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Unraveling: What I Learned About Life While Shearing Sheep, Dyeing Wool, and Making the World’s Ugliest Sweater by Peggy Orenstein

Everyone had something that kept them grounded during pandemic lockdowns—puzzles, baking bread, yoga, new crafts, or digging into our favorite crafts. The pandemic gave us all time to think and worry, and we used new or revived skills to focus and help calm ourselves when we weren’t sure what was happening.

I’m still in awe of the knitters who knit a sweater a month during the pandemic. Me, I couldn’t craft. I worried about small fiber businesses so I did a lot of yarn and fiber shopping. I couldn’t settle into spinning or knitting; I read the entire Hercule Poirot catalog instead.

In Unraveling, her pandemic memoir, Peggy Orenstein tethers herself by expanding on her craft of knitting. She explores all the stages from shearing the sheep, prepping fleece, spinning yarn, naturally dyeing yarn, and finally knitting a sweater. She’s been a knitter for most of her life, but had never explored the whole process of taking a fleece from sheep to sweater.

Her fiber work is a framework for this book, and, as entertaining as it is, the work is important because the process gives her space to learn and ruminate. 

It is amusing to read about her exploits learning to shear as an almost 60-year-old woman, with all of the blood, sweat, and tears you expect. I could viscerally feel her frustration as she learned to wash, card, and spin her fleece; it’s so much more work than anyone ever expects.

As she moves into dyeing and knitting, the frustration ebbs. She dyes with materials from her garden and her neighborhood, and she designs her sweater with the help of a mentor. These sections of the book feel like she is in more of the flow of the process—less frustration and more magic allow her to think deeper and more widely.

As she works on moving fleece to sweater, she ruminates over fast fashion, the wildfires (she lives in the San Francisco Bay area), the government; the link between feminism, fairy tales, and textiles; the government; and of course the pandemic. She worries about her father’s growing dementia, her daughter getting ready to fly the nest, her changing world, and she grieves deeply for the recent loss of her mother.

The fiber, the thinking, planning, and grieving are all intertwined. There is humor, there are interesting fiber stories, victories, and frustrations. Her mentors and their stories add depth to the experience—each moves her along her map of sheep to sweater—and help her with the processing of process.

This is a book about finding your way through difficult times, how learning something new, and allowing yourself the stumbles, focus, and progression of a beginner, can unexpectedly align things in your life. In other words, don’t come to Unraveling for the sweater (there’s not even a photo!) come for the process and processing.

P.S. Even though the title says the sweater is ugly, it is not

If you use Amazon, thanks for your purchase from the affiliate link in this post.

About The Author

Jillian Moreno spins, knits and weaves just so she can touch all of the fibers. She wrote the book Yarnitecture: A Knitter’s Guide to Spinning: Building Exactly the Yarn You Want so she could use all of the fiber words. Keep up with her exploits at


  • My husband gave me this book for Valentine’s Day!! I can’t wait to dig into it.

  • What a lovely review Jillian. I’m going to order the book now!

  • Read it and loved it. Her adventures shearing sheep gave me the laugh I needed.

  • Thanks for the review and the reveal. The book has always looked interesting but I could never get past the “ugly sweater” idea: Why read a book about an ugly sweater? But if it’s not ugly then I guess I’ll have to read the book.

  • I’m looking forward to reading this, thanks for the helpful review. I have it on my Libby wish list for later, I hope Peggy reads it to me!

    • Looking forward to this book. What a project! The author is a brave woman: as Jillian points out, shearing and preparing fleece are physically exhausting, dirty, smelly jobs. “Ugly seater”? How often have I been disappointed by garments I made that someone else loved. Thanks for telling us about this book!

  • Sorry you didn’t like the book, Elizabeth. I do adore Clara Parkes, who has been lovely in her support of “Unraveling,” and obviously highly recommend her book. Re: blue. I believe you are referring to kyaenos and glaukos (spelling varies). True, those could refer to blue in ancient times. But kyaenos could also mean dark brown. Or dark green. Or violet. Glaucos, similarly could mean yellow or green or other lighter shades. While those other colors also had words exclusively for them, blue apparently did not. And what I wrote was that there was SEPARATE word for blue. My sources included Guy Desutscher’s book “Through the Language Glass” and Kassia St. Clair’s “The Secret Lives of Color,” both of which you can find in my endnotes (and are fantastic reads). There could be greater controversy and disagreement that I was unaware of, which is interesting, but they are current and credible sources for fact checking so there you have it.

  • This review should also be in the “Knit to This” section–Peggy reads the audiobook herself. I truly enjoyed it. (Jillian, I lost my crafting mojo during the pandemic, too. It’s back with a vengeance and Unraveling is giving me even more inspiration.)

  • Thank you for showcasing this wonderful book. I just finished it and I want to start all over and read it again! Peggy Orenstein is an exquisite writer, a deep thinker and a local treasure.

  • Thanks for mentioning Vanishing Fleece, I vaguely remember hearing about it. Now I’ll have to add both books to my reading list.

  • Yes, everyone had something that helped them get through the lockdown. Mine was jigsaw puzzles, which I do not actually enjoy, but which gave me a sense of accomplishment….”Look, I finished the corner of the sky!”

    I am sorry it was not knitting, or reading, as if it had been, I’d have a complete new wardrobe or be a more literate adult. But jigsaw puzzles seemed to be the only thing which could turn off that part of my brain which kept complaining about all the places I wanted to travel and all the things I wanted to do that were off limits for the foreseeable future. Now that I can again see the future, I’ve returned to enjoying my knitting and reading with a vengeance! And I am greatly looking forward to reading this book next. Thanks!

  • Can’t wait to read this book!
    But if there’s no photo of the sweater, how do you know for sure it’s not ugly?

    • There’s a photo of the sweater on the author’s Instagram account linked in the PS above.

    • Amy, there is a photo of the sweater in the book.

  • I just finished reading her book. It was recommended by my daughter, whom I also share a knitting passion with. I love her references to archaeologists, sociologist, historians, and current day influencers. So many. Of the things she discussed in her book or parallel to my own world. Anyone who hasn’t read the book, will definitely find some thing to draw them in and keep them interested.

  • I am reading this right now. The writing style is so relatable and a breath of fresh air! Thanks so much for reviewing “Unraveling” and encouraging others to read it as well.

  • Wonderful review. Sweater looks wearable to me. Thank you for the review

  • Peggy gave a talk at our local bookstore a couple of weeks ago, and she wore the sweater. Not at all ugly and a wonderful mix of colors that she explains in depth in the book how she created each one from natural materials. I too cringed about how much water the dyeing process required given our relentless drought!

  • I LOVED this book!

  • Reading this right now. Thanks for the excellent review.

  • Ordered from my local bookstore and picked up a few days ago. I know I’m going to savor every page.

  • I am currently listening to this book and loving it so much. I resonate with being in my 60’s and trying new things. I am delving into the world of weaving and through trial and error am learning so much along the way. This book is a must read.

  • After reading your review, which was great, I bought the book on Audible. Plan to start it immediately.

  • I read this book a few weeks ago and loved it. It’s not just a book about knitting. It’s about knitting, family, learning new things and coping with things we can’t control. And so much more. I identified with her fears about the fires because I live in California. Now we’re going through flooding!! If you’re going through any kind of crisis, whether or otherwise, read this book. It won’t change the crisis, but it might help you deal with it. Now, back to my knitting while the rain pours, the snow gets deeper and then it melts and floods. Stay safe everyone!!

    • Thank you spell check for changing weather to weather!! Sheesh.

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