I always appreciate orders that come in and aren't the usual requests for a scarf, or afghan, or the like. Being able to be a bit more outside-of-the-box creative is a refreshing change of pace and helps keep me on my toes. When asked to take a look at an old sweater, at first I figured it would be a repair job. Instead, it turned into something far more interesting and perhaps one of my more favorite orders as of late.
A friend received a beautiful shawl collar sweater from her mother, who received it from my friend's grandmother. It was a beautiful knit piece made to look like patchwork squares in those wonderful earthy colors of orange, tans, and blues. The sweater was easily over 50 years old, and well loved and worn. A hole had made its way into the under arm of one of the sleeves and would have been a very simple fix. She sent me a few pictures to see what everything looked like. But, it wasn't to be a stitch and send back in a few days project. She was expecting a new baby, and wanted to turn it into a blanket for the baby if possible.
We figured it would be best for her to ship the sweater to me so that I could get a better look at it and determine if a blanket was a possible outcome. When it arrived at my house, you could tell this sweater had meaning to more than just one person. The knit was soft and still carried a hint of someone's perfume, or maybe many perfumes combined. The colors were a bit faded from age, but their beauty still present. And, while it was a more tunic-like in length, it didn't exactly present itself to me as a possible transformation into a full on afghan.
No, this sweater needed to be more than that. The back panel of the sweater would be large enough for a sweet lovey, but then that left the sleeves and front panels unused. The more I looked at the colors and the square patches, the more I began to think of those lovely, traditional teddy bears. The well worn and loved childhood toys that weren't made of faux fur, but of material scraps a family member may have used to create a simple gift for a new baby, kept working their way into my mind. The sweater needed to also become a bear. I knew in my gut that it would become an adorable, soft, and comforting friend for baby, just as it was a comforting and warm sweater for baby's mommy, and great grandmother. I ran the idea by my friend to see if she was open to it. Luckily she was trusting enough and a teddy bear and lovey it would be.
When I got the go ahead for the bear, I sketched out the pattern for it on parchment paper and began to place the pieces where needed. I wanted to be sure each square of color got worked into the form. The blues were featured slightly more since it was for a baby boy, and I kept the bits of cream to a minimum to make it a little easier on mom in case stains found their way to this new friend. As always, the face was hand embroidered so that it would be safe in baby's hands, and mouth. The legs can be moved around, thanks to a classic buttons and yarn technique used on the inside of the bear's torso and legs, so that buttons or the like of newer adjustable limbs will not be accessible to baby in any way. When put together, the pieces were stitched in two different ways to ensure all would hold together nicely and keep the form of the bear. I didn't over stuff the form either. I didn't want it to be so stiff that it felt hard. Instead it's a little more mushy and squish-able for little hands an arms to hold it close. To finish off his look, Mr. Teddy Bear, as I began to call him, got a dashing scarf in a mottled gray that plays off the cool tones of the darker blue. That was also sewn closed to keep it nicely around the bear's neck. When he was completed, I knew this is what was meant to be made. He turned out even better than I had hoped!
Now that the bear had his moment in the spotlight, I moved onto the lovey. When getting the supplies pulled together for it, I figured the super soft minky fabric as the back fabric would be a great companion fabric for the vintage knit. After looking at a few color options I selected an ivory tone because it mimicked the aged creams in the sweater. Originally, I intended to then edge the whole thing with a classic satin edging in a complimenting blue. That soon changed when the supplies came to my house. I placed the minky fabric against the knit and it was a great complement to the knit, but that satin edging was all sorts of wrong. I did try to work the edging on, but all it did to the piece was make it lose any of the rich qualities it originally had. The satin was just too new and suddenly made the knit look dull and old, instead of warm and well loved.
Well, now what? It isn't a new thing to have an original plan get tossed, but I couldn't leave the lovey with raw edges. Down to my basement and my yarn supplies I tromped with some scraps of the fabric in hand. A couple years back I came upon an estate sale of two very large boxes of yarn dating back as far as the late 1960's. I pulled all the colors I had from that vintage stash and held them against the sweater knit. Suddenly, an orange I kept putting to the side instead of using for other projects magically made itself known as the perfect mate. It was the closest thing to a perfect match of the darker, rusty orange that ran through the sweater. Immediately I knew the lovey needed to be edged in this color. Chances are the yarn and the knit were made about the same time as well. Using a simple Tunisian stitch, I began to make the edging for the lovey. I purposely flipped it to the "wrong side" because it created a ribbed look like that in the original knit. The whole lovey is hand stitched together to help preserve the knit. I didn't want to risk my sewing machine getting troublesome and snagging the more delicate fabric of the beloved sweater. Once all the pieces came together, I knew that was the right way to go. That blue satin edging can easily be worked onto something else. This orange yarn needed to be used for this project. No question about it.
And now these two pieces are done and ready to be shipped back to their new owner. I can only imagine what it will be like for the little guy to learn that one day his buddy and lovey are made of something that was, and still is, a cherished heirloom. I loved the many layers of this project. The use of an old bit of clothing, that while loved, wasn't working as a sweater as much, and a skein of misfit yarn suddenly that found its purpose in the creative world, and finally an idea that morphed into two different creations instead of a simple blanket, all make this project so unique and special. In world where we too often just toss old aside, the bear and the lovey show how some things really can do better with a second chance and a lot of love.