I am so excited to finally share this project—a fully handspun, hand knit sweater! This project took me a full year to complete—from spinning the yarn to knitting the sweater.
Fiber Friends, don’t be fooled by the short blog post. This project took me many many many hours to complete. I did my best to clearly but quickly explain the whole process in my YouTube video and below—from planning to spinning and finally to knitting. I also give some tips for planning a large knitting project and keeping your colors organized.
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The Fiber for this Project
I ordered six four-ounce braids from Three Waters Farm for this sweater project.
I got braids in two colors. The first color is ‘Out of the Spotlight’ and the other is called ‘Radiant Greens.’ The plan was to do a very simple stockinette, basic sweater with this fiber.
The fiber is a Polwarth-silk blend. I love Polwarth so much. It is a long-stapled fiber with a lovely glossy sheen to it. It takes dye very well. While it drapes nicely, it also has a springy bounce and is very forgiving. It is luxurious, so soft, incredibly squishy, and never itchy—perfect for a next-to-skin garment like a sweater! And the silk only enhances these wonderful Polwarth qualities.
One thing to note about Polwarth is that it can puff up a lot after washing—the effect can be quite dramatic! When it puffs up, it shortens the total yardage and affects the knitting gage. So, washing and finishing your yarn before working it into a project is important.
With this, I am going to make a two-ply yarn, with one of each color being each ply.
Hand Knit Sweater Tips
Self-Striping Yarn Tips
I highly recommend preparing all your fiber before you start spinning because once it gets on bobbins, you can’t see the full color progressions. You can only see what’s on top. It is easy to confuse the color orders if you’re trying to manage your colors while spinning.
Make sure all the colors line up how you expect them to on the braid. Then, put a little knot on the end that you’ll finish with. That way, you’ll always know to start spinning on the other side, even if you start and stop and have a piece of roving. If you leave the knot in, then you’ll always be able to pick it up mid-project and continue spinning from the correct end.
Before you start spinning, it is a good idea to undo all of your braids and make sure they’re the same pattern. Often, fiber from indie dyers will not lay out the same way and there can be color variations, even within the same dye lot. Variations don’t mean there is anything wrong, but you’ll want to be aware of them, so you don’t have any surprises halfway into a project.
For this project, the three different braids all followed the same color pattern, making this project easier. The colors were predictable and should come out exactly how I expected.
When I look at the color pattern, I like to lay all the braids out on a table and take a picture for my record keeping. That way, if I’m spinning and half of it is on the bobbin, and I might not know which color is coming next and I need to look back on the color order in the picture.
When knitting with a self-striping yarn, getting the stripes to line up can be challenging. This can be especially challenging with a sweater because the same yardage will make a thicker stripe on a sleeve than on the body of the sweater because it has a smaller distance to travel. Put in other words, you have the same distance of color but it’s filling a different distance in the fabric.
So, as an experiment to get the stripes to align on the body and the sleeves, I spun two braids in full and split the third braid in half before spinning. I used the full braids in the body of the sweater and the halved ones in the sleeves. The hope was that the stripes in the yarn would automatically line up.
I did most of the spinning for this project during the Spin Together week of 2021. You can find the footage of this spin on my YouTube channel.
I spun this fiber using a long draw method in double drive using my Ashford Elizabeth 1 spinning wheel.
The Knitting Pattern for this Project
When choosing a pattern, I looked for something that would work for a light dk weight yarn. I also wanted something without many busy stitches because I wanted the yarn to shine. This project was about playing with color in a hand-dyed hand-painted braid of fiber so the pattern needed to let the color be the star of the show.
I decided to use the Flax Pattern from Tin Can Knits (I do spin flax but, in this case, it is just the name of the pattern!). I think this is a really solid pattern that I’ve wanted to have in my own personal wardrobe, but I’ve also been wanting to share it with you.
The pattern comes with tutorials. It also seems to work really well for handspun yarn and is forgiving. So, it is a great first pattern if you are new to knitting and want to try your first sweater. Also, it’s also free! Can’t beat that.
One thing I appreciate about this pattern is that it is size inclusive. Another thing I appreciate is that it has a little bit of interest with a gartered panel down the sleeves but the whole body of it is stockinette. The pattern allows the yarn to shine while still being interesting on those panels.
Knitting the Sweater
Starting by knitting a gauge swatch is essential when you are working with handspun yarn. Sometimes, it is a good idea to do a gauge swatch from every skein because our spinning can change from the beginning to the end of a project.
My yarn ended up being the gauge I needed. I was able to knit the body of the sweater fairly easily.
Knitting the Sleeves
Since I wanted the colors to line up, knitting the sleeves was a bit trickier!
I started by putting the yarn into yarn cakes. As I did this, I needed to make sure the color progression matched each other as well as the body of the sweater.
For the first sleeve, the beginning of the sleeve had a little bit of gold but my skein for the sleeve didn’t start with the gold. So, I needed to take off a blue and purple section from the beginning of the skein and start with the gold.
Once I got the colors matched, the first sleeve went quickly. I knew that the second sleeve was going to be a challenge because I’d be tempted to constantly stop and check how the colors were lining up. I didn’t want to bog myself down and get real fussy trying to make it match too much, so I challenged myself to do one whole sleeve and then put my sweater into a bag away from view as I did the other sleeve. It took a lot of willpower not to peek!
Troubleshooting My Handknit Sweater
In one of the sleeves, I forgot to include a stitch in the garter panel, and it was shorter than it was supposed to be. I had one stitch along the side of the garter panel that was part of the stockinette that was supposed to be part of the garter.
To fix this, I dropped a stitch, laddered it down, caught it when I got to where the mistake was, and then I chained it back up using a crochet hook. That was my best solution to fix the issue without having to rip the entire sleeve off and start over.
The Sweater Reveal
So, I didn’t look at the full sweater until it was all done.
And I think it came out really pretty!
The self-striping colors on the sleeves lined up fairly closely, which I think is amazing!
Closer to the cuff, the sleeves had some decreases (fewer stitches) which meant the color stripes got thicker because the distance around got shorter. I think that looks fine, though!
I thought the top of both sleeves came out perfectly, which is the section I was the most worried about. I am so glad the gold stripe lined up and came out exactly how I wanted it to.
However, the colors on one of the sleeves didn’t quite line up like the other sleeve. The purple stripe lasted forever and then went into the blues and greens, never quite making it to the final purple and orange stripe like on the other sleeve.
I had some leftover yarn, so I had a couple of options to fix it.
I could rip the sleeve back to where the thick purple stripe was, remove some of the purple, and then pick it up again with the blues and greens. I would ball the yarn up so that it goes through the colors as it should, take the unwanted part out, and match the yardage of what I take out to match what I put back in.
Honestly, I have never adjusted a handspun sleeve to match before, so I am not sure if that makes sense. If you have any advice for fixing striped handknit sweaters, let me know in the comments below!
My other thought as I sat with this project more was to leave it how it was. She’s beautiful and I’m really happy with this sweater. I started thinking I didn’t want to rip out the sleeve because it tells a story. Let me know what you would do!
But overall, I’m still giddy with excitement about this finished product!
Key Takeaways: Yearlong Projects and Handspun, Handknit Sweaters
I have tons of these projects that take a year that I’m perpetually working on in the background. Going from the start of a project to the final reveal can take a lot of time! So, it always baffles me how short the resulting video or blog post is.
So, I wanted to just take a moment to recognize that it can take hundreds and hundreds of hours for crafters to finish a project. It is important to acknowledge those hours that go into things and that it isn’t as simple as it may seem online when we go from start to big reveals like this sweater project.
This goes for me as well as all of you! Never feel like you have to rush things or use a bulkier yarn to get a quicker finish. Take your time and enjoy making the project that you really want to make.
And when I share a spinning project but then you don’t see that yarn in a finished project for a while, that’s why! But I promise you’ll see the yarn again eventually.
Subscribe and Learn More!
If you’re interested in doing a large project that starts from a raw fleece and goes all the way through to a finished product like a cardigan or sweater, I recommend my Fleece to Sweater Workshop on my Patreon.
To learn more spinning tips and tricks, you can also, watch the full video on this topic and subscribe to my YouTube channel. I have a lot of blog posts and YouTube playlists with more information, product reviews, and spinning tutorials.
If you are interested in private virtual spinning lessons, you can send me an e-mail at [email protected].