Slow fashion has gone beyond buzz word status and is here to stay. Consumers demand clothes that last and are willing to invest more effort and, often, more money into making and acquiring pieces with staying power. Knitters have always known that wool, the ultimate sustainable fiber, is at the forefront of this movement. When we choose real wool, we are giving our clothes not only longer life, but potentially second life if our personal style or size changes.
During the Covid shutdown, I took a deep dive into my own collection of handknits to ruthlessly assess the value of every piece in my sweater cabinet. Actually, “sweater cabinets” is more accurate since I’ve been knitting for more than half my life and have dozens of handknits. But, some of those knits were rarely worn and my effort targeted the makes that seemed to live on the bottom of the pile.
Review every piece and determine if it can be fixed.
The first order of business was to wear an item for at least a few hours to figure out exactly why I didn’t reach for it in the normal rotation. It didn’t matter if I looked ridiculous because we were shut down for the pandemic and I wasn’t going to see anyone! Several of the makes were too short or too tight for my mid-age body or had other issues that made them frustrating to wear. Still others had design flaws like the one sweater with large and elaborate cabled knots directly above each of my breasts. Each piece was either returned to the cupboard ready to wear or put into a pile with a notation on what to fix.
Revise what you can.
To lengthen, I simply picked up and knit more ribbing or, if I no longer had the same yarn, knit a longer layer of contrast ribbing behind the first or added some fabric trim. If a sweater was too small, I tried re-blocking and pinning it out a little larger – another advantage of using resilient real wool. I had several sweaters that constantly came unbuttoned. Firming up the buttonholes took these cardigans from zero to hero. On others, I needed to rework the neckline. I’d read about a technique in which a wool neckline is reinforced with a new silhouette, the existing neck is cut, picked up, and a new edge is knit. It’s a bold move, but if it keeps a sweater from being discarded, isn’t it worth it? Worst case, you end up with something unwearable but that’s exactly where you started so why not try?!
Rewind and find a better pattern.
If a sweater could not be revised or reworked and the yarn was valuable, I frogged (unraveled) the whole thing. Yes, it’s tedious, but I remember disassembling a cashmere shell and rewinding all the yarn into cakes. The shawl I made from that frogged cashmere is beautiful and I feel I’ve finally done the yarn justice. We all make unsuccessful choices in pattern or design. Commit to not having makes in your closet that you’re only keeping because they were costly in time and money. Trade the guilt for a beautiful new piece for your closet
Get the lost causes out of your house.
Some sweaters were gifted to friends or offered up on our local Buy Nothing group and people were thrilled to have a hand-knit sweater from beautiful wool. One or two sweaters were felted and then cut up to make mittens or accessories. A final few sweaters eventually went to donation at Goodwill or other agency including that doomed sweater with the paired cables on my chest. Good riddance, and may someone else find joy in owning something made by hand.
While I wasn’t quite left with open shelves in my sweater cupboards, I did make some room for future knits. And, I rediscovered some garments that I love having back in my rotation. The whole effort was cathartic and, in the end, fun to do. Invest the time to make sure you’re just as proud to wear your sweaters as you are to have made them yourself. And, for the love of God, knit with passion and in pure wool!
Peg Mayor has been knitting and designing for 35 years. Her passion is learning historical techniques from countries and regions with a strong knitting tradition, particularly the Shetland Islands. She teaches all kinds of knitting in the Cleveland, Ohio, area. Her teaching philosophy focuses on developing critical skills that allow knitters to unleash their own creativity for truly satisfying and beautiful makes.