This sweater probably owes its existence to the exceptionally snowy winter here in Philadelphia this year. That had at least some part in rekindling my interest in knitting after a long lapse, and shortly after I dug my spinning wheel out of the attic too. I've always been attracted to raw fleece... something about my rural roots maybe, but (in moderate quantities) I find the smell very comforting and mangery, and so in January this year I ordered a 3lb gray shetland fleece from a farm in the northern part of the state.
I hadn't worked with shetland before, and after washing the fleece, I debated over carding or combing it. In the end, I decided to comb it, but I got more than I expected there, because this sheep turns out to have been double coated. So, I was ending up with a coarser and greyer outer coat and a very soft but whiter undercoat. In the end, I combed the fiber twice, once on larger combs pulling off the coarser fiber, and again on smaller combs getting the undercoat. I then spun those separately and plied them together, which gave the yarn a bit of a heathery look. I was very concerned about having enough yarn, and it was pretty close, because I think I only had about 1 oz of yarn left after the sweater was finished. And there was no going back to the store to get some more.
The pattern is from Elizabeth Zimmerman's Knitter's Almanac, the January project. I picked that because I thought the color of the grey fleece would work well with it, and because I liked the textured look of the fishtrap pattern. Mrs. Zimmerman would have you cut steeks and knit the whole thing in the round, but I've never done steeks before, and I didn't want this project to be the first time, so instead I knitted in the round up until the arms and then changed to flat knitting.
That's when I encountered an unanticipated issue, which was that the cables were being done such that after going to flat knitting, the cable row was a WS row. I could have added a row to put the cable back in front, but instead I tried cabling from the WS... which works, except (as you can see if you look close) the direction of twist in the cable changes. After knitting the first cable twist, I stared at that a long while, and finally decided I like the change, and as the grande dame says to do, I knitted on.
I finished the knitting on the sweater at the Easton knitting retreat this year - I just had part of the sleeves and the neck left to do. I knit the sleeves flat but both together on a long circular needle - I like to knit both sleeves at the same time because that way I'm sure the guage is the same on both. Plus, if I ran out of yarn and needed to substitute somehow, it would fall at the same spot on both sleeves. When I got back home from the retreat, I sewed up the seams, wove in the ends, and last week I blocked it. One issue that bothers me a bit is that in the yarn at the very bottom of the sweater, I got a bit too much twist in the ply, and that causes the cables to skew. I tried to correct that a bit during blocking.
In the end, I'm pretty happy with it ... I like how the natural variation in the color of the fleece shows up in the knitting. I also like that I had my hand in almost every step of the process... it's like an old friend - comforting and familiar.