A design process

Finally I can reveal a secret that I have kept for many months: I have designed a sweater and published a pattern! The pattern is available in the Spin-Off summer 2020 issue. I have spent so much time with this project and planning for it and now that it’s finished I miss it a bit. It’s like finishing a good book – even if there was a happy ending you get a little sad by the thought of not spending any more time with the people in the book. In this post I invite you to my two year design process of the sweater pattern Selma Margau.

Selma Margau sweater. Photo by Dan Waltin.

A baby design idea

I started planning for this project two years ago. At the Swedish fleece championships 2017 I fell in love with a dark grey Swedish finewool Rya mixbreed fleece. I started playing with the wool to find a way to make it justice in a yarn. One idea I got was to make a tweed yarn. I got recycled Sari silk and a yarn started to take shape.

In my usual manner I looked for the superpowers of the fleece and landed in a 3-plied woolen yarn spun with English longdraw from hand-carded rolags with Sari silk.

I designed a sweater – Margau Beta – that would let the yarn shine. A raglan yoked stockinette sweater with reverse stockinette panels. I embroidered some flowers along the left side panel, up along the raglan panels and towards the neck band.

A woman walking in the snow. She is wearing a dark grey knitted sweater with white embroidered flowers.
Margau Beta was the first prototype for the Selma Margau design. Photo by Dan Waltin

The sweater was a Beta version, hence the name. I wanted to make another one, only in white wool. Instead of stockinette and reverse stockinette on the center panel I made a cable pattern.

The wool

I asked the shepherdess Margau if she had something in white that was similar to the dark grey fleece. In her thorough manner she sent me samples from three of her white finull/rya ewes. I got to pick the one I liked the most.

Unwashed wool from the finull/rya ewe Selma.
Unwashed wool from the autumn shearing of the finull/rya ewe Selma.

I decided to go with the autumn shearing of Margau’s ewe Selma – a lovely fleece with both long and shiny undercoat and soft undercoat. She also had the most crimpy and consistent wool of the three samples.

Having a relationship like this with talented sheperhedesses is truly valuable to me as a spinner. Usually I find my favourite shepherdesses at the annual fleece championships. I see the fleeces they win medals for and if I am lucky the shepherdess is there and I can talk to them. They are always friendly and helpful and provide me with their gold. Usually they love to see what I make of the wool from their sheep.

Finished rolags with sari silk, ready for spinning.
Finished rolags with sari silk, ready for spinning.

I prepared and spun Selma’s fleece the same way I had spun her dark grey sister’s – a 3-ply woolen yarn spun with English longdraw from hand-carded rolags. The Sari silk was added at the teasing stage.

Six skeins of white yarn with colored specks.
A 3-ply woolen yarn spun with English longdraw from hand carded rolags.


When the first skein was finished I dove into swatching to find a suitable pattern for the front and back panels. Looking at cable patterns I realized that a simple cable panel would make the yarn shine. I decided upon a stag horn center with opposing 3+3 ropes on each side.

It took me a few swatches to find the right combination for this yarn, but I think this is the one.
It took me a few swatches to find the right combination for this yarn, but this is the one.

Yarn shortage

I knit away on the body happily and started the first sleeve. At the top of the sleeve I ran out of yarn. And there was no more wool. In desperation I contacted Margau and got Selma’s spring shearing. A bit shorter and a bit more vegetable matter, but otherwise the same quality.

When i had finished both sleeves I came to the really tricky part. Calculating for the yoke is not my best talent, but to my surprise it turned out just how I had envisioned it. The cables behaved and weren’t cut off in the raglan decreases. They just formed pretty cable rays around the neck band.

A woman wearing a natural white cabled sweater. She is standing on a forest floor covered with autumnal leaves.
Well behaved raglan cables. Photo by Dan Waltin.

When the sweater was finished I had one skein of yarn left. I used it for the top part of the yoke in my Bianka sweater.

From design (via tears) to pattern

Designing a garment is one thing. Creating a pattern is a totally different ballpark. I have published a mitten pattern before, but a sweater in numerous sizes is a lot of work. I have calculated and recalculated, found errors, cried and recalculated again. And again. You get the picture. Finally I gave birth to a publishable pattern in nine sizes. And it was approved by the tech editor. The relief was indescribable.

Selma Margau

I named the sweater design Selma Margau after the sheep and shepherdess that provided me with the lovely wool. It is a sweater I wear with love and pride. I made it. I designed the sweater from the properties of the yarn that I in turn designed after the superpowers of the wool. The fibers are shown at their best advantage and I like to think of the finished sweater as a tribute to the sheep that grew the wool and the shepherdess who nurtured that sheep and cared for it with her knowledge and experience.

I needed to stay warm in the beech forest, hence the staged throwing of leaves. Photo by Dan Waltin

Photo shoot

We took the pictures by a wooden castle not far from our house. We did two photo shoots – one by the castle for the pattern in Spin-Off magazine and one for my blog in the beech forest on the caste grounds. The magazine pictures were the most important ones, so we started by the castle. After just a few pictures, though, Dan’s fancy camera started to make odd sounds. We did the last shots quickly and moved on to the beech forest. After just one picture the camera stopped working altogether. It turned out that the one lens Dan had brought was cranky and had gone on a strike. So all but the featured photo for this post were shot with his phone camera. It was a big relief that we had done the magazine shot first.

Selma Margau sweater.
The only picture of the Selma Margau sweater in the beech forest we got with Dan’s fancy camera. Photo by Dan Waltin

It was a cold and windy day and despite the fact that the sweater is way too warm for me with all the cables, I was freezing for the photo shoot. To stay warm I jumped around between takes. When my 14-year-old saw the photos in the evening she was shocked: “Mum, you’re jumping!!” Apparently I haven’t been jumping much lately. But here it is, proof of me jumping in a beech forest.

A woman jumping in an autumn forest. She is wearing a natural white knitted sweater with cables.
I’m jumping to stay warm. Apparently a rare sight. Photo by Dan Waltin.

Happy spinning!

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11 Replies to “A design process”

  1. That’s wonderful Josefin! I look forward to the Summer Spin-off magazine even more now…I might just knit this one;-) It’s lovely to read about the process from start to finish, very inspiring. I’m about to start knitting your Heartwarming mittens again, this time for my Mum. I hope you’re all well!

      1. The sweater will be for me so I’m hoping it’s not too shaped but I can work around it if it is;-) I just got some Norfolk Horn fleece which I think will make beautiful yarn and I was born and raised in Norfolk so I feel a connection;-))

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