I am so thrilled! My handspun Arboreal sweater is finished! This was a great pattern from Jennifer Steingass. I want to tell you about a few of the things I did to make this pattern work with my handspun yarn, so here we go!
It’s hard to start a project without a pattern and wool, but which comes first? For this project, the wool came first. I received this 5 pound bump of Merino X California Red wool roving from a farmer who let me keep half of the wool in exchange for spinning the other half for her. I did her share first, of course, and she knit up the most amazing cabled sweater from it!
While I felt inspired by her cables, I didn’t quite feel in the cable mood so I put my share of the wool aside, unspun, to wait for my own spark of inspiration to come along.
A colorwork pattern requires two colors of wool and while I was waiting for my inspiration to strike, I ended up spinning the second color that would become the leaves in my Arboreal sweater.
I participated in The 100 Day Project for the second year in a row. It is a wonderful and global project for artists and makers to commit to exploring their creativity every day for 100 days. This year I chose to spin on a spindle every day. The fiber I spun up was a luxurious batt of baby camel, merino, and silk from Fibery Goodness. I spun and plied this fiber back on itself to create a soft and beautiful 2-ply yarn.
With all this beautiful fiber spun from the 100 day project, I really wanted to feature it in a project that would highlight the soft colors, the softness of the merino, and the fuzzy halo of the baby camel. A colorwork project sounded like the perfect thing to showcase this spindle spun yarn and when I put the colors together with the bump of roving I still had, they were absolutely perfect! My inspiration had struck!
My project would be the Arboreal sweater using my spindle spun yarn for the leaves in the yoke and the merino X California red roving for the body and sleeves of the sweater!
It is always important to swatch your handspinning against the requirements of the pattern before you invest in spinning the entire sweater’s worth of yarn! All wool is not created equal and the outcome of the yarn can vary depending on the breed of the sheep, the processing of the fiber, the spinning method… there are just so many variables.
I started with a 3-ply yarn because I enjoy knitting with the round bounciness of the yarn. But with this roving having some shorter fibers and a few neps, it made drafting it to a consistent and fine diameter difficult. With thicker singles in my 3-ply yarn, the result was just too bulky.
I also tested several 2-ply yarns. Something that is interesting to note is that using a 2 ply yarn with colorwork will give a visually softer look to the edges of the color. I really liked how the baby camel in the contrast color yarn had a light halo and I thought that having the gentler edges of a 2-ply would give the colorwork a softer look and feel in the knitted fabric.
Knitting the Arboreal Pattern
This is a top down pattern which has so far been the construction I’ve used for all my handspun projects. There is something about top down that makes me feel safer because if I do miscalculate and run out of yarn, I can always call it a crop and it’s still a finished sweater.
I also like starting with the colorwork in the yoke because if for some reason my two handspun yarns just don’t want to knit well together, it will be the first thing I discover rather than the last thing at the end of the project.
Fortunately, I loved how it worked up together! The appearance and the feel of the fabric was fuzzy and soft. The natural color of the main color worked well with the muted tones of the batt I handspun on my spindle. I had nothing left to do but knit the rest of the sweater!…well, sort of.
Knit Some, Spin Some, Repeat
For this project, I started knitting the sweater before I actually finished spinning all the yarn for it. I was just too excited about the colorwork yoke! I had to see it on my needles!
Switching back and forth from knitting to spinning was also a helpful motivator for getting this project finished. I had already spun 2.5 pounds of this exact wool that was sent back to the owner of the sheep that grew the wool. That’s a lot of brown yarn! So while I love spinning, I also love variety and at this point, the brown wool spinning really felt like a slog.
By starting on the knitting, I was forced to spin more yarn every time I ran out and I had the momentum to get it done so I could get back to the knitting. It was a strategy that worked. Not including the spindle spun yarn, I began the spinning and knitting for this project in August, and I had it finished by mid-October.
Hanspinning with Consistency
With the motivational strategy of switching back and forth from knitting to spinning, I did have a concern that the draw back would be forgetting how I was spinning the fiber. Even something as seemingly insignificant as a slightly thicker draft or a slight change in twist angle can skew or cause a visible difference in the fabric akin to using a different dye lot.
I overcame this by keeping swatches of my plied yarn AND unplied yarn near by. I frequently checked the singles I was spinning against the diameter of my control card and I checked the plyback angle of twist also. It worked because I can see no visible difference in the sweater from one skein of handspun to the other. Yay for consistent spinning!
Playing yarn chicken, or knitting a project to the very end of the yarn is always in the back of my mind when I work on a big project like this. I did take some of the yarn for sampling and swatching at the beginning. I know that swatching is necessary, but I always second guess my quantity of fiber.
I never feel ok about having enough yarn until I have come close enough to the end that I can visually tell for certain that I will have leftover yarn, or I have bound off that last stitch.
The worst thing is having to rip back and recover yarn so the sleeves won’t end short, or making them into 3/4 length sleeves, or ending up with a crop instead of a full sweater… Ugh. I did 2 things to aleviate my anxieties about running short of yarn.
- I weighed and calculated the yardage of the first bobbin of yarn I spun for the project. Then I weighed the rest of the fiber I was planning to spin. I cross multiplied and figured out my grist, or yards per pound. This assured me that yes, with consistent spinning, I would have enough fiber.
- The other assurance I gave myself was to knit part way down the body of the sweater, go back and complete both the sleeves to full length, and then use the last of the yarn making the body as long as possible.
Final Thoughts about my Handspun Arboreal Sweater Project
This was a great project! I love the rustic and fuzzy look of the woolen handspun yarn. It really gives the Arboreal sweater an overall cozy character. The pattern was written with clear measurements for sizing which I appreciate so much! The pattern called for waist shaping, and with the measurements listed so clearly, I was able to easily modify the stitch count to custom fit the body of the sweater to my own body. This makes me feel more confident when I’m wearing the sweater and that is just overall the best feeling ever! Handspun, hand knit, and a custom fit? Perfect!
If you would like, you can watch a video about my 100 day project and how I spun the yarn for the yoke portion of this sweater!