anyway…….You may remember that I was knitting a white jumper with a rainbow stripe running across the sleeves and chest. The enthusiasm waned after knitting the sleeves which have ended up too long. But I have knitted the back to the stop of the stripes. In fact I had knitted up to the beginning of the shoulder decrease when I decided the body was too long so I ripped it back and took away 5cm from below the stripes. I wish that I had known the EZ method of knitting a jumper before I started. I’m toying with the idea of starting again but using the method for the colourwork yoke sweater. I may just start on a sleeve and see how it knits up. Sounds a bit mad as I am nearly 3/4 there. Any thoughts?