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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Mending a Sweater Hem

As spring arrives, some of my most-loved winter knits have seen some wear and tear. I’ve accumulated a small mending pile, including one of my favorite sweaters – the Poet sweater by Sari Nordlund (see it on Ravelry), knit in local Jacob wool yarn from Avillion Farm.

The hem of the sweater had unraveled a bit, so I thought I’d share how I mended it. Here is a before photo. As you can see, the bind off had come undone, and a bit of unraveling had occurred.

Before the repair

For the repair, I used locking stitch markers, a small-diameter crochet hook, and a circular needle approximately the size the sweater was knit with.

The first thing I did was to catch the live stitches – locking stitch markers are handy for that. I then used the crochet hook to ladder up the stitches that had run – you can do it from either the knit or purl side, but I often find it easier to work from the knit side.

I managed to get a bit of video of this process. You’ll notice that I use a second crochet hook to grab the stitches I’ve already fixed, and then I transfer them onto a second locking stitch marker. ((Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera set up quite right and all the work is going on in one corner, but you can still watch how I ladder up the stiches and place them on the stitch marker.)

Laddering up and catching the stitches

Once all the stitches were secure, I attached new yarn (fortunately I had a bit of the same yarn left over) and bound off the stitches once more. Now all that’s left is to weave in the ends! As you can see in the photo at the top, my sweater looks good as new.

Sweater hem after repair

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Washing Your Woolens

I’ve been washing some of my design samples to get them ready for Carolina Fiber Fest next weekend. I’m doing a designer showcase from 12-12:20 on Saturday March 12, so if you’re local to me please stop by and say hi! More information is available on the Carolina Fiber Fest website.

Anyway, I thought it would be a great time to talk about washing all those precious woolly handknits. One of the benefits of wool is that it’s naturally antimicrobial and doesn’t need to be washed all that often. However, it’s important to wash your woolens if you plan to put them away during the warmer months, as moths feed on the bits of skin, crumbs, or other debris on your clothes (they aren’t actually interested in the wool itself!).

So, how to was your handknits without shrinking or felting them? To start with, as you’ll know if you’ve been following my breed study posts, not all wools are equally feltable. Down and down-type breeds are often resistant to felting, and cashmere and alpaca also don’t felt as readily as some wools. And, of course, there are the wools that are treated to be machine-washable.

If you’re washing something more easily felted, use a gentle soak, avoiding agitation, and avoid shocking your wools with drastic temperature changes, especially going from hot to very cold water. You can, however, wash your woolens in pretty hot water without danger.

To wash by hand or machine? Many newer machines, especially front-loaders have a wool setting, and I’ve been testing mine out recently. I used to wash my superwash wool socks in a regular cycle with my other clothes, but lately I’ve been doing a wool-only cycle using my machine’s wool setting, and I’ve even been including some non-superwash items. And they’ve come out just fine.

Now, you may not want to try this with your special heirloom knits – I’m still wash many things by hand – but for everyday things like socks you might want to try the machine. Some knitters want to get away from superwash wool yarns for environmental reasons, and being able to care for these knits more easily can encourage that. If you’re considering trying the wool cycle on your machine, the best thing to do is to wash your swatch – yet another good reason to swatch your knits!

Do you wash your handknits in the washing machine? Let me know in the comments.


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Choosing a Sweater Size Part 2 – An Example

A few months ago I wrote in this post about choosing your sweater size based on your upper chest measurement, and I thought I’d give an example of how I used this method to select my size in another designer’s pattern.

The sweater I’m wearing in this photo is the Gingerbread Sweater from Espace Tricot. It’s a boxy raglan pullover with a suggested ease of 10 inches/ 25.5 cm. My upper chest is around 34 inches; as of this writing my full bust measures 39 inches, a 5-inch difference. The first size listed is a finished chest of 43 inches, which would give me about 9 inches of ease in the upper chest, and 4 inches of ease in the full bust. The next size up is 46.75 inches, which would give me 12.75 inches of ease. Since the first size is closer to the recommended ease, I chose that size. This is also the chest circumference of a favorite boxy top of mine, so I knew I would be happy with that amount of ease. I also compared my upper arm measurement and armhole depth to the schematic to make sure my chosen size would fit in those areas.

The only modification I made, other than adding a bit of length to the body, was to cast on the number of neck stitches for the next size up, and eliminate one increase round for the raglan. I would have been fine with the neck cast on for my size, but I prefer a slightly wider neckline, and I’m very happy with the neckline on the finished sweater.

As you can see in the photo, the sweater fits me perfectly. You’ll notice that it fits similarly to the sweater in the pattern photos. If I had chosen the size that had 10 inches of positive ease in the full bust, I think the sweater would not have fit correctly in the shoulder and neck area, and I know I wouldn’t have been happy with the oversized fit.


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Managing Takeup When Spinning Fine Yarns

Recently I was chatting with Mary Ann at Three Waters Farm about an issue I consistently have with spinning finer yarn and/ or slippery fibers like her Polwarth/ silk blends. I have a vintage Ashford Traditional wheel, and I often find myself fighting the takeup of the wheel with these fibers. I adjust the brake band tension until there is no tension in the spring at all (and the brake band wants to get caught in the flyer hooks), and still it feels like the takeup is too much. The result is that I have a death grip on the fiber, and my hands tire easily when spinning with short forward draw.

It turns out that part of the problem is that I’ve souped up my wheel too much. I’ve replaced the old flyer (which was missing on this wheel when I bought it from a thrift shop) with a new, multi-whorl flyer and I’m using a new poly drive band. I love the ease of treadling with this new band, but the downside is the issue with fighting the takeup.

This month the focus in the Three Waters Farm Ravelry and Facebook groups is consistency. Since I’m working on a fingering weight yarn using short forward draw, I figured this was a perfect time to work on this issue.

Here are some of the tips I’ve found helpful to manage takeup:

  1. Use a wooden bobbin. On top of the new flyer and brakeband, I couldn’t help ordering myself some lovely Akerworks bobbins. These reduce friction even further, and when working with a fine or slippery fiber, a bit more friction is helpful. So going back to my classic Ashford wooden bobbins would have helped in this case.
  2. Add some sort of core to your bobbin. This is a tip I haven’t personally used, but one I’ve seen mentioned. When I came back to this project after the holidays, I had a half-full bobbin, and wasn’t having trouble with the brake tension. When I switched to a new empty bobbin I noticed I started having the issue again. Once I built up a core of fiber on the new bobbin, I was able to increase the brake tension slightly and still spin comfortably. Adding a core to start with would likely have helped.
  3. Try cross-lacing. Since I had already started spinning on a new bobbin, and I didn’t want to switch to a wooden one in the middle of the spin, I tried this trick that Mary Ann suggested. It helped reduce the tension until I filled the bobbin enough that I could continue to spin without it.
An example of cross-lacing to manage takeup

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