Faeries and whimsy are right up my alley as is knitting, so it seemed obvious that I should take a month or two off from spinning yarn to make a fairy sweater for a competition.
In late August, I found out my design was a finalist and I shipped the sweater, and later the wings, to San Francisco for final judging. On Saturday, my sweater walks down the runway, and they will reveal the winner. Since I will probably be too depressed from the loss to write about it on Sunday, I’m going to post about it now.
A few months ago, my library re-upped their Vogue Knitting Subscription. Immediately, I sent my kids to coloring in the play area and hunkered down with the latest issue. On one of the first few pages, I found an advertisement for the Magic Mohair Faerie Knitting Competition.
So here’s my fairy sweater and an overview of my design process for this project:
I didn’t have much to go on for direction. The book, Faerie Knitting, wasn’t released yet. I did order one of Alice Hoffman’s books from the library, but it didn’t have any faeries, so I just went with my gut.
When you tell me it’s a faerie design contest, I hear that a fairy is going to be wearing it. So obviously it needs to be in a weird shape so she can fit it over her wings. I played around with cape styles and finally decided that backless was the way to go.
One sleeve sounded a bit silly to me, but I liked the idea of an asymmetrical design and I figure a fairy would get just as bored as I would knitting that second sleeve.
I spent a night or two sketching and I ordered some mohair yarn from Knit Picks.
I really struggled with how much yarn to order. I hate to spend much money, but I was coming off a high of some Etsy sales and I figured this was worth the expense. In the end I went for 8 balls because I didn’t want to end up needing to order more when there was a competition deadline.
Then I twiddled my thumbs nervously while I waited for the yarn to arrive. I was very nervous about how a backless design would look, so I actually ended up making a muslin out of an old bedsheet while I waited. I’ve never heard of making a muslin for a knitting project before, but it helped me get some of the kinks out. BEWARE, if you make a muslin for a knit project, the fabric you use won’t be as stretchy or drape the same way your knit will. I mostly used it for getting a better idea on measurements, and to see if the weird shape I was making would stay on.
I wrote down the dimensions and shapes of the different aspects of the piece, and then I waited impatiently for yarn delivery.
I also used the time I was waiting for the yarn to create a frame for my wings. I have made wings before, a set of dragon wings a Halloween costume for my daughter’s second Halloween. (You can head to my Instagram account to see pics)
So I pulled out some fencing wire I had laying around and shaped it into wings. To hold the pieces of wire together, I twisted them as best I could and then used electrical tape to keep them all in place. After that, I took some spare brown yarn and wrapped all the wire with a crochet stitch. This crochet stitch worked out very well because it gave me an edge to stitch into when I added the lace body of the wings.
Once my yarn arrived, I did all the appropriate squishing and oohing over the fiber, and then made my swatch. PLEASE NOTE: I rarely do these adult behaviors with my knitting projects; swatching, making a muslin…. it takes a lot of patience. This just seemed like a project that was worth taking my time on.
I made a swatch just about the minimum recommended size (~4” x 4”) and blocked it out. Then I swatched a sample of the trim I wanted to use. This is another adult behavior that I usually avoid. But blocking with lace is essential because lace opens up so beautifully and drastically changes size.
I wanted a very ethereal lace for the entire garment, so I pulled out a stack of knit stitch books from my personal library. I ended up pulling all of my stitch patterns from Nancy Bush’s gorgeous book, Estoninan Lace.
I bought a copy at the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival two years ago, and have been feeling guilty about the expense ever since. Now that I’ve used the book thoroughly, my guilt is gone! This truly is a wonderful book with gorgeous lace charts and perfect instructions for beautiful finishing.
Then I started on the hood. I wanted to do a top-down design because the top was the part that had to fit just right.
One thing I’m glad I did was block the hood rectangle before I sewed it into an actual hood. This was really helpful, I learned after I finished that sleeve that blocking 2 layers is a pain in the buns.
A Note on Blocking: It occurs to me that there are plenty of knitters who don’t know how to block. Blocking isn’t essential for most knitting projects, but for lace it makes a world of difference. Here’s a great tutorial on blocking from Brooklyn Tweed. For a surface, I use the foam puzzle letters my in-laws bought for my kids and regular old stainless steel sewing pins. I’ve also known folks without foam who block on their mattress. Use what you’ve got, no need to buy extra equipment. Below, you can see what a difference blocking can make for lace: these two pieces are the same pattern, the item on the left has been blocked.
I went to Goodwill about halfway through my sweater and bought some beads to match the pink. I found a grab bag for $2.99 with several seed beads that I loved. This was my first time using beads in knitting, and I’m sure I didn’t do it the conventional way, but it worked out to the desired effect.
Once she was all done, I put the sweater on my mannequin and blocked her while she was pinned to the frame. This was helpful to perfect the drape and keep the peaks on the neckline. Then I steamed it using a wallpaper remover steamer.
After the sweater was done. I made two lace diamonds to fill in the wings and crocheted two lovely mandalas for the bottom sections.
If I’d had the time or motivation, I would have liked to embroider on some swirls to the wing sections, but alas, I didn’t have it in me after doing the embroidery and beadwork for the sweater.
I hadn’t actually intended to send the wings for the competition, so I figured it was ok if they didn’t have all the bells and whistles that the sweater did. I just needed wings as a prop for the photos. However, once my sweater was a finalist and I mailed it in, Vogue Knitting staff very kindly contacted me and asked me to send the wings too. I told them rather frankly that I didn’t want to or know how to ship the darn things but they used the word “intrigued” so I patchworked some cardboard boxes around them and choked down frugal tears (ok, there were no real tears) as I paid for shipping.
For a different style of lovely swirly wings, there’s a beautiful free version available on Ravelry from Becky Travis. For mandala patterns, there are loads and loads available on Ravelry for free.
One funny thing about the photoshoot: I’m actually just wearing three dishtowels under the sweater. I thought long and hard about what to wear under it, and it was tricky to think of something fairy-ish that wouldn’t distract, so I ended up just folding up plain white rectangles and safety pinning them on. Thank heavens my mom was my photographer, because there were a few close calls on wardrobe malfunctions.
So there it is. That’s at least most of the story of this sweater. Now that I’ve written this, I won’t have to worry about winning or losing the competition. I am so extremely thrilled to just have been a finalist. Before I entered, I told myself if I became a finalist I would learn how to make bras and pay real money for an actual kit. So here’s to some beautiful underduds in my future. Cheers!