Hooters Hall

The 100% Handmade Sweater

The 100% Handmade Sweater

As I was tagging and reorganising my blog posts into fibre journals I realised I had never written about my 100% handmade sweater. I couldn’t quite believe that I hadn’t written a word about the project that had taken over all of my making time and headspace for a year or so and which was the pinnacle of my wool spinning and hand knitting achievements.

Then I remembered that I had made the sweater at a time when I was using social media a lot. The photo of the finished sweater was my most liked post on instagram with hundreds of likes and comments and instagram was where I had shared my journey with the 100% handmade sweater, but I deleted my instagram when I decided that social media was getting in the way of my mindful making and could no longer accept the harm it does to mental health and wellbeing, society and democracy.

Realising there was no longer a written or photographic record of the 100% handmade sweater made me stop and think “was I wrong to have abandoned social media ?” 

As I pondered the question I reflected on the fleeting nature of social media. Yes people had liked my post, and then they had scrolled on, seconds after they had seen it, liked it maybe even commented on it, the handmade sweater was old news. Did anyone really engage with me or what I had done and was I more focused on the likes and comments that I knew it would generate than the process of making ?

I thought about my current projects, being made without social media involvement. Honestly, I feel more connected to these current projects. I’m more focused on the making and not thinking about needing to take progress shots, explain what I’m doing or think about likes and comments. As a result I’m finding it easier to immerse myself in the making and achieve that elusive flow state and with it the benefits for my mental wellbeing. I think that extra headspace to focus on my making has helped me improve my skills as well. I’m taking my time and rediscovering joy in my making.

I do want to share my experience of making the 100% handmade sweater mainly in the hope that it will inspire you to try something similar or give you the confidence to take on that making project that seems too much, that challenge that you can’t imagine yourself completing but … Oh imagine if you did.

The 100% handmade sweater started with our Jacob sheep. We’ve always sheared the flock ourselves after going on a hand shearing course at Wimpole Farm near Cambridge soon after we bought our first three sheep. When I talk about hand shearing I mean without electric. We do now have an electric shearer but still use the hand shears for the difficult bits.

So, the sheep are raised by us and sheared by us on our smallholding. Then I wash the wool and card it into fluffy batts for spinning. Jacob sheep are white with black patches, some of the black wool is bleached by the sun to a dark brown with golden tips but when blended with the white wool you get a consistent grey wool.

I spin the wool batts on my spinning wheel. I’ve got an Ashford Country spinner that is designed for chunky yarn and production spinning so I’ll usually spin 500g-1Kg at a time. I decided to spin a chunky 2 ply yarn in natural blended grey.

I didn’t have a set pattern in mind but knew I wanted to knit a top down sweater in the round. I thought it would be easier to work out sizing, getting my husband (the lucky recipient of the sweater) to try it on as I went using the top down approach. This worked quite well. I did end up narrowing the sweater a bit too quickly which is a bit obvious when it is laid flat but it fitted nicely when on. Getting the sleeves the same length also proved more challenging than I expected but I persevered and got there in the end.

Was it worth it ? Yes definitely, the sense of achievement was wonderful, the experience of making a garment entirely from hand was both enjoyable and confidence building. When it comes to knitting I feel like I could make anything now if I have the time.

What were the benefits ? For my husband a sweater that is very warm and cosy, fits perfectly and also a great conversation topic, for me confidence in my spinning, knitwear design and knitting skills as well as the satisfaction of making it all myself. I already had my knitting needles and spinning wheel so I didn’t buy anything to make the sweater and the wool was grown by my sheep eating the grass on our smallholding. If we ever move from here that sweater will hold all the memories of learning to shepherd my flock and turn their wool into yarn that can be made into a garment.

What were the negatives ? The time it takes. Feeling like knitting but knowing you can’t do the next bit of knitting until you’ve washed, carded and spun the wool. It is very easy to put the project to one side in favour of something that gives you that completion dopamine buzz more quickly. Getting frustrated when I couldn’t get the design to work. I dealt with this by taking a break and doing something else for a bit.

The major negative though is that at first glance this is a very privileged project. I am well aware of the privilege of having the land to keep sheep on and being able to afford the time and tools to make the 100% handmade sweater but I think the principle of making a garment entirely by hand is something that can be achieved in a variety of ways you don’t have to own your own flock of sheep, you don’t have to have a spinning wheel to make yarn (drop spinning is much more affordable). 

Would I do it again ? Now, with the benefit of a bit and time since I finished, yes I think I would. Maybe one day I’ll make myself a matching 100% handmade sweater.

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