As we tentatively emerge from lockdown, many of us reflect on our individual experiences. A lot of people had the experience of that one thing. The little side project that they’d always wanted to try out, that gradually became anything between a minor fixation to a full-blown obsession. Some of us found gardening, others found bread-making and sourdough starters. I found fleece!
As I waxed (at length) in this post, I received a carder for my birthday at the beginning of May and shortly thereafter, procured two Jacob fleeces from north county Sligo. You can read all about the process of sorting it out and carding it all up in the post I linked there. My spinning has seen quite the rejuvenation this year! This is in part due to an overall creative replenishment, which the lockdown definitely did not diminish, and in part to a review of my approach to spinning. I thoroughly enjoy spinning specific yarns for a specific project, even if that entails a lot of ‘plain’ work.
I used the Unisex Yoked Pullover by Hannah Fetig as the base for my jumper. I have knit many jumpers from this pattern and have tweaked it gradually over each iteration. I prefer a closer crew neck, with a good 5cm depth of shortrows across the back of the neck to raise it up. As well as that, I omit the final increases across the back section of the yoke before I separate the sleeves off. This is easily done as it is knit from the top down. I have found that leaving out those increases along the back gives a good fit and reduces the ballooning at that point of the body that seems to be so common in round yoked jumpers.
I really like how the pattern on the yoke falls across the shoulder. I wish I could tell you that it was down to meticulous planning but it really was not.
The pattern seems to be fairly well centred so I will be happy with that! The pattern is an amalgamation of two stitch patterns that I found in one of my Barbara Walker dictionaries. One was just for the purled triangles, and the other was for the ‘lattice’. In her directions, you simply change whether you make a knit or a purl stitch to get the lattice effect. Because I wanted to have the contrast in texture between the purl and knit triangles, which would mean having some of the lattice on a knit section, I decided to use travelling stitches instead. In other words, when I came to make the row for the lattice go left or right, I would swap the order of stitches on the needle, much like for a cable. This makes the travelling stitches stand out really well.
I was intrigued during the knitting of the body. I mean, the yoke was immense fun. Between the excitement of casting on and the interest of working the stitch pattern, I had the yoke completed in an evening or two. But the body, though plain, had its own appeal. Only then could I see how the fabric of the fleece truly was. It is much browner than I anticipated; it has pooling of colour – something I did not expect at all from such a supposedly plain fleece; the ‘kemp’ and bobbles that I worried so much about during the carding and spinning process now give it a gentle texture that is so cosy.
You might like to know some real details! I knit it on 3.5mm needles and it gave a pretty dense fabric. The yoke, with its texture and high neckline, is extremely warm. I knit the collar, cuffs and hem on 3mm needles. I had to abandon my all-weather wooden needles and switch to metal ones because there was still so much oil in the yarn from the fleece and it was sticking like mad. I knit the 32″ size of the pattern which, with my gauge, gave me about a 33-34″ finished size.
I know that some people have perhaps grown tired of baking bread, or watering flowers. Or perhaps they have developed that kernel of interest into broader things like cakes and cucumbers! As for me, I am dreaming of what to spin my other fleece into.
Happy Monday! I am back again today with an update on my spinning news. To many a spinner, the word ‘July’ sounds a lot like ‘Tour de Fleece’! The Tour de Fleece is a simply a little pun on ‘spinning’, which is not only a very enjoyable fibre past-time, but also a way to describe the exercise one takes on a stationary bike. The point is to spin along to the Tour de France as it is televised. (There are many levels of complexities, such as teams and challenges, depending on how involved you want to get!). I don’t think the actual bicycle race is even happening this year, but does it really matter? After all, when it comes to spinning or knitting along to an event, any link, no matter how tenuous, is all we need.
Allow me to go back a little in time to the beginning of May. I celebrated my birthday and to my great surprise, received a drum carder! ‘Carding’ is what you do when you comb a sheep’s fleece into a lovely little wool cloud, that you can then easily separate into smaller segments to spin. It is possible to card with hand carders – they look like a big pair of hair brushes – but it is very slow going. I could not possibly imagine hand carding an entire fleece. Hand carding is great if you want to try out a sample of something, or if you want to blend a small quantity of differing fibres together, but on the whole, hand carding an entire fleece is just not for me. Enter the drum carder! If you would like to see what one looks like, and more information about how it works, here’s a link to the Ashford website.
I had one small issue: I needed to find a fleece! After a quick scout online, I found a woman selling washed fleece near Markree, which is not very far from where I grew up in Sligo. You can find her online shop via Etsy.
I got two fleeces as the postage was quite reasonable. One, that you can see exploding with excitement from its parcel above, is a light grey-brown Jacob, and the other is a mixed Jacob, with dark brown, grey-brown and cream. They were about €20 and approximately 1kg each. I am aware that you can buy much cheaper fleeces (on ebay, for example), but the main reason I chose these over something cheaper was because they were washed and scoured. I decided to go with the light fleece first, as I wasn’t really sure how to go about dealing with the mixed one. Here it is fully unpacked:
You can see that it is all in fluffy clumps, which I suppose is the way that it comes off the sheep when it is sheared. This is what one of the clumps, or locks, looked like before I carded it:
You might spy the bits of dried grass in it. Even though the fleeces were lovely and clean, they still had plenty of vegetable matter throughout (not to mention a few crispy beetles, clearly gone to their own fluffy, woolly heaven). I carded a little bit of it. All that involves is turning the handle and feeding the locks in slowly. The two drums, both of which have combs on them, pull the fibres apart and tease them out so that they lie parallel to each other. After doing that for a while, I quickly came to the conclusion that I needed to sort out the fleece. I think that this is called ‘skirting’. I sat down and systematically picked out all of the twigs and briars, shook out the grass, and most importantly, picked out the dyed parts (from where the sheep had been marked), the parts damaged by weather, and the parts that were just really felted from where the sheep had been rubbing itself against a tree or lying down. In all, about a quarter of the fleece was not worth carding, so I put that aside and I have kept it to use for stuffing.
This was the very first wool cloud that I carded.
I quickly got the hang of it and every day or so, would make another…
Very soon, I had enough to spin, and it became clear that I would have more than enough for one jumper out of the fleece. In the last year, I have found a satisfying sense of purpose with my spinning that, up until now, I lacked. I have realised that I enjoy spinning much more, and am far quicker and more direct about it, when I spin with a specific project in mind. When I started spinning first, and typically when I would come back to it from time to time, I was drawn to the blend of colours and the mix of fibres. These are both fantastic aspects, but unfortunately usually resulted in a yarn that I had no idea what to do with. Now, I start with the end product in mind, and then work backwards to have a clear idea of the type of yarn that I want to make.
When I thought ‘jumper’ for this fleece, I knew immediately that I wanted to make a dense sport weight yarn that would be very warm and show off the fleece’s beautiful oatmealy variegation. Here’s what I spun up:
The two outer bobbins are singles (one strand) and the inner bobbin is a 2-ply of the singles. Looking at them now in the photo, I think that a 3-ply in this yarn would be very snug indeed. I wound the 2-ply off into skeins and soaked them.
The final step was to swatch – I figured a 3.5mm needle, which gives a lovely woolly, drapey fabric – and then to cast on!
That whole process took less than a month. When I first received the fleeces, my initial thought was, ‘Ohhhh, I am never going to get through these!’ But actually, leaving the carder set up on the kitchen table, it became such an enjoyable little activity whilst waiting for the dishwasher to finish, or for coffee to brew (let’s be honest, more often the latter than the former!), and I finished up both fleeces last week. I spun only enough of the grey fleece for what I think I will need for my jumper. Whilst it is tempting to spin the whole lot up, I think that leaving it unspun at the moment will allow for more flexibility down the line – like to make a 3-ply for some winter hats and boot socks, for example.
I really love the variegation of the wool and how it shows the texture. The fabric is, by its nature, uneven. This fleece, much more so than the darker, mixed one, had a lot of little lumps in it (I think the word is ‘kemp’, but I might be wrong about that). I picked a lot out of it as I was spinning it, but some I left in for the fun of texture. Some people might not like that, but I love the result, and in any case, it is not overly-lumpy anyway, as you can see.
The jumper itself is a top-down yoke based on Hannah Fettig’s Basic Round-Yoke Unisex Pullover (link to Quince & Co. website for details, as Ravelry is dealing with accessibility issues right now). Thinking about how nicely the yarn shows texture, I wanted to incorporate something that showed off that aspect. I am not sure why I didn’t just throw in some ordinary cables, or draw upon my Norah Gaughan cable book. For some reason, I really had it in my head about using a knit/purl contrast. I found a page in one of my Barbara Walker dictionaries that had a pattern for the triangles in purl stitches, and alongside it, a pattern for the lattice that makes the diamond shapes. I decided to amalgamate the two, although I must admit that seeing it knit up, I am not entirely convinced. The purling creates a pleating effect. In fact, in the Walker book, she mentions how this type of stitch pattern was often used to knit pleated skirts. Maybe it would look better with just the lattice. I altered the lattice pattern slightly from the book, using the method of switching stitch order, as one would in more intricate cables, to create the travelling stitches and make them stand out more.
Seeing as the whole thing is an experiment, I am going to leave it be and see how it blocks out at the end. I think that it could be quite interesting. I have had an idea for what to do with the darker, mixed fleece, so I am looking forward to getting started on that and sharing the results with you soon.
Here’s the jumper that I mentioned last week in relation to garter stitch hems and cuffs. I finished this either just before or during Christmas. It was the perfect sofa knitting! The pattern is Altheda by Jennifer Steingass (Ravelry link). Now here is the woman that is almost single handedly responsible for the wave of colourwork yokes that swept over us in the last few years! A bit like Hannah Fettig of top-down-raglan fame, I think that, although she was in the right place at the right time, there is no denying the appeal and knittability of her patterns. I also think that much of her popularity is due to the fact that she regularly offers her patterns at a 30% or even 50% discount to make them more accessible. The going rate of a jumper pattern is about $7 – nearly $10 if you’re talking Brooklyn Tweed (which, I’m sorry, is just too much for one pattern). So, knowing that if you hang on for a while, you’ll probably snag one of her patterns for under $5 does add to the appeal.
As you will see in time to come, I have knit quite a few of her patterns. They’re grand: typically only two colours and all the fun usually being at the start, working from the top down, they’re that ideal intermediate knit. For me, I think much of the appeal is the fact that this type of construction seems to fit me a lot better than other types, like a raglan, so I can’t promise that I won’t be knitting more of this kind!
The yarn I spoke about here recently – it’s part of that pile of Lopi Plutolopi that I got last Hallowe’en. This pattern was actually the instigation for the order. I love how light, airy and warm it is. The astute amongst you may notice that my back neckline is different to the pattern. I did knit it as written but upon finishing, found the back of the neck far too low for comfort. So, I snipped a few stitches under the collar band and popped the stitches back on the needles. I worked a good 5cm of short rows across the back and then knit the collar again. The reason I cut it was because it had been worked from the top down and there is just no point in trying to unravel a cast on! It is probably partially due to my poor choice of cast on but I am often displeased with the final look of the cast on for a garter band, and much prefer the sturdier edge provided by a cast off for garter.
I love the long cuffs! So snug. I am also glad that I lengthened it the way that I did. This was mostly because I realised that I had loads and loads of wool, but also because I find that style of tunic-jumper to be snug to wear around the house. So yeah, it was a good match of pattern and yarn! I could be tempted to knit it again in a different colourway. Using a dark main colour would make it pretty different.
Wishing you all a lovely bank holiday weekend! Maybe you’re like me and you don’t expect any change of note in our current level of restrictions. Even so, I have noticed that the tendrils of new ways have started to grow – little cafés in my neighbourhood are re-opening and offering take away and small businesses are finding new ways to make deliveries possible. A small glimmer of hope! Hang in there.
Happy Monday! I hope you had a lovely weekend, whatever you got up to. I know that it is easy these days to dwell on what is currently out of reach – I guarantee you, I miss my flat white and quality library time as much as the next student! – but there is still much to enjoy.
I knit these in January but didn’t really get into the habit of wearing them until the quarantine really kicked in. They’re slippers!
You might have spied them in my post last Thursday. They’re the Simple House Slippers by Temple of Knit (Ravelry link). The basic pattern for these is free and there is a $3 pattern which gives multiple sizes. Obviously, if you go looking online, there is an infinite number of simple slipper patterns. (Total tangent: I learned a while ago, through the BBC’s brilliant series, A Brief History of Mathematics, that there can be different sized infinities. So, in defence of my hyperbole, I’ll say that the infinite number of slipper patterns is probably a small infinity…).
As you can see, they’re a pretty easy make. Actually, they would be a great beginner project to get used to knitting in the round. What makes these special for me is that I spun the wool that I used to knit them. Unfortunately, I have no evidence of the tops or the yarn when it was spun! I can tell you though, that I bought the tops, which is Exmoor Sock Top from John Arbon, from This is Knit some time in the last year and I spun it up immediately. I love John Arbon’s tops. Because it’s tops, as opposed to roving, practically no preparation is needed to spin it other than splitting it up into the thickness that you want. I also love the ethos of their mill. They’re a small independent company that sources its fleeces from local breeds and herds. I wish we had something similar here but I don’t think that we have the same diversity of sheep breeds that exists in Britain. In any case, I like to support them and I find that their products are quite reasonably priced.
The Exmoor Sock Top is 60% Exmoor Blueface, which is a fairly hardy type of fleece, 20% Corriedale, which I know is very hardy and ideal for socks, 10% Zwartbles, which gives it that dark heathered touch, and 10% nylon, because socks. It spun up really light and bouncy for me – I love it.
You can see that they’re getting a bit worn now. I knit them on 4mm needles but I think that if I went down to a 3.75mm or even a 3.5mm, a slightly denser gauge would help with wearability and warmth. They’re not exceptionally warm, more like an extra pair of socks.
Where I find they really win is that they are perfect for travelling. They roll up like socks and are great for when you’re on a plane or overnighting in a friend’s house. I think that the plain foot lends itself to lots of variation, from cables to lace to colourwork.
I referred at the beginning there about being a student. Yes, I took the plunge! I left my job in the university, where I had worked full time since 2015, and started a doctorate full time instead. I have found managing my time surprisingly difficult. This has been in large part due to the fact that 2019 and into the start of 2020 was my busiest concert year to date and that was in fact my full time occupation. So although that was easier to balance having left my university position, it was not easier to do the amount of reading that I wanted and needed to be doing. In a way, Covid has solved that for me, as I can’t see myself being busy with concerts for the foreseeable future, and I now not only have the space to concentrate fully on this aspect of my work, but also to return to pursuits such as writing here and taking photos.
I hope that, whether you are a new or returning reader, this finds you safe and well. I never imagined that I would be returning to this space under these conditions, but it just goes to show that you never know what lies around the corner! Thankfully, knitting, sewing and all the making that we so enjoy, always remain the same, even if our methods and regularity fluctuate.
I have lots to share with you! Let me begin by sharing my first quarantine knit of the season – a basic, round yoked jumper. The pattern is Hannah Fettig’s Basic Round-Yoke Pullover (Ravelry link) and is taken from the e-book ‘Yoked’. You can find it digitally both on Ravelry and on the Quince & Co. site. (I’m a big fan of what Quince does – their aesthetic is clean, elegant and pretty, and their patterns tend to be straight forward and unpretentious). Published in 2013, I think this e-book, which comprises five patterns, was a bit ahead of its time. Since its release (but not due to it, I think), the top-down yoked sweater has been one of the big knitting trends of the decade. Although I have knit three of the five patterns in the book, this basic pullover pattern has hit No. 1 in my most re-knit pattern of all time.
To the details! The yarn has a funny story. I fell foul of a Lopi sale at Hallowe’en – maybe it was a Black Friday sale? – and ordered what I thought was enough Plutolopi for two jumpers and a pair of armwarmers for my friend. Plutolopi is pretty cheap for the yardage you get: it usually retails for €6 for 300m, and the sale, being 50% off, made up for the €15 shipping (I see that it’s currently on 50% sale again. Sorry?)(Maybe just a quick look). Anyway, I totally overestimated what I might need for a jumper and so far have knit 4 jumpers, including this one, and have enough still for 2 more – possibly even a vest as well! Luckily, the colours that I ordered – navy, pale blue (shown here), plum, heathered pink and white – all go nicely together and are colours that I traditionally gravitate towards anyway. No regrets! For this jumper, I paired it with a mohair/polyester yarn which I picked up in Tallinn a few years ago and had fermenting away in the stash. Whilst there is no visible difference in the fabric that resulted from knitting the two together, the jumper is significantly heftier and warmer than if I had used just the Plutolopi.
You’ll see that I worked garter edgings on the collar, cuffs and hem, instead of the 1×1 rib that the pattern recommends. I recently tried this out on the Altheda sweater that I made before Christmas (will show soon, promise!) and I really liked the effect of it. Perfect for a house jumper. You can see here on the back both how I worked short rows to raise the neckline, without which it would be a good 3cm lower, and how visible the increases are. The pattern uses a very simple k1fb to make the increases and honestly, I’ve never been bothered to change it. I know that some people are bothered by how visible that type of increase is, but I don’t mind it at all. Now that I think about it, it would be nice to knit the sweater in a thinner yarn and use yos for the increases. It would make a very simple and effective summer sweater.
This will give you an idea of the length of it. You can see that age-old problem with yoked jumpers, which is occasionally too much fabric in the back. I have sort of solved this by omitting the last round of increases across the back section. It works fairly well. (Better than another solution that I tried on another jumper. I divided for the sleeves giving more stitches to the front than back. Sounds great in principle but simply transferred the ballooning effect from the back to the front… not so great!)
Knit on 4.5mm needles, I made the smallest size (32″ I think) and it was quite a speedy knit. I worked some waist shaping in as I went. I worked four sets of decreases between the armhole and the waist, and then increased again evenly until I hit my lower hip before working the garter hem. So the hem is wider than the chest measurement. I don’t know what it ended up being but it fits fine. I probably should add that I haven’t blocked it yet because despite the blazing sunshine, the air remains quite chilly here and I wanted to wear it!
Thanks for reading here today. I hope that you will join me on Monday for my next Quarantine Make! In the meantime, have a lovely weekend and may your making bring you joy and peace.