Today’s blog post comes from Mirella of Wool + Bricks whose pattern Whiteleaf was published yesterday on Knitty, using a combination of commercial yarn and a skein of handspun yarn, spun from Countess Ablaze’s Ice Queen.
As a wool-obsessive, it was really only a matter of time before I got sucked into the mysterious world of spinning. In fact, it feels like the entirety of my time knowing Countess Ablaze has been leading towards the inevitable moment when I picked up a wad of fluff and a spindle…
I started in June, using the most basic of tools: a simple spindle bought for a fiver from an Etsy seller, a redundant shoebox, elastic bands that I got off the postie, and a lot of determination. My first yarn was really lumpy and overspun, but I got the hang of it fairly quickly and each subsequent yarn felt like yet another breakthrough.
The time for something more ambitious had come.
As an inexperienced spinner, I’ve found it easier (if even psychosomatically!) to try blends of new fibres and familiar fibres, rather than jumping straight in with the new fibre. I already knew I enjoyed spinning with Shetland, which is so easy to make into lofty yarn, so this blend seemed like a safe place to explore more exotic fibres like kid mohair and bamboo. I was surprised by the ease with which this fibre drafted. I’d always thought that blends were more complicated than their single-fibre counterparts, but that’s definitely not the case!
Blended fibres allow spinners to combine properties of different fibres in order to come up with something new, and Ice Queen is a solid example of this in practice. The Shetland maintains its loft, while the kid mohair adds in fineness and a bit of halo, and the bamboo contributes smoothness. The yarn seemed to spin itself… now to figure out how to get it to knit itself and I could make a fortune!
Those who know me will attest that I’m a fairly earthy, gritty person, not really the sparkly type, so I reluctantly accepted the firestar as part of the package. Its subtlety in this blend won me over, and I feel it really added something to the final yarn. There’s nothing like stepping outside of your safety zone for enhanced gratification!
This was a brilliant fibre choice for a beginner – the fibres just begged to be drafted into fluffy singles that plied into a light and slender fingering weight. Producing a yarn like this worked wonders for my spinning confidence, giving me a boldness to try yet more fibres and blends, which continues as I aim to spin a new-to-me breed/fibre every week. And helped me overcome my aversion to bling!
The thing is, I’m still a knitter at heart, so beautiful handspun can’t remain yarn forever. And this particular skein just begged to be knitted into something, to be shown off. And of course it wanted to be wintry.
The obvious choice would be snowflakes, but that felt a bit hackneyed, and still my mind kept wandering to snow-covered hillsides in rural Oxfordshire. I visit the county every Christmas, and every year we take a walk up to Whiteleaf Cross, through frozen beech forests where we tread silently hoping to spot deer. Although the beech leaves are long gone by then, their mulch remains on the ground under a layer of frost, and the odd leaf shows through the ice crystals. “Winter trees and frosted leaves” has a nice ring to it…
To balance out the delicate colourway of the handspun, and keep the ‘trees’ element obvious, I decided on a rustic-style yarn in neutral shade. Once some swatching had established that Ice Queen prefers blues, it became a bit easier to narrow down the choices on Jamieson’s shadecard of over 220 colours. Rosewood had enough blue to please Ice Queen and enough brown to please me, straddling the range between autumn and winter enough to suit most complexions, and was the perfect candidate for my ‘winter trees’ and ‘frosted leaves’ theme.
The type of project was fairly easy to resolve. There are shawl knitters, there are toy knitters, there are dishcloth knitters; I started out my knitting life as a sock knitter, so it didn’t take much to convert to a sweater knitter, and in the past year I’ve finished 15 of them! This was definitely going to become a sweater of sorts.
I’d like to claim the pattern wrote itself, but 19 sizes doesn’t happen in my sleep (I’m still hoping for elves), and there was a lot of face-palming and hair-ruffling before I had a construction that pleased me over all the sizes.
The colourwork yoke is deliberately kept shallow to frame the face without over-emphasising the shoulders, and several short rows are positioned in order to keep the neckline round. I like my high, vintage-style crew necks, but I know others don’t! I decided on some raglan increases in the lower portion of the yoke to encourage the fabric to tuck into the shoulder joint a bit more, which is especially important as I wanted to keep the yoke quite deep to allow for winter layering. With traditional yoke constructions, deep armholes can lead to the fabric tenting around the shoulder joint, which defeats all the aims of choosing a shallow yoke pattern in the first place.
I choose a 2×2 ribbing for its cosiness, so that meant I have to encourage knitters to use the tubular BO for their edges – we’ll see how that goes! I toyed with a cuff motif, but decided to keep the sleeves plain. I’m glad of this because I tried the cuff motif on my personal version of the sweater and it didn’t work out as I’d hoped! It just looks like I can’t knit a straight stripe…
I decided that, rather than try to introduce both the tubular BO and tubular CO for 2×2 ribbing, I would cast on the neck stitches first with a choice of methods, and then pick those stitches back up for the collar. This also provides a bit of structure to keep your neckline from stretching too much with repeated wear.
Hopefully, though, you’ll end up wearing this sweater so much that it will stretch out of shape in the way that only well-loved jumpers do!