Monday, May 19, 2008

Beginner's Luck

The Cannonball sweater is finished -- woohoo! It's the first thing I've ever knit from my hand-spun yarn, and I can't believe it actually worked. But where once there were only bags of wool, there's a real live sweater now. A transformation right before my eyes, with nothing but a spinning wheel and some little pointed sticks. What a thrill!

I'm also amazed that, as a beginning spinner, I was able to (a) spin a sweater's quantity of usable yarn in a few months, and (b) end up with a wearable, attractive-looking garment. Once I got the general hang of spinning, the learning curve turned out to be not quite as steep as I expected.

Here are the particulars. I spun the yarn from five colors of natural, undyed Coopworth wool. It's about worsted weight -- on average, that is -- see "beginning spinner," above. I knit it with US size 7 needles for the main parts and US size 5 for the ribbing. It has set-in sleeves, a squarish neckline, and a bit of back-neck shaping.

Ideas for the sweater design came from here and there. I came up with the color-blocking as a way to use approximately equal amounts of multiple colors, inspired in part by the Michael Kors cabled turtleneck from the Fall 08 issue of Vogue Knitting (this one). I found the cable motif in Elsebeth Lavold's Viking Patterns for Knitting.

I'm so glad it's finished. I've been cheering for the unusually chilly spring weather we've been having here lately, hoping it would hold out until the Cannonball sweater was done. I wanted to be able to wear my new hand-spun sweater at least once before saying goodbye to woolly sweaters for the season. And now that Cannonball has made its debut, the warm spring weather is graciously invited to return, thank you very much.

I learned some good lessons making the Cannonball sweater. For instance, the finished sweater weighs only about one pound. Uh-oh. That means I've probably bought way too much wool for each of the -- hmmm, one, two, three... well, let's just say several -- sweaters-to-be that I've got stored up in my spinning fiber stockpile. Oh, my goodness. I know the weight required will probably vary with how lofty a yarn I spin, but I'd been thinking I needed two pounds for each one. That could add up to an awful lot of extra fiber. If I go to any more sheep and wool festivals this year, I'm going to have to try to look but not touch.

Another thing I learned is that the thickness of the yarn I spun varied, a lot more than I realized. Though all the colors of wool were from the same breed of sheep, each had its own characteristics that, especially given my inexperience, affected the result. The creamy white spun as fine as sportweight in spots, making the fabric a little open and airy compared to the rest of the sweater. The silver gray, by contrast, is a coarser fiber and made a beefier yarn, almost a heavy-worsted weight. And, given that the lightest and heaviest weight colors are adjacent, that made for a bit of suspense about whether this was going to work at all. Luckily, though, knitted fabric is pretty forgiving, one of its many lovable qualities.

The varying gauge did affect the sizing, in places. The medium grayish nut-brown color also spun into a lighter weight yarn, and so the arm just above the elbow has less ease than planned. It feels slightly snug there, but at least it didn't cause a visible case of Popeye-arms!

I'm so glad it came out reasonably well. As a new spinner, this really gives me the encouragement I need to keep at it, explore, and try things. Is it perfect? No, far from it. Am I happy with it? You bet I am!


Bess said...

WOW! Wow gal. What a triumph. And what a good looking sweater. I have spun for 5 years and have never spun a whole sweater's worth of yarn - but you inspire me - that will be one of my summer goals. I am just so impressed.

In fact - I'm inspired to go spin some today! Thank you for sharing the process and congratulations on having something so lovely to wear. Yeah for the chilly May.

Jinann said...

Wow! Your Cannonball Sweater looks fabulous!

Now I'm inspired to work up more of my handspun! I just finished enough (a few months ago) for the Samus Sweater. I definitely now need to add the Cannonball Sweater to my list!

Torhild Reidardatter said...

what a great sweater- good job.
Thanks for you vikingmama link on may 17th..

Knittin' Diva said...

Cathy! That sweater is positively beautiful. I especially love your choice of cable up the front! I'm sure you felt great pride when it was finished.