The continuing story of a sweater…

Way, way back in the early days of this blog (it’s nearly five), I wrote a post about a much-beloved sweater. Days are getting gradually colder – and so is my neck – and  thoughts turn to big, cuddly, and above all warm, knitwear. Actually, I don’t think mine ever really turn away. I like big sweaters. What am I saying? I love big sweaters.

The sweater in question has long since joined the big woolly cloud in the sky – or rather been transformed into the stuffing for a draught excluder. It developed holes. Some holes can be mended, and this one had already been reknitted from the wrists up,

sweater repair

but other repairs are impossible. One friend suggested patches, but withdrew the suggestion after I pointed out that if I added tassels to the patches I’d be able to pass as a somewhat unusual form of exotic dancer. One in a big sweater. With patches as well as tassels. Myself, I couldn’t see the sweater working with towering platform soles, big hair and a g-string, but I guess there are all sorts of – um, points of view – out there.

That perfect sweater had been knitted in wool from – sob – the defunct Hunters mill in Brora, bought in 1998 but not knitted up until 2005. It was incredibly warm (there’d been a lot of lanolin in the wool when I washed it out in the croft kitchen, which caused a bit of an, er, argument, and I think some of it remained, though given the state of the sink I cannot think how). It was a great substitute for a coat. The colours in the tweedy yarn allowed me to accessorise it with almost anything, though generally that meant walking boots – when it didn’t mean wellies.

I knew I wanted to replace it, so my first attempt was in wool from New Lanark, bought at Wonderwool Wales. Lovely colour – red – but made me look like a corpse. I guess the red had too much blue in it, really. And I wasn’t that impressed by the wool either; it tended to go a bit thick and thin and I actually felted it slightly to correct that. So it’s been sold.

Still needed a replacement.

Life moved on, and I found myself standing in Jamieson’s Lerwick shop on my trip to Shetland four years ago. Wool was calling to me, delicious wool, green wool. Bought it, knitted it up into a replacement for the Sweater.


And it’s lovely. But it’s not for me. Not quite sure why, mind: it’s warm, the colour suits me, it reminds me of Shetland. But it may be the design; there’s just something about it that doesn’t really suit me any more, and I’ve not changed that much. Or maybe it’s the combination of colour and design, or maybe it’s just the fact that it means I’d be wearing a whole garment in – shhhh – colour.

Still needed a replacement.

I turned to some more Jamieson’s wool, this time bought at Jamieson’s Mill in Sandness from a giant cardboard box with ‘£2 a ball’ written on it (well, you just HAVE to). Chunky, though, and in black. Well, in Mirrie Dancers:

Mirrie Dancers

But I was radical – I chose another design. By now I was messing with designs instead of following patterns obediently, and I messed with Erika Knight’s Felted Sweater, adjusting the sleeves so they had at least some shaping, and reworking it so I could use my wool at the best tension.

I love it. I live in it, and it’s just come out again – it’s like seeing an old friend. Again, it’s so warm, it’s so wonderful, and I wear it constantly. But this time I’m doing some scenario planning (sorry; I’m writing a business book at the moment). Or maybe – shudder – that should be succession planning?

In yet another move charting my changing history with wool, I’ve seen the sheep. I’ve chosen the fleece. I’ve washed the fleece:


and it’s ready to spin (Gotland x Black Welsh Mountain – great colour, great lustre, quite a short staple, for all you spinners out there). I’m not quite ready to spin it, mind – I’ve got the the end of a Manx Loaghtan and a Teeswater (spinning up beautifully) to get through. But I think my big sweater will do another couple of winters. Fingers crossed!

I find the whole thing fascinating – how one garment can chart seventeen years. From skeins drying outside a croft in Sutherland, to my very first visit to Wonderwool Wales, to Shetland, to a farm in North Wales with Gotland sheep running around the place being pointed at by a couple of spinners – ‘Can I have that one? And that one? How about that one? When are you shearing?’. And it charts skills too: from following a pattern (and having to borrow my first ever circular needle from a neighbour so I could pick up the neck bands) to adapting patterns and then spinning the wool. And I’d not realised, either, that all the wool was British, or – to come over all Nicola Sturgeon – largely Scottish. Oh, I know that the New Lanark red was probably from the Falklands, but at lest it was New Lanark.

If I wanted to come over all anthropological, I could talk about signifiers and objects carrying meaning, but let’s not go there. It’s bad enough that I talked about succession planning…



14 thoughts on “The continuing story of a sweater…

  1. croftgarden

    It’s strange, I’ve no idea what the real you (opposite to the imaginery) looks like, but the dark tweedy mix is definately you. The green is a lovely colour but it would make anyone over the age of 20 look “jaundiced”.
    Must be the time of year as I’m trying to resist the urge not to buy a new sweater. I don’t need one, but………….

    1. kate Post author

      Hah, hah – you’re quite right, and especially about the green. Now I think about it, I’m always at my palest in winter, when I’d wear a big green sweater. Look like an anaemic lime-green courgette. Now I see it!

      I’m definitely into sweaters, well, obviously. But even more so since I started looking at environmental problems caused by polar fleece, even in its ‘made from recycled plastic’ incarnation. Washing > shedding microplastics > into watercourses > marine life ingesting same…

      1. croftgarden

        I’m definiately a natural materials person too and I’m even thinking about ditching the goretex and going back to the waxed jackets of my youth. Wonder if I should get a tweed flat cap too?

        1. kate Post author

          I have a huge and heavy waxed coat that was bought at the Great Yorkshire Show for a song when I was 19. I look ridiculous in it, but at least I’m dry even if I do look like Lady Camellia Sophia Arabella ffortescue Thing Wallop F’tang F’tang Biscuit Box.

          Have fought against any sort of silly headgear, though, as I’d clearly have to change my name by deed poll if I didn’t. Say no to the tweed cap, is my advice…

        2. croftgarden

          My father always wore a ratter (flat cap) of genuine working class pedigree. My rain hat (waxed of course) just needs the faux blackcock feather to make it authentic prententious. So I could either jump on it to make it look ,even more battered battered or find an alternative. I’m not even thinking deer stalker or anything with a veil. Our local gamekeeper wears a deerstalker and plus fours (breeks in this part of the world). I’ll leave you to supply the appropriate adjectives for anyone who shoots snipe!

        3. kate Post author

          That’s a real flat cap (not sure about the waxed hat, mind). I tend to put a beanie on which doesn’t really go with the coat, but there you go.

          (It was a fleece beanie until recently…)

      2. thetinfoilhatsociety

        Holy cripes, I had no idea! I don’t have much Polar fleece and my issue with it is that it gets … weird, for lack of a better word … against the skin after a few washings, and certain kinds of smells never seem to come out. I bought one at a thrift store and it mostly sits in my closet because to me it smells funny and kind of itches unless I wear long sleeves under it. DH can’t smell it and thinks I’m crazy.

        I don’t think it’s warmer than wool, my largish collection of wool thrift store sweaters attests to which I actually wear and find warmer, but now I have a legitimate scientific reason to turn up my nose at polar fleece. Finally. Thank you!

        1. kate Post author

          I was researching it for this business book I’m writing, googled ‘environmental problems with polar fleece’ following up a passing remark (once a hack, always a hack), and was quite shocked. Eek…

          Personally, I think there are better things to do with oil than turn it into ‘fabric’, even if it’s been made into plastic bottles first. And as for the shedding… Eek squared.

  2. spinningsheepfeathers

    I think you made a great choice with the black yarn. Perhaps we could see a picture of it. Happiness is spinning up a little clean fleece now and then. I did manage to get 2 pounds of silver grain Gotland spun recently. Really long fibers.

    1. kate Post author

      oooooo – I envy your long fibres. The black is delicious, but it is really short – I’ll have to card it carefully, I think. Three of the fleeces were lamb shearlings but the other two are a little longer. Yum yum yum!

      (The spinning will have to wait in the queue – must, must, must, finish the others first. Must NOT start another!)

  3. Spade & Dagger

    On reading the comments, I suddenly feel so much better (or possibly a bit less ashamed) about the cotton beanie I wear all spring, summer & autumn on the allotment (to be replaced soon by the waterproof waxed winter version).

    1. kate Post author

      I always feel ashamed in any form of headgear (possibly because I look like a deeply uncomfortable animated mushroom, whatever)…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s