Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Somebody That I Used to Know: Revisiting an Old Sweater

Once upon a time, I knit many complex sweaters, mostly using stranded colour work, with a few Aran-style and lace sweaters thrown into the mix.  I've been sorting through these garments, reliving their creation, deciding which should stay, which should be reincarnated as mittens or other accessories. (Not Swants-Stephen West's 2013 tutorial on making pants from sweaters has resurfaced and I've had several people ask me to make swants for them. Swants involve sewing, not knitting. I am allergic to sewing.) A few things will go off to goodwill shops; one or two will be binned because they're worn out and, really, I should not be clinging to them.  Their time has come.

I've had one sweater packed away for a long time.  I know from the style that I knit it in the early 1990's.  It's actually quite a nice sweater: all hand spun, the yarns were made from wools, angora, camel down, alpaca, silk, and Samoyed dog hair. There's even a bit of yarn spun from one of my long ago cats. (True confessions time: one small band on each sleeve, knit in alpaca, is suspiciously consistent in the spinning.  There's a possibility that I included a commercial alpaca yarn there, although I can't think why I would. The other explanation is that I was a far better spinner than I realized.)  The motifs are personal, paying tribute to creativity, the Feminine, spinning and fibre arts.

I really like this sweater, but several design flaws made me feel foolish every time I tried to wear it the past few years.  Some were just a matter of changing tastes, but there was one huge problem that could not be ignored and made me wonder what I was thinking. Something had to be done if I was going to save this thing, so I grabbed a pair of scissors and started remodelling.  Unfortunately, I was so determined to get rid of the hideous flaw that I chopped it out and began my re-styling before I thought to take a picture. I'll try to give you idea of the magnitude of the problem as I go, but trust me, it was really, really bad.  Here's the sweater, shortly after I cut off the lower parts of the sleeves:

You can see that the tops of the sleeves are quite wide.  Imagine those wide sleeves continuing to the wrist and ending in tight bands of ribbing.  Yes, the sweater suffered from the dreaded "puffy sleeve syndrome." That was the style then, but it certainly isn't now and as you may have gathered, I'm very fashion forward. (Snort.) The waist is nicely fitted, but the bottom edge of the sweater flares out.  I reknit the edging once, but the yarn had stretched and the sweater bottom was too wide to begin with, so everything sagged and bagged.

The biggest problem, the one which makes me scratch my head and wonder, "What the H*## was I thinking?" Well, remember that dog hair I mentioned?  Yarn spun from Samoyed dog is quite lovely. It resembles angora; it's soft and doesn't smell after washing and dyeing.  The thing about dog hair is that it fluffs. And fluffs. And fluffs, seemingly forever. Here, I'll show you what I mean:

That light blue band across the wheel motifs is the dog hair and no, the image is not blurry. Pure dog hair expands to what can be an alarming degree.  On its own, without wool in the mix to tame it, dog hair has no elasticity, so not only is it fuzzy, it grows to fill all available space.  This can be quite pretty in small areas. This sweater's problem?  Well, imagine that fuzzy, blue yarn knit in a 4 inch/10 cm deep band on the lower edge of the sleeves, almost to the cuffs. Imagine those bands stretching and become fluffier with time and wear. (I really am sorry I didn't take a photograph. Perhaps it's better I didn't.  Just keep thinking, "Oh my goodness gracious!" over and over again as you try to picture that in your mind's eye and you'll be on the right track to imagining the horror of those sleeves.)

The other problem was one which I didn't anticipate because dog hair yarn really doesn't smell after washing and dyeing.  For some reason, those sleeves must have magically trapped the original dog scent, because whenever I wore the sweater, I attracted attention. Yes, I probably had a lot of attention from humans, who were puzzled as to why I would think wearing huge fuzzy patches on my sleeves was a good idea.  Likely, they were also wondering how to lure me into their annual Ugly Sweater Contests.  I could deal with that, but this was something worse: animals from far and wide could not leave my sweater alone or me, when I was in it.  Cats, dogs, an adorable hamster or two, most of them not my own, all creatures were intrigued by my sweater sleeves.  Some advances were clearly amorous (ugh!). Some were a bit aggressive and involved chewing on the dog yarn at every opportunity. I came to realize that one day, I'd be out walking and a passing dog, impressed with the splendour of the dog hair sweater bands, would decide to greet the creature I was wearing by lifting his leg on my sweater. I would be inside that sweater. (It didn't happen, but there were a few close calls.) The sweater, in all its blooming glory, was washed, lovingly folded and retired to the closet, where the past cats occasionally attempted break-ins, howling for the return of their beloved garment.

When I thought about salvaging this piece, I knew I had to start with those dog hair bands. Off they came.  The bands went straight into the garbage. (I really, really should have kept them.) I picked up the stitches for the first wide, wide sleeve.  Of course, I discovered that, because the sweater was knit so long ago, I had none of the original yarn left and I was not going to spin more to save this thing. I reclaimed what I could from the sleeves (which, in case I haven't mentioned it, were extremely wide, so there was quite a bit of yarn for reuse), picked up the stitches around the edge and began knitting. I decreased the first sleeve rapidly, going from about 70 stitches (approximately 18 inches around) down to a more reasonable 46 and 36 for the cuff (roughly 12 and 6 inches around). I duplicated yarns and designs as best I could, then knit the other sleeve to match.  This was much, much better.

Next, I cut off the bottom edging on the sweater body.  (That's when I discovered that I'd reknit this band on a top-up sweater.  I reknit the band top-down.  If you're a knitter, you'll understand the error there.  If you're not, never mind.) I decreased madly all at once, narrowing the hem by a good 5 inches around and then reknit the ribbing until I had just enough to bind off. I turned her inside out-she's nicely finished on the inside, which was another reason to save her:

I darned in ends-there were a lot of them-picked off a few pills, took photographs and tried on the sweater. I think she looks much better now, on and off:

There you have it.  My reclaimed sweater is now soaking in a warm bath, to smooth out the transitions from old to new. I'll block her gently, let her dry and she'll be ready for the cold nip of winter that we feel coming for us.  The big test will be whether or not I attract any wild or domestic animal interest when I wear her while I'm out walking. I'll let you know. Now, if I could only find a way to discourage those Swants aficionados... .



  1. I never knew that about dog hair yarn! Looks good, hope you don't attract anything too dangerous. :)

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Thanks. I think I'm safe now. Well, maybe not from the Swants people!