Zimmerman Aran sweater finished

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.


TheKnittingMill's picture

It's such a handsome sweater Jon! It looks like a lot of work, but I'm sure very rewarding. Your pics of the spinning look so cozy! The sweater looks like it would feel really yummy. Very impressive! It's a great write up too.

2manyhobbies's picture

Thank you :) it was really cozy spinning by the fire - this past winter (where we had a total of over 30 inches of snow in Philly) made for some ideal spinning and knitting time. The power went out 3 times, once for 3 days, and I did part of the spinning by candle light.

WillyG's picture

Spinning by candlelight! How cool is that! At least, it *sounds* nifty...

purlyman's picture

Wow - the fact that you really did that from scratch is amazing! It looks extremely comfortable and beautiful!! Congrats on picking your knitting back up and doing such an amazing project!! I have EZ's books and have been trying to decide just which project to work on. So many options.


2manyhobbies's picture

I had forgotten how good it felt to get lost in the repetitive motion of spinning, and lose track of time. And with knitting too, just enjoying how tactile, physical, and organic it is ... how comforting it can be to pick it up and be able to forget about everything else for a while, and just be immersed in something that is what it is.

epknits's picture

It is SO wonderful to see the finished project! It looks fantastic! Thank you for posting pics of it. Wow! Nice job. :)e-

2manyhobbies's picture

Thank you! I'm trying to leave no more unfinished objects ... i still have two sweaters I started back in the 1990's that are both half done, and they sit mocking me to this day. It was really cool to have met you at the retreat, and hope i get to see you guys again next year.

Bill's picture

I'm very impressed! Such a handsome sweater, and to have done it from fleece to finish makes it a part of you. I'm sure you'll have warm memories of spinning by the fire, every time you wear it. Very beautiful, Jon!

2manyhobbies's picture

I agree there's nothing like picking up something you made some time ago to really bring back memories... thank you for your kind comments.

QueerJoe's picture

What a great series of fleece-to-sweater photographs, and the sweater (as the others have said) came out spectacularly well.

Whenever I card fleece, I always have these small thoughts about whether it would be nicer if I combed it instead, and dismiss those thoughts quickly, since I don't own combs. Now I'll never be able to deny the fact that combing can create such a nicer spinning fiber...yours is just beautiful.

2manyhobbies's picture

Thank you, Joe :) I set out to spin this as close to worsted as I could, because that's supposed to help keep the detail for cables and other stitchwork. The other thing that pushed me towards combing was that I talked with the farmer who raised the sheep, and he mentioned he usually prepared the fiber on combs, so I followed suit.

But I had never worked with a double-coated fleece before, and given that even the coarser outer coat on shetland is pretty soft, I think it would have really been better to card it all together and then spin semi-worsted off slivers from the batt. The top pulled off the combs was really nice to spin from, but it was a lot more work combing than teasing and running it through the drum carder would have been.

WillyG's picture

I had received the Knitter's Almanac this year as a Christmas gift, and it certainly had me dreaming of arans, too. What a darn cold winter! But this sweater is just smashing, and it looks great on you. I'm just about to take a spinning class so I can get comfortable enough to do something like that. Kudos!

2manyhobbies's picture

Your spinning class sounds exciting - will they start you off on a drop spindle? Lots of people love a drop spindle, and i'm amazed at how fast people can spin on them. I never developed that sort of speed on them though, and it wasn't until I spun on a wheel that I was really hooked.

Although I doubt I'll knit all the projects in the Almanac, I read them all. I love how EZ introduces and describes them.

WillyG's picture

Yes, we'll start on a drop spindle. I've dabbled in both spindling and wheel spinning, but my yarns haven't come out very knittable yet. I like the wheel for my impatience, but I think I enjoy spindling more.

EZ's discussion of arans made it sound so easy that I designed a ribbed and cabled vest, partly influenced by finances and time constraints. Some day I'll get around to knitting a full aran sweater; maybe later this year or early next.

Kerry's picture

What a lovely sweater you've made, and spun, well done. Any idea of what weight the yarn was, eg DK, it doesn't look too bulky which I like.

2manyhobbies's picture

Thank you! I was making a guage of 5 sts per inch on size 4 needles, but I knit pretty loose. I was aiming for a sport to DK weight when I spun it, but I seemed to spin thinner as I went, so the first few skeins were more DK weight, and the last few were more sport weight. The thicker yarn ended up on the bottom of the sweater. I'm a more consistent spinner now that I once was, but I still have a lot of room to improve!

Joe-in Wyoming's picture

Very lovely project, Jon. I consider Knitter's Almanac one of my short list of "desert island' books; not only is it full of fun projects, it is a great read in its own right. Congrats on a great sweater. -- Books, knitting, cats, fountain pens...Life is Good.

Books, knitting, cats, fountain pens...Life is Good.

2manyhobbies's picture

I really wish more knitting books were written like the Knitter's Almanac is ... it's a nice blend of knitting technique, philosophy of life, and just personal chit-chat that makes you feel like you've spent some time with EZ. Some other books I've encountered that try to mix the two seem contrived and plastic (like by having lots of biographical text that's too sunshine and flowers, but not really talking about the details of the knitting), whereas EZ comes across as genuine and warm (and affectionately school-marmish).

Joe-in Wyoming's picture

What a great description of EZ's writing - and teaching - style. -- Books, knitting, cats, fountain pens...Life is Good.

Books, knitting, cats, fountain pens...Life is Good.

rdought's picture

The sweater is quite handsome. Thanks for the great photos and description of the process. Having an active hands-on part in the whole project was clearly very rewarding. It's an inspiration to those of us who don't spin. And, I love the idea of spinning in front of a fireplace! How perfect on a cold winter day!

2manyhobbies's picture

All that was missing was the hot chocolate! Actually, I think the power was off when I took that photo - so no hot water was forthcoming, and the fireplace was equal parts functional and ambience :).

YarnGuy716's picture

The sweater looks sensational and looks great on you! I can also relate to knitting getting you through long, cold winters. We get them here in Buffalo, NY. We lost power during an ice storm a few years back and I spent the evening, wearing warm, hand-knit sweaters and knitting by candle light.

2manyhobbies's picture

Knitting by candle light sounds romantic, but it's also a bit frustrating ... I had like 5 candles next to me and I was still squinting. Gave me some appreciation for my grandmother's stories about quilting by candle light. Thank you for your kind comments.

YarnGuy716's picture

LOL only romantic if you have someone cute to hold your hanks while you wind your yarn. I think I had 10 or 20 candles burning at once. The heat was out so it was also the only source of heat. Our neighborhood was notorious for losing power during storms so I always had plenty of candles on hand.

I also have UFOs that sit mocking me. Some from when I was first knitting in the late 1980's.

BTW, I think the picture of you wearing the sweater should be your new profile picture. It really does look great on you.

Craig's picture

As everyone else has said fantastic work, even though it may have taken ahile to create from start to finsh all the work is worth it. Just amazing.

Have been knitting for years. I knit continually then will try another craft, but will return to the needles.

2manyhobbies's picture

I like the feeling when I've finished something and can cast around a bit for what to do next. It's like time is suspended a bit until you can find another project.

ronhuber's picture

What a wonderful project. The only thing missing is shearing the sheep and maybe one day you will do that. The sweater is beautiful and such a great fit. I, too, like the Almanac and often read a chapter before sleeping.

2manyhobbies's picture

Back in the 1990's, I raised angora rabbits for a while (until a change of job eliminated a lot of free time). They would blow their coats a few times a year, and you would need to pluck them ... otherwise they ingested the hair and that could cause very serious problems. For the rabbit, if you got them calmed down and went at it right, I think it was a pretty non-traumatic experience (for you and the rabbit), and it didn't require a lot of skill (just patience).

Shearing a sheep looks like a totally different scenario... I think I'd be freaking out so much that I was hurting or traumatizing the poor thing that I would probably end up doing both!

I like the thought of reading a bit of the Almanac before sleeping. It is calming and reassuring somehow.

MMario's picture

When I tried shearing in college, we just tipped the sheep up on their rumps - and they went into a trance....you could have pretty much done anything to them.

MMario - I'm not divorced from reality - we're having a trial separation

WillyG's picture


michaelpthompson's picture

MMario, as a person with Scottish roots, I've heard too many stories of what happens to sheep, even without them being in a trance. Hope you treated them with respect.

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"All knitting is just one stitch at a time."

Stan Stansbury's picture

You are my new hero.

I'm gearing up to spin the yarn for an Aran sweater. Yours is proof than it can be done, and done brilliantly.

2manyhobbies's picture

Thank you :) The spinning is actually the faster part - the fiber prep and the knitting are really more time consuming, I think... at least for me.

Crafty Andy's picture

Visit Crafty Andy's Blog
You did a fantastic job from start to end and the explanations help me personally in seeing the steps it takes to make yarn decissions for you, maybe that will assist me in making yarn decissions for me as I spin along.

mrossnyc's picture

What a great job. Thanks for sharing all the pics of the entire process. It really makes us realize how much work goes into all the prep. Congratulations on getting it all done!