Did you know that the oldest knitted artifacts date from the 11th century? And, the complexity of the knitting in those socks (colourwork, knit, purl and short rows) makes it pretty obvious that knitting had been around for some time before that. How’s that for being able to call knitting an ancient tradition? And you can be sure that if knitting has been around since then, people have also been mending their knitting since then too.
Anyone who knows my shop will know that a huge part of what I do is mending. Now obviously, most of that mending is on clothing, outerwear and outdoors related gear and it’s done using my various specialized industrial sewing machines. It is all mending (and alterations) none-the-less. I grew up in a family that couldn’t afford to be wasteful. My parents were hard-working, practical people. If we kids wanted to watch TV, we had to be mending something while we watched. The job I most commonly took on as my TV-toll was mending socks. Back then, I used an old lightbulb to hold the shape of the heel so I could carefully weave a new heel or toe with needle and yarn.
A long-time customer brought me a gorgeous Norwegian wool sweater, at least 30 years old. Other than the ravaged cuffs and a relatively small hole in one elbow, this beautiful lined garment was in excellent condition. It’s a testament to Norwegian craftsmanship. She asked me what I could do. I told her that there were a few ways to approach it, but that I really felt that it should be restored, as opposed to being repaired. I asked her what her budget was. She was willing to pay a fair bit, and although I knew it would not cover the time it would take to reknit the cuffs and graft a repair to the elbow, I just really wanted to restore it. I told her that I would be working on it in the evenings when I wasn’t too tired, in front of the television. It was not going to fall within my normal wait time for repairs.
I completed it this week and I thought I’d share how it went and show some photos of it. Now, please understand. I can’t afford to make a business out of restoring old sweaters for people. When she picked it up, she said, “I suspect I’m only paying about $2.00 per hour for all the work you did on this sweater!” She’s not far off! This was a labour of love on my part.
I began by choosing a row of knitting that would be easy to distinguish at the beginning of the cuff. There was a single round of green stitches that made it easy to know that I was getting the stitches from just that round. The sweater was knit with what appeared to be 2-ply yarn. The yarn I was using for the cuffs was 4-ply. So I had to decide how many stitches I would ultimately need and math my way through how many decreases it would take to get me there. I settled on 76 stitches and once I planned out how best to evenly divide up the decreases I set to work.
With the stitches picked up, I carefully cut through a single layer of the double cuff. I picked out all the bits of yarn from the old cuff, down to my needle full of stitches. Then I began to knit the cuff. I kept it simple with a 1×1 rib. After 30 rounds I did a purl round to make it easy to fold the cuff and did another 30 rounds before binding it off. I have to be honest, the sweater sat in a heap, mostly ignored for weeks at a time. I would knit a few rounds here and there. I finally repeated that process on the second cuff.
I picked out the stitches that held the lining fabric to the cuff and using the sewing machine, I stitched the lining fabric to the very end of the cuff. Once that was complete, I folded the cuff and very carefully pinned through the layers where the ends of the cuff lined up. Being sure to tuck any exposed fabric into the seam, I stitched through all the layers to secure the cuff layers with the lining in between. I used a herring bone stitch to make sure that it would be able to stretch without popping any threads.
Next I set to work on the elbow. There were several rows that were simply unraveled; the yarn itself was intact. I picked up stitches below and as wide as necessary so that I could create a patch for the other areas and comfortably cover the areas where the yarn was worn away. Using the existing yarn I knitted up until I got to a row where the original yarn was not intact. I then separated the 4-ply yarn so I could work with only 2 plies and knitted back and forth until I had a patch to cover the damaged area. Using a darning needle and more yarn, I grafted that patch to the sweater. It’s not the most elegant patch in the world, but it wasn’t bad. I spritzed the elbow patch and then pressed it with an iron to “block” it. It worked well.
This was a very satisfying project. It felt so good to be able to bring this gorgeous sweater back to life. I feel proud that I was able to be part of a host of traditions by taking on this one project. The sweater may be too warm out now to wear it right now, but I’m confident that it will be back to active use next winter. I’m sure that its owner will get another 30 years of snuggly warmth out of it yet.
And now that this project is complete, maybe I’ll get to some of my other WIPs.