You would think I carefully planned my first hand spun (and first steeked) sweater but, dear reader, I did not. I just got lucky.
I bought a brown merino x fleece at a local farm when my knitting group visited it in spring 2010. I had just started spinning the previous summer and this fleece was my first. I really didn’t know what I was looking for and lucked out that I chose a relatively high quality fleece. That day I also went in on two other fleeces with a friend, but Abigail’s was my first all to myself.
I skirted and began washing the fleece, then teased it out before carding it using the brand new drum carder my husband got me for my birthday/Mother’s Day that year. And I began spinning it without a specific project in mind, at least in the beginning. I was – and maybe still am – at the stage of learning to spin where the thinner the better while also working on my consistency.
Around the same time, I came across a Bohus sweater online or at my knitting group and got Poems of Color – a really great book if you’re interested in Bohus knitting, which is distinct because the colorwork is combined with purl stitches instead of just being knit in stockinette. Also, Bohus Stickening arose during the Depression as a way to help rural Swedish women make money for their families; the history of it is as fascinating as the designs. (I also recommend reading the more recent – and more historically comprehensive – Bohus Stickning på nytt, The Revival from Schoolhouse Press.) I pored over Poems of Color and the patterns. I realized that the fleece I was spinning would make a great main color for a sweater.
I had blue BFL from Miss Babs and white cormo in my new fiber stash and I had a new drum carder, so I decided to try making gradient batts for all the colors I would need to make The Red Palm but using blue and a steeked cardigan instead of a pullover.
To make the gradient, I made a 50-50 blend of white and blue, then blue and the brown fleece. And then I counted the color gradients I would need for each, which was bass ackwards – I should have done that first to make calculating the blends in grams easier. At least it worked out and I ended up having enough yarn for the sweater yoke, another calculations I failed to make.
Next, I made a swatch using the colors for the yoke and part of the yoke pattern. I was close enough to the gauge required by the pattern to proceed. I also cut the swatch – without sewing a reinforcement – as a test run for steeking, all the while expecting the swatch to dissolve into a tangle of yarn. That didn’t happen though; knitting is more resilient than I had previously thought. The stitches and rows held through cutting and pulling at the fabric. I highly recommend knitting a sample steel swatch to experiment with before you knit a whole sweater to steek.
Finally, I knit the sweater. The knitting of the sweater and the finished object were not without their problems.
Because my gauge was off a bit, I knit a larger size than what I normally would and ended up overcompensating – I would rather have a too-large sweater that I can still wear than a too-small sweater that I would have to give away or repurpose.
Another minor problem with the sweater is that the yoke ended up being much, much thicker than the body of the sweater. I think that happened because, well, that’s just the nature of a colorwork yoke but also because I used different wools with different properties. The white cormo sections of the yoke are much more puffy and springy than the blue BFL or the brown merino x.
When I cut the steek for the sweater, I didn’t tack down the yarn ends at all. I read somewhere that they would meld together and not be too noticeable, but they have not, in part because I think I need to trim them but also because I don’t often wear the sweater. I suppose I could do some tacking down or active felting, but I really don’t mind the hidden raggedy edge.
I am happy with how the yoke turned out and even though it and the body are different densities, I still like how both of them came out – I just don’t think that they work well together texture-wise. I also really like the buttons I used; they’re vintage buttons from my mother’s supply. I think I asked if I could have those particular buttons long ago, in elementary school, and have held onto them since then.
I learned a lot knitting this sweater and got to stretch my problem-solving creative muscles, which always feels good. And I have a pretty great sweater to wear at the end of it, too.