gather and grow

Homegrown, hand-spun living in the city

A few days before the end of the year — just in time! — I finally finished my locally sourced, all-handmade outfit of 2015.

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Black alpaca cardigan spun and knitted from alpaca fiber from Sea Ayre Suris Farm, grey bodice of Alabama Chanin organic cotton jersey dyed with comfrey and blackberry leaves, and a pale pink skirt of the same fabric dyed with purple basil.

See earlier progress reports on this outfit here, here and here. And special thanks to This is Moonlight for the #1year1outfit challenge!

My big reveal comes so last-minute because the final part of the project, the black alpaca cardigan, took much, much longer than I had expected. I finished dyeing and sewing the cotton bodice and skirt already in September, and thought I was way ahead of the game… except that October and November somehow got swallowed by other enterprises, and when I finally sat down to work on the cardigan, spinning the yarn took so, so long. I’d never spun Suri alpaca fiber before this, and I found it much more challenging than spinning sheep wool because it has no crimp and tends to slip as a result. In addition to which it was almost impossible for me to spin if my toddler was in the same room because she was far too enthusiastic to “help.” So, picture many, many late-night spinning and knitting sessions during the pre-Christmas weeks…

But now it’s done. And I got to wear my local outfit on the shores of the Atlantic on the unseasonably warm Christmas Day of 2015.

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A few notes for the fiber nerds out there:

  • The three-layered skirt is my own design. No, I’ve never made up clothing patterns myself before — well, not since I was thirteen — but I couldn’t find anything ready-made for what I had in mind. I’m pretty happy with how it turned out. Unfortunately, the purple basil dye, which was really pretty pink right right after dyeing in August, has turned out not to be very light- or washfast. Lesson learned: better stick to stronger, more reliable dyes like indigo, madder or osage orange when working with cotton.
  • The pattern for the top is the Reverse-Applique Corset from Natalie Chanin’s Alabama Stitch Book… but without the reverse-applique technique. So the pattern is from the Southeast too… keeping it within the fibershed!
  • The cardigan pattern is the Home and Away Georgetown cardigan — really, really lovely to knit. I had to tweak and improvise a little, because my handspun alpaca yarn tended to be bulkier than what the pattern called for. The end result is not perfect. But it works. And it’s just about the warmest knitted garment I have, and silky soft thanks to the high-quality Suri alpaca fiber.
  • Finally: I did not wash the alpaca fiber at any point. What I knitted, what I’m wearing, is virtually what was sheared off of the living, breathing animal in the spring. I learned that pre-washing alpaca fiber prior to spinning is not really necessary because it didn’t have lanolin. I intended to wash my yarns after spinning and before knitting, but simply forgot. The fiber was remarkably clean, so I don’t think anyone but me would be able to notice. At some point, I’m going to finally give the entire cardigan an initiatory wash… but for right now, I’m thoroughly enjoying the warm, earthy feeling of really being connected with where this fiber came from!

5 thoughts on “My #1year1outfit

  1. Congratulations! The outfit is wonderful and I imagine you will get a lot of use from each piece! I am so impressed at how quickly you pulled that cardigan together with a toddler in tow. I feel like I should send out certificates of merit to acknowledge what a massive achievement this is! I learnt so much following you this year, and I look forward to watching your future endeavours too. One last question, what are your plans for the nettle?

  2. Mari says:

    Thanks — and congratulations to you too for a really awesome outfit! Oh, the nettle — well, crocheted nettle underwear didn’t happen this year. Maybe that’ll be my #1year1outfit 2016?😉

  3. Helen Trejo says:

    This is great! I love suri alpacas! I was wondering if it was difficult to spin with compared to huacaya alpaca fiber? I was also wondering what stitch you used for the sweater knitting?

    1. Mari says:

      Hi Helen! Yes, I must say I found it more challenging to spin, because it doesn’t have natural crimp. If I did it all over again, I would blend the suri with sheep or Huacaya fiber — it would make it easier. The sweater is mostly in stockinette stitch, with ribbing along the edges.

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