I know most yarn stores don’t normally talk about their flops – we really don’t want to scare you out of trying things – but I felt like this project could be a great teaching moment for all of us. I’ll throw in some technical advice, but it’s really more about what’s going on in our heads.
So I knit a sweater in 4 pieces, I blocked each piece as I went, and I seamed them together. I tried it on prior to a final block and it, A. did not fit comfortably, and B. did not look good. NOTE: I did not weave in the ends, because it ain’t over till it’s OVER – and I include blocking in this – because it’s a major pain if you have to take the seams out and the ends are already in. If the ends are still free the project is still salvageable. If they’re woven in, there is no way I’m going back in, it’s just too masochistic for me. If you enjoy it, please be my guest.
The Back Story
I had a new yarn, DMC Natural XLCotton, and I wanted to experiment with it, see what it could do (and not do). I decided a sweater is a good test, and I wanted a new cotton sweater for wearing around the store (yeah, I’m like Mr Rogers, I come in and change my sweater and my shoes).
First Mistake: Pattern Choice
First off, I searched for a pattern that might work with this tension of yarn. I settled on Dawning. It looked pretty on the model, right? The pattern choice was my first mistake, I broke my own rules! I know which shapes and styles suit my body, what I look best in, and what I can get away with.
I have small shoulders, I look best in set-in sleeves, I can get away with a yoke construction.
Reality no. 2:
I have a bottom heavy profile, so I look good in necklines that elongate the appearance of my upper body, like a boat neck. However, I still have small shoulders, which means that a neckline that looks good on a model with large shoulders falls off of mine. I have to shorten my necklines, bring them in a bit.
Reality no. 3:
I look terrible in anything thicker than a worsted weight yarn, they’re generally too bulky for my frame.
If you want to learn more about your body shape and what looks good on you, I highly recommend the book Knit to Flatter by Amy Herzog, and Amy’s online class Knit to Flatter. They are both extremely helpful, and I found her to be an engaging teacher in the online class
Second Mistake: Forcing the Swatch
Next, I started swatching. If you go to my Ravelry project page you can see I did a bit of swatching. I wanted to be diligent, and I swatched in stocking stitch and in the lace pattern. I swatched until I got the right tension for the pattern.
Questionable Choice no. 1: Playing With Needle Size
While trying to get the right tension, I went WAY down from the recommended needle size on the ball-band (They recommend an 8mm to 9mm (US 11 to 13), and I pushed it down to a 6.5mm (US10.5). At work I’m always telling people not to force the yarn, you can’t change what it is, you have to work with its innate physical properties. I ignored my own advice because the swatch seemed to feel ok. Maybe I was just deluding myself, I don’t know.
Questionable Choice no. 2: Swatches Aren’t Sweaters
Another thing I always tell my clients is that a little 6″ swatch does not behave the same way as a full-size garment, especially once you factor seaming into the equation (seaming creates more structure in a garment, so If you have something that is already stiff it will make it even stiffer. Because I forced the needle size, the fabric as a sweater doesn’t have much flexibility.
Questionable Choice no. 3: Fibres Are What They Are
The third and last mistake in judgement is that I ignored what I knew about the textile. It is cotton, and I know that cotton always looks thinner than it knits. I deluded myself and into believing what I wanted to believe. Moreover, the yarn that the garment was designed with was made with the same fibre, cotton, but had a very different structure. Theirs was a stretchy, woven tape, and mine was a multi-ply strand that didn’t have and internal give. I knew my substitution was never going to fall the same way the one in the pattern did, but I kind of ignored the extent to which the drape was a part of the garment’s construction and design.
Third Mistake: Size Choice
Cotton stretches, and I don’t love super oversized garments, so I went down to a size smaller than I would normally wear. BIG mistake. First off, cotton that is knit too tight does not stretch appreciably. Second, I don’t normally wear garments in bulky or super bulky weight yarn. Finally, I forgot about the rules of ease (the amount of space between you and your garment), which I learned from Lily Chin in my early days in this industry. Basically, the thicker the yarn is, the more space you’re going to need between you and the garment to make it fit comfortably. Thick yarns take up a larger amount of space, so you need more ease in a garment made with them. Garment designers scale up the ease for a reason, and I ignored that fact.
I learned this stuff about ease in a class with Lily, but I think it is all in her book Lily Chin’s Knitting Tips and Tricks. The Craft Yarn Council has a chart that describes standards for ease, but it doesn’t include the amount of ease you should add as the yarn gets thicker.
Ok, so moving forward, what am I going to do? I mean, just because you make seven bad choices and basically ignore just about everything you know about knitting doesn’t mean the project has to go in the garbage.
Solution no. 1: No Shame
I don’t have any bad feelings. I do not feel any shame or remorse about this project or anything accompanying it. It’s a sweater, not my life’s work. If it doesn’t work out, it’s no biggy, nothing is going to happen to me. My identity isn’t invested in the things I make, they’re just crafts. Tears are not necessary.
Solution no. 2: Salvage
The upper arms are way too tight, so I’m going to take out the seams and try re-seaming them looser. Then I’ll give the whole thing another good blocking and maybe try and stretch it. It might improve things, it might not. I won’t know until I try.
Solution no. 3: Make Lemonade
Got a bowl of lemons? Make lemonade. This sweater wasn’t a success as a garment, but it’s a great teachable moment I can share with you! Sometimes a thing isn’t what you intended it to be, and it turns out to be something else, something that is equally, if not more, valuable.
Solution no. 4: Mindfulness, Introspection and Growth
This is the hardest part of this process. I think it might be one of the hardest parts of life. You might not be ready for this, but I highly recommend it. I ignored my own wisdom SEVEN times in the process of making this garment, that’s a pretty significant pattern. At any time I could have stopped myself but I pushed on until the end, oblivious to the realities at hand. And I *still* haven’t completely thrown in the towel! So I have to ask myself, what’s my motivation, what is my relationship with this sweater anyway?!
By the way, I’m a somewhat shy person and not especially into opening up my inner life online. I’m sharing this part of my process because I see customers EVERY DAY who are stuck in this type of thing, and it honestly breaks my heart.
Thinking about it, I think I got hooked on the picture in the pattern. It must have tweaked some inner, aspirational vision of myself. I’m normally fairly jaded and skeptical about aspirational marketing, but this one seems to have slipped in under my radar. The photo (above) isn’t even that sophisticated, it isn’t one of those pictures of big-shouldered women with impossibly thick hair casually walking down a beach in their sweater, without a care in the world ….. and AH-HA! As I re-read that last sentence I see it – I wish I had hair like that lady in the picture, it doesn’t have anything to do with the sweater. I have always wanted thick, long, luxurious hair. I didn’t even consciously notice the model’s hair until now. Over the last few years, I’ve managed to grow my hair long, but I’m afraid thick and luxurious aren’t in my genetic cards.
Well, there you go, what a funny little subconscious thing! (Although, it’s tied to my insecurities, so I guess it isn’t *that* insignificant, I shouldn’t dismiss it out of hand, right? Insecurities have feelings too!) Wow, a random belief about something as small as my hair still had the power to lead me down the garden path and completely block out my better judgement. I don’t think my intuition even had an opportunity to get a word in edgewise!
(Please note, I apologize for the privilege on display in my subconscious. Hair isn’t a huge part of my culture, it isn’t normally something I think too much about. But I’m well aware that in other cultures a woman’s hair is a BIG thing, and they totally get how it factors into a person’s feelings and conception about themselves – clearly much better than I do.)
Tonight, when I’m meditating before bed, I’ll release this stuff and set it free. Well, I’ll actually be setting myself free – who needs to carry this stuff around?! I’ll also be nice to my hair, I’ll wash it and make an appointment to get a long needed trim. I think it’s the least I can do for us.
Thank you for sharing your story. Teachable moment indeed, about the compounding effect of misguided choices, but more importantly why and what next?
Thanks Diana! Honestly, once I figured out and let go of the drive was behind the whole thing I kind of lost interest in the project! Like Marie Kondo writes in “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up”, it’s good to let go of an object once it has fulfilled its purpose for you. I think that’s project’s purpose might have been fulfilled.
I’ve received a number of responses, one suggested I remove the arms. I’d never wear it that way, but I think that might be a workable option and it can have a second incarnation as a pillow cover?
Thank you for posting this article. Perfect timing in reading it as I’m feeling completely defeated with my 10th (plus) attempt knitting the Kirkingwood Paisley Shawl by Fiona Ellis. Bought 3 skeins of Indigodragonfly Chameleon Sock ($100.00 + worth of yarn), recommended by the owner of a not so local yarn shop. Ms. Ellis used a 50/50 merino silk blend of Indigo dragonfly which is just a touch thicker than the Chameleon – better stitch definition if you go by the photos of her shawl.
My knitting OCD prevents me from continuing a project if the row stitch count is off by one which in turn had me tinking a ridiculously number of times. Knitting is supposed to relieve stress right? (or so I thought!). I enjoy all sorts of knitting from socks to sweaters to shawls (I’m not even a wearer of shawls but they’re fun to knit).
Whew! Feels good to vent but am still angry with myself for purchasing this really nice yarn with no clue what to knit with it.
Thanks SO much for all these important reminders. “…some inner, aspirational vision of myself” – oh yes, know that one, another good reminder.