Monday, May 02, 2011


I feel as if I've reached a key milestone in my "career" as a knitter and spinner: I can now officially say that I have knit my first sweater from my own handspun.

You may recall that at the beginning of this year, I set out to spin up two pounds of some mystery wool I had inherited from a friend into enough yarn for a sweater. I knew that this sweater project was ambitious and so made it one of my spinning goals for the entire year -- by year's end, I had hoped to have spun up enough yarn for the sweater and knit it. I didn't have any specific pattern in mind, seeing as I had no idea how much yardage I'd get from the fiber, but I was aiming for a three-ply worsted weight yarn, as that seemed to be a weight that would yield a lot of options in terms of patterns to choose from and one that would be fairly time-efficient to spin (I knew that if I spun my usual thickness of yarn, I'd be spinning most of the year and would need several more months to knit up the resulting fingering weight yarn into a sweater). Moreover, I wanted to spin something a little thicker because I intended to spin all the singles at once, without spinning anything else in between, in an effort to keep them as consistent as possible.

I began spinning on January 1 and did, on average, an ounce of singles a day. I had separated out my fiber into one-ounce bundles ahead of time to make this process a little easier. After I spun an ounce, I let the singles rest on the bobbin for a day or two and then wound them off onto my ball winder and transferred the resulting center-pull ball onto a toilet paper or paper towel tube for storage. I ended up spinning a total of 30 ounces, which left a little bit of fiber from the original two pounds that I saved in case I wanted or needed to spin up some thinner yarn for seaming my sweater.

The plying phase went much more quickly. I wanted to randomize my singles to some extent to combat any unevenness between them, but because I am also a little anal about things, I also wanted to have a system for how I plied them. I ended up plying the first, 11th, and 21st "bobbin" of singles and then the second, 12th, and 22nd and so on. I stopped plying when the first of the three storage bobbins I was plying from ran out and threw whatever was left on the other two into a bag for later. After I had my 10 skeins of plied yarn finished, I plied up an 11th skein with all the leftovers, adding in more each time one ran out. In the end, I had approximately 1,250 yards of three-ply worsted weight yarn, spun in about six weeks, with virtually nothing leftover.

Now came the hard part: picking the sweater pattern. The Ravelry database was enormously helpful once I had some specific parameters set regarding the yarn weight and yardage available, but looking through the patterns on Ravelry can sometimes be more confusing than helpful because there are so many great patterns from which to choose. Then I happened to be listening to Chrissy over at the Manic Purl Podcast and heard her talk about the sweater she was working on. When I looked it up on Ravelry, it seemed perfect: The yardage and yarn weight specifications fit, it had a nice mix of fabric textures, and it had a look I loved. Without much thought, I bought and downloaded the pattern. I swatched almost immediately, got gauge, and cast on on February 20.

And a little more than a week ago, I finished the last of the seaming and weaving in of ends and sewed on the buttons -- less than four months from fiber to sweater.

Pattern: Acer Cardigan (Ravelry link) by Amy Christoffers, 38" bust size
Yarn: my handspun, three-ply worsted weight from mystery wool
Needles: US 6 (4.0 mm) Knit Picks Options and US 5 (3.75 mm) KP Options for button bands and collar
Started/Completed: February 20/April 23
Mods: added more length to the body and picked up more stitches than specified for the button bands and collar

I really enjoyed knitting this pattern. The construction of the sweater was a bit new to me, which was part of the enjoyment. The body is knit back and forth in one piece from the bottom up to the armholes, at which point stitches are bound off for the underarms and the back and fronts are worked separately. The shaping at the shoulder is worked in short rows and the seams are joined using a three-needle bind off. The sleeves are knit in the round from the cuff up to the underarm, where again stitches are bound off, and then the sleeve cap is worked flat. Finally, the sleeves are set in to the armscye in the round (and frankly that's what scared me a bit at the end, because set-in sleeves always give me trouble and I'd never done one in the round, but they ended up being a lot easier than a typical set-in sleeve).

I did add some length -- I think about an inch -- to the body because when I'd knit to the specified length, it was hitting me in an unflattering spot and I knew any shirt I'd wear underneath it would likely hang out the bottom if I didn't make it a little longer. I also had to fudge the numbers for the button bands and collar a bit, as you may remember, though that's a pretty typical mod for me to make because I never can seem to pick up the same number of stitches as the designer. That didn't bother me too much, because I was more concerned with getting a button band that fit the sweater (and obviously I needed more stitches because the body of the sweater was longer). I believe that I ended up adding an additional buttonhole and button because of this added length as well. The buttons themselves came from my grab bag of buttons; they're a dark blue that I selected mainly because they were the right size for the buttonholes, I was able to find the right number of them in the bag, and I was too lazy to wait until I had a chance to go button shopping. I think they're actually a pretty good match for the sweater; I didn't want anything to draw attention away from the details in the sweater or the yarn, so in that respect, I think they're a success.

The pattern was, for the most part, a delight to knit. It's very clearly written, with easy-to-read charts, a schematic, and only a few pictures that show key parts of the design. I did run across a couple of areas of difficulty, though, that I think you should be aware of should you decide to knit it yourself. The first was a very obvious typo near the end of the directions for finishing the back where it's clear that several words were copied and pasted or typed twice; I sent the designer a message on Ravelry about this, and she said that she is going to be correcting the error in the PDF. It's not an error that will cause a mistake, though, so if you already have the pattern or buy it before the correction is made, you won't have a problem. Though I didn't really follow the numbers, as I mentioned above, I'm not convinced that all the numbers given for the collar are correct. It should be a multiple of four plus two (it's a 2x2 rib but the first two and last two stitches should be knit as seen from the right side). The smallest size and the largest three sizes all have numbers that are multiples of four only, so if you're knitting one of these sizes and are picking up the number of stitches specified, keep in mind that you will need to add in two more stitches somewhere. Finally, though the supplies list on the first page of the pattern does say that you'll need a size 5 needle "for edging," the directions do not specifically state that you should switch to the smaller needle when you get to the button bands. This is probably something I should have marked myself so I wouldn't forget, but I did forget and had to rip out my first attempt at a button band because of it, so it would have been nice to have had it stated explicitly in the directions.

Overall, I am very pleased with how my sweater tuned out. I did have a fair amount of yarn left over, including the rest of the skein I used for my swatch, so the yardage estimate seems to have been pretty accurate. It fits perfectly and is the right length, and obviously it was a fun knit. Unfortunately, it's also as itchy as all get out, even when worn with a long-sleeved shirt underneath (as it was on Saturday morning, when it was still a little chilly outside and I decided to give the sweater its first wearing). I still have no idea what breed of sheep the fiber came from, though my guess is that it's a dual-coated sheep based on the coarser guard hairs that both fell out as I was spinning and stick out and poke me when I wear the sweater. I even gave the sweater a good long soak in the tub with some hair conditioner when it was finally all sewn up and finished in the hope that it would soften some, but it's still extremely rough and rustic.

So, my big spinning project for the year is finished. While the sweater I ended up with isn't the softest, most luxurious garment ever, it is very warm and I can tell that it will wear well and will last for many years to come. The bigger sense of accomplishment, to me, comes from the fact that I was able to spin enough yarn to knit a sweater in a relatively short period of time and to the specifications I wanted. I know that I can do it now and that this handspun sweater will not be my last.


  1. I can't believe how fast you finished that! It's gorgeous.

  2. What's not to love? The color, the yarn, the fit, those beautiful set in sleeves (told you you could do it!) You are officially my hero. Not that you weren't before, but this sweater really is a huge accomplishment. CONGRATULATIONS!!!!

  3. That is The. Coolest. Thing. You should be extremely proud of yourself. Finishing a sweater from your own handspun? That's amazing. GO, YOU!

  4. It's wonderful!

  5. Anonymous9:04 AM

    congrats! what an epis achievment. well done and it looks lovely.

  6. WOWSERS! I'm so proud of you, girl! What an amazing accomplishment and I think you picked the perfect pattern to show it off!

  7. Wow, it looks amazing, and the sleeves are perfect -- well done all around!!