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