Thrifting Tips and Tricks: Sweaters

It’s no secret, the majority of my materials come from thrifted items. The low prices and wide variety of materials make it possible for me to stock my obsessive craft hobby on a tight budget. I’ve spent a lot of time at thrift stores searching for sweaters: so here are my favorite tips and tricks for how to find quality thrifted sweaters.

  1. Season Matters (mostly). I’ve noticed that more thrift stores I encounter rotate clothes on a seasonal basis. Especially larger chain stores, like Goodwill and St Vincent de Paul, seem to only stock seasonally relevant clothes. I rarely find quality sweaters during the summer months. So I stick to cooler weather months for my sweater thrifting. However, I have found that smaller towns or locally owned thrift stores rarely have the staff to be selective about seasonal clothing – so if you are on the hunt for sweaters in the summertime, I recommend searching in a smaller/locally owned shop.
  2. Check the Tags. Very obvious tip, but checking tags for fiber content is the best way to determine if a sweater is worth it. I try to avoid those acrylic sweaters, but sometimes I’m desperate for a specific color so I’ll compromise by purchasing a fiber with some acrylic or nylon content. While that 100% wool sweater might be the prize find, don’t discount other natural fibers or blends. Some of my favorite projects are made from thrifted cotton and finding a silk or silk blend yarn always feels like finding a secret treasure. I like to keep track of the brands I find with quality materials. That way, if I’m drawn to a sweater and notice the brand is one I’ve unravelled before, its likely to be another quality sweater. This also goes the other way, I keep track of the brands whose sweaters are almost always acrylic and avoid them like the plague. Some of my most unravelled brands are LOFT (and Ann Taylor), J. Jill, and J Crew. I also jump on any Eileen Fisher sweater I can find. The one’s I avoid are typical fast fashion brands like Forever21, H&M, and Old Navy (unless I really want cotton).
  3. Explore your area. You might find that the thrift store closest to home rarely carries quality sweaters, so branch out – check out some shops in different areas. Check the next town over, the suburbs, the city center, the outskirts of town. If I’m on the hunt for a specific project, I like to devote a weekend morning or afternoon to my quest and hit up the various thrift stores in a certain area of the city. If you do take this approach I recommend bringing snacks – it can be a big day. It might be a good idea to keep a running list of shops that tend to carry quality sweaters. Keep a list on your phone or in a notebook, that way if you’re in need for a good sweater and don’t have hours of time, your list can guide you.
  4. Stick to your budget. While I’ve had the occasional failed thrift store run, more often than not I can find numerous sweaters with fibers that would love to knit with. But, even thrift stores sweaters can add up in price and could quickly get out of control. Before you even leave your house, acknowledge what you can spend on materials that day. Setting those limits will prevent you from experiencing sweater regret.

I hope these tips help you on your thrifted sweater adventures. Let me know if you have any favorite tips and tricks when you search for thrifted sweaters in the comments below. And thanks to Mia for suggesting this topic as a blog post. I hope this helps, Mia!

Happy Thrifting!

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In Progress: June Knitting

My summer of knitting has arrived.

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I’m very excited that I finished my #MeMadeMay18 featherweight cardigan. I’ll have a post about this soon. Though I’m sad I can no longer knit with this amazing yarn, this finished object has opened up space for a new cast on in my knitting queue!

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I have a tiny little hem worm of my Tegna sweater by Caitlin Hunter. I am so excited for this top – perfect for summer but suitable for cooler months as well. I am knitting my Tegna out of a silk/cotton blend I reclaimed last fall. I dyed this yarn at Alpacas of Troy with with Sumac berries and Indigo. The result was this lovely teal-blue with green undertones. I also experimented by dying this sweater in its machine knit form. The result was quite exciting, the dye is speckled evenly on the yarn which enhances the shimmer effect from the silk fiber content. This yarn looks like the waves of a lake on a summer day softly lapping the shore; not too much drama but just enough movement to capture my attention and lull me into relaxation.

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I had a little hiccup with my Tegna. I swatched three times to achieve the pattern gauge – starting with a US 5 and finally getting gauge on a US 7. I cast on for the medium, which would have given me about 9 inches of positive ease and knit half of the lace, I realized the bottom circumference of the sweater was far too large for my size. Even with the decreases in the lace, I would have been swimming in this top. Nine inches of positive ease on my petite frame is just a little too much. I also noticed that in my gauge on US 7 needles, the lace was already quite open. I thought this whole top could do with a downsize. I downsized my needles to a size 5 and, after some gauge math magic, cast on, again, for the medium size. This will give me a top with about two inches of positive ease which will probably be more my style. I’m hoping this all works out.

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I have two other projects that are probably going to travel with me the entire summer. The first is my Reyna shawl by Noora Backlund – which I’m knitting because my friend Kate in St Louis decided to cast this on as her first shawl project! After yarn shopping with her and guiding her through the first bits of the pattern, I realized that I really wanted one of these shawls for myself.

I had the perfect yarn – a gift from my friend Anna after her trip to Wyoming during the 2017 total eclipse. This yarn is the most amazing collection of purples. It’s Palouse Yarn Company Merino Fine in the Total Gravity colorway. This color is part of a special collection the dyer made especially for the eclipse and I think the dyer absolutely nailed it. The purples are so rich, but shift in tone from a lavender to an almost black. I’m really enjoying the color of this yarn.

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My second project is this little basic sock – made with a commercial Patons sock yarn I picked up from a reused craft store in Cincinnati. I have yet to find sweaters that I can unravel that are suitable for sock yarn, as I always prefer a tightly spun yarn for my socks. Most of the sweaters I come across in thrift stores end up loosely spun, if spun at all (especially if they’re blended fibers or have any sort of cotton content). Therefore, I keep my eyes out for any commercial sock yarn I can find at secondhand craft stores. One day, I would love to knit my socks without superwash or nylon content – but until that day I’m eagerly watching Mrs. M’s no-nylon sock experiment to glean from her research.

Usually, I knit my socks cuff down and use a heel flap and gusset, however, I started this sock toe up and will probably throw a short row heel on there just for ease. The short row heel doesn’t fit my foot quite as well as a flap and gusset – I have quite a high arch and instep – however, it’s been a while since I tried a short row heel and I want to double check the fit on my tighter sock gauge that’s developed over the last year since I’ve been regularly knitting socks.

I’m quite pleased with the projects I have on the go for June – my Tegna, Reyna, and my toe-up sock. The variety of these projects has kept me interested as I still mourn the absence of my sewing machine. Speaking of my wonderful sonata sewing machine, I’m beginning to miss it so much that I’m thinking about naming it! Naming is a skill that I seriously lack (if you only knew how long it took me to come up with a name for this blog – hint two+ years). However, I think my trusty machine deserves some attention while I’m away. Since my machine was originally owned by my mom, I’m thinking a name from her generation will suite it best. Something like Linda, Karen, Tammy or Denise. Or I might go super 80’s like Heather, Tiffany, or Stacy. As of now I’m leaning towards Stacy or Linda.

Finished Object: Carbeth

This enjoyable and fast sweater knit has come to a end. My Carbeth sweater is bound off, blocked, and finally dry.

I used two mystery cones of yarn held double for this project. One a wooly, rustic black and the other a soft, smooth blue. These cones were purchased from Scrap It Up, the creative reuse store in Cincinnati. I would highly recommend a visit to this shop if you’re near the city – the diversity of supplies is incredible.

I used the Patty Lyons ssk decrease recommended on MDK: it’s mainly just slip one then pass it back to the left needle then knit through the back loops. Patty Lyons also has a one move version of this decrease, but I found that actually made my stitches looser rather than tighter.

Blocking was simple, I followed the plate method and used a 10″ plate. Surprisingly my sweater took three days to dry. Probably because it’s been raining in STL for the past four days and everywhere is quite humid.

This was a great basic and easy sweater. I think I’ll wear it often in the deepest part of winter as it’s toasty warm (I might even say boiling). Hopefully I can get a few more wears before Spring arrives.

A Monster for Baby Francis

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My wonderful friend from my PhD program is having a baby! So to celebrate, I knit her this sweet monster baby toy. This is Gort from the Big Book of Knitted Monsters by Rebecca Danger.

Toys like these monsters are my favorite way to use scraps of yarn. I use larger leftovers for the body and those small offcuts for the stuffing. Unravelling thrifted sweaters produces a surprising amount of yarn scraps – some of the scraps used to stuff Gort were from 2015.

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Speaking of stuffing toys with scraps, I once heard an experienced toy knitter say that the only reliable way to stuff plush and full toys was to use poly-fil (or some sort of polyester batting) specifically for toy use. I’ve never used polyester filling for my toys. I’ve stuffed with lambs fleece, roving, and mostly scraps of yarn and fabric. I have never had a toy collapse or grow lumpy. I prefer to use scraps as it saves them from the landfill and serves a wonderful purpose.

The body is stripped with worsted weight yarn – the dark blue hails from my mother-in-law’s stash while the light blue marl was from a wedding blanket I knit in 2015.

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I decided to embroider the facial features on this monster to make it baby safe. The embroidery process was a bit nerve-wracking, but I pulled myself together and tried my best to plan it out. I think this little toy has a friendly face, perfect for small ones. Though, I did have a bit of a crisis immediately after finishing the face as I feared it could come across as terrifying. Thankfully, everyone who saw the monster disagreed and thought it was adorable and said it was overreacting.

This little monster is going off to meet it’s new family this afternoon! I’m hoping it will fit right in and be a loved for many years.

Finished Object: Zweig

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Also known as the sweater that was a little tighter than I planned.

This sweater is an hommage to my Minnesotan childhood winters.  The natural white mimics a blanket of snow and the tonal blue reminds me of a the blue skies that can only happen on the coldest days. Would this sweater keep me warm when windchill hits -40 degrees? Probably not by itself. But I would  be super stylish while waiting for the endless winter to end. (Also, -40 is the point where Fahrenheit and Celsius meet… v. cold)

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This sweater is tighter than I planned. I don’t mean uncomfortable or ill fitting, it just doesn’t have as much positive ease as I imagined. I’ve decided that one of the reasons for this closer fit is due to the 100% merino of the body – it’s probably more like a sport weight than a fingering. Second, I made the crucial mistake of swatching flat rather than in the round. While my flat swatch matched gauge – once I started to knit in the round, I no longer had purl rows to bulk up my stitches. The fabric I produced in the round was much tighter than if I were knitting flat. So lesson learned… always swatch in the style in which you will knit. I’ve already fixed my bad habit in my next sweater project.

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I experimented with bind offs on this sweater. For the sleeves I used Jeny’s surprisingly stretchy bind off and for the hem I used a stretchy bind off (k2tog, tbl). At this point, I prefer the stretchy bind off for ease and overall finished look.

I have a few more sweaters planned this winter – but I’m happy with the first finished sweater of 2018. Here’s to many more!

Finished Object: Logalong Circle Skirt

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Holy Moly. She’s finished.

My dreams of a full circle skirt knit in the log cabin style have been actualized.

I left my last post on this skirt a bit hesitant. I was unsure my design idea could even be realized and not at all confident my planning skills were up to the task. However, after taking a few gambles, I am pleased to say my skirt checks all the boxes. It’s full, flowy, light, high-waisted, and delightful. IT WORKED and I’m not totally sure how.

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Here are some specs:

  • I originally planned for ten triangle segments to make up my skirt, that number shrunk to seven after a layout test.
  • I seamed the triangles together with a three needle bind off.
  • I finished the bottom of the skirt with an i-cord edge treatment.
  • Each triangle uses 40 grams of Brooklyn Tweed Shelter. Overall for the whole skirt I used seven skeins of yarn.
  • I picked up stitches for the waistband and knit a casing for elastic

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The most difficult part of this project was decision making. I have no experience designing – and this was a pretty large and intense way to get my feet wet. I was baffled by the sheer amount of decisions that must be made in a garment. Stitch texture and yarn choice proved relative easy for me, but the waistband was more challenging. For a while I imagined I would knit the waistband separate from the body of the skirt and seam it together, but after mulling over this option for actual days, I determined that fitting a waistband to my body as well as the skirt would be beyond my skill level. So, I calculated the number of stitches needed to fit around my waist and picked up stitches to generally match this number. My waistband is taller than I imagined – but I think this height helps balance the volume of the skirt. It also ensure the skirt falls at a wearable length. One unintended result of my waistband that I love is how the body of the skirt (the triangles) start right at my hip.

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I’m pleased (and surprised) that this skirt has turned out as I imagined. During the construction process I felt a bit nervous about knitting so far out of my comfort zone, but now that I’ve worked through the decision making process I feel quite empowered. I’ve tasted the sweet results of seeing a project from design idea to finished project – and they certainly are addictive. Now I wonder if I can go back to settling for patterns that aren’t quite right (answer: probably not). But I’m not in a rush to give up patterns entirely. I feel quite grateful to Karen Templer and her marvelous idea for the #fringeandfriendslogalong, without which I would be skirt-less and uninspired.

 

Logalong Plans and Progress

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When Karen Templer of Fringe Association announced the plans for a log cabin knit-a-long, I had mixed feelings. The log cabin style of knitting was never something that caught my eye, perhaps because I tend toward color minimalism – preferring solids to multicolored items. The log cabin construction style lends itself to items like blankets or scarves – anything square.

I knew if I wanted to join in this knitalong it would mean knitting a solid colored garment that incorporates the log cabin construction. Realizing that I have a baffling amount of sweaters (and more on the way), I knew sweaters were out of the running. I was left feeling sans inspiration for some time – without any confidence in my log cabin knitting plans – until early one morning I woke with the most brilliant idea. So brilliant that it takes a little extra explanation.

The Plan: Log cabin full circle mini skirt made of triangles.

I’ve been attracted to the look of full circle mini skirts this year (my logalong pinterest board has a few), especially those made of wool. They have volume and a little bit of sass that would really brighten up a winters day. While I haven’t found any patterns for a knit full circle mini skirt – I don’t see why it can’t be done.

Full circle skirts can easily be broken into triangular sections – like pieces of a pie.

But is a triangle even a log cabin thing? Yes it is my friends, quilters do it and so will I.

By using a circle skirt calculator for sewing, I was able to make some extra calculations to create triangular sections. But, in order to have room for the waist, I have to chop off the very tip of the triangles – making them trapezoids with triangle insides… a hyprid shape.

My original plan is to have 10 triangles 15 inches high with a 15 inch base. That will give me a very full skirt and a pretty short mini. I’m planning for the waist to have a little bit of negative ease (being knitwear and all) and adding a waistband (maybe with some cables?).

That said, I’m about five triangles down, and I’m starting to think I might prefer the skirt with a little less volume – maybe a 3/4 circle skirt – so I might stop with eight triangles, maybe even six, it all depends on if I can make the waist fit.

The Yarn: I chose to use Brooklyn Tweed Shelter in the Old World colorway. I am so excited to finally be working with this yarn. I really wanted to see what it was like working with a wool that blooms after blocking – and I can confidently say it is everything that I’ve hoped and dreamed for. While knitting, the yarn feels stiff, scratchy, and sticky – however after a 30 minute soak in warm water it transforms into a drapey, soft piece of fabric. After knitting and blocking my test triangle I was so surprised by the change in fabric characteristics. I went from unsure that this design would even be possible to very excited and confident that it would work.

The Old World colorway is a navy blue tweed with flecks of bright red and turquoise. I know this skirt will fit in with my wardrobe color palate. That’s why I chose it. I’m actually using two dye lots (break all the knitting rules!) but since this skirt is made of pieces, I figure the difference won’t be noticeable.

The Log Cabin: While most of the log cabin knits I’ve seen are made of garter stitch, I chose to knit my triangles in stockinette. I was really drawn to Norah Gaughan’s Log Cabin Shawl pattern, especially her use of different stitch textures in the log cabin blocks. However, after a small test with alternating stitch textures, I realized my triangles were better suited for a very basic stitch pattern. The bit of inspo I did pull from the Log Cabin Shawl was the use of a ridge to separate between blocks (however, my ridge is way simpler than the one used in this shawl pattern).

While I’m excited about this skirt, I won’t fully know if the whole idea works until I seam the pieces together and try it on. I’m proceeding with fingers crossed and a general attitude of knitting recklessness.