Friday, April 5, 2013

Completing the Sweater Project

Posted by Andres

So, I know it has been a while since I blogged last, but after 9 or so months, I have finally finished my sweater project. Before I go into pictures of the sweater, I would like to recap on how I got to this point. Last summer, I made a trip out to Stockton, IL to help a wool farmer with her harvest; a great experience for which I was rewarded with 2 wool fleeces. I then washed the fleeces using the old ringer washer on the farm and then had to wait for them to dry before spinning it into yarn. In a second, I will go into the steps of how the wool was converted into yarn, but I would first like to thank a few people for their key roles in helping me accomplish this task. First, I would like to thank Todd, for giving me a lesson on how to spin on a spinning wheel and for letting me borrow his drum carder. Without his help, I would probably still be carding wool with brushes and getting frustrated with my spinning wheel. Second, I would like to thank my parents for my early birthday present, which was my spinning wheel, without which this project would not have been possible.

Anyway, converting wool into yarn… I have made a numbered picture reference to go along with the explanation.

  1. Take a chunk of raw wool. At this point, I would go through and try to pick out by hand as much of the larger debris in the wool as possible.
  2. Card the wool. Luckily, I had the use of a drum carder which could do a fair amount at one time. Otherwise, it would be done with carding brushes which is way more labor intensive, and you get far less carded wool from each brushing.
  3. Peel the carded wool off of the card drum.
  4. End result is a “sheet” of carded wool.
  5. I would then divide the sheet into roll lags (smaller more manageable strips of carded wool).
  6. Spin the wool. This part causes great frustration at first, but once you get the hang of it, it is actually very relaxing.
  7. Two full bobbins of single ply yarn. These are then spun together (in the opposite direction of the original spinning) to form a two-ply yarn, which is stronger, thicker and easier to knit with than single ply.
  8. The 2-ply yarn is then transferred to a knitty noddy (the blue pvc thing) that serves 2 purposes. It serves as a measuring device (one time around all 4 pegs is 2 yds.), and it puts the yarn into a skein. ** Between step 8 and 9 the skein is soaked in hot water to “set the twist” on the yarn and then allowed to dry which normally took a few days.
  9. The dry skein was then rolled into a center pull ball of yarn using a nostapinne (a tapered stick, I cut down a table leg).
  10. Finished center pull ball of yarn.
The carding and spinning process was by far the most time consuming part of making the sweater. All together, I spent about 2-3 hours a day for 5-6 months carding and spinning wool. Mind you, some days was more time, and some days was less time, and I took about 3 weeks off around the holidays to do some Christmas present projects. Either way, this portion of the project took me anywhere from 550 to 650 hours. Once the whole fleece was carded and spun together, I had almost a mile of yarn, 1,498 yards of yarn to be precise. Now, the pattern I had picked out for the sweater called for approx. 1,350 yards of yarn. Needless to say, I was little worried if I had enough yarn to complete the sweater. I did not let this deter me. I figured that there was only one way to find out...

So, I began to knit my sweater. This is the part I really enjoyed. All of my work up to that point was now coming together. I could finally see the sweater taking shape, and I really enjoy knitting. I found the pattern for the sweater on-line; it was a simple, sewn together, shawl collar with some decorative cabling down the center front and along sleeve seams. I began work on the back panel, and I used the largest ball of yarn, from which I was hoping to gauge if I would have enough yarn. It wasn’t until I had one sleeve and the collar left to knit when I was like, “Okay, I think I might just have enough.” It was a relief when I finished the collar and had approx. 40 yards to spare. It took me 5 weeks and approx. 200 hours to knit the sweater which is actually about what I expected it would take me. Then, after the last stitch was knit and the pieces sewn together, it was time to block it. This is a simple process in which you pin out the piece on a foam board into the ideal shape and size and steam it to “set the stitches.” Once it is dry, it can be unpinned and worn.

Lucky for me I finished the sweater a few weeks ago before the weather started warming up so I have had many opportunities to wear it out and show it off. The sweater itself feels and is quite heavy (3lbs, 2oz). It has a thick hand to it and is a bit stiff; but it is a WARM sweater, and the stiffness should wear in as the sweater is worn more. I am really proud of my sweater and really enjoyed making it; however, I am glad it is finally done. This blog post, for me, closes the book on the sweater project. So, with over 750 hours over a 9-month period, 1400+ yards of yarn and endless determination, I can now mark it off of my list, enjoy my creation and move onto the next project.