Have you ever put something in the washing machine that wasn't supposed to go there? My list stretches back decades, and every incident was life-altering in its own way. There was a pair of Mom's dry-clean-only linen shorts that turned an entire load of laundry hot pink and led to everyone in the house doing their own darned laundry from that point on. There were too many tubes of lip balm to count, especially in high school. There was a cell phone and an iPod (you'd think I'd learn). And then there was this sweater.
Waaaaay back in 2016, I finished this sweater - made from some of my early handspun yarn. The sweater is far from perfect, but it's warm, it's mine, and it has POCKETS. Plus, it's a shade of beige that goes with just about everything in my closet, making it an essential piece throughout fall and winter.
Unfortunately, just before the turn of 2019, my husband put it in the washing machine (by accident). I've talked about this fiasco a bit in my newsletter and on Instagram. The point is that it shrank some, mostly lengthwise, making it look silly when I wore it. It was felted, but was it felted beyond saving?
What is wool felt?
Felt, quite simply, is a non-woven fabric that is made of matted fibers. It can be made of just about any material.
Wool felts because it has microscopic scales on the surface of each fiber. When the fibers are subjected to a mixture of moisture, heat, and agitation, the scales lock together like Velcro. Unless the wool has been through a superwashing process that removes or smooths down the scales, wool will always be at risk for shrinkage due to felting.
As heat, moisture, and agitation are applied to wool those scales lock together and the fabric can shrink. A number of factors combine to determine how much the wool can shrink, including:
Usually, when working with non-woven wool felt, the felting process has been carried out to the maximum extent possible in order to create a strong and durable fabric. This process cannot be reversed once it's carried out to the full extent.
Felting can also occur when spinners dye fiber prior to spinning it into yarn. Usually this happens because there's extra heat and agitation in the dye process (especially if the water boils!). For most fibers in this situation, the wool is only slightly felted, and it may be possible to mitigate the effects of felting.
What is Fulling?
When wool has been made into a woven, knitted, or crocheted fabric, the process is called fulling. The same things are happening with the scales of the wool, but because we're dealing with something that's already fabric instead of loose fiber, it technically gets a different name.*
As heat, moisture, and agitation are applied to wool fabric those scales lock together and the fabric will start to shrink. As with wool felt, sheep breed and how much heat, moisture, and agitation are applied will determine how much the fabric shrinks. With fabric, though, another factor comes into play - how tightly the fabric was knitted, crocheted, or woven. A loose and open fabric has more room for the fibers to move around, meaning more agitation is possible, and therefore more shrinkage is possible. A tight, dense fabric, on the other hand, doesn't have much space for the individual fibers to move, making shrinkage less likely (but still possible).
Generally, wool that has been felted or fulled can shrink by as much as 30%, which is a lot. There are plenty of patterns on Ravelry where you'd intentionally full your knitting - think bags and slippers. But most of the time, fulling is something we want to avoid. And when it does happen, it can feel a little disastrous. (Like my cozy sweater that accidentally became a crop-top.)
So, Can You Un-Shrink It?
Depending on how much the wool shrank during the felting or fulling process, it may be possible to pull the fibers apart from each other. If the fibers are only a little bit felted or fulled, the more likely this will be an option. However, if it's felted/fulled "all the way" or even a good percentage, you're never going to get your wool back into its original state.
When pulling fulled fibers apart, it's best to be gentle - those scales have locked together, and using lots of force can result in fiber or yarn breakage.
For my handspun sweater, it was only slightly fulled. In the first image, before fulling, you can see very crisp stitch definition. In the second image, after fulling, you can see that it's definitely fuzzier (partly because of a couple of years of wear, and partly because of the fulling). But you can still see the stitches fairly well - it hasn't completely morphed into a beige blob!
Following some suggestions of helpful instagrammers and the internet, I soaked the sweater in a bath of warm water and about 1/3 of a bottle of Unicorn Fibre Rinse. Some people use hair conditioner, but I had the Fibre Rinse on hand and wanted to see how it would perform in this situation. I rolled my damp sweater in a towel, the laid it out on a blocking mat, gently stretching the body out to try to give it some extra length.
Then came the hard part - walking away to let it dry for a couple of days. In the end, my sweater wasn't quite as long as I'd want it to be, but it's no longer a "crop top cardi" and it's wearable again.
This process works to some extent because wool fibers are more elastic when they are wet. I'm not sure how much the Fibre Rinse helped, but since it's formulated for use on wool, it certainly didn't hurt. And, since it also acts as a fiber softener, my sweater is a little bit softer for the experience!
Note that this fix will only work if the fiber isn't felted/fulled all the way, and even though it's possible to stretch the fabric back out, your garment will probably never be exactly as it was when it was new.
As for my husband? All is forgiven, but not forgotten. ;)
Ravelry project page here.
*You'll often see this process referred to as felting anyways...I'm guilty of it too!
When Kate Davies first published the Miss Rachel's Yoke a couple of years ago, I knew I had to make it. I quickly bought the kit, intending to cast on right away.
Of course, life intervened, as it does, and by the time I was ready to knit there were a few roadblocks in my way:
But mostly, I was convinced I didn't have enough yarn. (Side note - I've decided always buy/spin more yarn/fiber than I think I need from here on out. I always end up picking the projects that require tons of yardage...)
Earlier this month, we had a snowy day that had followed a very gray week. It was one of those weekends where I can't think of a reason to leave the house, and I was downright grumpy. My husband, in an attempt to cheer me up, suggested a trip to the movie theater. The only problem was, I didn't have anything to knit - at least, nothing I could knit in the dark.
When I first learned to knit, I taught myself to knit without looking so that I could knit on the dark schoolbus, in dark cars riding home from dance lessons, and in the movie theater. Now, my "movie theater knitting" is always very basic. I can knit and purl in the same row if it's not a fancy pattern, but anything that might require a chart is out of the question. Usually I keep a sock on the needles for just such an occasion, but the socks I had going were too close to being done to entertain me for a whole two hours.
I dove into the stash to see what my options were, and the Miss Rachel kit jumped out at me. I figured that even if I didn't have enough yarn, at least I'd have something to knit in the movie theater. And though I'd originally meant to make it a cardigan, I've realized that I wear pullovers a bit more often than I did when I first bought the kit, so a pullover it was.
One benefit of waiting so long to cast on is that plenty of other Ravelers have had the chance to knit and write about this pattern, so I could let go of some of my anxiety about how it would turn out. Some standouts are:
Uncrossed has incorporated a great short-row detail into the yoke.
Ltnknitter, Agameda, and Lizoid have an interesting trick for hiding the jog.
Crochet-Julie made the darker version, and managed to do her modeled shots in front of a photograph of the shawl that inspired the design.
My project page is still in progress, but you can find it here.
Welcome to August! Are you ready for fall yet? I know I am. We spent (at least) two or three weeks in the hottest days of July with a non-functioning swamp cooler.* Now that it's fixed, I have the air blasting just so I can put on a long-sleeve shirt every now and then and dream of fall.
In July, I managed to finish a machine-knit sweater. I tried it on to make sure it fit, but took absolutely zero photos of it. And I made a SAORI-style table runner...and tons of yarn for Tour de Fleece. But the biggest thing is what you see above! I am now selling rug hooking wool and other supplies over on FiberCrafty!
There are lots of other odds and ends, but I think that's most of it! What are you working on this month?
*For all y'all who live somewhere humid, a swamp cooler is an air conditioner that intentionally adds humidity to your air. If you live in a dry climate like I do, it actually works pretty well to cool you off. (And if you grew up in a swampy place like I did, it's pretty alien to you to consider a swamp cooler to be a good thing.)
Well, this sweater has been on my "want to knit" list for quite a while, and it wasn't even really on my radar for February projects. And here it is, all finished and wearable and cozy. So much for planning!
I was getting ready to meet up with my mom in Denver, and feeling a little out of sorts about my wardrobe options, when I came down with what I lovingly call "Easter Sunday Syndrome." My mom, an incredible sewist, always had to have a new dress to wear for Easter, Christmas, and other big events. And, like any good procrastinator, she often started the project a little late, and would be putting the finishing touches on her new garment as the rest of us were ready to walk out the door.
I always thought it a little silly when I was a kid- why not wear a perfectly good outfit you already have instead of stressing out so much? Of course, such a thought is a wicked invitation for karma to turn the tables on me.
The Sunday afternoon before my trip, I found myself between projects. Waiting on freshly dyed yarn to dry, without the time to dye more, and not wanting to do anything on my actual to-do list, I pulled out this yarn from my stash. I've had this sweater in my mind for ages, and figured it would be a good practice project for my knitting machine.
I started with Melissa Leapman's new book, 6,000+ Pullover Possibilities. I faithfully took my measurements, swatched, and figured out the pattern. Over the next few days, I made each piece of the sweater. A couple of days before my trip, I seamed the sweater. I was in good shape. All I would have to do was knit the edgings, and I'd have a brand new sweater to wear.
Then I tried it on.
It was huge. As I'd steamed the pattern pieces, I'd thought, am I really that big around? The answer, it turns out, is a resounding no. The sweater had completely left the realm of flattering positive ease, and was positively sacklike. And of course, that natural camel color didn't help.
The only thing to do was rip it out. I re-skeined the yarn, and steamed it on the swift. Then it was back to square one.
This time, I used my actual body measurements in combination with my gauge swatch, plus the measurements from an existing sweater. And, more than a little frustrated by the first book, I turned to Sally Melville's Knitting Pattern Essentials to fill in a few gaps. The second version ended up taking a whole couple of skeins less than the first, and looked much closer to what I expected when I finally laid them out on the blocking mats.
So instead of packing a finished sweater, I was packing freshly-blocked sweater pieces to take with me (after staying up late and waking up early in the race to the finish). At least I had eight hours on the train instead of driving. By the time I got off the train, I was almost done with the ribbing on one sleeve, and picked the sweater up every now and then over the next week.
I'd toyed with the idea of doing brioche or some fancy cables at the cowlneck, but as I got started on it, I was away from my library of stitch dictionaries, and ended up with plain old 1x1 ribbing. Which is just as well, since I've always thought of this sweater in my mind as a super-basic piece. Which is what I have now, just a little bit later than I'd originally planned!
Above is the original sweater I was trying to imitate - a cashmere sweater I bought on sale in college that was mysteriously sized as "one size fits all." It did, in fact, fit me, and I still wear it, though it's a lot tighter around my middle bits than it used to be.
For the camel version, I opted for waist shaping - a little wider at the hips than at the bust, since that's how I'm shaped - and for the back neck to come up a little higher. I'd intended for the camel version to be longer on me than the original, and so I was a bit surprised when I laid one on top of the other. The camel version is actually an inch shorter! The armholes are a bit deeper, and I suspect that I feel like the pink cashmere sweater is too short because it's getting stretched out around my tummy.
This camel sweater is really all about the yarn, and what yarn it is! I used 6 skeins of "Clever Camel," a 100% baby camel yarn. I originally bought it in April of 2016, spurred on by Karen Templer's Channel Cardigan and the promise of 10% off. I bought 10 skeins, thinking the Channel Cardigan or something like it would be luscious, but I'd just finished spinning the yarn for a Corriedale cardigan, and the colors were just too close. I knew I didn't need (or particularly want) two very similarly colored cardigans, so I came up with the idea for a knockoff of my beloved pink cashmere cowlneck tee.
I dutifully made a couple of different swatches, and was amazed by how versatile this yarn is. It looked great at several different gauges, and all were still lusciously soft and pliable. Plus, I carried one of the swatches around with me for several days, subjecting it to all kinds of abrasion, and it wore like a champ. Just the slightest halo and no pills. Part of this magic is because the yarn is composed of 6 plies, which any spinner will tell you helps to reduce pilling.
Of course, the journey from swatch to sweater is filled with many twists and turns, and my initial attempts at this sweater were less than exciting. So really the yarn has been sitting in my stash waiting to become something for at least a year and a half now.
When the thought occurred to me that it would make great practice for the knitting machine, I felt a little sacrilegious. I spent all that money on this soft and smooshy yarn - shouldn't I spend lots of time knitting with it by hand, feeling that sweet baby camel hair slip through my fingers? In the end, I decided it was worse for the yarn to keep sitting in the stash, and that I'd get plenty of time enjoying the yarn when it was made up into a sweater that I could actually wear.
Ironically, the 6 plies that make this yarn fabulous for its anti-pilling properties made it a little bit of a challenge to knit on the knitting machine. There are a couple of snags where stitches split that I need to go back and repair. But overall, I'm thrilled to add this sweater to my wardrobe, and I'm looking forward to more adventures with my knitting machine.
All of a sudden, it's windy here. I guess March is truly coming in like a lion here. And February just whooshed by too, with glorious springlike weather that was equal parts scary (climate change is real!) and wonderful to play in.
Somehow, I managed to not be in this space at all, but that didn't mean there wasn't anything happening on my needles or on my loom. Whoops.
The most fun of all was the reprise of the Bang Out a Sweater knitalong - this time with worsted weight wool and rows of colorwork that had three colors at a time AND purls. Craziness.
Besides changing the color palette of the sweater, I more or less knit the pattern exactly as written - a rarity for me, since I see patterns more as, um, suggestions.
The changes I did make are what makes handknits so wonderful, because they're customized to one's own body and fit preferences. I knit a size smaller than I "should" have based on the pattern recommendations. The pattern was designed to have tons and tons of positive ease, and I figured I could do with a slouchy sweater but not so much a tent-blanket-thing. After blocking, I have a comfortable level of positive ease, but not too much, making me one happy camper. And, as I usually do, I shortened the body and the sleeves just a tad. And, for an extra touch of luxury, all edges are done in tubular cast-on/bind-off. Because it's pretty.
Can you spot the difference in these sleeves? On the left is the colorwork pattern as I originally envisioned it, but as I was knitting, I felt like the colors on the bottom were getting mired down. So on the second sleeve, I played with a different color combination, moving the darker colors to the center of the motif. Then I spent a day or two staring at them, deciding which one I liked better. All that was left to do was unravel the one I didn't like, and proceed with the sleeves.
The result is a sweater that some people on Instagram have called dark and moody, but I just think it's cozy and comfortable and I hope the March winds keep the weather cool enough so I can wear it all the time.
A side effect of knitting a size smaller than I'd planned is all the leftover yarn. Besides almost full skeins of each of the colors used in the motifs, I had two whole skeins of the dark brown. I used it to play with weft-faced weaving, naturally jumping into the deep end with flamepoint. I did go a bit cross-eyed trying to figure it out, with four different shuttles in play at a time, but I'm loving the effect. Perhaps a purse to go with my cozy sweater?
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