Diary of a handspun cardigan: Part 2

I have finally got it together to finish writing the pattern and here it is:  Blakeney. A simple cardigan with a raglan sleeve and modern tapered fit designed for knitting with handspun yarn (weight 12-14 WPI (alternatively a commercial DK weight yarn).  Handsomely modelled here by Sean.

I wanted it to have a clean silhouette, with a tapering to the waist for a contemporary fit. With an unfussy plain knit fabric, I think the yarn should be the star here and not fancy-pancy technique or stitch-craftery.

It is knitted using a seamless construction, worked from the bottom up, with the body knitted in one piece. The sleeves are knitted in the round and assembled with the body for knitting onwards through the raglan. The button holes and a neat I-chord edge are knitted as the garment is worked. Thus avoiding any tedious after bands.  Which always take me at least 3 attempts before I get it right- and I have knitted many…you would think I would be whizz at them by now… but no.  I also spent some time playing with different buttonhole methods. but that is a whole subject in itself. So maybe a topic for a later post.  I finished it with a tape which gave the garment a very nice drape and handle. Hard to describe what I mean, but it really gave it a quality finish.

I worked on this design whilst I was knitting a particularly complex Patricia Roberts textured pattern, so I am wondering if the simplicity of stitch and construction was an antidote to this.

The yarn, a subtle marled 2-ply, in shifting blues and grey tones was inspired by the shallow seas of the North Norfolk Coast. I wrote of this in a previous post here.

In particular the pattern is named after Blakeney, one of my favourite parts of the coast.  Once a thriving port, Blakeney also had a colourful reputation for piracy, smuggling and general lawlessness. I’m not sure of the veracity of the claims but there are records of the men of Blakeney boarding ships, bringing them to harbour and stripping them of their cargo. As well as incidents of Merchant Ships resting in the harbour and finding their cargos mysteriously vanishing. Indeed the residents refused to supply a ship for the battle against the Spanish Armada. So it seems fitting with the Spinzilla Team HSNs Pirate theme.

I found writing the pattern out an odd process.  The act of writing and planning was a more rigorous approach than I am used to.  My normal approach is quite instinctive, usually involving a great deal of trial and error, much swearing and ripping and reknitting till I get the perfect finish I have in my mind.  Over time I have got better so there is less trial and error. Grading was also a new skill that I had not any experience of. hopefully I have it right (ish).  If you do have a bash at this pattern (and thank you so much if you do) let me know your experience of it, feedback is very welcome.

Pattern is now available in on Ravelry here.  10% of all pattern sales will be donated to MND Association.

The pattern is in 4 sizes: Small, medium, large, x-large (105 [108, 112, 115] cm (40[42, 44, 45] inches).  Shown modelled by Sean, wearing the large size.

Handspun isn’t to everyones taste nor accessible if you are not a spinner. I suggest a millspun alternative would be something woollen with a soft to medium handle.  The pattern would need a Double knit (DK) (US no 4 Medium) with a gauge of between 21-24sts over 10cm. Just a suggestion but something like Blacker Pure Shetland DK knitting yarn would do well.

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Diary of a handspun cardigan

Have you noticed how awful mens knitwear is?  Tragic!  Absolutely gopping! I live in a houseful of menfolk. None of whom wear knitwear. Is this the reason why? Who on earth thinks that men should wear these awful shapeless ugly patterned hideous body boxes?   So in a weak attempt to be bang on trend I wanted the perfect man’s cardigan.

This was in June 2016 by the way. It’s now finished. It is mid February 2017.  It is worth it. It will be with him until he leaves the house feet first.  Slow fashion?  Indeed.  Which is why I am often asked ‘seems like a lot of work.  Why don’t you just buy one?’  Which misses the point entirely.  Through the ‘work’ comes the pleasure.  It is pleasing to sink hands into beautiful lanolin rich pungent fleece, to prepare it and to spin it into yarn.  It is pleasing to think about the wearing during the knitting and the wearing or the gifting once it is done. And to remember those moments when the garment is in your hands over the years that follow.  So, my response is ‘why would you buy one.  Where is the pleasure in that?’

So, I thought you might be interested to see the process by which a hand spun cardigan is born.

For me it starts with the idea.  I find it difficult to spin for the sheer joy of spinning. I typically have a very clear idea in my head for a design.  In this case it was for a simple, fuss free, fitted cardigan in response to the sheer ugliness of mens knitting patterns out there.

The muse looks good in blue but I hate solid slabs of bright colour (especially blue).  I am reminded of those makeover programmes where ‘She doesn’t like orange’ so everything gets done in orange…Anyhoo, the answer was a marled yarn, in blues with a neutral base.  Grey is currently my favourite.  Or deep rich chocolate brown.  I digress…

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The tropical blue Top came from John Arbon Textiles. As a nice digression that I think you will like, John Arbon Textiles blended up a new top called Spin Fresh in honour of Spinzilla Team HSN 2016 Pirate theme, they donated some fibre to the team and made the remainder available for purchase exclusively at Fibre East 2016. I bumped up my Team HSN batch.  It is a glorious blend of 55% dyed Merino/33%Perendale/12%Zwartbles in the colours of a really tropical Caribbean blue sea. I send a big huge hug of thanks to the guys as John Arbon Textiles. I can honestly say it was just beautiful to spin.

For the grey base I used a natural grey whitefaced woodland/Jacobs fleece that I purchased at Ickworth Wool Fair – the result of a happy accident – happy for the Jacobs Ram less so for the Shepherd…I scoured, sorted and carded this in September.  About 6 hours work altogether.

John Arbon Top and hand processed grey batts ready to spin
John Arbon Top and hand processed grey batts ready to spin

The yarn was spun during Spinzilla October 2016. All  the fibres were spun separately and then plied to give the marled yarn.

Full bobbins ready to ply
Full bobbins ready to ply
Plied hanks of finished yarn
Plied hanks of finished yarn

Just over 1000m of plied yarn. The spinning took just over 10 hours altogether.  Lovely speedy longdraw.

Next, tedious yet vitally important – swatching. What can I say – don’t be lazy SWATCH! This was a happy couple of hours in front of the TV.

One of many swatches
One of many swatches

The first draft of the pattern followed from the gauge in the swatch. This was tested in the the knitting… and the frogging…and the knitting again.  Roughly 3 weeks of evenings (christmas came and went) and a few lunch times.img_20170112_140808756The finishing took about 2 hours. And here is a sneeky peek of the finished article.

img_20170215_151457624The pattern will be coming soon. Watch this space.  But these things can’t be rushed…

Sad its over

Spinzilla day one
So, last week saw me and so many others all over the world spinning like the very devil.  No idea yet as to the total yardage spun globally.  I am pleased and very proud to have been part of Team HSN UK.  Not only did we outperform every other team in chat (over 2500 posts, closely followed by Team Alaskan Yarn Company with a measley 1500!) but we also span a stonkingly huge amount of mileage.  So how did we do? Drum roll please……

The team’s total was146336 and a tiny bit Spinzilla yards. That’s 83.15 miles! Average 3.32 miles per spinner.  How awesome was that? And spun in every corner of the UK:

Team HSN UK location map
Team HSN UK location map

My own personal target was to spin a mile.  Smashed that with a grand total of 2.25 miles!  It was also to speed up but slow down (last post – seeking the spinners nirvana).  I think I also managed that. Up to a point.  By Thursday I was starting to experience odd out of body stuff – my limbs still felt they were spinning when I was doing other things.  Very odd sensation indeed.  Not sea legs so much as spinning legs…

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Yarn spun during Spinzilla 2015. Top from left to right: Romney and silk worsted spun 2-ply, Romeny and soy silk blended colour gradient woolen prep spun long draw, Castle Milk Moorit/Alpaca/Rose fibre blend carded batt spun longdraw. Bottom Corespun BFL top with feathers.

I managed to spin up the fibre for my next 2 projects.  The purple is for my Nieces birthday gift, the five skeins forming a colour gradient from pale gold through greens out to reds are for a circular shawl  (itching to get started on that one).  I only managed a couple of skeins of the castle milk for a jumper.  By this time I was so bored with conventional spinning and it was brown.  Bored.  Bored.  BORED!!!.  I’d been watching my chickens moult all week, their feathers were so downy and fluffy and gorgeous, calling to me: ‘spin me spin me’.  So on Saturday I just had to spin feathers.

'Spinning Feathers' Corespun BFL with chicken feathers
‘Spinning Feathers’ Corespun BFL with chicken feathers

I have to say it was my most favourite spin of the whole week.  I absolutely love it.  I’ve been wearing it around the house all week bringing out my inner rock chick and going total Stevie Nicks. I had to draw the line at rocking it up to Tesco’s in double denim – think the world is perhaps not ready for that.

But the fun goes on.  We are reconvening at Fibre East 2016.  The team is keen to keep the fun going.  We have decided to put that Shetland top kindly donated by Martin Curtis of Curtis Wools Direct to very good use.  Each of us is going to contribute a knitted a 30cm square which will form a blanket to be auctioned off for a good cause (yet to be determined).  There’s also the Back 2 Back challenge.  Taking a freshly shorn fleece, spinning it and knitting it into a garment in one day.  Hmmm.  Not sure about that one.  Neither a speedy nor consistent spinner and a very slow knitter…

So sad its now over.  I met an amazing group of people and had a really good time.  But its back to reality.  Till next year…

Getting faster to live slow

Apples 2015
Apples 2015

September is a crazy stupid busy month.  The last of the fleece that will be spun up and knitted over winter needs to be scoured whilst there is still power coming out of the PV panels and sunshine to dry it before storing.  The garden is banging out so much fruit and veg that needs eating (yum my favourite thing), freezing, pickling and jamming/chutnifying. There is no more room in the freezer, the pantry is nearly full, as is the workshop. The green tomato chutney is on the hob as I write and this weekend is all about Christmas booze.  Sloe gin, damson vodka and getting the cider on the go.  Oh I’m very amused when I read about ‘Slow Living’. An oxymoron?  You tell me.  I can’t move fast enough nor have enough time in September.

Its just about over now and I have some space to focus on Spinzilla.  Spinzilla kicks of next week 5 – 11 October – go Team HSN UK!  Which incidentally also coincides with UK Wool Week 2015. I’ve been thinking about my own personal challenge.  I have two.  The first is to spin enough yarn for two projects.  A cardigan with some cabling in Castle Milk Moorit and a circular shawl that has been in my head for a year but more on that one in another post.  My other personal challenge is to speed up my spinning.  Yes, I am well aware that this may appear contradictory to my own ethics.

The fundamental reason I spin is the very slowness of the whole process.  Particularly if you are working with raw fleece fresh from the farm.  It allows for a very deep connection with the things made. From what the weather was like when I collected it, who I have to thank for providing it and the conversations we may have had, to the very sheep it came from embedded in the smell of its fleece and how it feels in my hand.  Everything made is unique and has a story woven into its making.

As an activity spinning is a repetitive, mindful activity that I find totally immersive and (mostly) relaxing.  My mind is occupied enough for it to loosen its focus on the brain babbling and helps deal with anxiety. This is well observed, creative activities, such as spinning and knitting, can ease stress,  help with anxiety, depression and pain may counter the effects of stress-related diseases (see for example this review by Gutman and Schindler 2007).

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me spinning in pyjamas

Spinning faster is not necessarily a contradiction.  During a week of intensive spinning (a luxury that life very rarely affords) I want to work at improving my hand (drafting) and feet (treadling)  co-ordination so I don’t have to concentrate so much, to let the rhythm take over, and the mind to become freer.  The whole spinning process ought to become not only more productive but, more importantly a more relaxed and deeper meditative experience.

The spinners nirvana.  A perfect state of bliss.  Just ask any spinner.

From competitive spinning comes the road to enlightenment…who knew.