Rowan Denim: The Moment of Truth

By Kay Gardiner
March 5, 2019

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  • Definitely buttons. I am a bit worried about the button band now: won’t that shrink?

    • If Kay is picking up stitches along the front edges and knitting the bands outward, the shrinkage will be in the depth of the button band, not length from top to bottom, which makes shrinking the body before picking up stitches the totally right move. I will admit that my first thought was “Are you crazy, woman? Shrinking before working the bands? Then my caffeine kicked in and I realized — of course she needs to shrink it first!”

      • It took me a while to work it out in my mind. The Rowan Denim patterns do the buttonbands vertically and I have to look up how they handle the timing.

        • I’m glad you got that part figured out. My thoughts have landed on that a few times as I power on down with the stockinette, but I shelved the thought for the time being. And now you did it for me!

      • This sort of thing is exactly why I always use the “all helpful projects” filter on Ravelry when I plan to knit from a pattern. In many cases, greater (and definitely more mathematical minds) have thought about tricky aspects better than I ever could!

    • Love that sweater and that yarn. Great job Kay!

  • Your sweater is beautiful!

  • I absolutely love this yarn – it is extremely disappointing that Rowan is discontinuing this yarn (again!); they seem to be getting rid of the decent yarns and turning Rowan into Sirdar. I knitted with it years back; I did the obligatory tension square or gauge for Transatlantic readers and I still had issues. The pattern was plain stocking stitch to the yoke, then it was all twisted stitch cables in the years when I was a very tight knitter. I am a chesty gal and I am afraid to say after all the blood, sweat and tears it wouldn’t go around my chest, so I gave it to my mother, who still has it to this day, albeit with with substantial repairs to the elbows and hems (we are talking 30 years or so here, so it certainly has outlasted the ‘fashion’ yarns that Rowan mainly seems to be making nowadays.

  • so beautiful Kay!
    how much did you end up using? i’d love to make one, but i probably do not have enough denim for this.
    Also, picking up the button bands does require a bit of tweaking, the numbers given were generous, in my experience

    • 14 balls, but I knit the fifth size so it’s extra roomy on me. Thank you Benedetta! It was so fun to knit with it again.

  • Gorgeous sweater. I adore royal blue. I can envision it with a white pair of summery pants!
    Rowan yarns are sublime. I am working on a Debbie Bliss fair isle in Rowan dk for my grandson.

    • I don’t think any woman has been more devoted to white jeans since Jackie O, so that’s going to be my uniform with this cardi!

      • Won’t the blue rub off onto the white jeans?

        • Nope. The excess dye comes off with the first washing. It continues to fade after that, but very slowly, like blue jeans do, without bleeding dye.

          It always helps to think of blue jeans. If you had a brand new jean jacket, you might worry it would rub off on your white jeans, but if your jean jacket was washed or pre-washed, you’d not worry.

  • I recently frogged a sweater I knit in Rowan Denim about 15 years ago. I am reknitting it… and its even more beautiful if thats possible, because there are darker blue flecks! It really is one of the best yarns ever – like your most favourite pair of jeans <3

    • It goes kind of tweedy! I love knitting with recycled denim. At the height of my initial love affair with the yarn, I bought a couple of old sweaters on eBay just to unravel them.

      • Do they shrink more, when you wash?

        • Maybe a little but not much in my experience. If it’s already been washed it’s done shrinking.

      • Love this.

  • Love those sleeves. Kay, did you just follow the pattern and continue to the length you wanted, or did you do some increasing or other shaping?

    • The Calligraphy Cardigan just binds off the sleeve caps, so I used the sleeve directions for the Liberty Tree pullover (which has matching sleeve hole stitch counts! Thanks Norah!) and just quit when I had the length I wanted.

  • I purchased some Rowan a Denim last year to make a Picket Fence Afghan from Field Guide 7. Now you have me rethinking that and my thoughts are turning to the Cockleshell Cardigan. Too early in the morning for such decisions.

    • The blanket is so nice and takes a lot more yarn than the wee Cockleshell cardi. Maybe you’ll have enough leftovers!

      • I forgot how much I really have stashed away for that blanket. I will stick with my original plan.

  • Wow!! Love that washed colour. Beautiful cardigan.

  • Love what happens to this yarn. So you wind up picking up stitches on a washed garment with unwashed yarn, without any issues?

    • Yep. The yarn only shrinks in length. We’ll see how it goes but I’m confident.

  • Looks great! I appreciate the floor tile reference. I would go for buttons rather than snaps.

  • Do sweaters knit in Rowan denim “grow” as one wears them due to the fibers stretching again after washing?

    • Yes and no. If they are heavily cabled, they slowly stretch but spring back with washing. Again, the analogy to blue jeans is right on. They loosen up with wear but when you put them on after a wash they feel tight. Or is that just me? :0

  • Wow, Kay! Your bang-out is lovely, and will indeed become more so with each washing. What a marvelous yarn.
    I’ve been thinking about exactly what you said here- There is more than one way to do almost anything. xo

  • I love Denim too. Your sweater is gorgeous. Where are we going to find this yarn now that Rowan has discontinued? I have enough in stash for one more cardigan from Indigo Knits. But that doesn’t feel like enough.

    • First we can buy it from all the people who have it in their stashes but don’t want to deal with its shrinky, fade-y habits. Meanwhile we keep wailing at Rowan!

      I truly think we will keep finding it on LYS shelves for years, especially in the UK.

    • I’ve been buying Elann’s Den-M-Nit by the bag long before they switched to selling on Amazon and it’s been a good sub for Rowan denim over the years. It’s a popular item and at the moment only ecru is left. I just posted an inquiry about when the indigo shades will return, they are usually very prompt with responses. I have learned to buy three or four bags whenever the stock is replenished ($35 for bag of ten).

      • Talk about fast response!

        Lee, SELLER answered • 13 mins
        A restock of the Light and Dark Indigo shades is on the way now and I would encourage you to check back often.

    • I found it at UK., thanks to a generous, sharing Knit Stars group member. Ironically, I didn’t order enough to begin with, and two days later a duplicate order cost me $10 more! So now I’ll probably be adding to my stash , but I thought I’d better grab it while I can! Sure sounds like it’s worth it.

      • Update, 3/19: when I ordered the second batch at Woolwarehouse they came backwith an apology that they were out of stock. . Looks like Knit Stars made a run on the market!

  • Sooooo glad I read this. I have a SQ waiting for me and now I have a plan.

  • Gorgeous sweater! I look forward to making a RD Calligraphy of my own, but with long sleeves.

    On the demise of RD, might MDK World Enterprises be able to ask Rowan if they would kindly pass on the production/procurement info for this yarn to MDK? MDK is absolutely the best marketing force for Rowan Denim. I hereby promise to buy lots and lots of it!

    • You know, that’s a great idea!

    • Me too! I’ll buy a bunch now that I know it existed but was discontinued. Always late to the party

  • Kaye, I am intrigued with the thought of throwing your sweater in with jeans and the like. It sounds soooo dang tempting ! ! !
    Thanks to You, Ann and guest contributors for making my mornings exciting!
    Love ‘n Hugs,

  • Buttons.

  • Oh WOW!!! Your cardi is GORGEOUS!!!! I absolutely love it. I too want to make one out of this yarn, but I cannot find it anywhere! Maybe Rowan will re-think discontinuing!

  • Do you put the sweater in the dryer?

    • Oh yes! The dryer is the key shrinking force. Also makes it feel so nice to put on.

  • nicely explained and beautiful work. I was thinking a shawl with this yarn, I better think again

  • Is there a difference between Rowan Original Denim and rowan Denim?

    • No, those two are the same as far as I know. I’ve used them both and can’t tell a difference.

  • I notice that the cable work seems a bit tidier after washing, but that could be the camera angles.

    I need to find this yarn…

    • The shrinkage is handy for tidying up loose stitches or those tiny holes at the cable crossings. However, since it’s cotton yarn, there is a tendency to get more of those in the first place…

  • P.P.S. I’m in love with the way that you’re in love with this yarn.

  • I’m very curious about their denim “replacement”, the denim revive made of recycled denim. In pictures it looks like it’s gone a little tweedy. . . haven’t seen it in my LYS yet.

    • Revive is a different type of yarn. Looks like denim, didn’t shrink the same way, tends to stretch a lot. I have frogged the sweater I made with it. Stockpile the denim!

  • Oh! The COLOR.

  • Your sweater is just gorgeous! Love the fade going on with it On the sleeves, did you pick up and knit them two at a time on two circs? Is that possible? And, go with buttons!

  • I vote for buttons. Snaps always look janky if when the sweater is open.

    • I was going to use snap tape but that word janky is giving me serious pause!

      • Big flat black snaps is what I was picturing with snaps. Like, close to the size of a quarter. But buttons might be a safer bet on classy.

  • I scooped up a whack of this yarn after watching your segment on Knit Stars. My plan is to design a jacket based on my fave store-bought one. I must admit, the thought of throwing my knitting in the dryer over and over is exploding my brain!

    • Do it with a swatch or baby sweater or something first and you will be reassured and also get excited, I think.

      • I swatched two different types of cables–big swatches, I used an entire ball for the two–and washed and dried. They are absolutely inspiring me to finish this thing!

    • I bought some after seeing the knit stars segment too. I found it on Amazon. I want to knit a sweater with it, but haven’ Figured out which one yet.

  • I am knitting my calligraphy sweater with yarn from my stash, Kollage Riveting (95% cotton made from recycled blue jeans, also discontinued), in a dark blue color called Ocean. I just finished the yoke and your modifications are really helping me figure this out!

  • The sweater is beautiful and the yarn looks sublime! I’ve never worked with that yarn, although I’ve used Rowan yarns in the past. Wish I could have tried it. Does anyone have experience with the new Denim Revive?

  • Your sweater is gorgeous Kay! Looking forward to seeing it on. I considered knitting my Rowan Denim along with you but have never knit with it before so I’m working a RD pattern with it as recommended by my LYS. (I know, totally unadventurous) I will be seaming it up prewashing though. Thanks for the permission!

    • Knitting one Rowan Denim pattern will teach you everything you need to know about this yarn, and there are so many good patterns for it.

  • I am making a Rowan denim Calligraphy pullover. Didn’t register for the KAL because of other stuff at the first of February that required some dedicated attention. I started with the Rope and Braid pattern for the body of the sweater, but have decided that a tunic (i.e., same length all around) will look better on my body. I intend to start on the sleeves today, holding the bottom until the sleeves are done, and then just knit the bottom until I run out of yarn. I will be watching to be sure it doesn’t get to be knee-length minus 15%. I think that a vest out of this would be fun to wear and my rosiest hope is that I’ll have enough to make that out of the leftovers of the pullover – or that enough RD will be available at MDK. I assume that we don’t have to think about matching dye lots with this. Right? I never would have attempted this without your helpful posts and pictures. Thanks, Kay!

  • Won’t the front bands shrink once you’ve knit them? And if you’ve knit them to fit the shrunk sweater, won’t that be a problem?
    (Almost-total cotton avoider here – after knitting one small item, don’t even remember what, I swore off it forever, because it hurt my hands to knit with.)
    But I absolutely love the way it looks!

    • Rowan Denim only shrinks in length; row gauge changes with washing but stitch gauge does not.

      These bands are picked up and knitted in a perpendicular direction to the body of the sweater. So they’ll shrink that way but not along the picked-up edge.

      That’s my thinking! Will report back.

      • Now *that’s* magic!

      • Kay, I want to make a heavily cabled cardigan using my rowan denim. I can’t find a pattern that takes into consideration the shrinkage. If I use a non denim pattern do I have to change the arm hole for the shrinkage? I have searched for guidance….but haven’t found any UNTIL I found this article!!!! Thanks in advance!!!!!!

    • Whoops – and I see this has been asked and answered…

  • I’m also using the denim for the first time. Your posts are very helpful. Because you are picking up a button band and the yarn will shrink in length but not width, will you knit a few more rows on the band? Is that sucker going to be shorter after the next wash?

    • I know my washed row gauge (8 rows to the inch) so I’ll base the depth of the bands on that. I’m thinking 8 rows and bind off.

      Full disclosure, I was rushing to take these pictures while I had light yesterday, so when I pulled it out of the dryer it was *just* dry. Not damp, but not crispy crunchy salt-flats dry, as I usually dry my denim knits. So it may shrink a scootch more next time but not a lot.

      As you can see I’m kind of casual about this but I been knitting with this stuff for literal dog’s years. We are friends and the denim is not going to do me wrong.

  • snap tape idea sounds nice and secure

    • Also I love to say “snap tape.”

      • What?? There’s such a thing as snap tape?? I think I need to get some.

  • The knit police will not get you if you launder yarn before knitting it. Yarn can be skeined and carefully choke tied, then laundered. Also, cellulose yarns (cotton, linen) can be softened by deep freezing while soaking wet. Jam it wet into a baggy, then a freezer for a few days. Let it thaw on your ironing board then iron it with a dry iron or just ball it after dry from the swift. The expansion of the water instantly softens the fiber. This works especially well with linen, if you want that antique drape. I do this with linen fabric before sewing.

    I sometimes skein and launder weaving wools off cones to eliminate the spinning grease and its scrztchy feel. Then I ball up the softer dried yarn and knit with more pleasure and predictable guage.

    And the proverbial swatch warning. Do subject your swatch to the proposed laundering before committing the entire quantity of your project.

    A note for the perplexed: skeining puts the yarn into that large spiral skeined yarn is sold in. A swift can hold the yarn under gentle pressure until you insert choke ties, loosely. And the swift holds the skein neatly minus choke ties as you wind yarn off into balls or even the loom. So yarn can go back and forth between ball and skein, depending on the most convenient condition of the yarn, washed or unwashed.

    • Kathy – this is all super helpful info!

    • Kathy, thank you so much. I had nearly given up on knitting with linen/cotton yarns but I’ll be trying again now.

    • I was a chicken and wound all my denim into skeins, added many choke ties, then ran them through the washer and dryer. I just didn’t have the faith you need for this yarn.

      • This is likely the way I would go, too (chicken that I am). But how does skeined yarn fare in the dryer? I’m imagining a tangled mess upon opening the dryer door when it’s cycle is complete.

    • I have some stiff cottont shirts I’m going to try the freezer trick with. I already tried a salt soak and a vinegar soak with no change. If it works on yarn it should work on a knit fabric, right? Fingers are crossed. Thank you!

  • I was just gifted with a bag and a half of the old denim yarn from a dear friend who had already knitted herself a sweater from it and wasn’t going to use the rest of it! Didn’t realize what a boon it was! Now to find a suitable pattern…

    • Luckeeeeee! The best patterns are the Rowan Denim and Denim People patterns (these are book titles), and the patterns by Jane Gottelier in a book called Indigo Knits. They are great and they are written for this yarn so you don’t have to do any extra figuring, just follow the pattern.

    • Ahhhhh…. so lucky!!

  • I would like to second MAMSED’s suggestion regarding the continuation of Rowan Denim. I love this yarn and can’t bear to think of it not being available. I dream of knitting a sweater and these post was amazing. Please think about it , ladies.

  • Thinking about your closure. Remember when we used sweater guards. For you youngsters, it was a short chain with clips on each end to attatch to your sweater.

  • Buttons. White, silver- or pewter-toned, or copper to match the rivets in your jeans! Maybe Olive can use her modeling connections to help you find some….

    • Oooo, copper toned. Subtle goodness.

  • Gorgeous!! That totally makes sense to me that you would shrink a cardigan before the button band, because of the length shrinkage without the width shrinkage (I’m still enough of a newbie on sweaters that when I can visualize knit instructions, I get stoked).
    I hit a snag in my calligraphy about an inch below the armholes – it was too small. 🙁 I have to frog back to the increase row. I believe that if I put in double the amount of increases (maybe by working them over 2 rows?), I will be back on track. Frogging discourages me, but I deal with it by working on other WIPs for a bit until I can return to the frogged piece. Calligraphy isn’t going to sit too long in time out, your pictures remind me that I need mine to wear, soon!
    I’m dithering about adding one repeat of the cable at the bottom of the sleeves. I also had a vision of 3/4 balloon sleeves, as the balloon would mimic the round cable of calligraphy. Dithering about knitting is the most fun, no stakes dithering to do, isn’t it though?

  • So beautiful Kay! I wish I would have snagged that yarn before it went good bye!!!!!!

  • It’s a perfect summer cardigan and just beautiful! Love everything about it…the color, the cable pattern, the sleeve length, etc. On the button vs snap question: snaps have a certain casual, summery charm. However, if you plan to wear it open much of the time, buttons (IMHO) seem like a good choice. And I’m not even sure why I think that!

  • Does anyone know a source for this yarn? I have searched extensively and can’t find any other than a ball or two on ebay.

    • I bought 35 balls at WEBS in December.

      • So thankful I did now!!

    • As of Saturday, Wool Warehouse in London has 135 skeins of Tennessee color way (color Kay used) for about $4 per.
      Waiting on my order, so can’t comment on service.

  • What sorcery is this? Love that blue shift! Looking forward to the FO.

  • This is just gorgeous. And watching the color evolve will provide years of entertainment 🙂

  • It’s stunning. And you seriously simply throw it in the washer with your jeans and Tide (or 7th Generation or whatever detergent you are using)? And then again- pop it into the dryer?

  • Finished my first Calligraphy (long sleeved, Kelbourne Andorra); but I was so intigued by Ann’s Rowan denim that I went on the hunt. I didn’t order enough (from Woolwarehouse) to begin with, forgetting I was dealing in 50g skeins rather than 100s). After that it took an internet odyssey to track down more of the same! Now that it’s arrived, I plan on another Calligraphy – short sleeved, pullover, henley in Rowan Original Denim. Can’t wait to get my fingers blue!

  • Scary moment; time to cast on my next Calligraphy – in the Rowan Original Denim(Nashville) I searched so long and hard to locate! Just washed & dried my swatch – right on target (17.39% shrinkage).. Plan to make this one as a henley with short sleeves. So far I really like this yarn. It seems easier to work with than other cottons I’ve used (smoother I’d say). But the color is so dark I’m a bit concerned I won’t spot mistakes until it’s too late and then will have trouble fixing them . So here I go

  • Not too long ago I bought some denim, Was it Rowan denim??? Oh dear. I hope so. Due to Major Life Changes it may take weeks to find. Guess I’d better hurry.

  • P.S. Definitely buttons. Denim and buttons just go together.

  • Agree with all you say, Jackie. (Original) Denim may be back, maybe not, although it seems that other producers are doing Rowan better than Rowan now.

    They moved our cheese….

    • Elann sells identical denim yarn in several colors. Same put up & gauge. You can safely ignore Rowan’s whims.

      And, I recall Kay commenting before that all cotton yarn shrinks the same as the denim, although the fade doesn’t necessarily occur. I’ve always found that to be true whenever I make a 100% cotton sweater. My problem with Rowan denim patterns is that I always have to seriously shorten sleeves and can’t go by the pattern directions, so any project is a pain. I have to make a huge swatch, wash & dry it and then do major calculations to get the correct sleeve length. Usually, I can’t be bothered, although I do love the end product.

  • Hey, I want to knit some sort of non-denim jacket/cardigan pattern with my newly acquired denim but do I need an aran pattern or a double knit pattern?
    I’ve only ever knitted the Picot denim pattern before (which turned out amazing!)

  • Kay,
    I am just completing Martin Storey”s Folkestone cardigan for my brother’s birthday gift. I am going to wash it as soon as I finish the last pocket. Just want to be sure…do you wash it in hot water? On the delicate cycle? I’d hate to ruin the sweater now!
    Thanks for your advice.