I was given a very thoughtful gift a few weeks ago from a very dear friend who caught wind of my Buy-No-Clothes-in-2021 challenge. My friend, who I don’t get to see very often, knows how much I love clothes (one of my very first refashioning projects ever was with some of her daughter’s discarded blouses!)
She and I share a love of textiles of all kind, but we bonded over knitting. Thus, this amazing gift:
The gift made me feel all the feels. Hand-spun, hand-dyed by an artisan in the Grenoble (Vercors) region of France, where my friend lives. First of all, that color. I had no words for that color. Blue? Green? Turquoise? Teal? Then, the texture. A fluffy, lofty medium-weight mohair. And the sheer quantity! Three gigantic lengths of this exquisite stuff.
Plus, I knew exactly and instinctively what I wanted to do with it. A lacy but practical wrap sweater. Once they saw it, and asked me what I was going to do with it, my little boys demanded that I design pockets into my sweater. Apparently I spend half my time complaining that my clothes don’t have enough pockets and they believe, as I tell them all the time, “If something pisses you off, do what is in your power to fix it.” Practical application: if I am going to make my own clothes, then I better darn well make them complain-proof.
The wool came in these three, glorious shanks. In order to do anything with them, I would have to turn them into cakes. For the uninitiated, a cake looks like a round little flat-bottomed and flat-topped cake of yarn, from which you pull a center end in order to proceed with knitting. It stands opposed to the simpler to imagine and easier to create ball of yarn.
I find the cake to be easier to work with because it doesn’t come unwound while I’m knitting. It’s also fun to make when you have a six-hour car ride ahead of you, and can be made rather simply with only a empty toilet paper roll as a tool.
So I did. On our drive home from my in-laws house, I made my three ginormous cakes of blue-turquoise-teal-green yarn. As I did, I fantasized about my new sweater. It was a great way to stay sane while listening to “Summertime” by DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince for the seven hundredth time in a row at the request of my scalawags who simply cannot get enough of that song. Drums please.
Designing a pattern
Honestly, my husband was still bringing our suitcases up that I had already cast on the sleeves. I wanted to see this amazing yarn knit up.
The sleeves were to be lacy. Ajouré as they say in French, which means, you can see daylight through them. I wasn’t sure what lace pattern I wanted to use, but I had seen a wrap blouse with lace sleeves in the store once and I thought the idea was brilliant.
In the process, I posted a photo to Insta of the color and asked for help naming it. Someone mentioned peacock and my imagination was tickled. Yes. Yes. Yes. Obviously.
From there, the lace pattern was easy to choose. Probably the easiest of all lace patterns, one called “Feather and Fan”, a little tongue-in-cheek nod to the name I had settled on for the color.
On a mohair or billy goat or other equally fine wool, it’s those fuzzy little fibers that make a kind of halo around the knit that work to trap the warmth inside, but also release unneeded warmth. They are like natural thermostats. Wool is magical. I love wool. I digress.
I wanted the sleeves to be kind of puffy, but not too puffy. I wanted the body to be a plain, boring jersey stitch to set-off the sleeves. I wanted a pleasantly form-fitting ribbed knit for the peplum.
I couldn’t yet imagine what kind of closure I wanted yet. I had an inkling I might just use a big fancy button to close the whole thing, or maybe use a tie closure.
The most important design feature-and-problem-to-solve would be the pockets.
The sleeves were simple and fast to knit. I would be attaching them at the armpit and work the whole sweater in one piece from the armpit up to the neckline once the bodice was complete.
Little boys and knitting
I hadn’t knitted in so long, and for a good reason. Even the last time I knitted, one of my scalawags was still too interested in what I was doing to leave my yarn cakes alone, and therefore, my yarn ended up a jumbled mess. This irritated me, so I swore not to knit again until my boys were old enough to leave my materials alone.
While still curious about the process of making something out of nothing, they are now slightly more respectful of my materials. I was able, while they were playing Playmobil one afternoon, to sit on the couch, ready to jump to action if someone’s life was being threatened, but nonetheless, cozily knitting with my feet under me the way I love to knit.
I started the knit in one piece from the bottom, knitting a 2×2 rib stitch for about two inches before separating for the pockets. I left about five inches, building both front pieces simultaneously. Then the back. I did a few short rows on the back, creating some shaping so the sweater would be slightly longer in the back than in the front, again, a little nod to the peacock (in the end it is hardly noticeable, but I know it is there.)
After five inches on both front pieces and the back, I rejoined for another inch or two of 2×2 rib. stitch.
Dirt bike heaven
At this point, my boys and I went to a dirt bike path. It was a gorgeous, sunny but chilly August day. The were getting along, which, let’s be honest, doesn’t happen very often. I felt like throwing caution to the wind. So I took my knitting, a blanket and my earbuds to listen to podcasts, hoping that I wouldn’t have to intervene as an EMT or as a referee, while my gents rode their bikes on the dirt bike circuit at the park.
I started my jersey stitch upper bodice: I started by casting off four stitches at the start of each row to create the diagonal for the wrap front. Then three stitches. Then one for each row until the end. I was not needed as an EMT. So I kept knitting.
This particular summer day will remain my favorite memory of Summertime. Drums please.
On our way to Europa Park
Ah yes, my lovely summer morning had to come to an end. I had to take a few day’s break before I could get back to my knitting. Then…we were back in the car on our way to Europa Park, that theme park in Rust, Germany, to which we had been gifted tickets for Christmas.
I attached the sleeves at the armpit and started doing raglan decreases as I moved towards the neckline. Pretty soon, by eyeballing it, I could see that I should be about done.
Yes, I eyeballed the whole sweater, with only a few false starts. Is it perfect? No. But is it perfect?
Absolutely yes. It just still needed a little help.
Pockets and closure
Oh, yes. I had these gaping holes which I knitted shut to be able to wear it for the first day.
Once I got home from Europa Park, I took a discarded little boy t-shirt in a lovely dark teal color and cut the back piece in two, sewing by hand the knit jersey material over the inside of the gaping holes to make pockets. Perfect. I added two little buttons to the outside, to prevent the holes from gaping. Adorable.
I went back and forth over what kind of closure I wanted, but in the end, I decide drama is always in style, so I created one very long length of belt by picking up nine stitches on the front outside waist edge, which would wrap around the back then the front, and then did the same on the side where the other half of the belt would be.
Yes, yes. Drama is always in style.
And that, my friends, is how I made my absolutely fabulous peacock mohair wrap sweater.
Please enjoy this little gallery of photos of my newest, favoritist, most happy memory-filled garment:
The best compliment
I was tucking my eldest in bed. He has a digital clock with bright white letters across the room. He put his hand about an inch off my arm, and ran his hand over it. I wondered if he had lost his mind, because this was just weird.
“Your sweater looks like magic,” he whispered. Indeed. It did. The little tiny magical thermostat fibers, backlit by his digital clock, looked like a little turquoise halo.
My sweater does look like magic, doesn’t it?