Wearability Wednesday: mixed message

Welcome to another episode of Wearability Wednesday, in which I review a previously knitted garment, and comment on its wearability.  Do I wear it, or has it been consigned to a drawer?  How do I style it?  How has it held up?  Would I knit it again? What would I do differently? Does it fit?

Today we will look at this sweater:

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I knit this around this time last year.  I blogged about it quite extensively as it underwent a transformation or two on the needles.  It was a case of choosing the wrong pattern and yarn combination, realising half way through that it wasn’t going to work, and then morphing it into something else to take advantage of the yarn.  You can read about it here.  Given the mis-starts (including some sizing issues), I think it turned out pretty well.  I called it Ocean Waters.

Emma took the above photo yesterday.  You can see that the fit is good.  It is a cool and casual sweater: perfect with jeans, which is how I usually wear it.  It is a “going out for a long walk in the woods” sweater.  A “puttering around the house” sweater.  A “cosy up on the couch with a good book” sweater.  In other words, it is a sweatshirt kind of sweater, only far better because everyone knows that natural fibres beat fleece hands down.

This was the first (and so far, only) project which I knitted with Nua yarn, a new-ish yarn developed and distributed by Carol Feller.  The yarn is a blend of 60% merino wool, 20% yak, and 20% linen. It has a very rustic look, with long fibres, and muted colours (the linen takes up dye differently thus lending depth to the colour).  It is also very warm, due to the yak I suspect, which is why it didn’t lend itself to the summer top I had initially planned to knit.

So, back to the wearability question: do I wear it?  Yes, all of the time.  How is it holding up?  The short answer is: it has pilled terribly.  Here is a photo from a few weeks ago, which I took myself in a bit of a contortionist pose, in order to show some of the extent of pilling:

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This is pretty awful.  As a result, I tended to wear the sweater all of the time around the house – but not out in public.  I want to make clear that this yarn is the most cuddly, warm, deliciously soft next to the skin, absorbent, comfortable, lovely, natural, lightweight, scrumptious stuff ever.  But it pills if I just look at it.

It is also the case that I had not spent much time purposely trying to de-pill it.  So, last week, I took it to task, and tried my best to get rid of all the pills:

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Then, I washed it and laid it out to dry.  You can see from the photo at the top, and the below close-up that it definitely looks better after getting this spa treatment.

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You can also see how very beautiful the colours are, and how the blended yarns result in such a rich canvas.  I mean, this close-up is gorgeous!  Look at the stitch definition! However, I have been wearing it now for a few hours and already the sleeves are starting to pill again.  I have heard of sweaters which are initially very pilly and then magically cease to be after a few washes, and am hoping that might be true for this one.  Because, on every other count, I love this yarn.  It is incredibly warm for its weight, and as soft as can be.  I will continue to wear it and periodically de-pill it, and hope for the best.  And I will probably try Nua again on a different type of canvas – maybe as a cowl or a pair of mitts, perhaps with a smaller needle size and a textured stitch pattern (note that the sweater doesn’t show much pilling across the bodice which is knitted in a knit and purl patterned stitch).

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For all of you who asked me on Ravelry for a review of Nua, I have to say its a bit of a mixed message.  Regardless, it is cold here in the UK this week, and I am staying toasty warm in my Nua sweater.

Pattern/yarn mis-match: solution!

How do you solve a mis-match between pattern and yarn?

Here’s how:

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As you may recall, I was having some troubles with my latest project.  I had picked a pattern for a pretty little summer t-shirt; the Sunbird Top by Quenna Lee.

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© Interweave / George Boe

I had paired it with Carol Feller’s yarn, Nua, a rustic blend of wool, linen, and yak.  I had nearly finished knitting it when I finally succumbed to the niggling doubts that had pursued me from the beginning: I like the pattern, I loved the yarn, but they were not a match made in heaven.  The main issue was simply that the Nua is too substantial a yarn for this project.  Even though I hit the gauge exactly, the yarn was too heavy to drape properly for this t-shirt, and, let’s face it: it knits up much too warm for a summer top.

I pointed out two other problems in my post outlining my difficulties with the project.  First, the bottom edge was curling up, more than I thought would be fixed by a good blocking, and second, I hated the top-down cap sleeves, which were puckered and terribly annoying to knit:

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Clearly, this yarn was not going to work with this pattern.  However, I was reluctant to rip the whole thing out so I started thinking about ways to rescue it by re-conceptualising it as a fall sweater.  Here’s what I did.

Buy some more yarn

This one made me laugh.  I pushed the button to buy the yarn just minutes before I saw the comment left on my blog post by Lorenza: “Three words: sunk cost bias…”  Yes, exactly!  So, let’s solve this by throwing even more cash at it!  My idea, however, was to turn this into a fall sweater with long sleeves which means I needed more yarn.  Since I didn’t want to try to track down the right dye lot, I decided to buy a different shade and make a colour block sweater.  I was going to go for a gold colour, but Doug convinced me to buy this olive green, which I adore.  Isn’t it a fantastic mix?

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Doug said it would look like the colour transitions you get on the ocean when the depth changes, and he was right.  It reminds us of the greens and blues we saw last summer on our holiday around Vancouver Island.

Rip out the bottom 6 inches of the sweater, and re-knit with the green.

Not only did I want the sweater to have a contrasting deep border of green, but I decided right away that I didn’t want the curved edging of the Sunbird Top.  It didn’t work well in this yarn, but also it wasn’t fitting into my mental concept of what I was hoping to accomplish.  So, after ripping out a chunk of the bottom, I knit it down straight, keeping the lace on the sides, and then finishing with 6 rows of garter stitch (3 garter ridges) at the hem, to repeat the garter ridges above the chest on the original pattern.  Not only would this tie in the new design with the old, but it would (I hoped) get rid of the curling problem on the edge.  I think it turned out great.

Match the neckline finishing to the edging.

The 6 rows of garter I added to the hemline gave it a very nice finished look.  I decided to add the same around the neckline.  Not only did  it tie all of the elements together, but it raised the neckline a crucial half inch, which matters now that the sweater is a warmer-weight fall sweater instead of a breezy summer top.

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Make long sleeves.

I absolutely hated knitting the original sleeves top down.  I don’t mind seaming either so the obvious thing was to knit these bottom up, flat, and then seam and set in to the shoulders.  I worried a little, since I was knitting bottom up, about getting the line matched up where the blue switches over to the green, but think I planned it out perfectly:

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For those who like to know these details, the sweater measures 11.5″ from the underarm to the bottom of the blue; the green is then another 5″.  For the sleeves, I knit 6.5″ of green, and then switched to the blue for another 11.5″ before starting the underarm decreases. I do think that it stretched a bit when I washed it (gaining just under an inch in length), but it seems to have stretched evenly, as the colour transition still lines up perfectly.

I had to re-knit the sleeve cap three times before it fit properly.  The first time, I even set it in, but the armscythe felt tight and bunchy, so I ripped the seam out, and started the cap over.  I do think that the seam looks pretty good and that the cap fits much better than the original cap I was knitting top down.  If you recall, when I knit the body of the garment, I started with a larger size across the top (a 46″) and then switched to a 43 at the underarms.  This was definitely the wrong choice, and if I was being totally picky, I should have ripped the whole thing out and started again to make the shoulders narrower.  Although I think this sleeve fits pretty well, I do feel it would be a better fit at the shoulders if it were an inch narrower at each side.

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While I still have a few niggles with this, all-in-all I think it is a pretty good save!  The Nua washes up great, it has a lovely silky feel to it and feels fantastic next to the skin.  It is warmer than it looks (due to the yak, I suspect), while the linen makes for a rustic look and adds depth to the colour variation (the linen doesn’t pick up the dye in the same way as the wool).  I have switched this on Ravelry from a Sunbird project to a “incorporates Sunbird” project, and have re-named it Ocean Waters.

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Now, as often happens, I’ve knit a fall sweater just as summer kicks in!

A Nua project on my needles

Last August, I bought seven skeins of Carol Feller’s new yarn, Nua.  I didn’t have a project in mind, but was curious about the yarn, mostly because of its interesting composition: it is 60% merino wool, 20% yak, and 20% linen.  It is also sportweight, a weight which I really enjoy knitting with.  This is the shade called Unexpected Macaw:

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The wool, yak, and linen fibres take up the dye differently, which gives an interesting richness to the yarn.  This particular shade reminds me of well-worn denim.  There is a very natural, rough kind of look to it, likely from the linen, but it is incredibly soft, which I imagine is from the yak fibre.

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I have been keeping my eye out for a pattern to use with this yarn.  And then, last week, this one popped up in my pattern feed:

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© Interweave / George Boe

This is the Sunbird Top by Quenna Lee, published by Interweave Press.  (A note to Ravellers: you can’t buy this pattern from Ravelry; you need to go to the Interweave site, set up an account and purchase a download. This means that you can’t store it in your Ravelry library.)  I thought it would be lovely in the Nua.  Here you can see the top back of the tee:

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I was a bit worried about whether the knit-purl stitch pattern would show up in the Nua; it would certainly be crisper in a plump cotton yarn.  However, I find the resulting fabric very pretty and subtle.  The Nua feels lovely and I think it will result in a very breathable, soft fabric that feels great on the skin.  Here is my progress as of this morning:

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For the first week of spring, it is feeling decidedly un-springlike here.  Having a sweet little tee on my needles is a good antidote and, hopefully, a precursor of beautiful weather to come.