One of my knitting goals this year was to spin and knit myself a jumper – and now it’s off the bobbin and on my body! While I’ve knit our free Flax sweater pattern many times, this is the first one I’ve made just for myself. This little spin-and-knit project brought me such intense joy, from selecting the fibres to knitting each and every stitch on what we knitters passive aggressively call ‘sleeve island’.
Vividly colourful and cropped, this sweater sparkles!
The handspun, two-ply yarn I created to knit this sweater was spun with one ply made from a multi-colour batt, and the other from an interesting multi-colour top. This resulted in a dazzling yarn that produced random stripes of colour, shot through with little tweedy flecks of brighter and darker shades.
I love how the stripes look like strata of sedimentary stone, illustrating the passage of time that went into making this sweater. In this fabric, I can see the many hours I enjoyed, slowly drafting out the fibre into short stretches of one colour, then the next and the next.
While I often finish my own stockinette sweater bodies on my knitting machine, but I knit by hand for this project. I savoured each round, delighted as new and unexpected colours flowed from these pretty cakes of yarn.
My kids are four and six, and during the months of lockdown and summer here in Edinburgh, we’ve been cooped up in our apartment most hours of the day. My husband John and I did our best to split childcare duties whilst continuing to work our full-time jobs from home, but juggling it all was a challenge. Yet it was in this context, with an additional 30+ hours of family labour to share, that I decided it was time to add spinning yarn into the mix. This seemed impractical, to say the very least. But after a long day of trying to get emails and design work done – and be there for the kids as they played, fought, and made mountains of precious junk out of cardboard boxes and tape – spinning became a delicious kind of escape. Evening after evening, I was continually drawn to focus my hands and my mind on the whirring, pulling, transformative magic of my little electric spinning wheel.
A pretty process, full of pleasure
To make the yarn for my new Flax sweater, I began with 200 g of green, turquoise, brown, and sparkly mixed batts from Spin City, which I spun into a skinny single ply.
After spinning the mixed batts, I had to select a fibre for the other strand of the two-ply yarn I had planned. I ordered two different rovings from John Arbon Textiles – one was a dark green and teal blend, and another contained brighter teals, greens, and shots of pink. I plied a small amount of each with the green to create two distinct sample yarns.
Next, I knit a swatch with the sample yarns to see which colourway I should commit to. As you can see, I was more excited by the teal and pink colourway, with those pops of hot pink! Designing a yarn like this, from scratch, was very exciting!
Plying is the process of taking two (or more) single strands, and twisting them together to make a finished yarn. Watching the way this self-striping green ply twisted together with the tweedy teal and pink was both soothing and joyful.
Before I knew it, my yarn was ready! The next step was to decide which sweater from our extensive range of designs I would knit. I didn’t have very much yardage, so I spun a coordinating yarn that I could use to stripe or colour-block the finished knit.
In the end, the free Flax sweater was an easy choice. With a yarn this intensely colourful and stripy, I find it’s best to stick with a simple design, and Flax is definitely simple. I chose the M/L size, but I knit at a slightly tighter gauge for a body measuring 37” around. (This means I’m wearing it with 2” of negative ease on my 39” bust.) I also cropped the body to 12″ long, a length I’ve been liking lately. I also followed our new short-row shaping instructions to raise the back neck of this Flax sweater, which made for an even better fit!
So what’s next?
That’s the big question, isn’t it? Having ticked my ‘spin and knit a sweater’ goal off the list, what new handspun project will I attempt now? Well, I’m currently working a rainbow blanket, knit all in handspun…
And another sweater perhaps? Yes, I do, in fact, have a new design project on the go, which I’m knitting in handspun!
And because these two extra projects aren’t quite enough, I’m also working on enough Shetland handspun for a sweater, and it feels like spinning a fluffy, bouncy cloud.
Flax for your first sweater
This year’s theme – for Alexa and I – is Next Stitches; we’re encouraging each other to just keep stitching, and to learn that next skill. Flax and its sock-weight sister, Flax Light, are great patterns if you’re ready to knit your very first sweater – or your second. Our in-depth tutorial will guide you through each technique, from start to finish. As an added bonus, this design is really easy to customize – you can shorten the sleeves or add lace, cables, or stripes. For even more inspiration, check out some other lovely knitters’ versions by surfing the #FlaxSweater hashtag on Instagram. And be sure to include the hashtag when posting yours, so we can share in the joy!