cotton, knitting, Spinning

A Maker’s Journal: Knitting a Handspun Cotton Tee

Once I get inspired to work with a particular material or technique I have to keep going at it until something else grabs my attention. This past summer I was given the opportunity to share my point of view on spinning and knitting cotton. Oh my! In three weeks I ended up designing and knitting 2 lace shawls, spinning 17 different yarn samples and writing an article and knitting project for Spin Off Magazines Spring 2020 Botanicals issue.

I had some much fun immersing myself in the process that I just couldn’t stop there. I had this idea that I should knit myself a tee shirt. After all, isn’t a tee-shirt the most iconic cotton garment in the world? Surely if I am a  “real” cotton knitter I must have knitted the requisite cotton tee, right? What follows is a messy little journal that I kept throughout the process of creating a tee-shirt with cotton.

Day 1 9/17/19 I Feel Like knitting a Cotton blouse

This morning I woke up inspired to knit a cotton blouse. The idea has been brewing since I finished writing an article for Spin Off Magazine. I really like how my laceweight handspun shawls turned out. I used an assortment of naturally occurring cotton colors. I just love seeing all those colors together. God is an exceptional artist.
My plan is to mix and match some yarn that I already have spun up. Last year I bought a whole pound of brown cotton from a small farmer in Sarepta, Louisiana name Anthony Mullins. I found him in a Facebook group. The internet has been crucial in my gaining access to tools and materials.

As usual, I didn’t spend much time planning. I am using Vogue Knitting Spring/Summer 2011 pattern 20 for guidance to make a simple semi-fitted raglan blouse. My planning consisted of first knitting 2 small swatches to figure out what needle size I would use. I tried size 5 and thought that was too loose. I settled on using size 4 which is the same size I used for my shawls. Most of my cotton yarn seems to fall between 18-24 WPI. To figure out my cast-on stitch count I measured a tunic from my closet then multiplied my desired width times my amount of stitches per inch (which was 6spi.)

I decided to do a folded picot edge instead of the ribbing that the pattern calls for because I have a round belly. There’s no sense in having a drawn-in hem at the widest part of my torso. The pattern has the front and back knit in 2 panels instead of the round. I think this would be best. I want this blouse to hold its shape even though the fabric will be pretty light and drapey. It kind of adds an inconvenience since I’m working with leftover balls of yarn. I have to knit the back and front panels simultaneously so that I can make sure I can conserve enough yarn to make the front and back the same without running out of any yarn colors for whatever yarn I end up doing. I do not plan on doing any shaping as I knit. If I end up wanting to have the blouse taper in at the waist I’ll sew it in a little closer as I’m sewing the side seams together.

By the time I ended the day I had both the front and back hem done and knit a garter eyelet section to add a little pizazz at the bottom. My calculations were for a 21” width. This would be about a size large. The piece measure 22” which I figure is close enough. If it’s not I can always some the side seams together with a bit more seam allowance. I am jotting down some notes. If it all works out I would probably do another in ¾ or long sleeves. I just don’t have the yarn spun for that right now.

Day 4 9/18/19 I Have a Dilemma

I am pleased with how the border of this blouse is working up. Now I’m working 20190919_121810on the body of the blouse and I have a dilemma. My plan is to wear this blouse myself. My skin tone is a warm brown. I’m worried that knitting the body of the blouse in brown will be too close to my skin color and cause it to have a diminishing effect. 

I don’t have enough white cotton spun up to make that the main color of the blouse at the moment. I could spin some white cotton to use but I actually want to use the brown having spun a full pound, 6 skeins of it. I do have a bit, maybe 2 ounces of marled white and brown yarn that I can use to break up the brown. I’m going to knit 12 rows in the brown then add in 2 rows of marled. I don’t know how flattering this will be on me however I think it’s the best I can do for now.

Day 7 9/21/19 I’ll Just Keep Going

20190919_140253The 2 rows of marled stripe every 12 rows seem to be working out okay so I’m going to keep going with it. I’m motivated to see the final outcome so this project is traveling everywhere. Yesterday I took it to my nephew’s football game and knit the whole time. I probably should take a break. Although I have been knitting with a pillow in my lap I can still feel a tiny bit of strain in my left arm. This actually stems from spinning on my support spindles. When I get into a project I will work for hours not wanting to stop. It’s so meditative. So far I have one panel finished and have worked a few rows for the 2nd.

Day 9 9/23/19 Off on a Tangent: Spinning Again

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I spun another 1 ounce/32 puni bundle last night and felt compelled to spin another ounce today. I just love how the energized skein of singles feel in my hands. I have 4 now. Now I need to get more punis carded. It’s so easy to go into spinning mode when the fiber is sitting there ready to go. I think I’ll do at least 3 more mini skeins before I attempt my weaving experiment.

Day 10 9/24/19 I Can’t Stop Knitting This Top

20190925_121513I found myself wanting to knit all day on this blouse. The endless stockinette with the intermittent marled stripe is the perfect recipe for marathon knitting. I would make it to a stripe section then want to do another. It’s sort of like a milestone challenge. I finished the 2nd panel. The end is in sight. I am excited to see the finished garment.

Day 11 9/25/19 The Sleeves are Finished

20190926_081415I started working on the sleeves today. They will be a simpler version of the body sections since they will only be a little over 4 inches in length. I actually prefer ¾ length sleeve but I don’t want to risk running out of the marled yarn for the stripes.

I ended up making the colored striped sections of stockinette half the number of rows as the main body in order to keep the sleeve short but still maintain the continuity of the design. I am pretty happy with the outcome. I finished both sleeves today. This is going so fast

Day 12 9/26/19 Working on the Yoke

20190926_081503The top is nearly finished now. I am joining the pieces into a round. As I knit I notice ladders forming where the stitch markers mark the decreases. I am going to leave them be for now. I suppose if it looks too bad I can add in a dummy stitch on the backside to draw the sections together. 

I have this idea that I may want to finish the neckline with some sort of crochet edging. I have a little way to go before I need to make that decision. Right now I have to figure out how far to knit up this yoke. Since my stitch count is different from the pattern I can’t rely on it as a guide. I measured the distance between the armpit and neck edge on a garment from my closet and plan to use that as a guide. 

Another consideration that I need to make the height of the back neck yoke. On most garments, the back is raised slightly higher than the front neck yoke. The pattern has both the back and fronts knitted the same. I happen to like showing off my collar bone and neck with portrait and boat neckline styles so this is not much of a deal-breaker for me. I may experiment with raising the back neckline with this project if anything to gain some experience at making this sort of pattern adaptation.

Day 13 9/27/10 The Yoke Evolves

20190929_151544After about 6 rounds I got fed up with the loose stitches causing ladders where the sleeves are joined for decreases. I got rid of the stitch markers and my problem was resolved. I’ll tighten up the loose sections when I finish.

Each round is fairly time-consuming but simple enough. I am basing the garment measurement on a tunic from my closet. The decreases, 2 at each sleeve connection, will continue until the front pieces measure 8 inches.

I kept working until the yoke was finished then started in on short rows along the back neckline. This is untrod territory and could require some frogging. I’m feeling like a rebel so I decided to just start 2 stitches away from the front neckline shoulder decrease then work short rows back and forth. I would maintain the back neck decreases according to the pattern and keep going until about 1.5 inches is added.

My strategy seems to have worked although I do notice a bit of a peak where the short rows advance. I will go in after I’m finished and tighten up this area when I’m done. I ended the day by knitting a few rounds even for the neckline.

Day 14 9/30/19 Carding a Bit of Cotton: Here I go again on a spinning tangent

People often ask me how long does it take to make things.  I have no idea. I just don’t keep track most of the time. It takes forever by any conventional understanding of garment making. That is about all I can certify. 

I decided to track my progress for one hour. I can hand card 32 punis or 1 ounce. in an hour. I only transferred the fiber 1 time between the cards. This is not including the 8 hours it takes to gin the seeds out of 1 pound of seed cotton. (That’s another story for another day.) 

Naturally, I moved on to find out just how long it would take me to spin 1 ounce of cotton. I know it takes about 8 hours to spin 4 ounces of laceweight wool singles. Perhaps cotton takes a similar amount of time. 

I used my Kromski Sonata with fast flyer set to the 19:1 ratio. I’ve found that only my scotch tensioned wheels have sensitive enough take-up so spin fine cotton singles without lots of breaks. My technique is a supported long draw. My right-hand draws back on the fiber supply while pinching the fibers to control the fiber entering the twist zone.  The left-hand draws the fiber forward towards the orifice.

It took 2 hours and 25 minutes to spin one ounce of singles. It took another 16 minutes to wind it into a skein using my tabletop skeiner. I don’t usually bother but since I’m in scientist mode I may as well record the yardage. Ah yes, 296 yards.  So far the time investment is 3 hours 42 minutes. Obviously we are not ready to make anything just yet. I want to eventually create an American mudcloth/stip weave if you will using this yarn.

Day 15 9/29/19  Closing the Neckhole

20190930_083312Up until this point, I haven’t done much measuring for this top. It is obvious this neck hole is much wider than it needs to be. I must reduce the circumference. The ideal solution would be to calculate the number of stitch decreases over the number of rows I need to knit in order to reduce the size of the neck hole. I was not in the mind frame to plan and so I decided to reduce the neckline using crochet. I love the look of crochet on a neckline and I can make changes really easily as the piece progresses.

I bound off the knit stitches using single crochet stitches then began working a decrease round. For the first round, I single crocheted 7 stitches then worked a decrease stitch. The following round was worked even in double crochets. After the even round, I worked another decrease round, this time working a decrease every 4th stitch. I continued working the decrease and even rounds until I could slip the neck hole over my head and it felt/looked about right.

Happy with the result I worked on weaving in all of the ends and touching up any loose areas. After the loose ends were sewn in I seamed the sides together using a chains stitch with 8/2 cotton weaving yarn. All done. The garment knitted up to the dimensions of my model tunic almost exactly. A miracle!

Day 16 9/30/10 Time to Tweek the Design

20190930_091126I tried on the garment again today and decided it would look nice to have a blouson effect. The tunic it is based upon was done in a fabric with less body. I think drawing my handspun cotton version at the waste will add more interest and make it more flattering on my pear-shaped frame. 

I cut a piece of ¼” elastic to fit my waist then joined it into a ring. I attached the elastic to the inside of the garment by creating an elastic casing using a blanket stitch catching two parallel garter ridges with the needle.

I love the result. I’m calling this a success. I will likely do this in a wool version next. I won’t do much finishing other than misting the garment with water to set the woven in threads. Once it’s dry I’ll snip the thread tails.

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It’s a Cotton Tee!

5 thoughts on “A Maker’s Journal: Knitting a Handspun Cotton Tee”

  1. I love it! I have a tote full of cotton I grew and ginned by hand, with the intention of growing my own shirt. You’ve inspired me to pull it down again get busy carding punis, spinning, then knitting or weaving something up!

  2. You have inspired me to get my spinning wheels going again. i am a novice at spinning but have produced some yarns which I have woven on a ridgid heddle loom and this year for my 60th birthday I have bought a soari loom to play with . I have never tried spinning cotton but will give it a go. Can you get already carded fibres – cant do that at home as hubby would go nuts.

    1. Happy 60th! I hope you get back into spinning again. It’s so relaxing. Yes, there are many vendors online now. I am going to be adding some hand carded cotton and bead spindles to my shop this week. It’s so hard to find cotton rolags but I find them so much easier to spin than the cotton sliver.

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