Close-up on the shoulder of a handknit sweater in the process of being unraveled.

Reclaiming Yarn For a Project

We’ve had some lovely fall weather here in the Piedmont, and my thoughts have turned to sweater knitting. I’ve just started a new sweater project for myself, and I’m reusing yarn from an unraveled sweater I knit previously (call it upcycled!). Confession time: even after my years of knitting and designing, and with careful planning, sometimes my projects still don’t work out.

I had originally knitted Donna Smith’s Peerie Leaves jumper (Ravelry link) from this yarn. It’s a lovely pattern, but somehow my gauge changed during the knitting (yes, it can happen), or I miscalculated somehow, and my sweater ended up being quite a bit larger than I’d intended. And I also found that the allover lace pattern on the front just didn’t work for me. I’m just not that much of a lace person. So I’m reclaiming the yarn to knit a Glenfiddich cardigan, by Annamária Ötvös, a sweater that has been on my wishlist for several years now. It’s a top-down cardigan, which isn’t my preference, but I love the cable pattern, and I’ve never knit set-in sleeves from the shoulder down before, so I’ll be learning a new technique. The yarn is Buoy DK from Hipstrings, a blend of 100% wool from BFL, Shetland and Manx breeds.

Reclaiming the Yarn

In case you’re curious about how to reclaim yarn, here’s what I did:

I unpicked the seams or joins one at a time, and unravel one piece at a time. In this case, I started with the sleeves, and labeled the yarn to use for the sleeves in the new project. Because I was alternating two skeins of hand-dyed yarn, winding into separate skeins was a bit tricky. I first wound each into a ball, keeping one on either side of my lap to keep it from becoming a tangled mess. Then I wound each ball into a skein on my niddy-noddy. (If I have only one ball of yarn to deal with, I usually wind it off directly onto the niddy-noddy).

Once I had both sleeves done, I soaked the yarn in hot water with some wool wash, then rolled in a towel, snapped it to remove more kinks, and hung it to dry. I repeated the procedure with the body of the sweater. Once dried the yarn may still have a little bit of a kink to it, but will wind nicely into a skein or ball and will knit up nicely.

My unraveled yarn (left) and washed and dried skeins (right)

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Fall Knitting Inspiration

We’ve had a spell of cooler weather this week after a period of very hot summer weather, and that has me thinking about fall. I write a lot about knitting and design, but I’ve realized I haven’t written much about where my design inspiration comes from.

I get a lot of my inspiration from my materials – which, after all, is the reason I spend so much time talking and writing about all the wool breeds. I love when a yarn tells me what it wants to be. But I also enjoy looking at other sources to inspire color combinations, silhouettes, and design motifs. Plus, I’m a child of the 80s and early 90s, and I spent a lot of time clipping images from magazines and trying on different clothing combinations.

Given the above, it’s surprising that I’m a bit of a latecomer to the idea of mood boards. I was a bit resistant to them when I first started designing. But for the past couple of years I’ve been using Pinterest to make a fall and spring mood board. It serves as both personal inspiration and inspiration for my designs – I also keep a general inspiration board, which you can see here. Below is my current fall/ winter mood board – it’s still a work in progress, and I won’t really consider it done until I’ve moved on to the next season. (If it doesn’t load for you, follow this link to view.)

I also went through my closet and had a try-on session, testing which items still fit, which I still want to wear, and what I need to set aside for mending or to donate. That helps me to decide what gaps in my wardrobe I want to try to fill, and informs my design planning.

Here are some things that are inspiring me right now:

  • I’m still loving the rich, warm fall colors, as you can see in my choice of palette.
  • Charcoal gray is always a favorite, but I’m especially drawn to it just now.
  • V-neck sweaters – there’s something so classic about them.
  • Turtleneck sweaters – there’s nothing more appealing on the coldest winter days.
  • Cables and texture – these just scream ‘cozy’.
  • More fitted silhouettes – not extremely fitted, but not boxy. Just a relaxed, but streamlined, look.
  • Denim and chambray, paired with the aforementioned fall colors. I’m especially into light- to mid- tone denim washes rather than dark rinse denim just now.

What’s inspiring you right now? Do you enjoy planning your knits for the season ahead? And finally, what would help you to get more joy out of wearing your knits? Hit reply and let me know.

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Spinning Gulf Coast Native Wool – a New SE2SE Project

I’ve been sitting on some fiber for a couple of my Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em projects for awhile. I’ve been on a kick of spinning dyed fiber, and generally working on other projects. But I finally got around to pulling a new one out. This is my 7th SE2SE project – Gulf Coast Native from Gulf Breeze Alpaca Ranch. I purchased the fiber from Lynns Cozy Fibers on Etsy.

About Gulf Coast Native Fiber

As is my habit, I tried spinning a bit on my drop spindles first. Gulf Coast Native is a feral breed that developed in the Southeastern United States, like the Florida Cracker. According to The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook, the wool is variable in quality, but tends to have a moderate staple length averaging 2-4 inches, which was about the staple length of my sample. My first impression was that the wool seemed similar to the Florida Cracker I’d previously spun, but a bit whiter in color, where the Florida Cracker I spun was definitely more of a cream color. It’s fairly fluffy in the roving preparation, low in grease, and has a slighlty spongy feel that reminded me a bit of a down-type breed.

My Project

I then set about spinning the bulk of the fiber on my wheel. Lately when I try a new fiber on my wheel, I tend to spin it according to the preparation. So, since I was dealing with roving, I decided to spin the fiber using supported longdraw. I spun on a 9:1 ratio, and plied on the 12:1 ratio; judging from the breaks I had in the singles while plying, I probably could have spun on the 12: 1 as well. I’ve found shorter staple fibers like Clun Forest a bit easier to spin longdraw than this somewhat longer fiber, but the fiber drafted relatively easily and I was able to spin it quite fine.

I soaked and thwacked the yarn as I typically do. I ended up with approximately 447 yds of lovely fingering weight yarn at 20-22 wpi. The finished yarn has a nice amount of elasticity. I’m not sure yet what I’ll knit with this, but it might be nice to try dyeing and using for a colorwork project.

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Loops & Threads Capri Tencel Yarn – An Affordable, Sustainable Yarn?

I don’t usually do yarn reviews. But I was recently at my local Michaels store looking for some odds and ends, when I spotted this 100% Tencel yarn from Loops and Threads. My friend Sydney, I knew, uses Tencel yarn in her weaving (see her gorgeous work here), and I’ve heard that it’s eco-friendly. So I bought a couple of skeins and set about doing a bit of research. I have one or two secondhand garments in Tencel fabric, but have never knitted with it before.

About Tencel

According to the website Good On You, Tencel is a type of rayon that is made from responsibly-farmed eucalytptus, rather than old growth trees, and produced in a closed-loop system (where 99% of the chemicals used are recycled). It requires 30% less water than cotton fiber, and also less dye to achieve a desired color. So it has some things going for it in the sustainability department.

The downside, and this applies to any rayon-type fiber, is that is does require quite a bit of chemical processing to make fiber from wood pulp. (Though the same thing can be said for linen or hemp, if you’re using a modern chemical process to produce it, rather than the more labor-intensive traditional methods. And as I said above, the system used to produce Tencel is closed-loop, meaning close to 100% of the chemicals are recovered and reused in the process.) It also goes without saying that overproducing any fiber, as with fast fashion, will cause environmental harm, so we should always purchase carefully.

My Impressions

Anyway, I think this yarn could be an affordable alternative to linen for summer garments, so I put it to the swatch test. I cast on 36 stitches on a US 4 (3.5 mm) needle and knit in stockinette for a few inches, then bound off. The yarn is smooth and pleasant to work with. It has a bit of shine, like a mercerized cotton, which can be good or bad depending on your preferences. It’s slightly slippery, but less fatiguing on the hands than I find cotton or linen to be. Though the yarn itself has very little give, the knitted swatch has some memory, returning to it’s original shape when stretched. As you would expect for a plant fiber, the yarn also has some drape.

I soaked the swatch in my usual way, rolled it in a towel, and pinned it out without stretching. (I usually use a few pins just to keep the edges straight and prevent the swatch from rolling.) The swatch measured 5.5″ x 3.5″ before soaking and 5.875″ x 3.875″ after soaking and drying, so it grew just a bit in both directions. I noticed only a very slight biasing, if any, in the finished swatch.

I think I’m going to try making a summer tank from this yarn and see how I like wearing it. Have you knit with Tencel yarn? What was your experience?

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Wear Your Knits: the Rule of Thirds

In a couple of recent posts (here and here) I shared examples of how I create outfits with my handknit garments. In this post I want to share a tip I often use when putting together outfits with handknits: the rule of thirds. This rule of thumb is based in a concept called the golden ratio.

The golden ratio, is a concept that is used frequently in art, architecture, design, and photography. Here is an illustration, using what is known as a golden rectangle. The golden ratio occurs when the ratio of side a to side b equals the ratio of the total length a+b to side a. (In case you’re interested, the golden ratio is also closely related to the Fibonacci sequence of numbers, which converges toward the golden ratio.)

Numerically, the ratio is equal to approximately 1.618. So proportions of 1/3 to 2/3 are close to this ideal ratio, but so are proportions of 2/5 to 3/5. This means you can also break an outfit into fifths (even though we call it the rule of thirds). Any proportion that is near the golden ratio will appear harmonious to the eye, and the asymmetry creates more movement for the eye than an outfit that is divided in halves.

Using the Rule of Thirds in Outfits

Here is an example of how I use the rule of thirds in my outfits, using the Suora tee. The top is about 1/3 the total length, and the pants about 2/3.

The rule of thirds doesn’t have to apply to every garment in an outfit. If I were to add a cardigan or jacket to this outfit, which I frequently do on cooler mornings, it could be longer than the top and your eye would still register the underlying top-to-pants proportion. You can play with this proportion by tucking in your top, or wearing a cropped sweater over a longer layer underneath. If you’d like to see some other outfit examples, check out this post.

I also use the rule of thirds in designing garments. Below is a photo of my Campus Cardigan sample. As the arrows show, the length of the lower dark gray section of the body is approximately 2/3 the length of the upper medium gray section, or 2/5 of the overall length. The sleeves are the reverse – the dark gray section is approximately 2/3 the length of the sleeve. (The medium gray section is the same length as the medium gray section from the armhole to the top of the stripe on the body, so that the stripes line up when the sweater is worn. But I digress.)

The rule of thirds applied to sweater design. The lower dark gray section of the sweater body is approximately 2/3 the length of the upper medium gray section.

It goes without saying there are no hard and fast rules. Wear whatever looks good to you. But if your knits are stuck in your closet because you can’t figure out how to pair them up with your other garments, the rule of thirds can be a handy trick to help you create outfits you’ll be confident wearing.

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