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Handspun Flax

October 22, 2020
smiling woman in a green and teal handspun sweater

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’.

smiling woman in a green and teal handspun sweater

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.

a green and teal handspun sweater with garter details

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.

sleeve and hem detail of a green and teal handspun sweater

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.

green and teal handspun raglan sweater yoke on the needles

Calming impracticality

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

Fluffy batts in deep greens and soft yellow and pinks

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.

a bobbin with green and black singles, alongside two different teal rovings

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.

bobbins of green and teal singles and a small swatch in tones of teal, green and turquoise with shots of pink

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!

green and teal 2ply handspun on an e-spinner

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.

a ball and skein of 2-ply handspun in green, teal, and pink

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.

woman wearing a green and teal handspun sweater
woman wearing a green and teal handspun sweater, looking through a wrought iron gate

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!

smiling woman in a green and teal handspun sweater

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…

A rainbow of soft-spun skeins of single ply yarn

And another sweater perhaps? Yes, I do, in fact, have a new design project on the go, which I’m knitting in handspun!

Knitted fabric in stripes of marled yarn laid alongside skeins of yarn.

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.

skeins of cream and brown marled yarns next to balls of roving
I was ordering yarn from Jamieson & Smith, when I discovered that they sell fibre, too! At £11 for 500 g (yes, that will likely spin a sweater amount), this will be the most affordable (and time consuming) sweater I’ve knit in ages!

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!

~ Emily

green and teal handspun raglan sweater laid on rainbow of skeins
25 Comments leave one →
  1. Laurin Likosky permalink
    April 26, 2021 1:39 pm

    Did you knit the body 12 inches and additional 1.5 inch in the ribbing (13.5 in total) or was it 12 inches total? (10.5 in plus 1.5 inches). It is gorgeous and the length is perfect. The yarn- wow!

  2. Carol Stephanson permalink
    December 24, 2020 9:02 am

    I fell in love with your gorgeous sweater and was so sad to see that it’s one of a kind, although a lovely accomplishment! Can you suggest a yarn available to buy that would give a similar result?

    • December 28, 2020 6:08 am

      Hi Carol – There are several yarns that give handspun ‘effects’ though each is a little different in some ways from handspun. Noro is a Japanese brand that does dozens of exciting handspun-style yarns. In the USA Spincycle Yarns do mule-spun yarns that give a very similar effect to handspun. Best luck! Emily

  3. October 28, 2020 3:42 pm

    Wow, such amazingly vibrant colours! Absolutely gorgeous 🧶

  4. Wendy Boughton permalink
    October 27, 2020 10:42 am

    Hi Emily. I posted a few days ago that I was 2 rows from completing the body of my Flax sweater. I am now onto the arms, my first go ever at arms and…boom. Flummoxed. I had a really difficult time trying to figure out the instructions. I got my stitches onto the circular needles and then realized I had no working yarn (🙄 duh) and could not figure out how to proceed. I ended up searching videos and such for a really long time before I kinda figured it out. A tutorial on that part of the pattern would be super helpful. The instructions at that part just don’t explain it to us newbies. I am still not sure that I did it right but I have working yarn now and there is only a small hole left, though I am 2 stitches over the count in the pattern. I am forging ahead anyway. It’s getting cold here and I want to wear my sweater! 🙂

  5. Lisa permalink
    October 26, 2020 6:52 am

    Hi Emily! This is GORGEOUS! What an inspiration! I am a new spinner. I have only used a drop spindle so far, but I am getting a wheel soon. What type/model of wheel was used to make this beautiful yarn? Thanks!

  6. Olivia permalink
    October 26, 2020 5:37 am

    Absolutely LOVE the colors! Your sleeves are great, I always have trouble when following a pattern, the sleeves come out too bulky and wide. I’m so impressed.

  7. Helen Schendel permalink
    October 24, 2020 1:06 pm

    Love it. I too havw made a number of Flax sweaters. I would lilke to make another for myself. How would I go about making the neckline higher. I prefer my necklines higher than the first sweater I made for me. Thank you Nellie

    • October 26, 2020 12:28 am

      Hi Nellie – I’d suggest you cast on using a smaller size, one or two sizes smaller than the one you want to knit, and then increase more within the raglan increase section (to get to the correct full yoke stitch count for the larger size). That way you’ll have a smaller cast-on number, and a longer yoke depth, which will make the neckline sit higher.

  8. Bindy in Australia permalink
    October 23, 2020 8:15 pm

    Great sweater – love the colours.

  9. Elizabeth permalink
    October 23, 2020 6:24 am

    Your colors are absolutely gorgeous!

  10. Wendy permalink
    October 22, 2020 7:10 pm

    I am completely inspired by you! I am making this sweater pattern myself right now and am soooooo close to finishing the body. Two rows to go! And, this is my first ever sweater. To say I am thrilled with this pattern is an understatement. I can’t wait to finish it.l

  11. Lynn Carter permalink
    October 22, 2020 4:10 pm

    Hi ,
    I absolutely love your patterns . I also love knitting top down jumpers . I’m asking how I can avoid the often dramatic colour change when starting the sleeves after finishing the body of the jumper .It’s particularly obvious with graduated colour progression yarns .This has often changed dramatically by the time I get to the sleeve . It’s very obvious to me , recipients often don’t notice .
    Thank you .
    Cheers ,
    Lynn Carter

    • October 26, 2020 12:31 am

      This is a problem with gradient / colour changing yarns that there’s no easy answer to. One strategy is to use a new ball, and find the point in that ball where the gradient is at the same point at which you started the body at (match the colours manually). Other than that, another strategy is to stripe the colour-changing yarn with a solid colour, so the colour change isn’t so obvious.

  12. Rose permalink
    October 22, 2020 3:52 pm

    Wow! What a beautiful sweater and what an inspirational blog post!! Thank you for the notes on your spinning as well. You have done a great job!

  13. Susan permalink
    October 22, 2020 8:30 am

    Oh my gosh, that is the most beautiful spun yarn colored sweater I’ve ever seen. You did a terrific job, an inspiration for me to spin which I know is a huge undertaking with great rewards.

  14. Chantal Collin permalink
    October 22, 2020 8:04 am

    Gorgeous sweater and yarn. Thank you.

  15. October 22, 2020 7:50 am

    What a gorgeous yarn! It shows itself off beautifully with Flax.
    BTW, I like your long hair. It’s very pretty.

  16. October 22, 2020 7:23 am

    Emily, this is so dreamy! Your beautifully spun yarn has transformed this simple pattern into something quite special.

  17. sophy0075 permalink
    October 22, 2020 7:05 am

    How many grams of fiber did you end up spinning for the sweater? How did your yarn gauge compare to that of the original Flax pattern? I’ve been spinning a lot in the Livestock Conservancy’s Shave ‘em to Save ‘em program, and would love to be able to combine my results in a commemorative sweater. (Although I would probably split Flax in the front and make a cardi.)

    • October 26, 2020 12:37 am

      The green yarn was made from 400g of fibre, and then I just used a little more for the cuff and hems. Probably 425g total, if I had to guess? It’s a cropped length though (12″ from hem to underarm). The gauge is a little less, 5 sts per inch not 4.5 sts per inch I think.

  18. Catherine Martin permalink
    October 22, 2020 6:40 am

    so many steps, such a gorgeous result!

  19. Kelly Criss permalink
    October 22, 2020 6:20 am

    Oh how gorgeous your sweater is! I haven’t ventured into spinning or plying yarns yet but I have dyed some and your flax light is on my to-do list. I was wondering though, if you’d be willing to add those short row shaping instructions you used on the neck, into the pattern as an update?

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