Portrait of a sweater

At the Jämtland wool webinar a couple of weeks ago I showed a sweater made in Jämtland wool and how it had been worn on the elbow after five years. After the webinar I got a request from a follower. She asked me to make some sort of portrait of a sweater and show different stages of its life. I found the idea brilliant and I am happy to meet her request. So here it is – the portrait a sweater.

A woman walking outdoors. She is wearing a grey sweater with white spinning wheels in a stranded knitted yoke.
The spinning wheel sweater straight off the needles in 2015

Everyday and wool festivities

I have worn my sweater for both everyday and festive occasions. As an everyday sweater I have worn it at home and at work. It is a warm sweater that works for a large part of the year.

At work nobody really notices it, to most of my colleagues it is just another knitted sweater. But when I go to wool and spinning events it is definitely a festive sweater – people see the work that has been put into it, they smile heartily at the spinning wheels on the yoke and some recognize it from my videos.

In 2018 I attended the Swedish fleece and spinning championships. That is definitely a festive occasion.

No matter where or when I wear it, it always feels comfortable and safe.

A five year portrait

I started the making of the sweater in 2014 by shearing the Swedish finewool lamb Pia-Lotta. The whole process is well documented and actually the main character of one of my earliest videos Slow fashion – from sheep to sweater (also available in Swedish). In the video I go through all the stages from raw fleece to a finished sweater. For that reason alone this is the perfect sweater to use in a portrait. In this portrait I document the stages of wearing.

I knit the sweater in the Fileuse design by Valérie Miller.

A new spinner

When I made the sweater I had been spinning for two years. Since then I have improved my spinning for another six years. While it is far from my best spinning it is definitely one of my favourite sweaters. And one of my most worn.

Looking at the sweater today I see many things I would have done differently. The grey yarn is unevenly and loosely spun. I think the yarn ranges between light fingering and sport weight. A consistent fingering weight yarn with more twist would fill out the stitches better and give a more finished overall impression.

The yarn is quite thin and unevenly spun at the neckline.

Had I placed the bulkier yarn on the elbows they would probably be less worn now. The white finewool yarn is also a bit unevenly spun. However, it is woolen spun and the uneven parts don’t show as much as they do in the worsted spun grey Jämtland yarn.

I placed the bulkiest skein on the bottom of the sweater. Perhaps it would have worked better on the elbows.

Tales from the elbows

As I wrote in the preamble of this post the sweater is worn at the elbows. I have seen the thinned-out threads for a while and a couple of months ago my daughter told me there was a hole on the right elbow.

I mended it with parallel blanket stitches over a horizontal help thread. That is the only mending technique I have learned.

A darning needle mending a knitted sweater.
A mended underarm on a hoody in a commercial yarn. The sweater has been worn a lot during three years.

I must have been too greedy with the mending since there is a hole on the same elbow again, just underneath the first mending. I should have mended a bigger area.

Portrait of a sweater. A new hole on the right elbow, just underneath the first mending.

I stand at work and use the mouse with my left hand. The right elbow often leans on the table top. I guess that is the reason why my right elbow has thinned out faster than the left. The left elbow is thin, but not worn through.

A thin spot on my left elbow.

Don’t get me wrong – Five years is a long time for a sweater that I have worn so often. I remember finishing the sweater just in time to bring it to Shetland wool week in 2015. In Shetland I bought yarn for a hoodie at Jamieson & Smith and started knitting it, so the hoodie is a bit younger. I have worn these two sweaters equally – the spinning wheel sweater in handspun and the hoodie in commercial yarn. I started mending the hoodie in several places two years ago (see picture above of a sweater with stripes). My first mending of the handspun spinning wheel sweater (which is older) was this year.

A new mending

I used help threads for my new patch.

To mend the new hole I removed the old mending. I figured it would be better to make a bigger mending than to overlap the old one. To find a suitable mending technique I used Kerstin Neumüller’s excellent and methodical book Mend and patch (available of course in Swedish and also German and French). I attached help threads over the hole and followed the knitted pattern with a darning needle threaded with the mending yarn.

A mended elbow hole! I removed the help threads and wove in the ends after I had finished the mending.

The mending technique description calls for a thinner yarn than the original one to avoid a bulky patch. I went the other way and used a bulkier yarn. The elbow is an exposed area and I didn’t want to have to mend a third time. The yarn I used is a handspun Gotland yarn I made for socks. It has two Z-spun threads and one S-spun thread that are plied S for extra strength. I hope it does the trick!

The spinning wheel sweater in 2020, with a mended elbow. The portrait of a sweater has changed.

I decided to make an invisible mending. It blends into the original textile quite well. However, I now understand the beauty of visible mending. With yarn in a contrasting colour you will actually see what you are doing when you mend the hole!

Other signs of wear

I inspected the sweater to look for other signs of wear. I saw a thin spot on the cuff of the right arm. However, I think this part is slightly felted since it is knit in Swedish finewool which felts easily. I don’t think the risk of further damage is alarming. I have it on my watch list but I haven’t done anything to fix it yet.

Close-up of a knitted piece of fabric with a worn-out edge.
A thin spot on the right cuff.

I also looked for pilling and didn’t find much at all. There might have been pilling in the early days and if there was it has all been worn off by now.

All in all I think this sweater has really worn well. I have worn it so many times and it is a wonder that it still looks so nice. I plan to wear it for at least another five years.

Make that sweater

You don’t have to be a master spinner to spin yarn for a whole sweater. There will be uneven parts and flaws. You will be able to look at it later and understand what you would have done differently today. You will also look at your accomplishment with pride. All the flaws you see are seeds to new learning. All the mistakes you see will remind you of what you have learned and how you have used that piece of learning in later projects.

Make that sweater. Embrace the mistakes as gifts of learning and wear your accomplishment with pride. When you see thin patches and holes, mend them and be even more proud. Make your own portrait of a sweater, and many sweaters to come.

Thank you for the inspiration Sissel!

Happy spinning!

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3 Replies to “Portrait of a sweater”

  1. What a great article. I’m very conscious that I spin because I enjoy it, but not for a project as I don’t feel my spinning is consistent. You’ve given me the inspiration to overlook that and have a go. Thank you!

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