It is Sweater Day Thursday, and for one member of the York community, bundling up in her woollies as part of the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) challenge to Canadians to put on a sweater and turn down the heat has special meaning.
For Amy Stewart, publicist for the Faculty of Fine Arts and knitter extraordinaire, her garment of choice is a truly handcrafted sweater. “This sweater is very special to me because I spun the wool myself,” she says. “In fact, it is most likely a 100-mile garment, which is rare and unique.”
The raw fleece Stewart used for her sweater was shorn from an Ontario sheep. It was purchased at the Royal Winter Fair and sent to Wellington Fibres in Elora, Ontario, where it was washed using a gentle, environmentally friendly soap, in hot water that was heated using solar energy.
From there, the fibre made its way back to Stewart, who then spun it into a single-ply strand that stretched some 2,100 yards (almost two kilometres). She then divided it and plied (twisted) the strands together to produce 600 yards of two-ply yarn. “I used an antique spinning wheel that was handmade in Poland more than 100 years ago and had been in a friend’s family for three generations.”
In comparison to the actual spinning, she says that knitting the sweater was fast and easy. An avid knitter, Stewart has worked on her creations whenever she has a spare moment for years, and is often seen around the Keele campus with knitting needles flashing and her ever-present project bag. This particular sweater took just two weeks to complete. “I get a lot of time to knit on my daily TTC [Toronto Transit Commission] commute, which is about one hour each way,” she said. With a few extra hours over lunch and evenings, she completed her sweater in just over 10 hours of project time.
The result delights her. “It is my largest hand-spun garment to date and my best-fitting sweater,” says Stewart. “The yarn is a little thick and thin, and you can still see bits of hay that both Wellington Fibres and I missed picking out from the sheep’s fleece.”
A self-taught knitter, Stewart has tackled it all, from the most simple of beginner scarves to colourful socks and a glorious full-length scarlet coat. But, it is today’s sweater that she is most proud of. “I’m still a new spinner and my twist is not as regular as it could be, but this sweater is mine and I will wear it often with a great sense of pride.”
Sweater Day at York University is part of a global effort by the WWF that asks people to put on their favourite sweater and turn the heat down a few degrees to take action against climate change, and work toward a sustainable future. It offers an opportunity to rethink how energy is used. According to the WWF, if every Canadian lowered the heat a few degrees this winter, it would be akin to taking some 300,000 vehicles off the road.
To learn more, visit the Sustainability @ York website.
By Jenny Pitt-Clark, YFile editor