Tag Archives: aran

One page of a field guide to handknit thrift store sweaters

Several years ago (it seems like a few, kinda like how 2005 was just 5 years ago) so maybe this was 2009? My extended family got together in the small Midwestern city we (sort of) used to call home. A couple of my cousins and I hit our old thrifting stomping grounds – vast warehouses of the discarded in near dead areas of a long dying city. I didn’t expect to find much – the wealth in my current eastern home is apparent in the quality of rejected goods in the thrifts around here – but I was pleasantly surprised to find a few good sweaters to frog and to wear as is out there.

thriftid-cable-cross

One of the sweaters was clearly hand-knit and somewhat vintage, but I couldn’t tell from when – the longish and leanish shape could have been 1960s, more likely ’70s, but slightly possibly ’90s – I had a similar cotton version from Pear Monarchy back in the day. But it was slightly fulled/felted so it was hard to say the precise shape and fit the original was meant to be. And the color was perfect – I’d been hemming and hawing about knitting a dark charcoal grey cardigan then, and my skills were just beginning to finally progress past garter stitch rectangles, but I was still intimidated by things that have to fit (and still am to some degree) so finding this cardigan was a jackpot – double or triple jackpot too since it was old and used but still usable, not to mention the fit was perfect – hip-bone clearing and no waist-shaping – roomy, but no bulky armpits and linebacker shoulders.

(And it has a mis-crossed cable you can only sort of see in a prominent spot on the front, so the maker either wore it proudly, or didn’t notice until after all the careful finishing and was sorely irritated and perhaps why it ended up at the thrift…?)

I wore it as a light jacket and/or office sweater for a few years, and have since mostly worn it indoors – it’s still in great shape but needs some attention to a few pilled areas and perhaps an aggressive blocking to try to eek out a bit more arm length – they look long enough, but don’t quite feel it – and I’m probably to blame for that – since it was already a bit felted, I likely washed it on delicate in the machine in the last apartment, and delicate it was not – so I think it shrunk a tiny bit more… The buttons had a way of falling off too – I seemed to remember taking them all off and reaming them out so they’d stop cutting the threads, but perhaps I thought about doing that and instead sewed them with heavier-duty thread? Either way, a few are missing – I think only one more since I acquired it, but I took the useless ones off the bitter end of the front and off the collar and sewed them on the body and no one is the wiser unless you’re awkwardly close enough to me to see the buttonholes – they never would have functioned buttoned all the way up to the tips of the collar though, or at least on my apparently thick neck.

But that’s also because it wasn’t meant to be buttoned all the way up –

thriftid-cover

I found the original pattern book while thrifting this summer!

I’m always on the lookout for vintage knitting patterns – I’m actively collecting older Minerva books for their loveliness rather than any intention to make a tiny-gauge fitted suit or flowing gown, but I like the fit of some garments from the ’60s and ’70s, so I snatch up those with the intention of possibly making something from them, or at least using them as a jumping off point.

This one caught my eye because I’ve been hemming and hawing still about making a heavily-cabled sweater – something fishermanish, but not to “Celtic” looking, something roomy but not baggy, something vintage-looking but not cropped or high-necked, and preferably something top-down and already written up so I don’t have to work it out, but so far, I haven’t quite found it… But this seemed on the right track – good length, slim but not fitted, armpits didn’t appear to go halfway down to the bellybutton, and there was a v-neck option – all good things to consider. But when I flipped it to the back cover, bam! My thrifted cardigan appeared!

thriftid-match

Bucilla Arans, volume 59, 1982.

I’d made a half-hearted attempt to find the pattern over the years – I figured if it fit and has held up well for at least 30+ years it would be worth repeating, but nothing ever came up in ravelry and I figured it was from the 1970sish, I have a helluva time finding it since so many millions patterns exist from then.

It was once sold for $3.00, then on final sale for $ .50 at Hess’s department store (based out of Allentown, PA, but with a chain of stores in the East). And I was off on the date – 1982 – but many commercial knitting patterns seem to lag a year or few behind, so it does fit the slimmer 1970s silhouette rather than the burgeoning boxy or big-sack one of the 1980s – and the interior patterns must be worn with feathered hair. But it could have been knitted fairly recently after all? Perhaps it was made in the 1990s? (Or even the early aughts?) I certainly have 10-year-old patterns I still intend to make, and perhaps will a decade and a half or more after their publication…

My sweater has reinforced button bands and the bottom ribbing is folded up and stitched on the inside – perhaps to reinforce the bottom hem, or it flared or otherwise misbehaved- both pattern modifications I’ll keep if I ever make it. The upper arms are still slightly wide for my taste – not too terribly, but the felting probably helped them a bit, so I’d take them in a bit. And I have a complicated relationship with bobbles – I like them, but I don’t love making them, or that many.

But maybe I’ll just enjoy my sweater and sell the pattern book and get on with other things…

 

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Terroir in wool

So I yammered on for a few posts about my new yarn and roving from New Mexico a few months ago here and here, but all along I’ve been thinking about the wool I acquired in Italy last autumn.

We were in Abruzzo for a few weeks in September/October 2012, on a mission to hike nearly every day in all three of the relatively new national parks: Parco Nazionale d’Abruzzo, Parco Nazionale del Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga, Parco Nazionale della Majella, and some regional parks and preserves including: Parco Naturale Sirente Velino, Riserva Naturale Regionale Monte Genzana e Alto Gizio, and Riserva Regionale Gole del Sagittario.  We had previously been in the area in 2008, less than a year before the devastating earthquake in the L’Aquila region, and had only a small taste of the hiking then that was later to come.  In the four years since however, more North American tourists have invaded come to the region, and though it is good for the economy, especially the areas still rebuilding, it isn’t the same immersive/escapist experience as it was before.  Now you hear the occasional loudly spoken English (I still can’t get past that someone-will-understand-me-if-I-speak-louder-rather-than-actually-learn-a-word-of-the-language habit), see flip-flops on ugly feet, pay much higher prices for apartment rentals, and stumble around overly large rolling luggage.  But I too am a North American, and a visitor, and have poor language skills, so I can’t be too much of a snob.

I first learned about Valeria and her AquiLANA yarn in a round-about way through ravelry when I posted to an Italian group seeking information about local wool producers.  She and her husband’s family raise sheep in the L’Aquila region – their business, Azienda Agrozootecnica Damiani Ovidio, can be found on Facebook.  Through another ravelry friend, we managed to communicate despite my awful Italian, (thank you Google translator) and because of her friend’s quite good English, to set up a time to meet in her town for a yarn purchase.

AquiLANA - Copy(Photo by Valeria/AquiLANA)

I would love to give more details about her wool and the company, but I’d have to commit to a serious translation session that I am too unfocused to partake in at the moment.  But to say her yarn is fabulous and it comes from these sheep off the mountains is enough for me.

But back to the area for a moment – our time hiking in the parks was simply awesome.  Some of the maps and trail markings were extremely good, some not so, and we had a hiking guidebook that should be burned due to some dangerous misinformation.  Many of the trails also had formerly been mule tracks and were best left for four-legged beasts or those very sure of foot and without any tendencies toward vertigo.  But overall, it was some of the best hiking I’ve done.

(But I’ll pack a few more emergency supplies the next time).

Abruzzo-Corno Grande

Abruzzo-castle

Abruzzo meadow

And of course eating was a nearly spiritual experience.

Can’t get any better to come down off a mountain, stop along the road, and dive into a plate of freshly grilled lamb arrosticini.

Abruzzo-lamb

I’ve purchased wool from small producers at domestic festivals before, but this was the first time the wool smacked me in the face as coming from a very specific place – it had an intense “terroir” if you will.

Laquilana montepulciano

And to make it even more local, some is dyed with Montepulciano wine for a lovely muted rose-grey (this is fingering weight).

AquiLana skeins

At first, I only wanted to buy the Montepulciano-dyed wool because I almost never knit with white/natural.  I don’t have a reason why except that I usually like color more, I fear stains (I like to drink the Montepulciano too), and some whites look really bad on me.  I guess I do have my reasons.  But after spending some time in the mountains with the fluffy clouds, bleached rocks, and flocks of sheep with their fluffy white Maremma guard dogs, I decided that I had to have the color of the land (or, ahem, lamb).

Abruzzo sheep enclosures

See?

Abruzzo sheep

So then my new stash of clear, clean, true wool went from the crisp vast mountains and valleys to the land of exhaust and grime…

AquiLANA in NYC

I have a couple of ideas about what I’d like to do with the yarn, however I’m putting pressure on myself that both items will be my own designs. But I’m also realizing that with the strange turns of my life lately, my self-diagnosed ADD, work on portfolio pieces, and the chaos of everything else, I’m absolutely itching to dive right into this yarn NOW without the bother of critical design thoughts and only the happiness and escapism in remembering the land and enjoying the wool.

Laquilana swatches

I’ve swatched some of the natural wool in aran/bulky weight and it will probably turn into a cable-knit sweater – either something classic/vintage inspired along the lines of the Beatnik Pullover, or more modern like the Roam Tunic.  I’m leaning toward classic though since I pray for the day skinny jeans disappear (and will probably take tunics with them).  Unless of course it could be a dress on its own…

New England-new pattern shadow

The wine yarn will be a shawl, and that pattern is about halfway done, but I’ve run into a few snafus that I need to work out.  I’ll test knit a version of it in recycled yarn before I use the good yarn too, so it will take some time.

The bulky/aran yarn reminds me a little of Quince & Company Osprey – it seems that it may be processed and spun in a similar fashion and has that same lovely soft, sproingy, spongy factor – and maybe even more so.  It is soft, yes, but not weakly soft – almost cottony.  I even washed one of my swatches and it got even better – I wouldn’t say that it bloomed, but the stitch definition relaxed slightly while still being entirely legible.  I’m sure the yarn will wear quite well, yet be very comfortable.

It is already my favorite sweater.

And we’ve made plans for a return trip, so perhaps I may come back with more sheepy souvenirs!

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New England travels – increasing my fiber…

While in the White Mountains, we decided to use up a rainy day in Portland, Maine.  I recently bought some Quince & Co. Osprey yarn and was anxious to hit a yarn store near its hometown to buy fondle some more.  We underestimated the drive down to the coast on slow and winding country roads so by the time we got there, we were too hungry to do anything else.  So we got some tasty-as-all-get-out lobster rolls at Fisherman’s Grill (and you can spot my old cardigan in action, or at least knotted around my waist and waiting for action, along with a tiny peek of my old sh*t “rain”coat, aka the sucky soaker).

New England-lobsta roll

And ate them (along with some badass insanely delicious onion rings) in the car!?!?!  This is a strange and rare thing* for us and it felt very very wrong, but the food tasted very very good.  And after our onion and roach of the sea feast, we were sleepy so we decided to drive all the way back to nap away the rainy afternoon in the cabin and skip the rest of Portland.  (Sorry Portland, see you more next time).

But back to the Maine-based Quince & Co. yarn.  I loved the stuff.  At first I was a little unenthused about it since they offer few tweeds or heathers and their advertising is beautifully photographed with feminine and ethereal and often pastel colors, and I feel a little too mannish for the stuff.  If I see another baby chick yellow or sea rose pink drapey cardigan paired with a demure sundress I may sprout a chin hair.

New England-Quince & Co.So I chose some of the murkiest colors they had to offer, but I must say I love murky and they did a great job with a green that sometimes looks brown (Marsh) and a grey that sometimes looks blue (Storm).  And the yarn base feels soft but durable and has a wonderful spongy sproing factor.  It reminds me a lot of the wool I bought in Abruzzo last year about which I have yet to write and made a huge impact on the products I buy.

New England-Osprey

The yarn also has a great stitch definition and does that thing where the stitches appear in column-like rows on one side, but I can’t remember the term for it…  But regardless, I’m in love with the stuff and will buy more at a later date.  I’ve pretty much taken a blood vow to only buy domestic/North American products when I can, especially wool, and especially buy wool from places and people I visit.  I’m making an exception for a couple of American indie dyers who source globally but have an incomparable and awesome product, but for the most part it’s all red white and blue (and just white and red for Canada) sheep for me (and of course the colors of another country’s flag when I’m visiting said country…. you get the drift).

So of course I wanted to make a short detour on our way back through Vermont to Green Mountain Spinnery.  Sadly I wasn’t there at a time they gave tours, but I happily inhaled the lovely sheepy perfumes and peeked at some of the equipment.   I was also exceptionally restrained in my purchases since I knew I could always buy online from them, so I just picked up a few skeins of their Yarn Over yarn.  I love the stuff – it’s made from leftovers spun together in unrepeatable muted colors and is sheepy and rustic and feels like a good strong wooly yarn (my camera liked it too and got excitedly saturated, but it’s a bit more faded in life).  I’m sure I’ll regret not buying a sweater’s worth, but I really don’t have the dough or a lack of sweaters to justify it now.

New England-GMS

And I really couldn’t justify spending much at the great local gear store Farm Way but you bet I nearly spun around in the-hills-are-alive fashion in the Ibex section.  Yep, wool, mostly American-made (except it’s Australian Merino), Vermont-based, comfortable, practical, and sadly, pricey even when on sale, and what I do have of it fits a bit strangely since the really on sale stuff isn’t usually in my size.  So instead I bought a pair of Vermont made Darn Tough wool socks and N became my Sugar Daddy for a new rain jacket.

New England-socks

It’s a little weird to buy wool socks since I knit them, but I’ll never want to knit (or be able to) really fine-gauge ones or cushy-soled hiking ones.

And my old and continued favorite of domestic wool yarn is Brown Sheep’s Lamb’s Pride – I can’t neglect to mention them and I have a huge aging stash of the stuff…you can find it on crazy sale sometimes.

DSCF6391 - Copy

Now I’m putting some pressure on myself to come up with some White Mountain inspired patterns, but for now I must finish other things.

* We/I eschew and abhor many aspects of American culture, especially in regards to its foodways and habits of eating fast “food” shite in cars.  Yes, we are snobs but love our tasty tasty Euro-centric, farm-to-table, fresh out of the garden, local, locavore, low on the food chain, sustainably raised, only when in season, not from a factory or feedlot, organic, chemical and preservative-free, not-out-of-a-box-or-bag, Mediterranean-inspired, stuff that has been eaten for thousands of years and should be for thousands more, grub.  Although I have to admit I cringed violently when a server at my favorite restaurant mentioned that the veal they were serving that night was hand-fed by children… I call that 4-H, or child-labor, or just plain f*cking ridiculous, or Portlandia come to life (only it wasn’t in Stumptown)…  And those onion rings above?  Yeah, I watched the guy take an onion and slice it up, dredge it by hand, and dunk into the fryer – they didn’t come pre-breaded and frozen, yee hah!

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