Sock monkey was an unexpected gift from some dear friends, and has since become a kind of knitting muse and helper. When I’m in the middle of a long or more slow-going knit, looking at sock monkey – made up entirely of stockinette – reminds me to keep at it. When I was on the homestretch of my very first blanket last year, I pulled sock monkey into the shot to celebrate the soon-to-be FO.
I wanted to make something for sock monkey to wear – one gift invites another, doesn’t it?
I specifically wanted to see how the process of modifying a top-down sweater might work with a real wearer (that this wearer has long, skinny arms and no neck made this a special sweater-knitting challenge).
Karrie Flynn’s Sock Monkey Sweater pattern was just the right foundation to try my hand at some simple pattern modification. The wonder of top-down construction is that your wearer really can try the sweater on for size mid-knit, making for a customized fit. I love this idea; truly customized garments are a rarity these days.
I pulled together some ends of Cascade 220 Heathers and some leftover Patons Classic wool worsted and put my mind to some tiny sweater design. Something in me thought “stripes,” so I ran with that idea for the body and sleeves.
Spit splicing! The mysterious, felting properties of wool are such that a little bit of heat, spit, and friction are enough to magically join two separate ends together. Joining old and new yarn in this way isn’t perfectly invisible, and works mainly only with wool and other animal fibers, but the method yields a more or less seamless strand.
Like so many other knitting things I’ve encountered, spit-splicing is pure magic. See?
Do you have a little crafting helper? Or a symbol that reminds you of the work you love to do?
I’m all for experiments and trying new things – especially when those experiments involve getting a sweater’s worth of yarn for $5.
After some Youtubing and hemming and hawing, I decided to try recycling yarn from a used sweater. I went to the local Goodwill, found what looked to be a woolen hand-knit sweater (just my luck) in a beautiful denim shade of blue, took it home for $4.99, and began the unraveling.
As you can see, it is not a bad sweater at all. It’s got some lovely cabling, and was made by an expert hand. But, my knitting dreams need yarn. And lots of it!
Here were my sweater-recycling steps: a conglomeration of different Youtube tutorials + my own spin…
1. Dissassemble the sweater: Cutting the seams
I learned (by trial and error) that the sweater needs first to be disassembled(!). I turned the sweater inside out, and found the seams. There were seams attaching the sleeves to the body, and seams attaching the front and back of the garment. What you see below are ‘good’ seams as far as sweater recycling is concerned (they are hand sewn rather than machine-serged). As a result, it was easy to find the thread that held the pieces together, and cut it. I recommend going slowly at first to minimize casualties (i.e. like cutting into the knitting itself!).
After less than a couple of hours, the sweater was disassembled: 2 body pieces and 2 sleeves.
This takes a while. The knitter who made this sweater was fond of securing the seams with huge knots. Impatient, I cut these knots away.
2. Finding a pulling point
I’m sure there’s a better way to go about this, but I simply looked for where I thought the ‘cast off’ edge was on each piece. Since this was a seamed sweater, I assumed it was knit bottom-up and looked for the cast off edge at the necklines and tops of sleeves. With a little sleuthing, I noticed an uneven dip in the collar of the front of the sweater (left, below) which signaled where the last stitch might have been made. I worked on it with a knitting needle + scissors, and was able to prise a thread loose. I was in business for some serious frogging! Woo hoo!
3. Frogging it!
This is the fun part – you pull and pull…and pull.
I had read that it’s a time-saver not to leave the yarn in a tangled heap when unraveling, so I was looking for something to wind my yarn around as I went. I noticed that our Ikea Marius stool had a good set of prongs on it, so I recruited the stool in keeping my unraveling job neat, for lack of proper tools. I suppose necessity is the mother of… winging it with whatever you’ve got!
Here is the front of the sweater being frogged: with the sweater in my lap, I’m spinning the stool on a table, winding the strand around the 4 legs. I admit, my first section of frogging wasn’t a perfect pull; there were quite a few joins that had to be made, places where the yarn broke because of my inexperienced seam-ripping (it pays to be precise!)
The front body of the sweater alone yielded a good amount of yarn. I tied the pieces together:
By the end of the whole process, I was left with some really copious blue hanks. Check out all that good stuff!
At this point, the yarn needs to be washed, and hung to dry. Adding a weight to the yarn as it dries will help to take out the curls (more on this process in a later post). Then, the yarn can be wound up, and will be ready for its knitting after-life.
There’s a world of beautiful fibre out there, waiting to be discovered and transformed. This experience is urging me not to dismiss Thrift stores and rummage sales as solid stash-sourcing options!
Have you ever recycled old knits? I’d love to hear about your adventures in yarn-cycling (and more!) in the comments.
Lately, my sweater-knitting reservations have been less about whether I am capable of knitting myself a sweater, but are more about scale – how to manage and complete all the parts of a big, human-sized project. It occurred to me that if I scaled down and knit a small human sized project, the task of knitting a big one, and learning about its make-up, could become more approachable. And, it did. Small is beautiful.
I decided to knit a baby sweater, My gift to you, by Taiga Hilliard Designs. I liked the pattern’s raglan construction, and I thought that the off-set buttoned front-closure was fun and unique. Also, the sweater is worked top-down – a method of sweater-knitting I’d eventually like to try on a sweater for myself.
I started this project knowing very little about top-down sweater construction. To consolidate what I learn, it helps me to document the process in pictures so as not to forget the next time ’round.
The top-down cardigan knit-cycle
1. This cardigan starts with the collar (on smaller needles) and the yoke, worked back and forth. A series of increases create raglan ‘seams’ across the shoulders, and an 8-stitch section creates a button-band at the front of the cardigan. I like to think of the garment as in its ‘caterpillar’ stage.
2. I think of the next step as similar to biological cell differentiation: stitches are differentiated into types. Some stitches will grow into functional sleeves, others will constitute the body of the sweater. Sleeve-stitches are held on waste yarn and asked to sit tight.
3. Working and casting off the body is the next stage. The project is now looking very much like a garment. I kept my double-pointed needles close at hand for the next step…
4. After completing the body, the sleeves are taken off the waste yarn and are worked individually on double-pointed needles. The sweater grows its wings, er, I mean, sleeves!
Without knowing what to expect, I watched the project transform in my hands into a full garment with shape, texture, depth and dimension. This was amazing. Getting to watch these kinds of slow transformations on the needles is why I come back to knitting again and again (I feel similarly about knitting cables).
A-blockin’ we will go…
I am reforming my habit of neglecting blocking. After weaving in the sweater’s ends and sewing up the gaps which had formed under the arm-holes, I knew it was time to buckle down, soak the knit, grab those pins and….let time work its magic. It was worth it. Blocking is like hitting the reset button; the wonky neckline and bottom-edge curling on the unblocked sweater (top) were smoothed out by being pinned into shape (below).
I decided to wait until after blocking to add the buttons. I spent quite a while in the button aisle of Jo-Ann Fabrics. A set of pink, pearlescent square buttons popped into view and spoke to me. A little embroidery floss helped secure them…
…and this wee garment was ready to go. A sweater is born!
To Learn: Next steps
On the next project, I’d like to learn a little more about how to get more polished button-holes, and also how to avoid the underarm-gaps which occur when switching from the body to the sleeves. Sewing up these gaps is a fine tactic, but I’m aware that there are ways to pick up stitches to avoid those holes. Even farther on the horizon would be to get my colour work skills in shape and try a top-down Icelandic lopapeysa pullover with a stranded yoke (swoon). I tell myself I’ll hazard a colour work project when I improve my skills, but of course, stranded knitting is as stranded knitting does. One doesn’t improve without the hands-on practice. All in due time, dear lopapeysa.
Until then, to tiny sweaters.
Do you remember your first sweater? What moved you to choose that pattern or design?