The New York Fiberscape Dress is finally complete! This was my first time making a garment entirely out of my hand-spun yarns, and it took a lot of determination and patience. I was motivated to work on it even though it was very labor intensive (over 800 yards of yarn plus hand-knitting!) because I was able to visit the fiber farms and meet the farmers that take care of them. I’m very glad that the Washington County Fiber Tour exists!
Some farmers sent me narratives, which gave me more insight about their fibers and animals:
“Just one touch and you’ll understand why raising alpacas is so rewarding! They are kind, gentle, and loving creatures with different personalities. When breeding, you have to wait almost a year to see what’s being created… ‘Cria’ is the name for baby.” – Alpacas of Breezy Hill Ranch
“The combination of two of our darkest colored flock members, triplet Minnie and handsome ram Frodo, were blended with a cinnamon alpaca fleece from September Morning Farm to produce a heathery, soft, easy to spin roving.” – Crazy Legs Farm
Remembering these narratives and also thinking about the fiber farm visits helped me finish especially when I had to overcome technical challenges.
Challenge 1: The yarns were a collection of fibers from different farms, and each roving had distinct features. My solution to this was to create color patterns. I created 1 single that was a solid creme color, and the 2nd single with a variation of dark brown and white. I also spun the yarns with slubs, mostly because the creme single was made from a luscious alpaca batt with a lot of air that lent itself well to a woolen feature.
Challenge 2: Since I created slub yarns, there was a lot of variation, which made it difficult to assess the knitting gauge. My solution was to refer to a basic seamless knit pattern that I previously used, and estimate how many stitches per row based on my stockinette swatch. I also matched the dress in progress with an existing hand-knit sweater.
Challenge 3: I ran out of hand-spun creme and brown slub yarns in the middle of my knitting. My solution was to make the bottom half a solid brown and hand-spin more yarns for knitting.
Challenge 4: After knitting the entire dress, the brown bottom half looked too textured, which was a problem since I wanted the top half to stand out more. My solution was to felt the bottom half. I used ivory soap, hot, and cold water. This helped me get a smoother look on the bottom half.
Challenge 5: After I finished everything, I realized the dress is a bit heavy, which convinced me not to create 3/4 sleeves. In the future, I will probably use slub yarns for sweaters, not sweater dresses. The felting might have also added weight to the final dress.
Overall, I am very happy with my process and the final result! I learned a lot about different fibers, hand-spinning, and improvisational knitting.
I also shared my local sourcing and design process during several presentations to my peers and colleagues in Fall 2015. It was nice to see people admire photos of the fiber animals, touch the hand-spun skein, and the dress. I also taught some interested audience members how to spin on a drop spindle during the Fiber & Place seminar at the International Textile & Apparel Conference in November!
Special thanks to the Northern California Fibershed for being a great source of inspiration for my graduate research about New York fibers and mills. And also to the One Year One Outfit Fibreshed initiated by Nicki Taylor! This project helped me engage more with fiber farmers, and take a step towards developing my own design aesthetic with local fibers.