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Breton and Rugby

I’m not sure how you feel about patterns that show you, fundamentally, how to design and make your own garments.  Lots of people like truly prescriptive patterns, and knitting straight from instructions, but years ago, when I began knitting, I realized that they never fit; learned to modify them; and then began designing my own.  It works for me, and if it works for you and you can do modest amounts of arithmetic, you’ll be amazed at what you can do.

This one is a slightly modified classic Breton Fisherman’s Shirt, which, once you’ve done it more or less as directed, you can do with many variations.  It will teach you the most basic techniques of how classic old work shirts, sweaters, and ganseys were fitted and made, and then you can play with its color or stitch pattern, and master more of the classic forms.  It is entirely knit, worked in the round, with the sleeves picked up from the armscye; however, no steeking or cutting is required.

This Breton keeps the narrow stripes and the garter stitch hems (one longer in back to keep it from riding up), the false seam done with a purl stitch, the gussets so essential to fitting, and the doubled facing for the boat neckline, to give a little shoulder padding.  It is not as snug as the original, and it adds a pocket made from your swatch.. 

Once you’ve made it, you can vary the fit and the neckline, use ribbing or a turned hem, or stick with garter stitch.  This is the great-grandfather of many classic workshirts, including the Venetian gondolier’s shirt (usually with wider stripes) and the modern rugby shirt, which is often in school or team colors, and changes the neckline to a crew shape and placket with a collar.  These are to some extent commercially available, but often of cut and sewn knit cotton; only the best of them have the essential gusset for comfort and freedom of motion.

Like many classic sweaters, this one is gender free, and as becoming to men as to women, and is great for active wear—sailing, gardening, paddling, climbing..  This particular one is Cascade Sierra, a half-cotton, half-wool worsted weight yarn that is machine washable, though it does have to be dried flat.  It will take four to five balls in each color.  The only sewing fastens the shoulders and the back of the pocket, which means no seams to separate or unravel.  Because of the cotton content, I used #6 circulars—a 24 inch one for the body, and a 16 inch one for the sleeves.  Otherwise, a couple of markers, a measuring tape and a notebook, a crochet hook for picking up dropped stitches, and a yarn needle are all you need.  The Rugged Rugby, here in blues, wants #4s for its collar and cuffs—double-points for the placket pieces and cuffs, a circular for the collar.

The pattern contains full instructions for the Breton shirt, and notes on variations for the Rugged Rugby, but do your own thing with the stripes:  college or team colors, favorite colors, stripes only to the separation with a plain color for the top, whatever you want.