Hooters Hall

Posts Tagged ‘wool’

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.

Small Scale Wool Processing

We’ve had our flock of Jacob sheep at Hooters Hall for a few years now and over that time I’ve learnt to spin, knit and weave with wool. Being able to make things using fibre from my own flock is wonderful but getting from raw fleece to a yarn you can use to knit a scarf with can be a bit of a challenge. Of course you can simply send your fleeces off to a mill and let them do all the hard work. You do have to pay for that hard work though and it obviously isn’t the same as making a yarn that you’ve completely processed by hand.
Hand processing your wool isn’t quick but I think I’ve developed a system that’s not too labour or resource intensive once you’ve got the initial set up costs out the way. So here is the Hooters Hall guide to hand processing your wool.

I hand shear my sheep doing a couple each weekend and I process my wool in a similar way doing batches regularly rather than trying to do it all at once. We are lucky to have several outbuildings so I store my raw fleeces in cardboard boxes until I’m ready to process them. Here’s a picture.

To wash your raw fleece you will need cold and hot water, a suitable detergent, lingerie laundry bags, containers big enough to allow the water to move around the wool fibres.
The detergent I use is Unicorn Power scour . I’ve tried a few different detergents and in my opinion the Unicorn Power Scour is the most effective particularly at low temperatures. The lingerie laundry bags makes moving your wet wool around a lot easier and you can buy them on Ebay and Amazon.

I have two sinks in my wool processing room but I use lidded buckets to wash the wool in. Moving smaller quantities of wet wool around is a lot easier than a whole fleece or more than one fleece. The buckets I use are the ones my horse treats come in but you can use any container that suits you. The important thing about choice of container is that it needs to be big enough for the water to be able to move around the fibres.
Here’s a picture of the containers I use

And here’s a picture of some fleeces in their net bags ready for washing

Once you have all your equipment ready it’s time to get washing. If you can try and do your wool washing near a water source. I have mains water in my wool processing room and two sinks one of which is a belfast sink at floor level. Here’s a picture of the set up. As you can see I’ve also got a hose pipe on the tap so I can fill my buckets at floor level rather than having to raise them to the level of the tap.
Before you start washing your wool make sure you have removed all the obviously mucky bits. (generally referred to as skirting the fleece)

Wool Washing Method

Fill all your containers with cold water, place your net bags filled with wool in and leave overnight or up to 24 hours. This is why it’s important that the containers are big enough to let the water move around the wool. The water will be doing the hard work of removing the dirt for you. The following morning remove the wool from the bucket. The water will look something like this. Remove the wool and dispose of the dirty water. You will need to spin your wool to remove as much water as possible. More about spinning options below. 20161022_111246-1

Refill your container with warm water. I don’t have a hot water supply in my wool processing room but I do have electricity so I bought a catering hot water heater, you can find them on amazon. Here’s a picture

Follow the directions on your detergent for how much to add then put your wool, still in the net bag, in the container with the warm water and detergent. Don’t agitate the wool at all because this risks causing it to felt. With Unicorn power scour I leave my wool soaking in the detergent and warm water for about 40 minutes. You do want to avoid the water becoming cold because this can lead to the lanolin sticking to the fleece again.

Remove your wool from the water. You now need to drain the water from the wool. You could simply leave it to drain but this will take a long time and you really want to get as much water as possible out of the fibre because this will also remove dirt particles. To achieve this you need to spin your wool. The old fashioned way to do this is to put it in a bag, tie it to a stick and swing it round and round but I thought that was a bit labour intensive.

I used to use the spin function on my washing machine but the fleece always got lightly felted, a bit of research online suggested this due to the way the spin function operates in front loading washing machines even when you are selecting spin only.

So, I invested in a stand alone spin dryer, the White Knight, which you can buy at Amazon and many other online shops. Here’s a picture, it’s quite compact, you need to be able to plug it in and will need a container to collect the water that is spun off and comes out of the bottom, as you can see I use a rubber trug. It only takes a minute or two to spin the wool almost touch dry and get rid of all that dirt.

After spinning your wool you need to rinse it. Fill the containers you used for washing with cold water again and put the wool (still in the net bags) back in. Leave them to soak for up to 24 hours.

It’s back to the spinner then to get all the remaining water and dirt out.

If you have a very dirty fleece or one with lots of lanolin you might need to repeat the washing and rinsing steps.

Finally leave your wool spread out to dry. I use a heated drying rack but you could just have a standard laundry rack or make a wire rack that lets the air circulate the wool. Here’s a picture of some wool drying on my rack

So now you have some beautiful, clean wool. What you do next depends on what you want to do with your fibre. I like to use mine for spinning yarn and weaving either as yarn or using unspun fibre for rya weaving or peg loom rugs.

For me the next step is to pick the wool. I have a wool picker, a fearsome looking bit of kit that uses a swinging motion and long nails to separate the fibres of your wool. Separating the fibres fluffs it all up and means any vegetation falls out. I bought my wool picker from www.fibrehut.co.uk but there are lots of plans available online if you’ve got the wood working skills to make your own. You can also pick through your wool by hand which obviously takes longer but is not an unpleasant task. Here’s a picture of my wool picker.
Once you’ve picked your wool, if you want to spin it you can spin the picked wool without further processing. This is called spinning from the cloud. Alternatively you can card your wool using either hand or a drum carder. You could also use a blending board and make rolags. Once your wool is carded you can also make hand pulled roving using a diz. This is basically pre drafting your fibre and can help you spin a more consistent yarn.