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My Handspun Arboreal Sweater is Finished!

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!

Evie is wearing a handspun and hand knit Arboreal sweater with a leaf pattern across the yoke of the sweater in shades of pink and tan. The background of the picture shows autumn foliage.
Handspun Arboreal Sweater

The Wool

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 bump of natural brown wool roving. A few flecks of hay are showing.
The original bump of wool was 5 pounds of mill processed roving.

More Wool

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.

A Snyder cross arm spindle is wound with purple, pink, and gold colored yarn. The batt of unspun fiber is pictured in the upper right. The spindle and batt sit on a wooden table. This is the yarn seen in the leaves of the Arboreal sweater.
I used a cross arm spindle from Snyder Spindles to spin this batt.

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!

Swatching Handspun

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.

5 mini skeins of brown wool are shown on a wooden table. The yarn on the left is the most bulky, the three yarns in the center are 2-ply yarns with different grist and twist angles. The yarn on the right is a singles yarn.
I spun several swatches of yarn before committing to spin all 2.5 pounds of wool. From left to right: 3-ply bulky, 2-ply bulky, 2-ply worsted with a low twist angle, 2-ply worsted with a higher twist angle, singles yarn.

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.

Two balls of handspun yarn are next to two knitted swatches on a wooden table.
I liked the yarn on the bottom better than the yarn on top. It gave a better feeling fabric in the swatch with a more accurate knitting gauge, which is important for knitting a garment.

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.

The colorwork yoke of a sweater is shown with the knitting in progress and two silver needles poking out from the knitting. The balls of main color and contrast color yarn are placed inside the collar of the sweater.
The beginning of the colorwork in the yoke is the final test before I commit to finishing the full 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!

A staple of unspun fiber with two floss bobbins shown below. The bobbin on the left is wrapped with a handspun single, the bobbin on the right is wrapped with a handspun 2-ply yarn. All are placed on a wood table.
The left is the single and the right is the plied yarn that I used to check my spinning and plying for consistency. It is also a good documentation should I want to make a similar yarn in the future.

Yarn Chicken!

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
A completed sleeve is shown across the bottom of the picture. Above the sleeve is the partially knit body of the sweater, still on the needles, with a ball of handspun wool next to it.
I finished the sleeves before knitting the rest of the sweater body. Obviously, I had enough yarn to finish the whole sweater.

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!

Evie wearing the Arboreal sweater with a colorwork yoke in a peach and pink leaf pattern the body and sleeves worked in stockinette using brown, handspun wool. The background of the picture is a forest with autumn trees, a pond, and a wooden foot bridge.
I feel like an autumn Goddess in my handspun Arboreal sweater!

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!

13 thoughts on “My Handspun Arboreal Sweater is Finished!

  1. Darcy Wright

    This is soooooo beautiful. The colors are great on you!

    1. JillianEve

      Thank you so much!

  2. Joyce

    Gorgeous! Both you and the sweater! Great job!!!

    1. JillianEve

      Thank you so much Joyce!

  3. How I Avoid Running Out of Yarn by Using Math – Jillian Eve

    […] I got close to the end of the Arboreal sweater project that I knit entirely out of handspun yarn, I knew It would be a close call. Would I run out of […]

  4. Mihaela

    This is beautiful ? And the brown is perfect!

    1. JillianEve

      Thank you so much! ?

  5. Carol

    Gorgeous sweater!

    1. JillianEve

      Thank you!

  6. Jean Badeaux

    Evie this is incredibly beautiful! The spinning, knitting, and of course you in the finished sweater is so inspiring! Thank you for all you have taught me and continue to teach me. Much love fiber friend!

    1. JillianEve

      Thank you so much!

  7. Chris T

    This sweater is stunning

    1. JillianEve

      Thank you so much! I have pulled it out to wear again this season, but it is still too warm. I need some sweater weather!

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