How Not To Spin a Sweater

words and photo by: Kara Perpelitz

Step 1 

Young and intrepid, set out to the fibre market at Fibre Week in Olds Alberta. Peruse the aisles for materials for class but get caught up in alllll the beautiful fibres. There are silks – too fancy, wouldn’t want to ruin it. There are soft fluffy downy fibres like yak, cashmere, angora – so frightening! How do I get enough twist in those? And how many singles will I need to make a whole sweater? Too many I think. There are bags of blends, cute soft Merino tops dyed in many gorgeous colourways – maybe a little too spendy for a whole sweater’s worth. The budget is pretty tight, considering the need of class materials. Oh! Look! Big bags of Shetland! Oooh! It’s roving! It can be spun woollen! It’ll go faster. The sweater will be warmer! Yes. Baa baa brown sheep, this is my wool, yes ma’am yes ma’am, three bags full. Skip away joyfully, forgetting all about your need for cotton. 


Step 2 

Once home, still reeling from an amazing week in class learning how to spin woollen, how to spin for certain projects, how to calculate the amount of yarn needed for a sweater, tear open those bags with great anticipation. You’ve heard that Shetland is so soft and so gorgeous and spins so nicely! To your surprise, find the wool feels a little coarse, maybe a little kempy. Think to yourself, “This is fine, the spinning will fix it! Shetland is a beautiful fibre, they all said so.” 


Step 3 

Create a mini skein using the chain ply method, because 3-ply yarn is cool! You have three bags, so it’s easy to make three plies. Again, once that yarn is off the bobbin, wonder, “Is this going to work for a sweater?” Decide to carry on because that’s what you planned. That’s what you’re going to do. 


Step 4 

Hyper focus. It’s summer, so it’s hot, and you’re travelling. Take your wheel and your wool everywhere! Sit in the AC’d living room, and spin while visiting with family and friends. Answer all the questions as if you know exactly what you’re talking about (because honestly you do know quite a bit, but obviously you don’t realize just yet that not all Shetland is created equally). Wow your audience with the longest long draw your arms will allow. Show them the magic of gently attenuating the slubs out. Feel energized and excited to show off the final project next time you visit with them! 


Step 5 



Step 6 

Give the yarn a good woollen wash! Hot soapy water! Thwack thwack thwack! Don’t be gentle, woolen loves a good beating (NOT ALL WOOLLEN LIKES THIS you will learn later). Wind that yarn into chunky balls on your nostepinne. Hold them in your hands and marvel at your amazing work! Consider for a moment that you maybe thwacked too hard? It’s a bit stiff… 


Step 7 

Pull out your pattern and get to knitting. In the round, simple. Top-down boat neck, perfect. Get to the bottom of the sweater and realize you will have to do cap sleeves because math isn’t your strong suit. Spinning is your strong suit. Spinning to a specific yardage out of a certain amount of wool? Maybe not your strong suit either, but at least you know how to spin a solid yarn. And I mean pretty solid, given the intense beating you gave it. Maybe that’s why there isn’t enough for two sleeves? 


Step 8 

Give that sweater a gentle lukewarm handwash and a gentle lukewarm rinse and very carefully lay it out to dry, giving it a gentle tug to block it so it’s just right. (In hindsight, wonder why you can whack it in yarn form but not in sweater form?? Don’t worry, you’re still learning. You will learn why later.) 


Step 9 

Try that sweater on! It fits! But … yikes! Is it ever itchy! It’s a little stiff too. Continue to wear it, pretending that it’s not itchy at all, that it’s the best thing that has ever been made in the history of making things. Show it off proudly, walking down the runway next year at Fibre Week. Finally admit it’s itchy as all get out and take it off as soon as you get back to the staging room for the fashion show; you’ve got another item to wear, this time a beaver fur shawl. It feels like a dream. 


Step 10 

Unpack once you get home. Carefully fold that sweater and place it at the very back of your sweater shelf. It can live there forever. A symbol of how not to spin a sweater. 

Author Kara Perpelitz wearing the her handspun sweater created from humorous beginnings.


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