Exeter cardigan, ode to sheep sylvia

Exeter Cardigan 1

Cabled coziness, fuzzy luxury, place-based wardrobe fulfillment.

I arbitrarily told myself I couldn’t/wouldn’t share photos of my “finished” Exeter cardigan until I finished weaving in the ends. Maybe it was less arbitrary and more motivational (I’m always loathe to weave in ends).

But as soon as I tucked away the most conspicuous yarn ends, I slipped on the sweater for the evening. And then I got up the next day and put it on to fend off the late-winter chill. And then the next day it was really the best fit with my outfit (hallelujah, sleeve and shoulder ease).

Exeter Cardigan back

On and on I reached for this cardigan, swaddled myself in it, even traveled with it, for a solid month before finally & reluctantly ending the loose ends.

It still doesn’t have buttons, but I’m calling it good, wearing it while I hunt for button-mates.

The pattern, of course, is Exeter by Michele Wang from the BT Spring Thaw Collection, with full modification notes here. I’m thankful as ever for knitter friends, for real-life sweater try-ons and internet-based helpful hints. The main change I added was length: to the body ribbing, the pockets, and the sleeves.

Exeter Cardigan front

The yarn is a local treat: squishy, lustrous, taupe-y grey wool, purchased at a local festival in spring 2016. It was surprisingly hard to find a full sweater’s worth of yarn from a local farm at this festival that was supposedly all about the shepherds, but I knew I had a winner as soon as I spotted the table piled with this yarn. Simply called Farmgirl Yarns, the label denoted it was raised and spun on-site by English Gardens Fiber Mill in southern Minnesota.

Everything on the table was undyed, with beautiful natural neutrals and subtle variations in grey-brown hues. I gravitated toward this lot immediately. The name: Sylvia. The breed: 1/2 Blue faced Leicester, 1/4 English Leicester, 1/4 Columbia, noted in neat and swirling hand script.

The natural shine of the yarn made the cabling even more addictive, the plump 3-ply showing the texture with distinction. I dutifully swatched and blocked each of the three stitch patterns as called for in the pattern, and the fit is exactly what I wanted — a little bit longer and slimmer (less ease) than the shown on the model, with excellent drape.

Exeter Cardigan Side

What surprised me, though, is that the yarn is really softening with wear. And by that I mean, it’s already pilling more than any of my other hand knit sweaters. It doesn’t bother me so much as perplexes me, because with the little bit I know about Leicester breeds I had thought they were longwool and thus a heartier fiber. I have a pretty high tolerance for wool, not one who needs merino next to skin, so I thought it would be great to have a cabled cardigan in a more substantial wool that would wear really well.

It wears beautifully in its cozy comfort, sheen, and drape, but it has quite the fuzzy halo when you look up close, and will need regular combing on the sleeves and lower ribbing where the most friction occurs. I had thought that pilling was mostly the result of shorter fibers coming free with wear, and maybe that’s true with this yarn, but I wonder if it’s more due to the construction — a ‘softer’ spin that makes the yarn more open and pliable, thus pillable?

Of course, this will hardly stop me from wearing it, it’s more of an observation and perhaps a consideration for the future to do a bit more of the dirty work with a swatch before casting on a whole sweater. I think Karen was really on to something with that hot tip.

One thing I know for sure I’ll take with me to the next big knit: tucking in my name and date, as noted, a little way to make my mark and meld my work with that of all those in the supply chain, from Sylvia the sheep to the spinnery and the shepherd.

Exeter Cardigan Pocket Detail

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Indigo Tamarack: Part II

Part of the reason I was so suddenly smitten with Grainline Studio’s Tamarack Jacket pattern release was because I had recently attended a tour of local fiber farms through the Natural Fiber Alliance. If you’re in Minnesota or Wisconsin, I highly recommend the fiber tour that NFA puts together each fall. On the tour, I visited a local fiber mill and learned that in addition to spinning yarn, they produce roving, felt, and batting. So when the Tamarack pattern popped up in my Instagram feed I looked at it with new eyes: local wool quilted jacket.

Granted, I have never actually quilted anything before. But I need a mid-level jacket and want to support local farmers and mills as much as possible, so it seemed like the perfect project. I purchased the pattern, picked my fabric (and dyed it with indigo) and contacted the mill to order batting.

And then I waited.

It turns out that the mill I had visited mostly produces yarn and wool goods as a service — meaning they receive fiber from farmers, process it, and send it back — so they don’t have much retail or inventory available, and ultimately I needed to look elsewhere for batting. I really enjoyed doing a bit of research on quilt batting and thought I’d share a roundup of what I found:

Polyester:
When I called and visited local shops, or searched major online stores, I found that synthetic quilt batting dominates the market. I can understand why the low price point and washability would be desirable, but I really try to avoid plastic fibers both because I prefer the feel and benefits of natural fibers (and I wanted the warmth of wool for this jacket) and because synthetics are derived from fossil fuel and polluting the ocean.

Cotton:
Grainline Studio suggests cotton batting as an option for the Tamarack Jacket, and if you’re looking for a lighter weight jacket I’d recommend this Heirloom Cotton Batting from Organic Cotton Plus. It is organically grown and made in the USA, with no chemical additives to offgas in your quilt or jacket.

Wool:
Organic Cotton Plus also offers wool batting, and I kept it in mind as a backup (it is sourced internationally but describes the supply chain and processing with considerable transparency).

When I lived in the Bay Area I loved taking weekend trips north to camp in Marin, Sonoma, and Napa, and once visited Valley Ford Wool Mill. Nestled on a curve of road between rolling hills of pasture, Valley Ford is a working mill with a wonderful Mercantile that sells local wool bedding, yarn, garments, and felted goods. On my visit I bought a pillow, and I considered purchasing their wool batting for this project too.

Digging a little deeper into my local resources, I came across a broader list of Minnesota farms and wool mills, which led me to St. Peter Woolen Mill. This 4th generation family-owned mill is located about an hour from my house and specializes in wool bedding, including pillows, mattress toppers, and duvets, and I was elated to see that they offer quilt batting! Though the wool is not sourced within my immediate radius, I called to ask about their products and learned that they do source entirely from the U.S. (mostly the Western rangeland states).

Always looking for an adventure, I asked if I could pick up an order of quilt batting in person, and learn more about the mill, and mill owner Pat Johnson kindly obliged. The full tour included an interview for an upcoming research project, and provided an in-depth connection to the batting that I purchased. If you’re looking for wool batting or bedding, St. Peter Woolen Mill does an excellent job and sells online as well as wholesales to natural bedding stores around the country. They also offer a unique service: they will reconstitute your existing wool quilt or duvet. If you have a blanket that has gone lumpy or thinned out, St. Peter Woolen Mill can re-process it and send it back to you. The owner told me about family heirloom quilts that have been sent to the Mill multiple times to be re-made, and sent back to the family for continued use. I love this take on mending and making do, and it’s another great reason to invest in quality garments and goods that can last a lifetime (or longer). Batting in hand, I headed back to Minneapolis full of appreciation and excited to make a quilted jacket.

DSC00566

Eager as I was (and am!) to make and wear my Tamarack Jacket, I put the project on pause while making holiday gifts for loved ones and finishing end-of-year work assignments. I’ve changed my mind a few times on the details for this project, and am glad to be taking it slow. Next on the blog, I plan to post a roundup of my One Year One Outfit makes, resources, and processes.