Learn how to crawl: the New York City Yarn Crawlย is on through Sunday, September 25.

We Interrupt This Program

Dear Ann,
I know y’all are in a serious lather about the State Fairs, their rules and regulations and our diplomatic ties with Denmark, but can I get a word in on my favorite topic?
Yes, it’s another info-mercial about…..Indigo-Dyed Denim Yarn, which I refer to as Rowan Denim even though, whenever possible, I buy it cheaper, elsewhere, or elsewhere.
No, they don’t pay me. I willingly preach the good news of indigo-dyed cotton yarn, to all who have open hearts to listen.
Quite recently, I experienced a Blessed Denim Event. Although I have learned that it is usually best, for me, not to buy yarn on eBay (as a public service to knitters, I am not linking to eBay–if you go, go on your own steam), I still have a ‘Rowan’ search that I run once in a while. (This practice is what is known as Looking For Trouble.) A couple of weeks ago, aimlessly scrolling through the entries, I came across the Find of Finds. The Holy Grail, the Promised Land, insert-your-metaphor-here. It was a used, handknit cardigan in Rowan Denim. One with some AGE on it. A large size (meaning lots of YARN in it). Pre-washed, many times. Ready for rippin’ and recyclin’!
In a highly disciplined manner, I figured out how much to bid, based on the assumption that it had 20 balls of denim in it, and that I was willing to go retail for new denim. Then, I entered an eSnipe bid (no! I will not enable people by linking to eSnipe!), and an 8-day wait began.
I got it.
Here it is:
Fresh from the UK. Beautifully made although ‘out of style’ doesn’t quite capture how very, very style-free it is. Remember that big suit David Byrne wore in Stop Making Sense? If it had been trimmed with bell ruffles, it would be this cardi. It is much larger than I had anticipated based on the seller’s description. Two of me, pregnant, would fit in it–and you know that’s a roomy cardi! But fit does not concern me! I am only in it for the YARN.
Why do I so crave the old, already-knit-up, beat-up denim? Because there is no substitute for it. You can knit new denim and wash it hot and dry it hot and make your little boy roll on the ground in it and it looks really cool. It’s fine. But when you unravel the really old denim, the inner parts of the stitches are much darker than the exposed parts, so when you re-knit it, you get this awesome speckled look. See on the left?
Check out the spectrum. The Denim Circle of Life. These are all made with the darkest shade of indigo denim yarn, yet they are all at different stages of wash & wear & age.
On the left is the skirt Benedetta (BLESS HER!) gave me, made with yarn recycled from old denim sweater. On the right is the eBay cardi, which shows some age, but not quite as much. Oh, how I long to rip it and see the innards of the yarn. But I shall beat it on the rocks for yet a while longer. It’s been entirely too well cared for up to now.
For those who have no idea what I am babbling about, this picture shows the color of the indigo denim before washing.
The best part of the whole deal, though, was
…the cardi has an old denim label sewn into it. WITH THE COWBOY, PEOPLE!
I could just die of happiness.
Will keep you posted on what gets made out of this treasure.
Love, Kay




  1. O I’ve never even SEEN the cowboy! Gets me thinking we should be working on labels for our projects – or maybe just a customized beautiful button like Margaret O’Learey does! Congratulations on your catch! Annhb

  2. Does it endure ripping? Are the orginal stitches not indelible in the recycled yarn as light and dark spots? I am curious.

  3. Congrats on your cool snag!

  4. Julia–It rips like a dream (I’ve done it to small swatches, a pillow cover I didn’t like, etc.)and even the old parts are still quite strong enough to re-knit. Yes, the original stitches are ‘indelible'(that’s the perfect word), so when you re-knit it, you rearrange those light and dark spots, which is the effect on Benedetta’s skirt. Really cool. (If you like that sort of thing!)
    I think one has to be really in love with denim yarn for any of this to matter. We’re very close–Ann B, Benedetta, Belinda, Martin Storey and me—join us everybody! (OK, I’m ASSUMING Martin Storey is with us, in spirit. Love you Martin!) xoxo Kay

  5. I lust after that pile o’ denim. and I’m also having an 80s flashback to David Byrne in the big suit. I saw the Stop Making Sense tour in several cities. I was a FAN.

  6. It feels much nicer on the skin after all that washing too. Question though, if I use the ecru along with some memphis would it bleed?

  7. Tracy–The Memphis is much lighter. It doesn’t stain your hands or needles as you knit, and it loses much less dye in the wash. Wash it in lots of water, and your ecru should be okay. Try a swatch combining the two, first, because different washers really do different things, in terms of fading and bleeding. I won’t use my front-loader for Nashville with Ecru anymore as it turns the ecru pale blue. But the top-loader works fine with no bleed, even with Nashville.

  8. Style free doesn’t even begin to cover it – that’s a very, very, very shapeless thing – I believe I had a sweater that shape in 1985, although, blessed be, without the ruffles. In fact, I think you can safely say that you are doing the yarn a favor by releasing it from that bondage.
    And I had NO IDEA how great that stuff looked when it got old.
    You remember before we had acid wash, stone wash, distressed finishes and lycra in our denim, and there was a kind of status to the shrunk-to-fit, old, thin, worn-soft Levi’s you had to break in yourself?
    That’s what those pictures remind me of.
    Is elann bringing back their coned denim yarn? Man, I KNEW I should have bought that last summer.

  9. I love Rowan Denim in theory, but I’ve never worked with it because I haven’t found a pattern for DK weight that I would like to try. I’m intrigued by the 4-ply indigo yarn on the Texere site you linked and am curious how it compares to Rowan Denim. I could easily find a use for 4-ply and I’m loving the price. Have you tried it?

  10. It’s really a good find! I’ll keep reading what you’re going to do with it.

  11. Excuse me Mrs. ! That looks like it would fit me…maybe.Ditch the ruffles then send it to me ! ;-]
    O.K.,I won’t deny you your rip-fest or your weathered Denim.Just make sure you knit yourself something fab !

  12. What a find. Ebay is trouble sometimes. It’s like my theory that cheap things are more dangerous than expensive ones. If somethings cheap, you figure you can get 40 of them, which ends up being WAY more than you wanted to spend. But with one big item, the number is right there. That’s why scrapbook and bead stores are also dangerous.

  13. Now THIS is dedication. THIS is true yarn devotion. Yarn you love so much that you will purchase and unravel an entire sweater to get it. Wow.
    I did unravel an entire sweater once and I will admit it was kind of gratifying. (It was a very, very bad sweater. No clue why I couldn’t see that when it was on the needles.) I used the bad sweater as my ball, pulling from it as I knit it into its new form. (You didn’t think the anti-blocker would steam and relax the unravelled yarn, did you? No sirree. Back to work!) I will admit it wasn’t as painful as I thought it would be, the new sweater turned out great, and I still wear it.
    Hm. That pleasant little memory may give me the will I need to unravel the sweater that is halfway completed for my husband. He lost 50 pounds (yes, 50) and so the sweater needs to be reborn in a smaller size. But for now it’s sitting in the bathtub…

  14. That cowboy patch is just about the coolest thing I’ve seen in a while! I would frame it in a shadow box with a swatch.

  15. Excuse me while I drool all over my monitor.
    My poor husband has been trying to keep my daughter’s Rowan denim sweaters and dresses “nice” and I keep going behind him and letting her play in the mud in them so I can wash them some more!

  16. Congratulations on you find. Can barely wait to see the finished product.

  17. Since I can’t put a comment on the little sidebar thingies, I will put it here.
    I love how the funnel cake recipe link (sidebar right) by Alton Brown (the George Harrison of the Food Network — supremely talented, vastly underrated third banana to Emeril’s Paul and Bobby Flay’s John) DOESN’T USE A FUNNEL.
    I’ve been to the Tennessee State Fair many times (and the all-time great Minnesota State Fair once), and NEVER did I see anyone making a funnel cake with a piping bag. Where I’m from, that just ain’t done.
    I’m assuming that Alton serves his corn dogs on marrow forks, too.

  18. Is that the Kat Coyle’s Knitty Eyelet Skirt from a couple summers ago, perchance? Having made it myself I think I recognize those eyelet rows…

  19. Kay, have you been to Wooly Thoughts lately? Look at this: http://www.woollythoughts.com/active/index.html – I see some denim blankets coming out of this! Annhb

  20. Great find Kay!! I can’t wait to see it’s reincaration! I’ve only had horrible experiences on eBay so I’ll live vicariously thru your successes and that denim is really scrumptious!
    BTW, there is a World Wide KIP planned for June 11 and since your blog gets 1000 times the traffic of my newbie blog, I hope you don’t mind me mentioning it here, links is on my blog! Thanks Ann and Kay!

  21. Is it just me, or does the cowboy look like Sylvester Stallone in a High Noon moment?
    Kay, Kay, KAY! I’m dying about this find of yours. It’s just the limit. I wonder if your eBay seller has any idea how insanely happy she has made you. I wonder if she knows that those bell ruffles are toast.
    It’s all good, if you ask me.
    And Brother In Law: I know! Alton Brown! Total freakin’ genius. I just made shrimp cocktail his way, which is the ONLY way to go, I now know. Highlights of his method: Brine ’em for 30 mins. Leave shell on. Coat in olive oil. Broil 3 mins/side. Cool. Peel. Sauce: Heinz Chilli sauce + diced tomatoes + tons of horseradish + lemon juice. Die and go to heaven. He explains why each of these elements is crucial.
    PS You use a piping bag at the Tennessee State Fair and there’s a 100% chance of an ass whuppin.

  22. Kay, I am SO JEALOUS. Sorry. Just had to let that out. You’ve just found the holy grail of denim knitting AND it’s large enough to make pretty mcuh anything you want. Cool!

  23. You know that whatever you make, you HAVE to sew that label into it, right? Damn cool.

  24. You know, I saw this very same sweater (or something else bad just like it) on the dreaded e-bay as I was searching for some denim recently . . . I feel like such a heel – I simply dismissed it for not being skeins of denim yarn. “Geez – who wants somebody’s ugly, outdated, already-made sweater?” Stupid, STUpid, STUPID! Thanks you, Kay, for showing me the way. Sign me, Recently-Devoted-Denim-Convert.

  25. When I read about and then saw your ebay purchase, a mild sense of panic came over me. I am from the UK and 15 years ago I knitted the very same Rowan Denim cardigan. It has been lying in the depths of my wardrobe for many years. Only when I saw the Rowan label did I realise that my husband had not done what he has been threatening to do, i.e, get rid of my huge collection of old woolies. I was also secretly pleased that the knitter had had the same problems with the button bands – very stretchy – and that it had turned out so big. These were the reasons I never actually wore it and hated Denim thereafter. I can’t wait to see how you transform the cardigan. However, I still love the ruffles! Hopefully, they will come back into fashion. ๐Ÿ™‚

  26. Jane, as you can tell, there are people who are ITCHING to get that denim! It breaks my heart that you never wore it AND it made you hate denim! Do you remember which pattern it was??? I’ve been meaning to go through my old Rowans in search of it, for the purposed of Historical Documentation.
    Sorry for the harsh judgment on the ruffles. It’s not so much the ruffles that are not a la mode right now, but the lack of shaping. Think of Elfin–plenty of ruffles, but va-va-va-VOOM! Or Folly!
    Cheryl–I’m frightened to think I’ve had any part in turning you into a COMPETITOR FOR OLD EBAY DENIM. Age your own, sister!
    xoxoxoxo Kay

  27. Cool! The thing that has kept me from using the denim yarn is not knowing what size to knit since it will shrink after washing, but since this has been washed several times, it should be preshrunk. Sounds perfect! Oh, I do hate the sniping on eBay, though. Shame!

  28. Sorry Kay & Ann but you know I have to do this… this is a message for Jane.
    Jane do you still hate your denim sweater? Would you like to sell it (or swap it for some lovely new yarn)? You know you want to…. (I’m trying my hypnotism techniques now) Think about it. If you do then send me an email!
    I’m sorry, I know, it’s horribly opportunistic but, well, it IS aged denim!

  29. I just had to say I saw that same sweater and had planned to do the same thing and then forgot. I am now watching another (I think).
    Happy Knitting

  30. thank you for honoring the eyelet skirt in worn out denim. loved to get a glimpse of it, but i still have to see you wearing it!
    anyway, for Julia, in my original cardi there were spots that were so worn and frayed that could not be salvaged, but only a few.
    i feel a new mission:i have to do this again, from scratch: get the denim, knit an oversized cardi, wear it non stop for 10 years, including at least one pregnancy (well, maybe not that) unravel and reknit, wear it for 2 years more and donate to Kay for fun.
    glad i sorted myself out for the next 15 years or so!

  31. jackpot!…. i’m thrilled for you!…. am curious as to how you will de-crinkle-ify the denim yarn? how many skeins do you spose are lurking?…i’ve got suspenseful goosebumps…..


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