Woolsack: In support of British wool

August 2, 2012 § Leave a comment

Woolsack is the wonderful project set up by Jane Cooper and Sue Blacker to support British wool in conjunction with the London Olympics and Paralympics this year. I won’t go into too much detail about the drama of the project, but suffice it to say that it has apparently been an adventure for all involved to distribute cushions. So many people have contributed though, making this a truly significant part of the Paralympic and Olympic 2012 experience. In fact, it is part of the Cultural Olympiad and will be recorded for future generations in the British Library.

I personally am still rather disgruntled at the whole LOCOG and USOC debacles, but despite the bureaucratic bizarreness I have, in support of the talented athletes, knit a cushion for a Paralympian (or possibly an Olympian, depending on what time my cushion arrives at the finishing station in North London — shoutout to the fabulous Finchley Finishers, who are stuffing and sewing up cushions in time for them to go home with their new owners).

My cushion is knit with stash yarn (YAY!!!) spun in the UK by Rowan. It is made from wool from Bluefaced Leicester (BFL) and Jacob wool, though I suspect that some Suffolk might be in the mix too. I knit the whole thing in the round because I hate seaming, and cast off while simultaneously joining the top seam. The aforementioned Finchley Finishers will then take over, stuffing the cushion with wool donated by The Natural Fibre Co./Blacker Yarns/Blacker Designs, and then seaming them up. I admit to being quite pleased that someone else is happy to seam my cushion for me, though slightly disappointed to realize that this is really the only time that’s ever going to happen.

JaneKAL mentioned on Ravelry that a lot of athletes are selecting cushions not just for their good looks but also based on the notes attached to the cushions. In a fit of competitiveness, I endeavored to design a fantastic tag (pardon my immodesty) so as to give my cushion an edge at cushion selection time.

The front of the tag shows the obligatory Woolsack logo, and then I also included the requested information, my name and local town. As I live in the US I named that town, and also the town my family is from in the UK, which is Penzance, Cornwall. I even included its distance from London in kilometers. To add that personal touch, I mentioned my favorite athletic activities, football (soccer), canoeing, and swimming. Of course, knitting with British wool merits a mention too, plus some good luck wishes!

The back of the tag includes a picture of each breed, taken from (and credited to) Wikipedia as per the Creative Commons license. Then for durability I hand-laminated it with packing tape, and affixed it to the front (well, I say front, but it is reversible) of the cushion with some scrap wool my aunt found in her attic, in Union Jack colors.

So, here’s my cushion as it will appear in the home of my Paralympian or Olympian. It is very nearly 16 inches (40.6 cm) square per the instructions from Woolsack HQ (though I later found out that it’s really more of a guide than a demand, so never fear, if your cushion is a bit off it will still be given to an athlete). I used a little over 3 skeins of Rowan Purelife British Sheep Breeds DK in the colorway Mid-Brown Jacob, or 406 yards (371 m), including extra yarn for sewing it up.

If you are interested in whipping up your own very last minute Woolsack cushion, please click “read the rest of this entry” below.

Using US6/4.0mm circular needles (or DPNs if that’s your thing), cast on 176 stitches. Join to work in the round (being careful not to twist the stitches, as the goal here is cushion, not moebius!). Place a marker after the first round to indicate the start of the round (one of the two side seams, in future), if desired. Gauge/tension isn’t crucial for this project, my finished tension was actually 21 stitches and 29.5 rows to ten centimeters, but since knitted fabric stretches, it comfortably contained a 16 inch (40.6 cm) cushion.

Knit in the round for 5 and 1/3 inches (13.5 cm), ending at the marker. Slip the marker. Wrap and turn per your preferred method (I usually slip a stitch purlwise with yarn in front, and turned my work – I used a tweedy-appearance yarn so the wrap stitch disappears). Turn your work inside-out and continue knitting so that now you are creating a reverse stockinette/stocking stitch fabric. Continue knitting for another 5 and 1/3 inches (13.5 cm).

At the end of the round, again wrap and turn, invert the cushion once more, and continue knitting, creating a second section of stockinette/stocking stitch. Continue knitting until – surprise! – 5 and 1/3 inches (13.5 cm) have been knit. Remove the stitch marker.

Carefully flip the whole cushion inside-out. With a third needle (of roughly the same size), begin casting off by knitting two together, one stitch apiece from the front and back needles. Repeat. Slip the first stitch over the second stitch, and you’ve begun casting off. Keep knitting two together and casting off until there are no more stitches (you may need to jiggle the stitches to even them out on the needles as you work your way to the end). If needed, take some extra yarn and neaten up the wrap stitch areas (mine were a bit loose in appearance though truthfully I had to strain to find them, but hey, it’s a gift so I put in the extra bit of effort).

  • Don’t want to bother with wraps and turns and purling doesn’t annoy you? Knit for 5 and 1/3 inches (13.5 cm), then purl in the round for 5 and 1/3 inches (13.5 cm), and then switch back to knitting in the round for 5 and 1/3 inches (13.5 cm).

Leaving a decent-sized tail, pull the yarn through and you’re done. Well, if you’re keeping your cushion and not sending it off to Woolsack you will need to stuff it and mattress-stitch the bottom of the cushion.


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