Of sweaters and sizing,

Of cabbages and kings. I could say quite a lot about cabbages, as we’re two years into our/my attempt to seriously reduce food miles. Alas, there are not many winter vegetables grown in the UK. Well, there are, but most of them seem to be cabbage or its relatives (brussels sprouts). But I digress… I wanted to say something about sweaters. Specifically my attempt to make a sweater that will fit, as in not hang about me like a very large tent. Late last year I was unventing a top-down v-neck raglan in a lovely butter-soft black-over-blue silk/wool aran singles hand-dyed by Sundara. Given that I’d never knitted a raglan, let alone a v-neck, top-down, bottom-up or sideways, I was relying on brute force: mathematics and luck, plus advice from Joanne and anyone else who happened to pass by. Note the past tense? I got to a point halfway down the shoulder where I worked out that I needed to change the frequency of the raglan increases or gain a lot of weight, and just stopped. I love the yarn, I need a warm sweater, but I just left the shoulders coiled miserably about the yarn on the table by the couch, half-buried under sock yarn and books. For weeks I looked past it until a few days ago I had the sense to ask myself why I was ignoring it. Answer? I wasn’t enjoying the knit. It’s not the yarn or the needles, it’s the fear, no, fear’s too strong. The nagging uncertainty about whether or not I was going to create something I could wear. All those stitches, hours of my time. The sheen worn off the fabulous yarn. All possibly? probably? wasted because I really did not know what I was doing. The solution was obvious. Earlier this week I frogged the shoulders. Sighs of relief from me and the yarn, which thought I hated it. Then, by sheer chance, I came across Wendy’s pattern for Something Red. Despite being a cardigan this looks a lot like the sweater I was hoping for, and my washed (yes, I actually washed it and everything. I want to do this right) swatch is *precisely* on gauge. Row and Stitch. Crumbs. I assume this will change completely once I start knitting but, well, it’s encouraging.

While clearing the bedroom for decorating, I found this sweater, knit c. 1980 just after we arrived in the UK. Ah, the memories. I remember agonizing over the cost of the yarn. Really: we had very little money, living on my wages as a trainee accounts clerk. We were living in ‘Married Students’ Accommodation’, a bedsit the likes of which I, a coddled middle-class Canadian, had never imagined. A large room (perhaps 20′ x 20′, with 12′ ceiling) with immense bay window (single glazed, draughty sash windows) in a large Victorian house. No insulation anywhere. Heated only by a 3-bar gas fire.* Winter 1981/2 was bitterly cold, with deep snow even in Surrey. I wore this sweater constantly. It didn’t keep my legs warm, though; I developed chilblains on my shins after huddling too close to the fire.

I wasn’t going to wear the sweater again (we’ve got central heating!) and it was too worn and mis-shapen to pass on to someone else. So I cut the sleeves off, slit it up one side, then unravelled a sleeve to get yarn to stitch a freeform cat bed, as seen below. Left: empty; right: as seen from my corner of the couch. Clearly three thicknesses are needed to make bits stand up. I may fold and stitch some structural uprights now, just to see how that works. It’s appreciated even when flabby. Incidentally, the cat tree is as large as it looks, and the solid wood construction means it doesn’t move as two Maine Coons thunder about on it. Much better value than those things made of cardboard tubels available from any pet store we’ve visited. From ZooPlus.

Some alpaca/silk from Handweavers. 15g for 80p (about $1.60). It’s incredibly soft, steel grey, and as slippery as a wet bar of soap (the least offensive comparison that came to mind). I’ve been spinning it, very carefully, trying to create a reasonably even singles to ply. I’d spun about half the bag when I thought of looking online for advice on spinning alpaca, and found the comment that if spun too tightly it resembles wire. Already suspecting that I spin too tightly on principle (tense? moi?), I immediately stopped, hung the spindle from the ceiling light fitting (don’t worry, it’s safe), wound the yarn off the spindle into a center-pull ball on the fingers of my left hand, then plyed it from both ends back onto the spindle. This worked so well I was so thrilled that I wandered downstairs to show him. He was not enthralled. ‘It’s just string,’ he said as he stared into the bottomless depths of his laptop screen. Pah. Philistine. The washed skein looks like it was spun from dead rat, but not strongly twisted dead rat, so I’m hopeful. Spinning has got to be one of the cheapest hobbies going… 40p of fibre has kept me excited and interested for about 2 hours (not counting time spent gloating before I started), and I’ve yet to knit it. Or perhaps I’m just a bit sad :-)

Please forgive me if posts and email messages become erratic over the next few weeks. This is the season when many organisations granted funding for various projects last spring realise they’ve done absolutely nothing to date, but if invoices for the finished items aren’t submitted before April, they’ll lose the money. So hard work and real deadlines are piling up apace. Tense? Moi?

* The bathroom/loo was worse. Same ceiling height, heated only by a tiny radiant heater mounted about 9′ up the wall so we wouldn’t electrocute ourselves. And shared with three other couples (as was the kitchen). It took us three years to find affordable private accommodation: in a tiny converted Portakabin at the bottom of someone’s garden. Even colder. Every time I think life is too good these days I remember those days.


5 thoughts on “Of sweaters and sizing,

  1. Joanne

    What a fabulous reuse of some lovely knitting! I too have several thick leftover “grad school” sweaters,handspun, handdyed and handknit for maximum affordable warmth! Although our home were different..mine was a drafty large 1920’s Southern house with arctic winds…and $400 a month heating bills anyway.

    The best way to learn to fit your body with a sweater is to knit multiple sweaters for yourself! I recommend Priscilla Gibson-Roberts’ and Ann Budd’s books for people who want to create their own designs, it helps with all the math. I also think that if you are two-thirds+ done with a sweater, you should finish it. If it doesn’t fit, give it away to charity and someone will be warm. You are a perfectionist! Give yourself a break and don’t expect to learn every detail of sweater design or handspun in one project….I certainly don’t. I learn a little with each design.


  2. La Cabeza Grande

    …of ships and shoes and sealing wax;

    Love the “string” comment for something that is so not akin to package twine. Beautiful, silken strands. Philistine, indeed!

    Love the Jabberwocky, btw.


  3. sarah

    I’ve knitted a few sweaters, but always so large that size/fit was never an issue. This one will be different… I could try to wing it, but I just don’t want to take the chance of ruining the lovely yarn. I could use something less beautiful, but I *want* to wear it now! I look forward to the day (one day) when, if I’ve knitted enough sweaters, I’ll know what will fit my torso in the same way as I now know what will fit my feet.

    He can’t help the ‘string’ thing. My fascination with fibre has taken him completely by surprise, but he’s been very tolerant: three looms, two spindles, and bundles of yarn/fibre bulging from behind various items of furniture. It’s a very small house :-(



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