knit | spin

Final Project: Part Three

June 14, 2017

This is Part Three of a short series about the handspun, knitted spencer  I made as the final project in completion of the Certificate of Spinning, run by Handweavers and Spinners Guild of Victoria. Part One explored the spinning process, Part Two documented the knitted article. In Part Three, I share my road testing of the spencer as a worn garment.

As you might remember, the spencer project was an exploration in making a low carbon footprint, locally sourced thermal undergarment as an alternative to the highly processed, highly travelled merino thermals that are so useful in winter.

The fleece and fibre, the spinning method and pattern design were all specifically chosen to fit this purpose. Alpaca and polwarth were chosen for warmth, next to the skin softness and local origin. The woollen preparation, long woollen draw and garter stitch knitting created lots of air pockets to trap warmth. The garment was cheap to make, though time consuming, involving scouring, blending, carding, spinning, washing, winding, knitting, sewing and blocking.

So how did the spencer perform? Was it a useful alternative to the commercial merino thermal?

In the interests of science, I wore the spencer everyday for two weeks. You can see it peeking out under the layers.

This is what I found:

  • I instantly forgot I was wearing it. There was no scratch or itch at all.
  • It kept me incredibly warm, not in hot way but in a very comfortable way.
  • The garment held its shape surprisingly well and did not sag or stretch. I assume the side seams were instrumental in this.
  • There has been no pilling. This really surprised me as the yarn is woollen spun which is notoriously pilly. This may be because I used washed locks as the basis of the carded rolags rather than washed fleece. This meant only fibres of a uniform length were carded. There were no short fibres to wiggle out of the yarn as pills. I also plied with more twist than I have done in the past, perhaps this gave the fibres the structural support they needed to stay put.
  • The garment has not fulled in anyway, despite sweat and compression. I know it has only been two weeks but I would have expected to see some fibres compacting together but it still looks lacy and remains springy.
  • Despite using larger needles, the initial cast on is still a little tight. I would try a stretchy cast on next time.

I consider this project a success. The hand spun, hand knitted spencer IS an alternative to the commercial, mass produced merino thermal in terms of performance, carbon cost and financial cost.

However, it does take time to make. And, despite my excitement and commitment to make more spencers, when the Aldi supermarket special sale of ladies merino thermal tops presented itself, I bought myself two tops along with my groceries. The garments had a label purporting that the fabric was environmentally responsible but I have no idea about the labour practices involved or the miles it had travelled to get to me.

Whilst my handspun spencer was still cheaper to make than the Aldi one (amazing since the Aldi one is cheap anyway) and softer to wear, it required an effort of labour and thought that fast fashion does not.  So whilst this spencer may be an alternative to the mass produced merino thermal, it turned out not to be the alternative this winter. Fast fashion is fast, it offers a solution for right now, and that is its seductive appeal. It seems so easy and simple particularly as its origin story is so silent, shrouded and complex.

But maybe, with a little more (precious) time, by next winter, handspun spencers might be my total solution?