The Knit Knack's Blog

my handspinning, knitting, natural dye, weaving fibre home


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Short & sweet

A year ago, yesterday, we brought this guy home. Spark was a little damp & a lot bouncy back then.

Apricot and cream Double Doodle 14 month old dog looking up while sitting on a white ceramic tile floor.
Eager to eat the treat in my hand

It was an inspired decision helped by my Mom (thanks, Mom). The main pros for this Double Doodle dandy were correctly plotted. Ancillary pros (size of the Best Bud, whoa shedding) were slightly incorrect.

Tuxedo domestic short hair cat Melvin resting head on cake of handspun turquoise Southdown/Silk yarn by irieknit in cloth Stitched by Jessa Lu project bag with paw outstretched beside laptop keyboard
Mel cat is just fine after all

We underestimated a few things – sorry, Melvin, and boy does this breed need its chew time.

Etch-a-Sketch with column of three Bla words, framed and with stars and one crown stamped for decoration by a child
Ty shares his thoughts, also yesterday

Never in a million years did we foresee the pandemic or that public school would be accessible from our couch. It does sometimes get a little wordy as Ty was quietly sharing in a long morning Math class.

Today, I can hear that and give ourselves a break.

In-progress queue

Melvin is hugging a Stitched by JessaLu project bag with the start of a handspun sock (yesterday had its good points). This is the Southdown/Silk spindle-spun that I shared in this summer’s post here.

On 2.25 mm needles I knit stockinette in the round at 8 stitches per inch. Thanks to the same ennui that Ty expressed + his dentist visit, yesterday, we are at a fresh k1, p1 sock cuff of 1.75″ long. It’s shiny and happy knitting.

Other FOs-to-be include my Columbia second mitt, dishcloths against anxiety, and the kitchen towel warp that I have finished threading but need to tie-on next. There is also the spinning.

When not working the queue, swallowing objections to curriculum, making nice with the housework, I get to help Spark rid himself of undercoat & get pulled more than I like on walks. Yay, Spark & yay, a day off of academic pressures we didn’t need to be quite that boring.


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Happy Halloween!

Handcarved pumpkin with tea light on a formica countertop
Ty’s design: Boo!

Happy chilly morning of Halloween! Going out with Spark this morning, I had to wear my longer, warmer coat for the -3C temperature.

It’s been an exhausting lead into this Halloween. The start to this virtual academic year (by choice in our Province) with the same school/new administration was intense.

As if that were not enough we had news that put a new light on our parenting journey. The summary of a 14-month process that then had to be put to other people.

Multicolour handwoven cotton loop potholder with favourite dinosaurs and transformer toys birthday present
For Dad with love

We just completed week 6 of instruction. I would be lying if I were to now flood TKK with the collection of images & sing Halloween from the crafter’s songbook.

It might be nice to paper over the trouble a Mom has when yes:

  • I have projects on the go, some lovely;
  • last year’s advocacy gave refreshing results;
  • the new folks seem dedicated; and
  • we have a better bead on inclusion virtually, sort-of.

Here is where that would be a lie: I am still going into week 7 pushing for invisible differences. No law to date requires Ontario boards of education to develop policies & guidelines for those differences.

Oh, and everybody is bone tired.

We said goodbye to technical difficulties with virtual school Halloween for a better plan.

Instead of whipping up an illusion, here is what I am proud of. If the Mighty Wolf gets dressed with what’s on her warp beam, I may tell that tale later too. Let’s skip that & the onion skin dye job & everything else.

Perhaps you have pandemic brain too, a post.

Double Doodle in car coming home from first grooming visit
Spark gets his first grooming visit & barks at a man

We celebrated Spark’s first birthday on September 9th. He is a Very Fine Pet & stays in touch with his mouthy side. This stocky Double Doodle is 2′ from paw to shoulder (hey, breeders lie, surprise!)

A lot of good comes of improving on 1 concrete thing. Shaggy, over-heating Double Doodle comes out of a pet store’s service all fancy & look! I got an idea!

Set-up rows of a Freesia shawl on circular Addi lace click needle resting on clipboard with pattern.  The yarn is handspun Polwarth silk by irieknit.
Garter stitch is my love language I guess

These 2 things were definitely linked. Naturally, Melvin wanted in on the action from time-to-time. He too is a Very Fine Pet after all.

Domestic short haired black and white cat occupying shawl knitting time by resting on work-in-progress handspun Freesia shawl by irieknit. The yarn is aqua and shades of blue handdyed.
He thinks nothing of interrupting but is the best cat

Neither N nor T really gets this shawl. They are right, it does (sort-of) look like others I have knit but don’t tell them I said that.

Wearing new blocked Freesia shawl in handspun Polwarth silk by irieknit.  The combed top fibre was handdyed by Sheepy Time Knits.
Making more than a thing

This asymmetrical shawl pattern is by Annie Baker Designs, the Freesia Shawl. Their website is here.

Back view of wearing knitted Freesia shawl in handspun Polwarth/silk yarn by irieknit.  The yarn is turquoise and blue with combed top fibre handdyed by Sheepy Time Knits.
The rows get very long as you go

For some reason the yardage requirement kept me from knitting this for a long time. The spinning side was a quick few days this past May.

The fibre is 85% Polwarth wool/ 15% Tussah silk combed top handdyed by Sheepy Time Knits. It is a beautiful base for Mandie’s Mermaid colourway, and I had 8 oz.

The yarn was spun (quickly!) on my Watson Martha spinning wheel in double drive. Yield was 615 yds (i.e. a cool 1,230 yds per pound.

Side view of wearing knit Freesia shawl in handspun Polwarth/Silk yarn by irieknit.  The turquoise and blues combed top was dyed by Sheepy Time Knits.
[ignore the mess] Parent advocate

Please bear with less posting – there are no extra hands on deck now & the laptop has a new life for online learning + video conferencing.

I am still using Twitter, and post more images on instagram. You can find me in both spaces as irieknit.

Handmade cloth sure does come in handy (sourdough cozy idea)

Welcome, if you are a new follower! I smile each time a TKK notification comes through.


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An indigo dyed handspun cardigan

Handknit cardigan with lower lace panel Vodka Lemonade pattern in handspun Polwarth wool indigo dyed work in progress with double point needle holder

Warming my nights: an indigo dyed handspun cardigan knit

Currently on my needles with enough yarn for a second long sleeve is the handspun Polwarth 2-ply wool from last summer’s indigo dye fructose vat.

The knit’s pattern is the popular 2012 Vodka Lemonade by BabyCocktails, Thea Coleman.  Needle keeper shown is by @knitspinquilt.

Substituting a handspun yarn

Knitters have recently been discussing the financial accessibility of new sweater designs on social media, blog posts.  For a bunch of reasons that I do not plan to unpack the discussion gave a slight nod to spinning as an option, and then moved right along.

Premise of this post:  spinning yarn for garments is an option.  Yes, even slightly pear-shaped yarn.

Spinning single undyed Polwarth wool yarn by irieknit on Spinolution Mach 2 spinning wheel flyer detail

November 2015, dreaming of a sweater quantity

It was a simple idea really.  In September 2014, a 1 lb bag of Polwarth combed top from a large commercial mill cost A$38.59 plus tax & mileage to/from The Fibre Garden in Jordan, Ontario.

Spinolution Mach 2 spinning wheel bobbin with 2-ply undyed Polwarth wool spun by irieknit

Comfort spinning on Spinolution Mach 2

Earl, the Spinolution Mach 2 wheel was a good choice for my easy default worsted-style yarn but I ran into a mechanical issue of the drive wheel knocking the frame.

Melvin a tuxedo domestic short hair cat lying in lap of irieknit during Polwarth wool spinning at Spinolution Mach 2 spinning wheel

Sometimes Melvin appears as if from nowhere to see about his spinner

Customer service was responsive.  I was able to finish through to almost 1,400 yards of 2-ply 100% Polwarth wool but the wheel action changed.  Time frame is August 2015 – December 2016.

Evaluating the handspun yarn

In addition to a big wheel action change, 2016 was my watershed year.  The last 7 months were a special challenge.  As a result, skeins 1 – 3 are finer weight (i.e. higher grist) than 4 & 5.

What the industrial yarn complex is very good at is giving consistent grist even between lots.  And then there is my handspun sweater quantity (SQ) that we can follow Diane Varney & call a “coordinated yarn.”  Her galley in “Spinning Designer Yarns”, 2003, p. 22 states:

Coordinated yarns come from spinning wheels not mills.

The text says how I ultimately resolved my issue:

Spin different sizes of yarn to be used in different parts of a garment, or in coordinating separates.  For a bulky sweater, a lighter yarn may provide a more supple and comfortable ribbing.

The all-in number of 1,400 yards per pound is on the light-weight end of a DK mill-spun yarn.  For a chart of yarn weights, grists, knit uses scroll through “Calculating Fibre Quantities for Spinning” by Felicia Lo here.

Botanical colors Indigo Shibori Kit photo by irieknit

How a plan solidifies – Indigo!

The yarn found its voice last summer when the Botanical Colors 1-2-3 indigo vat recipe (adapted from Michel Garcia) not only dyed all of my Orlando mohair bouclé but still had legs.

Heya, Polwarth!

Wet freshly dyed indigo handspun Polwarth skeins suspended on wood rod over chair with dye pot and mixing stick

Seriously thrilling first indigo dye day here

This was when I settled the question – there would be no separation; I had an indigo handspun SQ for sure.

You see a shift in grist – what does this mean for a knitted garment?

When hoping to knit with any non-standard yarn, I start by looking for a suitable pattern that will flex.  As June Hemmons Hiat writes in Chapter 23 on Stitch Gauge:

Some projects require greater precision for a good fit, while with others you can take a more relaxed approach… (“The Principles of Knitting – Methods and Techniques of Hand Knitting”, 2012, p. 455)

The Vodka Lemonade cardigan has helpful notes on yarn character, and shouts ‘a more relaxed approach’.  Over time, I have enjoyed knitting patterns from designers who also spin well.  Even if the pattern itself features mill-spun, there is typically more attention paid to communicating about yarn choice.  If a project database is accessible, a quick search using “handspun yarn” can also round out the information, offer inspiration.  Many spinners work harder to shed light on the creative process in their notes.  Handspun garments are rarely featured FOs on selling pages but information gathers slowly in the database itself.

Here the mill-spun given as the design sample is 1,100 yards Zen Yarn Garden Serenity DK for a 38″ bust size with ¾ length sleeves.  Each skein is around 250 yards/ 100g or 1,100 yards per pound standard DK-weight.

With more handspun also with a higher grist, I have been able to extend the sleeve length (yes, winter is coming) & to knit the body straight with no waist shaping.  Polwarth is soft, has bounce & drape so is a good choice for a next-to-the-skin garment.

Gauge is a snapshot

Leaving the standard consistent grist market, I swatched a first (thinner) yarn.  The substitution stuck but one thing my snapshot swatch is not going to safely do for my knitting is where The Principles of Knitting advises next:

Information obtained from a swatch can also be used to calculate how much yarn you will need if you are designing something, or want to substitute a different yarn for the one called for in a pattern.

It’s possible to swatch within your handspun SQ.  I will leave that intensity for a heirloom knit (or still not!).

The pattern sample yarn has 10% cashmere & 90% merino adding plumpness to the stockinette fabric with US#5/ 3.75mm needles.  A suggested substitute that I know well is far less plump, drapey Elsebeth Lavold Silky Wool.  The handspun Polwarth stitches ease when washed, blocked.

Knitting in progress of handspun Polwarth 2-ply indigo dyed wool for cardigan

The single swatch got gauge nicely down 2 needle sizes to 3.25 mm.  How I arranged the skeins was to use the lighter-weight yarn in the cardigan’s body, heavier-weight yarn for warm sleeves.

Getting real with the limits of my swatch, I like that this still-on-the-needles cardigan seems organically swingy & light.  We do still need to read the pattern well, and this is where I think Kate Atherley’s article “On Yarn Substitutions,” here, is helpful:

After all, there are lots of yarns that are called Worsted, but there’s a lot of variance in how thick they are, and how they knit up. Same for Fingering, DK, etc. A yarn weight name is a category, it’s not precise enough on its own for yarn selection. (And those category numbers? Same thing – they get you in the right section of the yarn shop, that’s it! They’re ranges.) The stockinette gauge is what’s used on the yarn label, so that’s how you can identify more precisely what to buy.

The spinner is just only reading from that industrial wool complex & not still within it.  They take the range, gauge information & still keep an eye out for variance within the handspun lot.

What happened?  At the top of the sleeve, I weighed 87 g for each sleeve & measured as I went.  Now at the cuff of sleeve 1, around 48 g is used.  The stitch gauge is constant.  I marked each sleeve increase in case I needed to rip back.

For Designers, Technical Editors

After many sweater pattern searches (and flops) for other handspun in my stash, I ask that you consider adding these points in your pattern landing space.  If you are able to contribute longer articles, interviews, texts there is a need for spotlights on the creative process details as well.

  1. Materials specifications, including put-up & fibre content.  Where you know yarn structure this would be very helpful as well, e.g. conventional plied yarns (single or how many?), chainette, cable, core-spun, etc.  Yarn companies as a general rule give scanty clues about the structure of their bases.  Journalism, texts that focus on yarn manufacturing trends seem to be on the decline.  Your insider knowledge as a design professional is valuable.
  2. Yarn notes, texture suggestions.  Kate Atherley articulates this point very well in On Yarn Substitutions, linked above.
  3. Yardage requirements within the size range.  My last pattern purchase is Heverly Cardigan by Julia Farwell-Clay.  It is a one-yarn fingering-weight design.  The landing page broke out yardage per size, and this was critical to my purchase.  The last 350 yard yarn package spans 3 sizes, including mine in the middle!  Yarn combinations are especially difficult to eyeball when use shifts through a yoke, shawl construction and for borders.

Please understand that gauge is a limited tool at best when substituting off-market yarns because sometimes Life Happens, and also because spinners can do wonderful things with materials not available to conventional knitters.

Professionals have voiced strong opinions about customer skills (lack thereof), hand-holding.  However, spinners who knit are expanding the tent beyond the mills, are able to add value themselves.  Adding information diversifies your customer base, and is not hand-holding.  Selma Miriam’s 1989 experience speaks to the craft’s possibilities:

She purchased handspun yarns for the first time when she couldn’t find soft, fine commercial yarns with which to make lace shawls and scarves, and then almost immediately decided that she had to learn to spin herself.  “I had never knit with yarn that felt so good, alive, and beautiful in my hands,” she recalls.  With a year she had… purchased a wheel and taught herself to use it… (“America Knits“, Melanie Falick, 1996, p. 50)

Handspun garments are sadly not always well-regarded even within spinning communities.  Any that I have made have aged well, drawn me forward.  A stalled project is out and in search of a solution as I type.  These are barriers that can be eased, attitudes that can shift.

Indigo fructose dye kit in plastic zip bag from The Yarn Tree picture by irieknit

Indigo has my attention now

With luck, I will have an indigo fructose vat from The Yarn Tree’s kit to start new exploration & keep that puppy fed.

Andean pushka plying project for CVM wool 4-ply


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Happy 2017!

The fall became a marathon almost as soon as I hit ‘Publish’ on the last post.  With adjustments work continued.  Writing, and updating the projects fell that far behind.

We are here now, year-end!

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Winter is shaping-up

As much as I have missed sharing the work it has been a good test in many ways.  With less time & energy, I worked on the things that mattered the most.  Feeling that strength from the years of learning and practice was its own reward.  Really.

The spinning has been lovely as these 3 projects quietly show.

Andean pushka plying project for CVM wool 4-ply

Plying the CVM wool at last!

Since taking this picture, I have plied 4 skeins for a total of approximately 790 yards.  It is all a conventional 4-ply spun on smaller low-whorl spindles from rolags that I carded.

Some locks are still in the bag but I knew this was getting to a level of angst.  It turns out that the plying is no doldrums.  I like this stage!  There are 2 of the large balls left to be plied.

Spinning Chasing Rainbows merino/wool on Jenkins Lark Turkish spindle by irieknit

This Jenkins Lark spindle loves the quiet times!

The cop on my Lark is getting full again.  It’s not everyday that I turn to this Chasing Rainbows merino/wool but when I have it has been good spinning.

There is no concrete aim for this yarn but I am going for a 2-ply.  The colourway is Pear.

Handspinning hemp top with supported cow bone whorl spindle

Spinning hemp a gentle way – Forrester bone whorl spindle, supported

This Forrester spindle supported in the calabash bowl is a master for de-stressing at the end of a long day.  It is couch spinning plain & simple.

The 4 singles balls weigh 27 g together.  There is another 59 g of fibre, so I am not ploughing through stash with this one!

Handknit Onder shawl by irieknit in Yarn Carnival high wire yarn

Onder shawl is finished and awesome!

Leaving the door open for sharing T’s new knits later on, there has also been this Onder shawl by Sarah Jordan.  It proves that I too make the cut!

Handknit beaded Onder shawl by irieknit in Yarn Carnival High Wire yarn

See the Miyuki beads? Just enough to keep me totally happy.

The lace in Sarah’s design was wonderful to work – simple enough to not snag my rough brain, and with enough challenge to make my days melt into something better.

The slip-stitch rolling edge was novel for me, and I love how it keeps the stockinette body honest.

Onder shawl detail of Yarn Carnival High Wire yarn handknit by irieknit

Yarn Carnival sure knows how to dye Peacock!

The yarn was extra-special to work with.  This skein of Yarn Carnival’s High Wire 3-ply in superwash Merino was a gift from DB & SIL.  They chose it for me on a visit to Austin, Texas.  Neither knits, and I just loved using it!

Handknit Jacobus monkey by irieknit in SheepyTime Knits yarns

Happy New Year from all of us to you!

This Jacobus is how we know that T has very keen yarn instincts.  He chose “River Daughter” from the SheepyTime Knits 2016 Middle Earth Club.  This was after I refused his first choice of “The Nine, Merlon.”

T has loved Monkey so hard, and this is just one example of the games that they play!

This has been a year when knitting was the best way I found to say, “Yes, I think of you when you are sleeping.  Go, check it out, kiddo!”  Sometimes words are not enough.

Best wishes for a very happy 2017!


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Carrying forward – the new Knit Knack year

This past month has been a very good one for my fibre work, seeing N recover from his lingering shingles pain, and the winter of fewer weather alerts.

Stranded two-colour knitted gloves for adult man by irieknit

Little Lithuania gloves for N

The gloves came off the needles shortly after my last TKK post.  They are for N but also were a great reminder that I miss the knits that teach me new skills.

Stranded two-colour knitted gloves for a man by irieknit

Long floats behind the pattern

In “Lithuanian Knitting:  continuing traditions” the authors cite this motif as being common in Lithuania’s western coastal area, Mazoji Lietuva.  As recently as last fall, I had finished a pair of fingerless mitts designed by Donna Druchunas, and so had a grasp of how fingers are placed.  I will share that project & its matching hat soon.

A technical note is to say that I knit these with one yarn in each hand.  The light “cold pressed” CC yarn was held to the left of the dark “prato” MC yarn.  What dominates more to my eye in this pattern is the light value.  The contrast & proportion of light value is what I think makes that pattern yarn dominate over the darker background yarn here.

It is as though the light pattern leaps forward in the hand.  From what I know of colour theory this main hand pattern is a high-major key.  The dark is dominated by the high-value.  This was N’s colour choice, and he loves the gloves.

A traditional pairing is natural or white on a dark background for this motif (p. 165).  Some were 11 stitch floats all across the round.  One round is all light value.  For any floating over 5 stitches, I caught them together.  That extra manipulation was fiddly & slowed me down a ton.

What I am late to finding but would like to share is this guest post by Donna Druchunas on Deb Robson’s blog.  In the post, Donna mentions the traditional crossed knit stitches.  The twisting seems like a good help not just for warmth but also for shielding float colours.  I will try that when knitting other patterns from the book.

For this year

In making the resolution to keep going in the direction of my crafts – spinning, knitting, weaving – I have looked carefully at how to improve the balance.  Selecting what to share & when has proved more of a challenge as content gets ahead of posts.

Hand preparing dyed Gulf Coast Native wool looks on Russian paddle combs by irieknit

New year; new paths

The locks are 105 g of Gulf Coast Native wool hand-dyed by Sheepspot.  These are Meck Russian paddle combs, and were from a birthday present – thank you, N’s Mum.  They hold a lot, and are the in-between wool combs that I had long hoped to find.

Mini-skeins of handspun Gulf Coast Native wool yarn carded and combed samples by irieknit

Sampling like a boss!

The 1st mini-skein is from the Meck combs (winner!).  Same locks but the more muted skein is spun from drum-carded rolag batts.  This is thanks to another awesome new tool that I’ll be learning my way around, a Pat Green blender/carder.

This sampling run was a job for my Watson Martha wheel in the same afternoon last Friday.

Basket with Sheepspot hand-dyed locks and sample handspun skeins by irieknit

Nice, right?!

 

New tools & materials are part of the mix this year.  Even more importantly, I am solving the puzzle of how I can work more evenly; share more fully for TKK this year.

It’s happened because I decided to use a desk planner to you know, plan.  Even simple daily entries since January 4th have given me a handle on how I work.  There’s more spinning than anything & I can both weave & keep other projects going.

One big take-away – I knit too much for others now.  It used to be my thing.

Spinning hemp top on Tom Forrester supported spindle cow bone whorl

Hemp top last touched in December 2015

The hemp top spinning on this Tom Forrester supported spindle is an example.  It was last spun around December 26, 2015.  Here’s why my Planner shows:

Spinning Egyptian cotton on coin takhli spindle by irieknit

January’s joy of Egyptian cotton

This (to me) immensely full coin takhli was – as my new friend the desk planner says – wound-off on January 30th.  That is 25 g of fine cotton spun in 6 months.  Let’s see if I improve in the next few months.  I like & am resolved to spin more cotton.

As I try to rein in how thinly the work/life gets spread this year, I will be remembering our Jamaican proverb.  Old-time people seh:

One, one coco full basket

Keep gathering your ground provisions because that’s your way to a full basket.  In other words – don’t expect to achieve success overnight.

Melvin cat on bed of logwood-dyed Border Leicester locks by irieknit

Before he was rousted, Melvin

Let’s not scare the nice kitty but we are also seriously thinking about adopting a dog again.  Here’s to 2016!


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Made in Ontario baby knit sweater

Finished in no time flat back in February was this first of the knits for my baby nephew.

Telemark knitted baby pullover in Sheepspot Clun Forest Sport by irieknit

The design is Telemark Pullover 2.0 by Erika Flory in natural wool.  I substituted this lighter Sheepspot’s Clun Forest sport-weight yarn with glee.  As Sasha’s newsletter told us she sourced the fleeces from a single flock, Ferme Luciole, in Alfred, Ontario last June.

stitch definition Clun Forest sport handdyed yarn by Sheepspot handknit for Telemark baby  Pullover

Stitch definition!

The wool is springy but has such a crisp look in the Paprika colour and this simple sweater.  I was 2 stitches under the recommended pattern gauge.  At the 20 stitches per 4″ in stockinette stitch using 3.25 mm needles, I cast-on for the 1 year size, and fell between a 3 – 6 months size.

Machine washed knit swatch in Clun Forest Sport dyed by Sheepspot

Swatch through the wash

Sheepspot has processed their wool with a lighter chemical touch – none used to dissolve vegetable matter or to treat the fibre.

Loving the more natural process is one thing but why choose this for a baby garment?  Well, I had a hunch that a 100% Clun Forest yarn would have some of the Down breed family’s superwash quality.  In her History of the Clun Forest Breed, Rosemary Ruddell writes:

Early in the 19th century, Southdown rams were introduced into the region that includes both the Clun Forest area and the heathlands to the east, and by 1840 there had emerged a distinctive new type of sheep that was general to the region, and is ancestral to both the Clun Forest and the Shropshire.

As you will see in a later post, the word “Southdown” rings a bell for me!

A little knowledge being a dangerous thing, I have experimented on the swatch.  Before going through the front-load washer & dryer cycle it was 6.5″w x 5.75″ h.  It’s now all nice round numbers.  The approximate change is 8% less width & 13% less height.  It is ‘fulled’ & has a softer hand after washing.

Not bad!  Not bad at all.  50% is reported for a Corriedale sample in the Winter 2015 Spin-Off magazine by Cindy Craft, p. 46.  I wish more numbers were given from her 6-breed experiment in the article.

If you would like to see the project notes on Ravelry it is called “That Seventies Telemark.”  Whatever its laundering future, this is a hardy sweater made in Ontario for baby F’s first cold weather days.