This is going to make you feel a whole lot better about your own failed projects

Tussah silk dyed with indigo and spun into a softly-spun, fat silk singles yarn for my Printed Silk Cardigan.

My Printed Silk Cardigan Dilemma—can you help me decide?

Maybe you can help me with my Printed Silk Cardigan dilemma? I started spinning, dyeing, and knitting in April of 2008 for this beautiful cardigan by Connie Chang Chinchio from the Spring 2008 issue of Interweave Knits, and I'm still working on it.

I started in full awareness that it would be a serious challenge for me. I thought I was up to it.

First of all, it is one thing to spin a yarn and then decide what you're going to make with it—I wanted to try to spin a yarn for a specific purpose. I knew it would be very challenging for me to spin a fat, softly spun silk singles yarn like the one recommended for the cardigan. I started spinning well before Judith MacKenzie wrote her lovely article in the Spring 2010 issue of Spin-Off about how exactly to spin a fat, softly spun silky singles. Had I read Judith's article before I embarked on this project, I would have (maybe?) noted that Judith's softly spun silk singles grew by 15 percent when it was washed. Judith also recommends spinning an overtwisted yarn for consistency and then running it back through the wheel to remove twist later. However, these lessons were too late for my Printed Silk Cardigan.

Early progress on the cardigan.

Second, I can look at a finished garment and know how to make it, but I have a hard time following written patterns—I want to get better at following knitting instructions. In that regard, I did pretty well—the pieces all matched up at the right places. One of the fronts was smaller than the other one because of yarn grist but I decided to wait until after I blocked it to decide to reknit or not.

Then there were the unforeseen challenges—I decided to dye the silk in an indigo dye bath before spinning, and, while lovely, it didn't quite work. The indigo didn't adhere to the fiber properly—it rubbed off on my hands every time I worked with it. I had to be careful if I was knitting or spinning in public that I didn't touch my face too much, for fear of being mistaken for a Smurf.

Success would have been nice—but I probably learned more from the less successful aspects of this project. And now I'm at a crossroads. I'm still in love with the idea of this sweater—but here's the latest setback:

I picked up the sweater again after a bit of a hiatus and made some serious progress this fall and winter. I completed all the parts of the sweater and was ready to block it. When I held the pieces up, they were slightly big. I had changed sizes since I started the sweater, but I wasn't too worried—I thought it would still look good.

Before I blocked the sweater it fit comfortably on the 27" x 50" table in my living room.

After working on an indigo dye pot with students last week, I realized that the instructions that came with my freeze-dried indigo that I used for the silk didn't include a reducing agent. Perhaps that is why the dye didn't stick. So, at home, I decided to see what would happen if I tried to remove the indigo from my silk and redye it. I bought sodium hydrosulfite from the fabric store (sold by Rit as a color remover) and sampled it with a small skein and a swatch to see the effects. I had noted while I was reading about indigo dyeing for the class that sodium hydrosulfite is used (interchangeably with thiourea dioxide) for reducing the oxygen in the indigo vat. However, I was surprised and delighted to discover that the sodium hydrosulfite had reactivated the indigo in the yarn. I guess there was enough indigo on the yarn that when it entered the sodium hydrosulfite solution, it created a mini-indigo vat. The bath turned the yellow-ish green that signals that the indigo vat is ready! When I pulled the swatch and skein out of the vat, they oxidized—turning from yellow to green to blue. I was so excited about this that I didn't notice that the swatch changed size dramatically in the simmering bath. I washed the skein and swatch and laid them out to dry. The next day I knitted up the yarn—it was a beautiful blue, darker than before and it wasn't crocking on my hands anymore! Seeing this in retrospect, I should have measured the swatch before I tried to remove the color—I wasn't thinking about the effects of blocking. I think that four years ago when I first made the swatch, I had blocked it—but probably not in simmering water. Can you see where this is going?

After blocking, the sweater grew considerably and now drapes over the sides of the table (it's a bit wrinkled because I wadded it up in a ball while I thought about what to do).

I proceeded to put my finished pieces of the sweater, remaining yarn, and unspun fiber in a simmering bath of the sodium hydrosulfite. I rinsed it and was so thrilled—the pieces had become a more uniform and darker blue—gorgeous! I was so excited. I laid it out on towels to block. At this point I noticed it had grown by a lot. A lot. Before I blocked it, the cardigan was going to be a little roomy on my 5' 2" 130-pound frame, afterward—it could fit my 200-pound, 6-foot tall husband—loosely. Sadly, it's not the kind of garment he'd wear (or be caught dead in for that matter).

So, now I'm trying to decide how to proceed—because proceed I must.

I figure these are my options:

  • Rip it out and start knitting again.
  • Make it into something else—curtains?
  • Finish it and give it to someone worthy whom it fits.

Do you have any other ideas? Share your thoughts, take our poll.

Happy spinning,

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