My friend Ben asked me to knit a baby cardigan to surprise his wife (and presumably his 6-month old Phoebe, if she can be surprised) for Christmas. I have the special privilege of watching Phoebe one day every two weeks – which brings me so much joy! When he asked me to knit this surprise cardigan I was immediately on board. I’ve had a lot of people request hand knit objects before the holidays – usually they come at the beginning of December and involve large projects… but Ben was smart. He asked me to knit this sweater in September, he offered to pay for materials, and he let me pick the pattern. This is how you ask a friend for a handknitted object!
I was very excited to peruse the large selection of baby cardigans on Ravelry – there are so many and they are SO CUTE! I finally landed on the Saffran Cardigan by Docksjo, an adorable raglan with snowflake/star/flower motifs allover in stranded colorwork. This was an easy decision – I love colorwork and the motif fit the request for a Christmas sweater (though this figgy pudding one was a very close second).
The more difficult decision – the ethical one – was all about yarn choice. I care about where my yarn comes from and what it’s full life cycle will look like. I want my yarn sources to be sustainable, support the wool industry in my region, and be free from non-compostable materials (like nylon). I have my own yarn-buying hierarchy. It begins with thrifting for usable yarns. Most of my large projects come from this option – and it’s my favorite method as it fits my budget and allows me to save materials from the landfill. It’s not a perfect method… but it works well for now. Second, I try to buy directly from farmers and mills. This is option is very far outside of my budget… so I only get the chance to do this once or twice every year. If options one or two aren’t available, I try to buy 100% American wool (bonus if it was also milled and dyed in the U.S.) As a resident of the United States who was raised in a rural area, I want to support my farming neighbors as best I can, so when I can’t buy directly from them, I buy from sources that buy their fleeces. These three steps (thrifted, farm, american wool) make up my initial decision-making schema.
However, deciding which yarn to buy is always complicated by extra factors. The size of the project (and therefore the cost of the materials) will skew me towards one source or the other. If I’m knitting a blanket, I’ll lean towards thrifted yarns, but a pair of mittens will skew me towards farm yarn. When gift knitting, I always consider the lifestyle of the recipient – specifically their laundry habits. If they’re used to hand washing, and I believe they have sufficient yarn wherabouts to keep something out of the laundry machine, they get the prized 100% wool option (my mom is the only person who fits this category for me at the moment…). If they are likely to toss it in the laundry basket with their t-shirts and jeans, I’ll bend my no-superwash preference for them. Usually, I avoid superwash yarns as the ones available in the U.S. are treated with harmful chemicals that can end up in our waterways (leaks always happen). The reason I bend this rule when gift-knitting is because I value the longevity of the final product, that will hopefully become an heirloom piece. By knitting something out of superwash yarn, it stands the chance that it will last that much longer, even after accidental washes (but no dryer! Please no dryer!)
For my Saffran Cardigan, I chose to use Shepherds Wool from Stonehedge Fiber Mill. This is an affordable yarn that supports the American wool industry (milled in the US, from sheep in the US!) I wanted to keep the cost of this project relatively low while still knitting a quality piece from a yarn source on my ethical hierarchy. This merino wool is ultra-soft. It’s guaranteed to surprise any recipient with it’s handle. I’m not the biggest fan of ultra-soft yarns. I’m a bit too rough and tumble and need sturdy yarns myself, but I know that soft is all the rage, so soft yarns for gifts makes sense. With my soft yarn in hand, I set out to knit the cutest cardigan I ever did see.
Overall I enjoyed knitting the Saffran cardigan. The biggest “challenge” of this cardigan was the steek. I use the term challenge lightly. I wouldn’t say I’m afraid of steeking, I just never found the need to cut open my knitting and prevent it from ever being unraveled in a usable way. But, as I was giving this sweater away, the chance it will need to be unraveled isn’t large, so I embraced the opportunity to steek and set out
guns scissors a-blazing. The part I found to me mildly challenging was the section at the top of the cardigan where I was instructed to knit flat in colorwork. This was new for me and my tension was noticeably different in this section. I had to focus on this part. But I managed just fine and made no errors. I will most likely be making this sweater again – especially for all those babies that my friends are having at the moment!