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How to Get the Perfect Neckline

April 8, 2021

Creating the perfect fit in a seamless sweater often depends heavily on the neckline. If you’re working top-down, for example, and the cast-on is too loose, the neckline can ‘spread’ and become too wide. If you’re working bottom-up and your bind-off is too tight, the sweater might not go over your head. You also might prefer a wider or narrower neckline than the pattern suggests. Below we offer some tips for creating that perfect neckline – and one method for fixing a neckline that isn’t to your liking.

Thinking ahead

Planning ahead is the best way to get your neckline juuuuust right. It’s always easier to get something right the first time, rather than having to go back and fix it, right? So start by considering your own knitting style… Is your ribbing usually a little looser? How firm is your cast-on? Think about how these things will affect your preferred neckline before embarking on your sweater. It will be a huge help, especially if you’re knitting top-down.

Adding structure

When knitting a sweater from the top-down, you’ll often cast on, work the ribbing, then the yoke, etc., so the whole sweater ‘hangs’ from that cast-on. If you have a firm cast-on and it’s a smaller sweater – or you’re using a lightweight yarn – this isn’t a big deal. But if you’re working on a larger sweater or using a heavier yarn, that’s a lot of weight to hang from your cast-on. If it’s not firm enough, the stitches can start to spread; this might result in a more open neckline than you want.

One answer to this problem is adding in a little extra structure. If you’re planning ahead, you can try casting on and skipping the ribbing. Work the yoke and the rest of the sweater first. At the very end, pick up and knit one stitch in each stitch cast-on and then work the ribbing. This way the sweater ‘hangs’ from the seam where you picked up the ribbing, rather than from the cast-on. If you use this method, try the sweater on. If you find the neckline is still too wide for your liking, you can rip back to the pick-up, work a decrease round, and then work your ribbing on fewer stitches.

Marshland sweater pattern
The Marshland sweater makes use of this technique. The yoke starts with a cast-on, and the neckline ribbing is worked last.

Hedging your bets

If you’re unsure whether the neckline will be to your liking in the end, you can always start with a provisional cast-on. (We have a provisional cast-on tutorial here and an alternative provisional cast-on method here!) Cast on using the provisional method of your choosing and skip the ribbing. Once your sweater is complete, you have some options:

  1. Unzip the provisional cast-on, work the ribbing, and then bind off.
  2. Unzip the provisional cast-on and bind-off, pick up and knit one stitch in each bound-off stitch, and then work the ribbing. (This adds a little structure.)
  3. Adjust the neckline stitches by working a decrease round before the ribbing.
  4. Adjust the bind-off round by using smaller or larger needles to get the right firmness.

Casting on provisionally and then working the neckline last is a bit fussier than just casting on and working the neckline first – but it it gives you the flexibility to adjust this critical area without too much trouble.

Love Note pattern
The Love Note sweater starts with a provisional cast-on, and this ethereal sweater hangs beautifully from a firm bind off.

Working bottom-up

One of the major benefits of a bottom-up sweater is easy neckline adjustments. It isn’t too much trouble to unpick the bind-off or the ribbing and try again. If you find your neckline is too loose for your liking, you can work an extra decrease round before the ribbing, or try a tighter bind-off. If you find your sweater needs a little extra structure, you can work a bind-off before the neckline ribbing, pick up and knit one stitch in each of the bound-off stitches, and then work your ribbing. It will hold firm and prevent the neckline from stretching out too much.

Antler pullover pattern
The Antler Pullover is knit from the bottom-up, so you have extra flexibility in getting the perfect number of stitches and structure at the neckline.

Making adjustments after the fact

So you’ve knit an amazing sweater, but the neckline just isn’t what you wanted it to be. If you’ve knit your sweater bottom-up, the fix is easy. But top-down? Not so much. Don’t lose hope, though! We have a few suggested fixes to get that sweater into regular wardrobe rotation! It can feel fiddly to fix the neckline after the fact, but we promise it’s worth it! You’ve put a lot of love and energy into your work of art, and it’s well worth the effort to get it just the way you like it.

Adding a bit of structure

One way to tighten up a neckline and add a bit of structure is to work a crochet chain around the inside of the sweater at the bottom of the ribbing. The crochet chain isn’t stretchy the way your knitting is at this point in the sweater, so it will hold firm.

Cutting off the ribbing and reworking the neckline

Thinking about cutting into your knitting is a bit scary, but don’t worry – this is only minor surgery! Because of the way knit stitches work, you can’t simply undo the cast-on and unravel the ribbing. (We tried it, so you don’t have to… but if you don’t believe us, go forth.) Instead, you need to insert your needle below the ribbing, cut one stitch, and take the ribbing off (described in detail below). Note that the photos show removing the ribbing on a bottom-up sweater, but all the steps are exactly the same to remove the ribbing on a top-down sweater.

  1. Insert a small needle through one ‘leg’ of each stitch. Make sure to keep in the same round.
  2. Cut one stitch and unpick the round below your needle.
  3. Remove the ribbing.
  4. Join new yarn, and you’re ready to redo that ribbing as you see fit.
A hand holding the ribbed hem of a sweater with a small knitting needle through the stitches above the ribbing.
Insert a small needle through one ‘leg’ of each stitch. Make sure to keep in the same round.
Needles inserted through the stitches above the ribbing at the hem of a sweater. Scissors ready to cut a single stitch below the needles.
Cut one stitch and unpick the round below your needle.
A knitting needle is inserted through live stitches and the ribbing of the sweater is being removed.
This is what it looks like as you undo the round above your needles.
A sweater with needles through the live stitches at the bottom and the removed ribbing underneath it.
Here we’ve removed the hem ribbing of a bottom-up sweater, but the steps are just the same for removing the neckline ribbing of a top-down sweater.

Once you’ve got that ribbing off and live stitches on your needles, you can work any of the changes listed in the ‘hedging your bets’ section above. It’s as if you’ve unzipped your provisional cast-on and are ready to go!

This is also the method you would use if you knit a sweater from the bottom-up but want to add or remove length in the body or sleeves. Insert your needle above the ribbing (or wherever you want to change the length), cut, and remove the ribbing. Then you can make your length adjustments and redo that ribbing.

Looking for more helpful sweater knitting tutorials?

We love sweater knitting, so we’ve created lots of sweater knitting tutorials!

  1. Knitting Hack: the provisional cast-on
  2. Let’s knit a bottom-up sweater
  3. Let’s knit a colourwork sweater
  4. How to block a hand-knit sweater
  5. How to knit a garment at a different gauge

Or you can find ALL our tutorials here!

Four Tips for Knitting with Handspun Yarn

March 25, 2021
smiling toddler in a striped cowl

I find it difficult to cast on with my handspun yarn because I label it ‘too Precious‘. I feel hesitant to let those wonderful, bouncy skeins out of my grip and onto the needles. I wonder if I’ll have enough yarn to complete the project, or I worry that the pattern won’t ‘do justice’ to a yarn that took so long to make by hand. If you find yourself with similar handspun hesitations, here are some tips to help you get passed the fear and get started.

Cakes of multi-coloured 2ply handspun yarn

1. Start small and simple

Small, simple projects are a great place to start with handspun. Their simplicity will spotlight the beauty of the yarn, and you won’t need to spin too much yardage to complete them.

For example, our Tall Dark and Handsome pattens have simple textures that will let handmade yarn shine. Both the free Barley hat pattern (for worsted/aran weight yarn) and free Barley Light hat pattern (for fingering/sock weight yarn) will highlight a complex handspun, thanks to their simple stockinette and garter stitch panels. And the free World’s Simplest Mittens pattern has three gauge options, so there’s bound to be one that will work for your special handmade yarn.

2. Stripe it up

When you don’t have enough yardage in one colourway to complete a project in a single colour, use stripes and slip-stitch patterns to your advantage.

Undertone Cowl pattern
The Undertone cowl is a great project for striping two handspun colourways. You could also pair handspun with a commercial yarn to make that precious skein stretch further.
Undertone Cowl pattern
You can use up the tiniest of scraps by changing out the contrast-colour yarn!
bumble beanie pattern
The Bumble beanie is a fabulous hat for combining yarns and making use of small amounts of handspun! You can knit it in a single colour, or work in stripes to achieve a subtle, tweedy effect, as I have with this one.

If you’re interested in the Bumble beanie pattern, check out this post that highlights the different effects you can get from working the pattern with one or two colours – and the lovely, distinct textures they elicit on each side of the work.

A kid wearing colourwork hat, striped cowl and striped sweater.
Hunter’s wearing the Prism hat, the Undertone cowl in a vivid rainbow, and the Chromatic sweater – all from our Mad Colour ebook.

Our Mad Colour ebook is full of vibrant patterns designed for mixing and matching yarns, making them perfect for creating colourful stripes with your handspun lovelies.

3. Combine handspun with other yarns

Adding a mill-spun yarn to the mix can stretch the yardage further than if you knit an entire project in handspun alone. What if you worked the colourwork section of a project using your handspun, and then picked a commercial yarn for the remainder?

Striped Flax Hack Blog Post
I used a combination of handspun and commercial yarns to knit this sweet, striped sweater from our free Flax pattern, with only a few adjustments.

I recently made a Flax sweater for Neve using up the remainders of several beautiful handspun skeins, striping them together with coordinating hand-dyed and commercial yarns. Here are a few more ideas, if you’d like to try your hand at some different combinations:

  • Knit the contrast-colour sections of the Fleet hat using small amounts of your lovely handspun.
  • Feature small amounts of one or two handmade yarns in the Twisp hat or Embers hat, while working the body in hand-dyed or mill-dyed yarn.
  • Stripe up the Prism hat with with 50yds or less of handspun (stripes are also an excellent way to make a self-striping colourway really shine!).
  • Use your exquisite handspun colourway as the contrast colour in a yoke sweater like Embers, Dog Star, Icefall, or another pattern from Strange Brew, our book of yoke sweater designs.

For more ideas, browse all of the colourwork patterns on our website.

Tin Can Knits Colourwork Patterns

4. Stop fretting and just cast on already!

Nothing can make the uncertainty go away like the simple act of casting on. Once I have a yarn on the needles, it often whispers to me what it wants to become. And if it doesn’t work? Just rip, rip, rip it out and start again!

A wave-pattern blanket knit in handspun with contrast-colour stripes.
A simple knit I’m working on in my most recent lot of handspun yarn.

I’ve fallen deeply in love with spinning over the past few months (check out my handspun highlights on Instagram). If you’re a handspun enthusiast like me, please comment to share any advice, tips, and inspirations you may have!

~ Em

Bodhi’s Bookish Birthday Sweater

March 11, 2021
A child by a lake in a colourwork sweater

The Golden Glow and a request

Bodhi’s current favourite book is The Golden Glow by Benjamin Flouw. We’ve read it a million times, and even though she can read it on her own now, she doesn’t have to. She knows it by heart. 

The Golden Glow is a stunningly illustrated tale of botany and adventure. It is the story of Fox, who goes searching for a rare and beautiful flower. Spoiler: When he finds the flower, he realizes that he should leave it where it is. It is more beautiful on the mountain top than it could ever be in a vase at home. 

After a whole summer of reading this book constantly, Bodhi requested a special sweater, a Golden Glow sweater. And she wanted it to have all the elements of the cherished story – every animal, plant, tree, and grape pâté sandwich. Mountains, rocks, Cousin Wolf, and even the golden glow itself…you name it, she wanted it on her sweater! 

Well, you know I love a challenge (and I can’t resist a request from my kids), so away I went. I wanted the sweater to be in sock weight because that would allow me to have the most detail at the yoke. For the colours, I wanted to replicate the warm palette of the book. I had the Strange Brew yoke recipe as a starting point, and from my colourwork stash, I came up with some Brooklyn Tweed Loft in just the right botanical greens. I was ready to go! 

a child in a colourwork sweater

A common mistake 

When I teach knitters how to create their own designs using the Strange Brew yoke recipe, I always offer this wise piece of advice: 

Don’t try to put every idea you’ve ever had into the yoke of a sweater. There just isn’t room, and focusing on one element you love makes for a much better design. 

But did I take my own advice? Of course not! I wanted to put every wonderful bit of this book into the yoke…and I suffered for it! I knit, ripped, re-knit, and ripped again. I could never seem to get a colour combination right on the first try. I had to make several trips to my LYS, Black Sheep Yarns, and Helen got a good chuckle every time I turned up for yet another skein. But that’s how colourwork goes sometimes – trial and error!

a child in a colourwork sweater

The hardest part of this project was figuring out how to nail the titular golden glow. I had to get the bright, flaxen yellow juuuust right, and after A LOT of experimenting, I landed on a teeny bit of Jamieson & Smith in the perfect hue.

a smiling child in a colourwork sweater

When I knit this sweater for Bodhi’s birthday, it was summer, so 3/4 sleeves were perfect. But when winter hit, she brought me her beloved jumper and asked for long sleeves. I added some colorful rainbow cuffs, which were sort of a pain to knit (not to mention those ends…), but she loves them.

a close up of the sleeve of a colourwork sweater

A gift for my dear Bodhi

At this point, I can’t really decide if the Golden Glow sweater is ugly or awesome..maybe it’s both. But Bodhi loves it, and I suppose that’s really all that matters. It was interesting for me to knit this sweater, knowing it wasn’t a design. It was just a knit – a knit to make a six year old happy on her birthday, a knit to go along with her young love of books and nature and adventure. She adores the little foxes, the bright yellow golden glow, and the tiny grape pâté sandwiches at the hem. My heart soars when I see her sitting in her special sweater, reading her favourite book. Ugly or awesome, it’s absolutely perfect.

~ Alexa

a child in a colourwork sweater

Dots and Dashes: Ombré in Morse Code

March 5, 2021

I am, and always will be, a sucker for ombré. It makes me happy to see colours fading from one to the next. Whether it’s a cool tonal palette or a whole rainbow of hues, it puts a smile on my face every time. This custom Strange Brew yoke is one of those happiness-inducing blends – the perfect pairing of a simple, graphic pattern and a sunset of warm, inviting colours.

A colourwork yoke pinned out on a black board
My yoke on the blocking boards

My inspiration

I was flipping through one of my many stitch dictionaries (everyone does that, right?), and I came across a pattern in knits and purls that I really liked. It was simple, just a few purls that stood out among a sea of stockinette. It stuck with me… But rather than going for texture, I wanted to apply the approach to colourwork – and the idea for a Morse Code yoke was born!

This dots-and-dashes design seemed tailor-made for a little ombré, so I pulled out some bits and bobs of Brooklyn Tweed Arbor in a warm, pleasing palette – and fought my urge to use a neutral as the main colour. Instead of the grey or cream I was gravitating towards, I went with an intense, deep teal.

A child facing away from the camera in a teal sweater with a warm ombre of colourwork.

A sweater for Bodhi

I love trying out new ideas on kid sweaters. It’s the perfect playground for my yoke ideas, and the result is a wearable little work of art. I followed the Strange Brew instructions for the size 8-10 with the wedge design option. Bodhi is only six, but I wanted to give her a little room to grow in this one.

I worked this sweater from the top–down. I cast on according to the Strange Brew instructions, worked a small increase round, followed my chart (below), and then knit a final increase round to get to the total stitch count. I then worked the short rows, body, and sleeves per the pattern. I focused all the fun in the yoke, keeping the body and sleeves plain.

a colourwork chart
I used this chart to create my Morse Code yoke.

Bodhi is so pleased with her fall sweater. I started it at the beginning of lockdown in March, and it was ready for her to wear when she went back to school in September. Bodhi is still little and smitten with anything her mum makes her, so she wears it all the time!

A child in a teal sweater with a warm ombre of colourwork at the yoke.

More Strange Brew

Will Emily and I every tire of yokes? Probably not! If you want to join us in our yoke obsession, we have lots of resources:

Strange Brew Directory: Check out all of our Strange Brew yokes (including charts) here.

A Week of Colour hats: This series includes strategies for choosing a colour palette.

How to Strange Brew: A series of posts on using the Strange Brew pattern to create your own unique sweater!

~ Alexa

A Tin Can Knits Sale!

February 18, 2021

It’s time for that rarest of occurrences: A TCK SALE!

If you’ve been around awhile, you know this doesn’t happen often… our last sale was four years ago!

We’ve always focused on bringing you excellent value with trusted and clear pattern writing, delicious photography, helpful tutorials, baby-to-big sizing, and responsive support. So what could be better than that? A buy-one-get-one-free sale!

Buy One Get One Free sale details

  • The BOGO sale runs from now until February 28, 2021, midnight PST, so pick your faves today!
  • To get one eBook or pattern free, simply add two eBooks or patterns to your cart before checking out on our website or Ravelry. There are no limitations – you can purchase more than one pair! The least expensive item(s) will be free.
  • All eBooks and patterns published by Tin Can Knits are included in the sale. Print books, the Heart on my Sleeve eBook, Sword Fern, Crossed Cardigan, and Elwha are not included in the sale.
  • If you buy on our website, there is a convenient button to add the pattern to your Ravelry.com library, if desired.

What’s the best deal?

EBOOKS! Yes, all of our ebooks are included in the sale, and BOGO makes them an amazing deal. Say you’ve been considering Strange Brew and Mad Colour… now you can get both eBooks – all 30 patterns – for just $22 USD + tax!

A few of your faves

The knitters have spoken! These are TCK’s most popular designs: Beloved bonnet, Love Note sweater, Strange Brew sweater, Antler cardigan, Gramps cardigan, Bounce blanket, Snap hat, Dog Star sweater, and Vivid blanket.

Head over to the new TCK website and pick up YOUR faves today!

How to Knit With Recycled Yarn

February 11, 2021
laughing child in red cabled hat
I knit this lovely version of our free Antler hat in yarn that I recycled from a second-hand sweater.

Did you read our tutorial How to Recycle Yarn from Second-hand Sweaters? Recycling yarn is essentially just unpicking second-hand sweaters and then pulling and pulling, until you’ve unravelled the fabric back into yarn. This is something I did A LOT of when I first began my love affair with knitting. If you’d like to learn how to recycle yarn step-by-step, be sure to check out the tutorial!

Once you’ve got some lovely recycled yarn on hand, what’s next? Let’s talk about knitting with the results! Before you can choose a project, you’ll need to figure out:

1. What gauge the recycled yarn will knit to.
2. Approximately how much yardage you have.
3. What the yarn is made of.

deep red yarn
My recycled yarn was over-dyed to a luscious deep red by my friend Nina, dyer at Rainbow Heirloom.

What gauge will the recycled yarn knit to?

First, there’s the question of what gauge you can achieve with the yarn you’ve created. When working with recycled yarn from a second-hand jumper, you won’t have a ball band to tell you what the yarn is made of, its yardage, or the suggested gauge and needle size. You’ll have to figure these things out yourself.

detail of a yarn end showing multiple plies
The recycled yarn I used for this Antler toque was made up of six plies held together.

The ‘construction’ of recycled yarn may be a little different from what you’re accustomed to. For example, this yarn I recycled is actually composed of six strands knit. It was not plied – it was simply knit with the six strands at once. Now it appears to hold together as a single strand, due to the light felting that occurred with wear and processing. But that’s no problem; it knit up just fine!

Measure gauge from the garment before recycling it back to yarn

unpicking a sweater back to yarn

A quick way to guess what gauge you’ll knit is by measuring the gauge of the original garment you unravelled (before you take it to pieces!). Although the machine-knit fabric of the garment you’re recycling may be a bit more dense than the fabric you want to create, this can provide a sensible starting spot.

Measure WPI – wraps per inch – to assess yarn weight

I like to do a quick wraps per inch (WPI) test on recycled yarn before I begin working with it. You can do this by wrapping the yarn around a ruler and counting how many wraps fit into one inch. Then you can check Ravelry’s WPI gauge table to find the weight equivalent of your WPI. Alternatively, you might find it more effective to compare your recycled yarn to a commercial yarn that you have on hand to see if it has more, less, or the same WPI.

Knit gauge swatches to determine gauge

The most accurate way to determine gauge is to knit one or more gauge swatches on different needle sizes. These swatches will tell you precisely what gauge your recycled yarn knits to, and as a bonus, they’ll reveal the quality of the resulting fabric. And if you’re planning to knit something that depends on gauge for fit, you’ll definitely need to swatch.

How much yardage do you have? 

There’s nothing more frustrating than beginning a project and then discovering near the end that you don’t have enough yarn to finish it. Since recycled yarns don’t come with a ball band to tell you the exact yardage, you’ll need to estimate it. This may seem daunting, but I have a few suggestions to help you figure it out.

Snap Hat Pattern
The Snap hat is knit by creating a marled ombre of scraps!

Calculate yardage by measuring the skein and counting loops

By measuring how long the loop of a skein is (say, 24″ around) and counting the number of strands you have in your skein (say there are 120 loops), you can multiply the two numbers to get the length of yarn in the skein: 120 loops x 24″ = 2880″ total. To convert inches to yards, divide by 36 (because there are 36″ in one yard). For our example, 2880″ / 36″ = 80 yards.

yarn spaghetti and a kinky skein

Extrapolate using weight

If you’ve calculated the length of a single skein by weighing it, you can work out how much you have total in the lot of recycled yarn. (You will need a kitchen scale for this.) Say you know that a skein measures 80 yds, and it weighs 35 g; you can divide the length / weight. In this case, 80 yds / 35 g = 2.286 yards in a single gram of the yarn. By getting the total weight of the recycled yarn (let’s say it’s 250g), you can calculate the total yardage by multiplying total weight x yards per gram, or 250 x 2.286 = 571 yds.

It’s best to remember that all of the above is still somewhat approximate, so take your own calculations with a grain of salt!

Make a smaller project

If you’re still uncertain about yardage, stick with smaller projects like socks, hats, and other accessories. Smaller sized sweaters are also good choices. If you have recycled yarn from a men’s size L jumper, you can probably use the results to make a child’s sweater or women’s size S, as long as the nature of the stitch pattern doesn’t require vastly different amounts of yarn.

Combine yarns in colourwork or striped projects

When you aren’t certain whether a lot of yarn will be enough to complete an entire blanket, shawl, or sweater, you can combine two lots – and stripes are so much fun to knit!

Playdate Cardigan
I worked this little Playdate cardigan in single-row stripes, which blended two colourways together in a satisfying way.

If you’re working with lighter-weight recycled yarns, holding two different strands together as one to make up to a heavier weight yarn could be a good solution. And we have a tutorial on how to knit with two or more yarns held together to create marled fabric that just might inspire you!

What is the recycled yarn made of? 

When recycling yarn, I like to take note of the fibre content listed on the garment tag – that way I know what I’m working with. If the garment has no tag, you’ll have to take your best guess, but you can use your senses to come to a reasonable conclusion. If it smells sheepy when you wet it, it’s probably got some sheep’s wool in it. If it smells a little like a dead bug, it’s probably got some silk content. If it melts when you burn it, you’ve got some plastic in there. Cotton usually feels pretty cottony and doesn’t have any stretch to it. But, of course, the most reliable way to know is to look at the garment tag!

The sweater I recycled was a blend of 80% wool and 20% nylon.

What will you knit?! Decisions, decisions! 

You can make anything from recycled yarn that you can make from new yarn. I suggest selecting a pattern based on the the yarn itself, considering its fibre content and its properties – whether it’s scratchy or soft, elastic and springy (wool and blends), or ropey and smooth without any stretch (cotton or linen).

With this beautiful worsted/aran weight recycled yarn, I decided to knit something simple, selected from among our free patterns. The free Antler toque is a classic, and it makes a great first or second cable project. For an even SIMPLER first cable project, we suggest the free Northward hat pattern.

Have you tried your hand at knitting with recycled yarn? Let us know what has your experience been like!

~ Emily

How to Recycle Yarn from Second-Hand Sweaters

February 4, 2021
Antler Toque Pattern
Ayanda is wearing our free Antler toque pattern, which I knit with yarn I recycled from a second-hand sweater.

As designers, Alexa and I are lucky enough to knit with pretty much whatever tickles our fancy. We often work in luxury yarns. And while we adore shopping for shiny new yarns, we know from experience that this is not what knitting is about. Of all the things our shared craft is about, for knitters across time and place, it is not about shine.

When I first fell head-over-heels in love with knitting, and started a blog about it over 10 years ago, I had just finished university. I didn’t yet have a job and thus had relatively little cash on hand for hobbies. Back then, I looked at the price of new yarns in knit shops, and I honestly didn’t understand how anyone could afford it. What I did have then, in my pre-mommy days, was a ton of time. So, to make my new hobby more wallet friendly, I learned how to recycle second-hand sweaters.

Does this look like the kind of yarn you’d be happy knitting with?! Yup? Well, it’s the result of my own yarn recycling, plus a little yarn-dying love from my friend Nina at Rainbow Heirloom.

I would carefully unravel thrifted garments back into yarn, which I would then knit into new items. For $5-$10, I could find a wool jumper, and with a few hours of effort, have a sweater quantity of yarn. I also experimented with simple dying techniques and ended up with a selection of my own hand-dyed yarns!

It’s useful for me to remember those days. Back then, knitting with recycled yarn or more affordable acrylic yarn was no less enticing, fascinating, pleasurable, and joyful than it is now that I knit with more expensive materials. In some ways, it was even MORE exciting because everything about knitting was still so new. Alexa and I both loved it then, when we worked with what we could access and afford. And we still love it now, no matter what kind of yarn is on our needles.

Shopping for a garment to unravel

If you’d like to try recycling yarn for yourself, I have a few tips to share, starting with how to find the right second-hand sweater.

  • Construction: It’s critical that the sweater pieces have been KNIT to shape, rather than made with knitted fabric that was CUT to shape.
  • Crochet Chain Seams: If the seams look like they’ve been made by a serger (like the seams inside a T-shirt), steer clear. Look for seams that are easy to unpick; they will look like a little column of Vs, as you can see in the image below.
  • Fibre Content: Check the label to see the fibre content of the sweater; I always sought wool and wool blends.
  • Weight: It’s best to look for heavier/chunkier sweaters because they will unravel into yarn that’s a suitable gauge for use in hand-knitting patterns. That said, it is possible to unravel finer-gauge sweaters and then hold several strands of yarn together when knitting.
  • Pullovers: Often, when commercially made cardigans have button bands, the yarn is cut where the buttonholes are made, so you’ll end up having several shorter bits of yarn from unravelling a cardigan. This can be fine if you’re willing to spit-splice often or weave in many ends, but it’s better if you don’t have to!
  • Felting: Is it felted? If the fabric is felted together, it won’t unravel, so look for fabric that shows spaces and rows when stretched (horizontally and vertically). This makes it more likely that you’ll be able to unravel it successfully.
detail of a knit sweater seam
You can tell a couple of things by looking at this seam: the fabric pieces have been knit to shape, not cut (there’s no raw edges), and the seam is a crochet-chain style seam, rather than sewn with an overlocker. Look for these things when choosing sweaters for recycling.
fingers holding a garment tag
Choose wool or wool blends when shopping for sweaters to recycle.

How to disassemble and unravel a garment

a pink sweater laid flat, and a cat
I bought this sweater from a local second-hand shop to recycle into yarn.

Sweaters tend to be seamed last at the body sides and underarms, so that’s a good place to begin unpicking. If you can get ahold of the right end of the crochet chain that seams the sides, you can often just pull, and the majority of the seam will ‘unzip’ like magic. After you’ve taken apart the sides and underarm seams, you can unpick the sleeves from the yoke.

detail of a stitch picker unpicking a sweater seam
I began with a stitch picker, cutting the seam at the sleeve cuff.
detail of unpicking a sweater seam
Once I got started, I was able to simply pull, and the crochet-chain seam ‘unzipped’.
an inside-out sweater with one seam unpicked
The sweater, inside out, with one of the side and sleeve seams unpicked.
a pink sweater taken to pieces
Once you have unpicked all the seams, you’ll have several pieces of knit fabric, ready to begin unravelling.

You may need to cut off the shaped part at the front neckline/back, before unravelling downwards, depending on how the neckline was worked in the commercial sweater. You will find most jumpers have been knit from the bottom (hem, cuffs) upward, which means when unravelling them, you must unravel from the top of the piece (shoulder, neckline) and work downwards. They must be unravelled in the opposite direction from which they were knit.

unraveling a sweater

Once you’ve got a good piece, cut off the top edge, find an end, and start pulling. The yarn can be a bit sticky at the ends of rows, so take it slowly to begin – and expect to spend some time on the process. If there are parts of the fabric where the wool is felted, you may need to cut off a few rows before it will continue to unravel. Spit-splicing is your friend here if you’re working with wool yarns. Otherwise, get comfortable with having many yarn ends to weave in.

a shopping bag with yarn spaghetti inside

I always unpick my yarn into a pile of ‘yarn spaghetti’ in a big paper or plastic bag. As long as no kids or pets get at it, you’ll be able to pull it back up out of the bag without tangling on the next step.

How to prepare recycled yarn for knitting

a pile of yarn spaghetti and a kinky skein
  • Once the yarn is unraveled, wind it around something to form it into skeins. Tie it in a few places, so it doesn’t get tangled when you wash or dye it.
  • If you plan to over-dye your recycled yarn, soak and rinse it first, and then pop it into the dye pot to give it a new life!
  • For recycled yarns you want to use as-is, simply give them a gentle wash with some shampoo, allowing them plenty of time to soak. Then hang them to drip dry, perhaps with a little weight hanging off the bottom of the skein to remove some of the kinkiness.
  • After dyeing or drying, wind up the yarns into balls for use. If you don’t have a ball-winder and swift, follow our tutorial on how to hand-wind a centre-pull ball of yarn. You can work with these yarns held singly or by holding two or more strands together to achieve a heavier gauge.
  • With recycled yarns, it’s necessary to do more swatching, as there’s no ball band to tell you which needles to choose.
a ball of deep red yarn, and a work in progress
It’s so delicious! Knitting with this recycled yarn has been a joy; I’ll share more photos of the finished hat in a coming post.

My best find!

My best-find-ever for recycling yarn was a large sweater in aran-weight 100% cashmere. I unraveled it and over-dyed the yarn from baby blue to this knockout cobalt colour. I then knit up a new sweater using the February Lady Sweater pattern, an adult design inspired by Elizabeth Zimmermann’s Baby Sweater on Two Needles.

a woman in a blue cardigan, taking a photo in the mirror

A couple of other really lovely projects I knit with recycled yarns were a Laminaria shawl, and a Pi blanket.

Buying second-hand in the age of fast fashion

It’s important to recognize that my ability to go thrifting for sweaters made from luxury fibres is, at least in part, a symptom of fast fashion, which is a problematic system for many reasons. When I find cashmere sweaters sold second hand, I know there’s a whole industry behind them – one that’s overwhelmingly damaging to workers’ lives and the environment, producing masses of garments for unsustainably low dollar values. When the cost of new garments is low for wealthy Westerners, dropping bags of ‘old’ clothes at a second-hand shop before going to buy the next season’s wardrobe becomes commonplace.

There’s also an issue with the growing trend of buying second-hand clothing. When thrift shops are frequented by middle class and affluent customers, prices can rise beyond what’s affordable for those with less cash. Those who truly need to shop for low cost clothing can find themselves priced out of the market.

That said, within the system we have now, reusing fibres – and thus saving them from a landfill where they would otherwise end up – still seems to me to be a good thing. And if new yarn isn’t in the budget, recycling thrifted sweaters is one way into knitting with an affordable price tag.

If you’re curious about sustainable and ethical fashion, the problems with fast fashion, how racism intersects with these issues, and how to shop for alternatives, Alexa and I LOVE the personal style and critical thoughts of Aja Barber. Aja delivers both pearly wisdom (seasoned with a generous dash of style inspiration) to our inbox via her Patreon. She also can also be found on Instagram.

Be sure to comment if you have any tips for making knitting more affordable, ethical, and sustainable. We’d love to hear from you!

~ Emily

The Simplest Strange Brew

January 28, 2021
a back view of a colourwork yoke sweater

Creating a custom sweater doesn’t need to be difficult. In fact, I just finished a VERY simple one using the Strange Brew colourwork yoke recipe. Yes, I said ‘recipe’. That’s because Strange Brew isn’t a pattern – it’s a formula for designing your very own yoke sweater!

hand knit sweaters laid flat
The teal-on-teal palette of this Strange Brew yoke fits right in with my soft pink Love Note sweater and my vivid, sparkly green handspun Flax sweater!

I cast on this sweater when I was looking for a little simple satisfaction. (I’m sure I’m not the only one feeling that desire lately, right?!) To keep it easy peasy, I chose a high-contrast colour pair: an icy, pale blue with a deep, moody teal. These exquisite colourways are Rainbow Heirloom Sock in Auld Lang Syne (main colour) and Snow Melt (contrast colour).

This is the first colourwork yoke that I’ve knit for myself in a merino sock yarn. I tend to work my yokes, like this vintage green cropped number and this navy blue geometric study, in woollier yarns. But the next-to-skin softness and gentle drape of this new sweater is super comfortable and easy to wear.

a woman in a colourwork yoke sweater

Project details and chart

If you’d like to knit a similar simple yoke, here are all the details.

I used the Strange Brew colourwork yoke recipe, following the instructions for a woman’s size M (37.5″) in sock weight yarn, knit from the top-down. Strange Brew is VERY versatile. The recipe includes 25 sizes, three gauge options, and instructions for working the sweater top-down or bottom-up. It allows you to make a sweater to fit almost any body, working with yarn you love.

I selected a few small-repeat patterns from the library of stitch patterns included with Strange Brew, and I worked them in the order shown here. Following the pattern, I worked the setup increase and increase 1 before beginning the chart. Increase rounds 2 and 3 were worked on rounds 14 and 30 (as noted in the chart), and increase round 4 was worked after the chart was complete. Learn more about charts in our tutorial How To Read A Knitting Chart.

a back view of a colourwork yoke sweater

As much as I like to make things complicated and use about a hundred colours, this sweater gets a lot of use. It may be a bit mundane, but it’s infinitely wearable and comfy.

Keep it simple…or not?

Anthology Hat Pattern

Alexa and I are big fans of monochrome palettes, like this black and white version of the Anthology hat. To begin your colourwork journey with a small project, check out this free pattern, which includes instructions for a hat, cowl, and tubular cowl – in 3 gauges! As a bonus, Anthology is the perfect pattern to swatch for your Strange Brew yoke.

Anthology hat pattern
We wrote an entire in-depth series that covers five different colour ‘strategies’ to help you come up with a colourwork combination you love.
detail of colourwork knitting pattern
Some like it…a bit more complicated!

Perhaps a simple monochrome isn’t your jam, and you prefer your knitting spicy! If so, you may find our tips for applying colour to stranded knitting motifs useful when you want to use ALL the colours for maximum excitement!

Cast on now!

Get your copy of the Strange Brew yoke recipe and get started today! By keeping the colour palette simple and the repeats small, designing a custom yoke sweater can be accessible, joyful, and a great pleasure for any knitter.

Seeking more inspiration? Check out our gallery of Strange Brew yoke sweater knits, with links to each of the pattern details.

~ Em

hand knit sweaters laid flat

Decisions, Decisions: How to Choose the Right Yarn for Your Sweater

January 14, 2021

Choosing yarn for a sweater can be a big decision. You may be working with this yarn for a hundred hours or more – and wearing the sweater you make even longer. Sweaters are usually the largest items knitters make, and the cost for that amount of yarn can be high. So how do you choose a yarn that’s right for you?

The most important thing

Some folks will tell you that you have to choose a certain type of yarn for sweaters. They will tell you it has to be hard-wearing yarn, that is has to be exactly the yarn suggested in the pattern, or that it must match the colours you already have in your wardrobe. But here at Tin Can Knits, we are not purists. For us, the most important thing about a sweater yarn is that YOU love it. What good is knitting a whole sweater in a yarn you aren’t thrilled-to-death about? Are you suddenly going to become enamoured with a yarn you find scratchy or dull once it’s knit into a whole sweater? I doubt it. I personally like to wear black quite a bit, but I definitely don’t want to knit a whole black sweater! So forget what you think you SHOULD use. Go out and find a sweater yarn that is perfect for YOU.

smiling woman in a green and teal handspun sweater
Emily’s current favourite yarn is her very own handspun. This beautiful Flax sweater was Emily’s first garment in yarn she spun herself.
Blog post Alexa's Sweaters in Review
My current favourite sweater is my Cartography sweater that I knit with Spincycle Dream State and Stone Wool Cormo. It is light, soft, and warm, and I really enjoyed the subtle colour shifts of the Spincycle.

It’s all about pros and cons

Not all yarns are great for sweater knitting. A single-ply, un-spun yarn, for example, will likely end up a pilly mess after only a few wears. There are lots of different types of yarn out there, though, and they each have their pros and cons. We stand confidently behind the yarns we use for our pattern samples, but we know they aren’t always available or accessible to everyone – nor are they necessarily what you might choose for your own sweater.

And just because WE have used a certain type of yarn for a particular sweater, it doesn’t mean that is the ONLY type of yarn that will work. A sweater knit in a single ply and a plied yarn might look different, but it certainly doesn’t mean one is definitively better than the other. It comes down to what YOU prefer for YOUR sweater. Customizing things to suit our tastes is what knitters do, after all! Keeping that in mind, here are some factors to consider when choosing a sweater yarn.

Construction or ply

What is a ply? A ply is a strand of fibre that makes up a yarn. A single-ply yarn is just one twisted piece of fibre. A plied yarn is composed of two or more of those plies twisted together. A two-ply yarn is made up of two single strands. A three-ply yarn is made up of three single strands and so forth. Take a look at a few of the yarns you have on hand and see if you can pull apart the plies to count them.

If you choose a single-ply yarn for your sweater, it will be oh-so soft and cozy, BUT it won’t be as hard-wearing as one made with a plied yarn. Single-ply yarns also tend to pill more than plied yarns. There are varying degrees of twist in a yarn as well. One that has a lot of twist will last longer, but it generally won’t be as soft as compared to a softer-spun yarn of the same fibre.

Nina is wearing the Almanac sweater knit up in Lopi yarn. It is a single-ply wool yarn that is very warm and quite durable.
Moraine sweater pattern
Hunter is wearing the Moraine sweater knit up in Stone Wool Cormo, a two-ply wool yarn. There is a bit of texture to it when it’s knit up.

Fibre

There are just so many types of yarns out there these days! You can find yarns made from any number of animal fibres and plant-based fibres, as well as synthetics. There are yarns made from sheep’s wool, alpaca, and yak. There are silk yarns, cotton yarns, and linen yarns. You can also find yarns that are a mix of these things. So which one is right for your sweater?

Emily and I tend to use animal fibres in our sweater knits. Animal fibres have what is called ‘memory’, which means they tend to stay where you put them. They block easily and keep their shape. However, there are exceptions to this. For example, alpaca tends to drape more and holds its shape differently than sheep’s wool. Wool has a few magical properties that I like to take advantage of – like it stays warm when wet and is naturally odour resistant.

3 striped lace swatches
Blocking is a vital part of lace knitting, so if your sweater has lace, you definitely want a blockable fibre. Here, Emily tried a few colour combinations and blocked her swatches for the Chromatic sweater.

Plant fibres, like cotton or linen, tend to keep you cooler. If you live in a warmer climate, they might be the way to go. Plant fibres do not have memory, so they don’t hold their shape the same way that animal fibres do. This can be both a pro and a con. The drape of a linen, for example, can make for a really beautiful top. I’ve had the most success using patterns that are specifically designed for these types of fibres.

The Love Note sweater is knit at a loose gauge. We knit this one in La Bien Aimee single ply, along with a mohair lace. The resulting fabric is light and airy. For more info, check out our post on layering with mohair here.
Hunter is wearing the Antler pullover, knit up in Hinterland Textiles Range, which is a two-ply yarn with a 50/50 mix of alpaca and wool.

Synthetic fibres are the most cost effective when it comes to sweaters. They are also easy to care for; sometimes they can even go in the dryer! You can also often find yarns that are a mix of animal fibres and synthetics, which can strike a great balance.

Care

Another consideration when choosing a sweater yarn is how you will care for your garment. I hand wash all of my hand knit sweaters and my kiddos’ sweaters, too. This isn’t practical for everyone, though, so you might opt for a yarn that is machine washable, like a superwash wool or a synthetic. This is also something to think about if you are doing any gift knitting. In my experience, non-knitters are not always well versed in knitwear care, so keep that in mind.

When I finish a sweater, it gets a bath and a block. For more info on blocking a hand knit sweater, check out our sweater-blocking tutorial here.

The swatch test

So you have your chosen yarn. You have considered longevity, drape, softness, and care, and you have chosen the one YOU love. You are now ready to swatch! Swatching is generally recommended, but I think it is the most important step when preparing to knit a sweater – so don’t skimp on the swatch! Knit a nice big one! We have some thoughts on swatching basics here, the cowl swatch here, and swatching for colourwork here. Give yourself all the information you need before starting your sweater!

Swatching will let you know if you are getting the recommended pattern gauge, and maybe more importantly, if you actually like the fabric at that gauge. Is the fabric is too open or too dense for your liking? Will you want to wear a whole sweater in this colour after all? If you are knitting a cabled sweater, do the cables ‘pop’ the way you want them to? If you are knitting colourwork, do the colours all work together the way you had hoped? Or do you need to add a brighter yellow? Or more contrast? (We have a whole post on choosing yarns for colourwork here.) Your swatch will give you a pretty good idea if your chosen yarn is right for your sweater project.

I knit these three swatches before staring a Bowline sweater. On the left is YOTH Father. Top is Hinterland Range, and bottom right is Stone Wool Cormo. Each yarn had its own pros and cons for that particular sweater, and I had to swatch all three to see which one would work best with the ribbing pattern at the yoke. In the end, I settled on Stone Wool Cormo because I liked the added texture of the tighter spin – and the fact that a cormo yarn would make the sweater light, warm, and soft.
Check out our Week of Colour Hat tutorial for tips on choosing colours for colourwork.

While swatching is important, it is wise to remember that swatches can’t tell you EVERYTHING. A swatch doesn’t have the weight of a whole sweater hanging from it, so it can be a bit more difficult to assess the drape of a fabric. A swatch doesn’t have seams, and it rarely encompasses all of the stitch patterns in a sweater. BUT it is still the best tool we have to test whether or not the chosen yarn will work the way we want it to.

The Hat Swatch

Hats are perfect for swatching, so we knit a whole lotta of swatch hats! For instance, when contemplating the colour palette for the Embers sweater, we first tried several different colour combos in the Embers hat. Yarns in this array include The Farmer’s Daughter Fibers Soka’pii, a single-ply fingering weight; Emily’s handspun, a plied sport weight; and Jamieson & Smith Two-Ply Jumper Weight, a plied wool fingering weight yarn.

What’s next?

You have a yarn you love. You have pinpointed the perfect colour, and you have the right mix of hard-wearing and soft-against-the-skin. Your swatch has told you that the fabric is just right for your liking. Now it’s time to cast on and knit your sweater!

If you are embarking on your very first sweater, or could use some pointers, check out all our sweater knitting tutorials here.

What is your favourite sweater yarn? Let us know in the comments!

~Alexa

Stripes Stripes Stripes!

January 7, 2021
striped blanket hanging over a branch
striped blanket hanging over a branch

Every New Year, I always go a little overboard with ideas and plans for the coming year. Along with a veritable raft of personal goals, I make plans to improve our flat, clear out clutter, and reorganize – and that means diving into my stockpile of yarn. While a significant stash is required for my work, I am sensitive to the weight of STUFF upon me. It can feel a bit overwhelming.

Mad Colour Collection
This is my favourite photo from our Mad Colour collection! It was SUMMER.

This year my stash dive really drew me to create. While working on Mad Colour, a collection all about playing with vibrant hues, I amassed a shedload of single skeins. Since then, many of these lovely gems have been sitting in my stash, tucked away in plastic bins…their beauty and utility hidden from the world. So why am I still so precious about them?!

ribbed scarf made in blocks of bright colour

The fact is, even if these skeins are the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen, and even if I feel they’re so precious they shouldn’t be ‘wasted’ on frivolity, I simply need to get them out of boxes and into the world. I need to follow my own philosophy and ‘just get it on the needles’ (see my Three Tips for Using Your Precious Stash).

Still, a big stash can be daunting…too much sock yarn, too little time, right? Enter my knitting machine! I’ve talked about my knitting machine before, and I STILL LOVE IT. The blanket and scarf shown here were the perfect projects for it – simple, satisfying, and relatively quick ways to run through significant yardage. I probably wouldn’t hand-knit a sock weight blanket like this one, but on the knitting machine, it was manageable.

striped blanket hanging over a branch

I made the blanket in sock yarns. It’s about 190 sts wide, and I alternated a Zauberball Stärke 6 self-striping yarn with several different single skeins. After the blanket came off the machine, I hand-knit garter stitch edging. If I were hand-knitting a blanket like this, I would work in garter stitch, so no edging would be required. Or perhaps I’d follow our free Malt blanket pattern, but I would work it in stripes, blocks of colour, or marled (holding 2-3 strands together).

This child-sized, colour-blocked scarf was also made on my knitting machine. I worked a 2×2 rib pattern over 82 stitches, using all kinds of sock-yarn odds and ends. I made it with my four-year-old daughter, Neve. She chose out the colours and told me which order to work them in; I was simply the technician!

At about 46″ long, this little scarf is long enough to wrap twice around little Neve. And more importantly for her, it’s the perfect length to drag through every muddy puddle she sees!

ribbed scarf made in blocks of bright colour

I LOVE playing with different colours and experimenting to see how they combine. The striped blanket and the ribbed scarf were joyful in this way. They were good reminders that a project doesn’t have to be complicated to be full of joy. Sometimes the simple satisfaction of combining colours is really all that’s needed in knitting. I don’t always have to play with sophisticated stitch patterns or design well-fitting sweaters. Sometimes just getting the yarn on the needles – and watching the colours play off one another – is all my knitter’s heart desires.

What kinds of projects are you drawn to when you feel the urge to purge your stash?

~ Em

Bounce Blanket by Tin Can Knits

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