when old becomes new again

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i used to have this sweater that i wore ALL the time—that kind of pullover that you grab most often because it is the right weight and level of softness for almost every day use. i knit it for myself many years ago while living temporarily in nashville, with sock yarn that i purchased on vacation in ithaca, NY. all of my new york sweaters were far too heavy for the climate down south, but i needed something for chilly weather.

using measurements from a thin store-bought sweater that fit pretty well and the data from some swatches i made, i did some calculations and cast on for a simple pullover with vertical textured panels to add a retro look (this was the early 90s; thrifting was big). what i remember about this sweater is that the yarn was rather limp and not as good quality as i would have liked; our choices weren’t as great back then, but its alpaca content gave me hope that it might be better. it felt like it took forever to knit, although nowadays i knit this sort of thing with thinner yarn all the time, not giving it a second thought (that said, it’s a real thrill to knit up a sweater in a few days with big fat yarn, haha!).

the other thing i remember about this sweater is that i finally learned to seam properly while finishing it. i was taking a course about teaching techniques and discovered the mattress stitch, something i had not learned from my grandma, who never made sweaters.

while taking this course and finishing this sweater, another momentous event occurred—i met my dear friend heather, another lifelong knitter and avid reader; haha, in my mind she will be forever linked to seaming. neither of us had made friends easily in nashville, nor knew anyone else who knit, so we practically fell into each other’s arms, haha. we became fast friends and from then on, met at least once a week to knit and watch a good movie or talk about books.

mind you, this all happened over twenty years ago—isn’t it amazing that the memories we attach to our knitting projects and finished pieces can be so indelible?

as you can see in the above photo, i wore that sweater so often that the fabric began to thin and wear completely away.

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holes opened up in places that were not even stressed by wear—and not moth damage either; the fibers just disappeared (this is a phenomenon i have noticed in other garments knit from superwash yarn, so i suspect that the stress of that process on the fiber has something to do with it).

i began to look around for  yarn to knit a copy; fortunately, i had taken copious notes when i knit the original and had the handwritten pattern filed with others from that period.

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messy, but useful nonetheless. the bigger concern was finding the right yarn, one that would create a fabric of similar weight and density, but one i would enjoy knitting with as well. superwash yarns have the right softness and drape, but i had become wary about using them for garments, as they did not seem to hold their shape or wear awfully well. and many other fingering yarns i liked had too much twist, making them heavier than i desired.

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i used some handspun alpaca yarn to knit a similar garment, but it turned out heavy also. it’s a sweater that i wear a lot and and some day soon i will write a pattern for it, too—but it’s not like the original.

i put this project aside to work other ideas while i mulled over the yarn situation. periodically i would think of it, wishing i had just that weight of sweater to wear. when i got the call for submissions for  wool people 7, i hemmed and hawed about what to submit. i know their aesthetic is very simple, but i have a deep-running insecurity that somehow, simple isn’t good enough or designerly enough. crazy, i know, but  there are just enough critics out there to perpetuate this kind of self doubt. i let the submission deadline pass, thinking i just didn’t have anything to contribute.

about two weeks later, i got a note from jared, asking if i had anything i was mulling over that might be right for WP7. as it happened, after letting the deadline slip by, i struck on the idea of doing my pullover in brooklyn tweed LOFT—i had some on hand and finally realized that it might be just the right yarn for my sweater; in fact a bit better than the original yarn because it had more body without weight. i was kicking myself that i hadn’t thought of it earlier, in time to submit as a possible WP project.

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i knit up some swatches in LOFT left over from my wheaten design, to be sure it would work and outlined the idea for him. he accepted it and we were on our way; i gave him vanessa’s contact information so they could send yarn for her test knit.

of course i would knit a prototype too, but didn’t want to ask for more yarn for myself.

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i got thinking about it and realized that one of my favorite samples and a perpetual favorite with customers in our popup shops, is our wheaten wrap—another BT favorite which is knit in stone soup fingering yarn, an almost perfect substitute for the BT LOFT.

we also had a test batch of shetland fingering yarn that i swatched

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which was lovely, but so far, we have not been able to get enough of the fiber to go into production (grr). just about that time, we got our second round of stone soup colors from the mill and it was decided—i would knit the long cardigan in stone soup slate while vanessa knit the official WP7 sample in brooklyn tweed LOFT colorway, faded quilt.

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well of course she was done far ahead of me—i was working in fits and starts on mine, wedging it in between other projects, deadlines, and travel. finally, as the release date neared, i realized i had better get a move on and surprisingly, the knitting fairly zoomed along, once i made it a priority. i knit both fronts during my trip to san diego at the end of january; one on the plane out there and one on the plane back.

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then i had to put it aside to work on some club projects. i began to show teasers in march, when i was putting the final rows on that second front. i cast on the back and knit the whole thing on my trip to the west coast for kim’s wedding. i knit half a sleeve while kade and i watched movies on a blustery morning of tropical downpours.

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i figured it wouldn’t hurt to show you my stack of pieces because they were unrecognizable as a garment. once i was home and had caught up, i worked both sleeves in the space of a week and the knitting was complete.

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by  monday i was blocking and knitting on the button and neck bands.

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things progress quickly from here if one can concentrate, so i hid in my study for a couple of days and told everyone to leave me alone. i listened to audiobooks while i stitched, stopping only to steam press the seams in between each step.

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ok, well, maybe i took a minute or two to admire the results—can you blame me?

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more pressing after the sleeve caps got stitched to the armscyes—you can begin to see what lovely drape this fabric has. sarah really likes the tweedy effect in the darker shades; every time i look at it i hear her say, i LUV those speckles.

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this one was taken just before i stitched the underarm and side seams; it almost looks like a sweater now!

which meant that it was time to look at buttons.

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we had too many choices and all on hand in the quantities i needed—time to call in the reinforcements. haha, except sarah is as indecisive as i am. we finally eliminated the second ones from the right.

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i loved these vintage glass ones from germany—way cool and they pulled out brown tones form the fabric that you wouldn’t otherwise see, necessarily.

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then there were these awesome dark shell buttons, which i loved not only for their amazing colorations, but because they are so shiny; they make a nice feature against the matte tweed fabric.

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and these horn ones are spectacular, too—in fact, i was convinced that these were the ones.

we decided to think about it while i finished the sweater gave it a nice hot, soapy bath. i basted the button bands closed to help the garment keep its shape throughout.

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i soaked it once in very hot sudsy water with my favorite wool soap. after letting the oils and dust lift off and the water became cool, i squeezed it out, rinsed it, and then put it in the hand wash cycle with some other woolens for a second wash and a good spinout.

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afterward, i reshaped it and laid it flat to dry; the heat was on that night so i made sure to flip and reshape it every hour or so and it dried in a few hours.

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i threw it on in the morning over my sweats; i was so anxious to see how it fit and if it felt like my old sweater, the way i hoped. it DID and the fabric looked great, so smooth! sarah snapped a few photos which don’t really do it justice, but we were excited.

ok, now to return to the question of the buttons . . .

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by his time we had eliminated the glass buttons because we thought they might be too heavy. i laid out the horn buttons on the sweater so we could get a good look

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and then did the same for the shell buttons.

wow, it was a tough choice, but we both decided the shell buttons won out—they provided a nice contrast in both color and lustre and after doing a bit of research, we found that we can supply these as an add-on for the sweater kit for a fairly small additional cost.

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yes, i love them; i think we made the right choice. and i love the cardigan; it is everything i had hoped it would be. david managed to get some nice photos of me wearing my ivar while the weather was so fine yesterday; we’ll show you those when our pattern is all set for release (any moment now).

you can purchase ivar now on ravelry from brooklyn tweed OR wait just a bit for our own version, which should be ready in the next day or so.

the knitspot version will have options for short and long lengths, as well as pullover and cardigan styles, with sizing for both men and women from XS to 6X (due to our agreement with brooklyn tweed, this version will not be available in our ravelry patten shop). david has put together a kit as well; the pattern will be free with it so if you think this yarn is for you, it’s a nice bonus.

ok, now; i’m off to wait to hear form our proofreader ronni; as soon as she gives me the green light, i’ll get the pattern up so we can all start knitting!

14 Responses to “when old becomes new again”

  1. autumnsky says:

    Ooo, I think I’d really like this in a pullover! I’ll be on the lookout for the kits. Thanks for another very wearable design. I love textured stitches in sweaters. And this has just the right amount so it doesn’t end up bulkier. LOVE!
    Donna

  2. alhbooks says:

    Lovely! Just the sweater I’ve been coveting. I’m waiting eagerly for the kit to become available, although I suspect I may also knit this sweater in the Brooklyn Tweed for a more colorful cardigan as well.

  3. Katharine says:

    Love it!

  4. Oh, I’ve been shying away from fine gauge sweaters due to the long knitting time but I do love to wear them! I’ll be eager to see this as a pullover design. Very tempting.

  5. Kat Jorgensen says:

    You had me at KIT Anne. Lol. I’m easy. And this sweater is spectacular.

    Love reading the story behind this design too.

    Must make this one. Wips be darned. I’m all in.

  6. Barb says:

    I knew immediately this was a sweater for me. It’s simply gorgeous Anne! The Shetland would of been wonderful….but I love stone soup. Can’t wait to start it. You just keep on amazing me.

  7. Hattie says:

    Again, love it! And the inspiration and thought as well. Often no one sees all of this background from designers and I think it’s one of the best parts!

  8. Jo Morgan says:

    This is a great looking sweater–the only problem with it would be relinquishing it occasionally for a wooly bath!

  9. josiekitten says:

    I love the journey this sweater has taken from your original design to the Stone Soup version. It is gorgeous! You do realise that you gave just thrown another knitspot sweater into the mix for me?! Need. More. Time!

  10. Ruth Ann says:

    Oh Anne, I love this cardigan. I’m always drawn to longer ones, and the pattern is so pretty. Even though I live in Michigan I prefer lightweight sweaters. I loved hearing the story behind your design.

  11. Elizabeth in VT says:

    For quite a few years I’ve had the wool yarn that I saved when I unraveled an old, charming, hand-knit thrift shop find, that I’d used as my go-to-at-home sweater. (You used to call them ‘bathroom’ sweaters.) I still love that yarn but have not found a sweater that had that “easy” look and was fine-gauge enough to give that yarn a second life. THIS IS IT. I hope I have enough yardage to make a short version. Can’t wait to see the pattern. I’ll have to save my Loft purchase for another one of your fine designs.

  12. Mo says:

    Love this sweater! And yay Ithaca! :)

  13. nancy schwartz sternoff says:

    you look completely adorable! might even need to knit one for myself.

  14. Bobbie in AK says:

    I am way behind in reading your blog posts, As I said over on Ravelry. I love this sweater! It is perfect in every way!