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Facing Rough Wool: a Solution for Sensitive Skin



While I certainly love the luxurious feel of cashmere, merino, and other buttery-soft fibres, for outdoor wear in winter I tend to deliberately choose the coarser rustic yarns. Because, as many of us know, the rough stuff has its merits. Not only is it more durable and warmer, but - perhaps most importantly for me - it is moisture-resistant. 

I know that I go on about this incessantly, but I really cannot stress enough how difficult I find the weather here in winter. Not because it is too cold. I am accustomed to New England and Northern European conditions, after all, where the temperatures don't rise above zero from late November till early March. In Ireland, it is rarely below freezing. But the temperature sits just low enough for it to be both very cold and very humid at the same time - which is the combination I find most lethal. That damp, deeply bone-chilling cold that hovers right around zero is, for me, far more difficult to endure than any deep frost. And it is this type of cold that the coarse, rustic wools excel at shielding against. Knit a sweater out of yarn such as the Icelandic Lopi, the Irish S Twist Wool, and some of the rougher Shetlands, and it will be bulletproof. 

So anyhow: I do love the rustic wools, and I have especially been wearing my colourwork Lopi sweater a lot this winter - so much so, that my husband began to admire it, meaningfully, and asking whether it's as warm as it looks. So I thought that it might be nice to knit him a lopi sweater as well, as a 'photography sweater' (i.e. a sweater for wearing out when taking photos, which involves a lot of standing around and waiting in the cold). Now, my husband is much larger than me, but I knitted my lopi sweater quite roomy. So I thought I would have him try it on just to get a sense for how much larger to make his. When he tried on the sweater, his feedback was that he liked how lightweight and warm it was - but couldn't take the prickliness where the collar and cuffs made contact with his neck and wrists.

Well, that's no problem, I said. And then I went to look for a fine weight merino in a suitable colour. Because really this is a very easy problem to solve: you simply face (line) the collar and cuffs with a soft, next-to-skin yarn. Elizabeth Zimmermann's books discuss this technique frequently, and the method I learned is very similar to hers in that I use a finer yarn for the facings. Melissa of Knitting the Stash - whose podcast I've recently become addicted to and highly recommend! - lines the collars of her rustic cardigans as well, albeit I think her method is a bit different. It was funny actually, because I was working on lining the collar of Gary's sweater while watching Melissa talk about lining the collar of hers. Ah, this crazy virtual knitting world we live in! 


But getting back to the sweater! This is how I like to line collars and hems, in case anyone is interested:

If knitting the collar onto a bound-off neckline, bottom-up:
1. pick up stitches around the neckline
2. work the collar in ribbing, using the yarn and needles I normally would for a collar
3. on the final round, switch to the finer facing yarn and correspondingly smaller needle; K all increasing every 4th stitch
4. work in ribbing again, until facing is the same length as collar
5. bind off, using a stretchy bindoff method
6. fold over, so that a sliver of the facing is visible on the right side (to ensure no part of the coarse wool touches the skin) 
7. sew down the collar

If knitting the collar top down, as for a round yoke:
1. start with a provisional cast-on in the main (rough) yarn
2. after the sweater, or a good chunk of it, is completed, I pick up the provisional stitches and follow steps 3-7 as above. 

If my main sweater yarn is DK weight, I use a fingering-weight yarn for the facing. If my main sweater yarn is aran weight, I use a sport-weight yarn for the facing. 

For Gary's photography sweater, the main yarn I am using is Lettlopi, which is somewhere in between aran and DK. The yarn I am using for the facing is Drops Baby merino, which is somewhere between fingering and sport weight. The combination has worked out well for the collar, and I will be doing the same for the cuffs. Hopefully it will be done by Christmas!