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Chunky sweaters trendy, quick to make

When I'm asked about current and coming trends in knitting and crocheting, I frequently talk about the boom in making garments with thicker yarns worked on large-size needles and hooks. Fashion magazine pages are full of sweaters, vests, jackets, hats and scarves made with bulky, textural yarns.

These yarns might appear in one color or in rainbow-like variegated versions. They may be in even or thick/thin strands in wool or blends. What they all have in common is their oversize stitches.

Designer Melissa Leapman has taken this trend one step farther and created an entire booklet called "Chunky Knit Sweaters" (American School of Needlework, 2000), geared to thick and quick yarns.

I see the popularity of such yarns as a sign that knitters and crocheters are looking for instant gratification. They want a weekend sweater, a five-hour scarf or a jacket that can be finished in a week or two.

The days are gone when needleworkers could find the time to complete huge projects made in fine yarns. Today's knitters and crocheters are looking for an easy project that they can take along to a kid's soccer practice or something undemanding to do while they watch TV in the evening after a hard day at the office.

During the 1970s, the wave of knitted and crocheted designs using multiple strands of yarn and large needles and hooks created a whole new era of "instant" knitting and crocheting. Today, working with one strand of a thicker yarn continues the trend while creating a different and more pleasing effect. It's much easier to work with one strand, so this is an ideal yarn even for a beginner.

Obviously this is not the yarn for dainty stitching or evening looks. You may find sleeveless sweaters with turtlenecks done in bulky-weight yarns, but generally these are the kinds of sweaters or sweater jackets you would wear in a casual setting. Spring and fall are ideal times of year to wear sweater jackets made in bulky yarns.

Avoid working them at too tight a gauge. The beauty of using a thick yarn is that you can pair it with larger needles and hooks. Take advantage of this feature, which will allow you to complete your project quickly.

Remember that the number of stitches and rows is fewer with larger-gauge yarn. In other words, you have a smaller canvas to work your design. An intricate design that would look incredible with a fine yarn would tend to be overpowering when worked with a thicker one. Use uncomplicated patterns; this also makes your work easier.

Keep your design elements simple. Don't choose garments with fancy ruffling and complicated shaping. Melissa keeps all of her patterns simple and straightforward. Working with her simple lines, you can create sensational-looking sweaters.

To avoid bulk when you seam your pieces, take only a half of a stitch or work fairly close to the edge. It is best to join the pieces with a tapestry needle rather than by crocheting them together.

Keep in mind that you'll want to correlate the stitch size with the number of stitches when making buttonholes. Since the stitches are larger, your buttonholes will also get larger if you use the standard of three or four stitches. Most likely you'll need to leave the space that only one or two stitches take up.

A booklet of classics

Get Melissa Leapman's booklet with knit patterns for eight classic pullovers and cardigans all made with Lion Brand Yarn's "Wool-Ease Thick & Quick" 20 percent wool and 80 percent acrylic yarn. All patterns are clear and easy to follow, with instructions sized from small through extra large.

Each project is made using size 13 (9 mm) needles for the body and size 11 (8 mm) needles for the ribbing. Along with the booklet, you'll receive a pair of size 13 knitting needles. Refer to item NT0311. Send $14 plus $4.95 for postage to Lion Brand Yarn Co., 34 W 15th St., New York, NY 10011 or call toll-free 1-800-258-9276.Hints or questions of general interest will be used in the column when possible. Please send them to Nancy J. Thomas, in care of the Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. The NeedleWorks is also on the Web at ups/betterliving/nk/index.html.