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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.

A Trio of Shepherding Hats

A few weeks ago I shared a knitting pattern for what I like to call my shepherding hat. It’s a basic beanie shape, knitted using my handspun dk weight yarn and designed to keep your head and ears cosy when busy shepherding. You can find the pattern here Shepherding Hat Knitting Pattern

I’ve been playing around with the pattern a bit and designed a hat that you can add colourwork or stripes to easily. Basically it has less ribbing and I’ve siplified the design so that there aren’t any decreases to knit.

Here’s a picture of the Shepherding hats that I’ve knitted. I’ve used the natural dark and white Jacob yarn as well as the blended Jacob.

The hat pattern is a single size that should fit most adults. Casting on 88 stitches gives you a hat that has a 56cm circumference. If you want to change the size increase or decrease the number of cast on stitches. Eight stitches is approximately 5cm so reducing the number of stitches to 80 will make your hat circumference about 51cm. You will need to make sure the number of cast on stitches is divisible by 8 for the crown shaping to work.

You can keep your hat plain and simple or if you’re feeling more adventurous  incorporate your own  stranded colourwork or stripe pattern.

The Hooters Hall Shepherding Hat Pattern 2

What you need

  • 3.5 mm 40cm circular needles
  • 4mm 40cm circular needles
  • 4 mm double pointed needles
  • 150g of Hooters Hall dk handspun yarn (if you want to knit stripes or colourwork you will need varying amounts of the colours depending on what colourwork or striped design you choose)
  • Tapestry needle
  • Stitch marker

This pattern is one size for adults hat circumference 56cm. You need to be able to knit in the round and do knit and purl stitches

K = knit

P= Purl

K1P1 = Knit one Purl one ribbing

 

The pattern

Cast on 88 sts using 3.5mm 40cm circular needle

K1 P1 and join in the round placing a stitch marker at the start of the round.Continue K1P1 ribbing for 4 more rounds (5 rounds in total.) If you want to make the ribbing longer you can. You can also choose to do a Knit 2 Purl 2 ribbing as an alternative.

Change to 4mm needles and Knit all stitches. Continue knitting until the hat measures 13cm from the brim or whatever height you prefer. You can knit all in one colour or change the colour of yarn and knit stripes.

You can also knit a stranded colourwork pattern just choose a pattern that will fit into 88 stitches. (work out how many stitches a single pattern repeat covers and divide 88 by this number if the result is a whole number then the pattern will fit)

Crown decrease (decrease 8 sts every other round) switch to 4mm double pointed needles when necessary, for me this is usually at round 7.

If you have changed the size of your hat by increasing or decreasing the number of stitches you will need to adjust which round you start on for the crown shaping.

For example if you reduced the number of cast on stitches to 80 you would start on round 3 below.

If you have increased the number of cast on stitches to e.g. 96 you would need to add 2 rounds round at the beginning. Firstly K10 K2tog repeat to end of round then a round of knit all stitches before starting at round 1 below.

Round 1. K9 K2tog repeat to end of round (80sts)

Round 2. Knit all stitches

Round 3.K8 K2tog repeat to end of round (72sts)

Round 4. Knit all stitches

Round 5. K7 K2tog repeat to end of round (64 sts)

Round 6. Knit all stitches

Round 7. K6 K2tog repeat to end of round (56 sts)

Round 8. Knit all stitches

Round 9. K5 K2tog repeat to end of round  (48 sts)

Round 10. Knit all stitches

Round 11. K4 k2tog repeat to end of round (40 sts)

Round 12. Knit all stitches

Round 13. K3 K2tog repeat to end of round (32 sts)

Round 14. Knit all stitches

Round 15. K2 k2tog repeat to end of round (24 sts)

Round 16. Knit all stitches

Round 17. K1 k2tog repeat to end of round (16 sts)

Round 18. Knit all stitches

Round 19. K2tog (8 sts)

Break yarn and using tapestry needle pull yarn through remaining stitches.

Weave in ends.

Block. Dunk your hat in warm water. Remove and roll up in a dry towel. Place over a balloon or head sized object and leave to dry.

Fibre Farming and a Shepherding Hat

If you follow Hooters Hall on Facebook or Instagram you will have seen some of my posts talking about transitioning to becoming a fibre farm. When we first started our smallholding journey we planned a mixed smallholding with a focus on raising rare breed pigs and growing herbs to flavour the sausages we would make in our own butchery. We did just that and our pork and sausages proved very popular.

With a need to keep on top of the grass growth in our paddocks we decided to get some sheep about a year or so into our smallholding life. We started with three Jacob ewes and soon added a ram and some more ewes. Now we have a gradually growing flock, bred here at Hooters Hall. Its not all about the wool of course we also have some Angora goats and have bred our Golden Guernsey goats with our Angora Billy to produce goats that shed their fleece. With fibre comes fibre crafts and over the past 5 years I’ve progressed from improving my knitting skills to spinning my own yarn and learning to weave. We’ve also developed our skills in shearing and small scale fibre processing so we can process all the fibre we produce at Hooters Hall.

It reached a point this year when we had to consider the direction we were heading in. With only six acres we have to plan how we can make best use of the land and as most smallholders discover the dream might be to work on your smallholding 24/7 but the reality is that most people have mortgages and that means earning a wage in non smallholding employment especially when you first start . So for a stress free life its important to find a balance between smallholding work and the day job.

For us the life balance is with fibre farming. That doesn’t mean we won’t ever keep pigs and make our own sausages again but it won’t be the main focus of our smallholding. We’ll continue to grow our own veg, herbs and natural dyes but our choices about how we use the land, the buildings we have and the equipment we invest in will be made with the goal of fibre farming rather than mixed smallholding.

So what does fibre farming mean ? There’s a long history of sheep farming in Britain but fibre farming is slightly different. We raise sheep and goats to produce fibre for fibre crafts rather than meat or for selling livestock on to other farmers. Some fibre farms focus on producing commercially popular fleeces and having their fibre spun into yarn at fibre mills.

At Hooters Hall we’re aiming for something slightly different. We want to produce fibre for handspinning, weaving and felting. Our goals aren’t just about fibre production but also fibre crafts. We want to process all our own fibre share our knowledge about small scale fibre processing, inspire people to learn about fibre crafts and develop their own skills in using fibre and creating for themselves.

In the medium to long term that might mean hosting fibre retreats here at Hooters Hall and maybe expanding our fibre processing with investment in mini mill equipment. Right now it means sharing our knowledge about fibre processing, fibre craft projects and selling the fibre from our Jacob sheep and Angora goats.

So with that in mind here’s my latest knitting project the Shepherding Hat. I wanted a simple beanie style hat to wear when I’m doing shepherding tasks. It needed to be a dense fabric to keep those winter winds out, a snug fit so it would stay put when I’m busy shepherding and a quick and easy knit made from my own handspun yarn.

The Hooters Hall Shepherding Hat

What you need

  • 3.5 mm 40cm circular needles
  • 3.5mm double pointed needles
  • 150g of Hooters Hall dk Weight handspun yarn
  • Tapestry needle
  • Stitch marker

This pattern is one size for adults. You need to be able to knit in the round, make knit and purl stitches and do a knit 2 together decrease.

Abbreviations

K = knit

P= Purl

K1P1 = Knit one Purl one ribbing

K2tog= Knit two stitches together 

The pattern

Cast on 92 sts using 3.5mm 40cm circular needles

K1 P1 and join in the round placing a stitch marker at the start of the round.Continue K1P1 ribbing until your hat measures 11 cm or desired length. (If you make your hat longer you will use more yarn.)

Decrease round K21 K2tog repeat to end of round (88 sts)

Knit all stitches for one round

Crown decrease (decrease 8 sts every other round) switch to double pointed needles when necessary, for me this is usually at round 7.

Round 1.K8 K2tog repeat to end of round (72sts)

Round 2. Knit all stitches

Round 3. K7 K2tog repeat to end of round (64 sts)

Round 4. Knit all stitches

Round 5. K6 K2tog repeat to end of round (56 sts)

Round 6. Knit all stitches

Round 7. K5 K2tog repeat to end of round  (48 sts)

Round 8. Knit all stitches

Round 9. K4 k2tog repeat to end of round (40 sts)

Round 10. Knit all stitches

Round 11. K3 K2tog repeat to end of round (32 sts)

Round 12. Knit all stitches

Round 13. K2 k2tog repeat to end of round (24 sts)

Round 14. Knit all stitches

Round 15. K1 k2tog repeat to end of round (16 sts)

Round 16. Knit all stitches

Round 17. K2tog (8 sts)

Break yarn and using tapestry needle pull yarn through remaining stitches.

Weave in ends.

Block. Dunk your hat in warm water. Remove and roll up in a dry towel. Place over a balloon or head sized object and leave to dry.

This picture sums up what our fibre farm will be about the sheep, the yarn and the craft

 

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