Following a recommendation from Linde I have been reading Elizabeth Zimmerman (of which more in a later post), and unsurprisingly for the Queen of Knitting, she swears by wool. I really like what she writes about the origins of knitting:
“Primitive societies herded sheep… for milk, meat, and skins. How resourceful to gather stray tufts of wool …and spin them into yarn. How resourceful to experiment with knots and loops on two sticks, and eventually to resolve the tangle into the prototype of some form of knitted fabric. Weaving took place at home, but knitting could accompany the shepherd, the sailor, the woman walking to the fields, anyone who at any time had idle hands”
Knitting Without Tears, 1971, p44
Most knitters I know love, even insist on, knitting with wool. I am not allergic (for whom Elizabeth’s “heart bleeds”) but I don’t really like wearing it close to my skin. I will happily make jackets, skirts and coats in pure wool, and I love the way you can shape wool when tailoring.
But I remembered that on my scary visit to Loop in Islington merino wool was recommended by the salesperson as it is not itchy. But when I felt it I found it not that nice. I didn’t, certainly at that stage, want to make a huge investment (much of their yarn is imported from the US and is very expensive) in money and time and then find myself reluctant to wear an itchy, scratchy jersey. So I went with the other fibres and shelved the idea of wool.
Over many years I have found that for softness next to the skin I prefer cotton, silk, linen, cashmere or alpaca. Having said that, when knitting you do need a fabric with life and springiness, don’t you? Previously I have found cotton yarn leaden. So, so far, I have been using Drops Peruvian baby alpaca with silk (very reasonable), Purl Alpaca (very nice, soft English alpaca, but more expensive) and cashmere (bought from Colourmart). Buying it “retail” can be ridiculous. But I decided the time had come to try wool.
Searching for a bargain on Colourmart I came across some wool sets. These are odd bits of very soft merino yarn at about £20 for 300 grams. The colours are delicious and the yarn feels very soft and silky – so I bought a few packs. Those who had assumed my selection of bit and pieces of yarn might be the left overs from a productive knitting life, now know my secret!
I buy the bits that cannot be sold as a matching set because the yardage is varied and the colours inconsistent lots. But as I love colour, and am happy to blend and mix, especially now I know you can combine yarns to make a thicker thread, I see this as an advantage While one can get a proper tweedy look with two contrasting yarns, I like the subtle effect of combining close but not identical shades. It gives a richness and interest, making the colours look more natural (like hair or fur) and less synthetic. While avoiding the variegated look (which I like alot less – not sure why!). In the picture below the three slightly different pinks look like beetroot when mixed together.
So here is my first woolen garment, taken in Esme’s flat. This top is a better fit than the first grey version as I created some shaping in the back, and I knitted it in the round, at least until the armhole. It is less boxy looking than the grey one, but otherwise I followed exactly the same pattern. You know how I like to repeat my successes (such as they are!). Only this time I jointed the shoulders with the “three needle bind off” or the Kitchener stitch (knitted not sewn). Thank you to Chris and to Mary F for suggesting this – good choice!
This has been soaked and washed in hot water and detergent. Compared to the cashmere there was very little colour loss, and much less “blooming”. Looking at the photograph I am wondering if the armhole is too deep. It is such a tricky thing – this knitting lark. You never quite know what you are going to get. I think it stretched a little more vertically than horizontally. Maybe I can try reshaping it next time it is washed.
The grey one has had a makeover too.
When I washed it in hot water with detergent after knitting and stitching I found the deeper grey took up a lot more water and relaxed more than the lighter shade. This made it unpleasantly flared at the bottom. I especially didn’t like the ribbing which had been knitted with a 10mm needle like the body of the jumper. I tried steaming it and it shrank a little, but not enough. So I unpicked the darker grey (which is especially soft and beautiful), and used my remaining light grey yarn to reknit the base, using 8mm needles for the ribbing to match the collar. In the third photo below I haven’t yet washed the reknitted jersey. You can see how the unwashed yarn is a completely different colour and texture.
This post provides some empirical evidence that you need to do what Stephanie says. Not only is it is essential to swatch the yarn you plan to use on the right needles (circular or straight depending on your pattern), you also have to soak it in water. As she says:
I usually soak my swatch for about twenty minutes and then pin it out to dry, but that is with wool as I don’t knit with cashmere (so don’t know much about how it behaves, although I think it has more limited spring/recovery).
I didn’t wash my swatch, although I did make one to make sure I had the right size of needles. But, from my experience, she is quite right. My cashmere, especially the darker grey, really spread out when soaked and became unattractively baggy. That is the poor recovery she mentions. Secondly creating mixed yarn from unknown batches can, even when they are the same composition and weight, really differ especially after washing. Thirdly it seems the wool stretched more in the length and the cashmere in the width – this seems surprising and I can’t explain it.
Anyway I am probably through with this style of jumper, although I have learnt so much about knitting by attempting this project. I would like to try something with sleeves, using the three strands of DK wool. Maybe a little jacket?
PS Karen Templer has published her Sloper pattern.