This article is first and foremost a warning to make sure you properly read the care instructions for delicate clothes that you happen to care about.
It is secondly about making something out of a turtleneck you shrunk in the wash because you didn’t properly read the care instructions.
For Christmas last year, I got a thick, woolly turtleneck jumper, from the Aran Sweater Market. Aran sweaters are a great Irish traditional garment that somehow blend rugged practicality and sophistication, and they’re great in the colder months of autumn and winter. The unprocessed wool still contains natural oils ,called mirin, that repel water and make the jumpers invaluable for the fishermen who would wear them out to sea. Aran Jumpers also include elaborate cable patterns that were meant to indicate what family or clan the jumper belonged to, not dissimilar to a Scottish Tartan. The Aran Sweater Market, the conglomerate that I bought my jumper from, keeps a list of family patterns on their website. All this is to say that these jumpers have a rich cultural history, and to destroy one is a tragedy.
I destroyed my turtleneck by putting it in a washing machine, thinking the ‘woollens’ setting was enough to stop anything bad happening. I was wrong, and the jumper shrank dramatically. My Aran Sweater came with clear instructions on how it had to be hand washed, and how you should never put it anywhere near a washing machine. Alas, the instructions were misplaced and I was impulsive. You can see it here with my dog for scale, a Bichon Frise (Note: Bichons are small dogs.)
Thankfully, wool is robust enough that severe shrinkage doesn’t necessarily sound the death knell. shrinking makes the knit incredibly dense; so dense that it becomes similar to felt. This makes it an ideal material for crafting projects, so upcycling the turtleneck into something else seemed like the best choice. The raglan sleeves and turtleneck gave the jumper such a distinct shape that I thought it would be a shame to transform it too drastically, so I made the choice to try my hand at turning it into a tote bag.
Due to the knit being so condensed, each piece resists unravelling, which let me get away with leaving a couple raw edges and keep alteration to a minimum. The sleeves were just long enough that they could be reworked into handles for either side. Even better, the slanted edges of the raglan sleeves made stitching the handles to the body a much smaller headache than they would have been with a set-in sleeve. Keeping with the noninvasive theme, stitching was done with same-colour wool yarn, which I think preserves the rustic appeal of the reincarnated jumper. The process of making this bag was exploratory, as I kind of made it up as I went along.
The end result is maybe less practical than a more conventional tote bag, but it’s definitely more useful than a ruined turtleneck. Since defiling this one, I’ve thrifted a second white aran jumper and bought another from the Aran Sweater Market in blue. The only thing really stopping me from not buying more is how intensely emasculated I feel when I see the models they use on their website.
Aran Sweater Market – List of Clans
Epoch’s Guide – Epoch’s Guide to Nautical Clothing
Die, Workwear! – Too Much of a Good Thing
Die, Workwear! – Skip Grad School, Buy a Trutleneck