Sweater Lessons

Have you ever had a project that felt more like a life-lesson than knitwear? That’s THIS sweater. I cast it on in the fall and ever since it’s been going sideways over and over and over again … and then again once more for good measure. It isn’t particularly complicated, I did my due diligence from the start, my swatching and mathemagics, but it just kept going off the rails. Naturally, I put it down and picked it up frequently … there’s only so much a person can take.

It wasn’t until I picked it up again a week or so ago that I started to really think about it. When I was in school I did some archaeology, and in the field the veterans used to have a saying: “One rock is a rock, two are a feature, and three are a wall.” After reworking the body at least twice and the sleeve cap and arm at least three times I started to look at this project a little differently – sometimes rocks aren’t just rocks, and sometimes a sweater isn’t just a sweater. I’ve picked up a few new hacks along the way, but this sweater is a different kind of learning …. it’s a metaphor for larger learning. The problem is, I don’t know what the lesson is. My intuition hasn’t been forthcoming in this department, and it’s driving me CRAZY. I’ve wanted to blog about it, but I didn’t have any answers. So I’m shifting my thinking and hoping that the process of writing and sharing it with you might be the solution …

The Narrative

So here’s the story …. despite the fact that they are my forever favourites, I’ve been thinking I’m in a bit of a rut with my Haley Special sweaters. This fall I decided I was going to try new things, even if I wasn’t as happy with them, because by not trying new things I may be shutting myself off from other things I might like just as much, if not better. So, I got this great new yarn in the store, I wanted to make a sweater, I look bad in raglans, I look good in set-in sleeves, I look bad in crew necks, I look good in wider necks, and I wasn’t in the mood to knit a sweater flat and seam it (it’s more about the knitting than the seaming). Of course, I couldn’t find anything that was exactly what I was looking for … nor did I really expect to.

I settled on hacking a pattern that is constructed from the top-down with short-row set-in sleeves. The tension wasn’t exactly the same, but I did my math. The pattern has cables and I didn’t want them, but I worked my math. My math was good, it was happy math, stable math, the kind of math you marry and have a family with.

The first time things wen’t awry was in the decreases in the body … I stopped using my head and followed the pattern blindly, which proved to be bad, because their sweater was cropped, and I was not making a cropped sweater. My bad, I own it.

LESSON 1: Always check in with yourself, don’t rely blindly on externals.

So that got ripped back and in a fit of spiritual exploration, I decided to see if I could knit the body shaping based exclusively on my intuition. Turns out I could, but it wasn’t necessarily going to fit.

LESSON 2: You can’t go through life relying entirely on your intuition, you need the combination of your knowledge, wisdom, AND intuition to get things done.

LESSON 3: There’s nothing wrong with testing the boundaries of the universe, but if you are going to do it through your knitting do it with a small project and on bulky yarn … less ripping back.

Finally I made it through the body, I wen’t back to the math, and it fit, but it was tight. WHATEVER – at this point I couldn’t deal with ripping it again, I’d just have to live with it. I forged forward and moved on to the first sleeve … I made the sleeve cap and half the sleeve before trying it on …. to find it WAYYYY too tight. The cap was tight, and the sleeve was tight. I had tried out new needles and they were definitely altering the tension. More ripping ….

LESSON 4: SLOW DOWN. Before you blaze forward, take a look at the landscape to avoid tripping. One of the points of making a sweater from the top-down is that you can try it on as you go. At each step I need to remind myself of this benefit.

At this point I was starting to get a little frustrated. The entire arm region was tight, I was not happy. What happened to my beautiful math?! My intuition spoke up (finally), said to block the sweater, and that actually worked out nicely! The tension loosened and it fit nicely. HALELUJAH! Back to the sleeves …

On the second iteration of the sleeve I tried going up a size in the pattern for the armhole …. that was a big NOPE, didn’t work. On the third I went back to the original size, and went up a needle size … that was also full of nope. On the fourth I went back to the original size and a third type of needle, and that got me a good tension. I even smartened up and tried it on as I went! When I got to the lower part of the arm I tried changing needles but the yarn was having none of that, the tension shifted dramatically, so I went back to what I was using originally and hoped for the best.

In the last go on the arm I tried on the sweater periodically and wondered if the arm might be a smidge too tight, but my intuition kept telling me it was good, to keep it, and I knew the tension loosened in the body after blocking, so I left it. I feel like I maybe should have blocked it after finishing the arm, just for good measure, but when my intuition reaches out and tells me something I have learned to listen (this is a lesson you learn the hard way), so I threw my lot in with the universe and started the second sleeve. I’ve tried it on, it seems to fit, so I’m moving forward with fingers crossed.

LESSON 5.1: You just have to trust life, and that the universe has your best interest at heart. Things can, and will go sideways, but they also right themselves too. Listen to your intuition, let go and lean into the flow … you never know what you’ll get out of it.

LESSON 5.2: Control is an illusion, struggling to get and maintain it is just a huge energy drain, and you don’t actually need it anyway. In retrospect, I feel kind of silly … but that’s ok, silly is a level of vulnerability that I’m very comfortable with.

Mini Lessons & Hacks

Block it before Ripping it

Even after knitting the body twice, it was still fitting a bit tight in the waist. I didn’t know why, since the math should have been good and there wasn’t any physical expansion on my part. Rather than tearing it out, I wet blocked it, and low and behold the tension loosened and it fits perfectly now. YAY!

Two Swatches May be Better than One

After all the tension issues, I think it may have been beneficial to work two separate swatches on the same size needle, but only block one. I’ve never done this before, but it would have given me more information, especially since the tension changed after blocking. Just having the two pieces of fabric to compare visually might have been helpful. I think next time I have tension issues while making a sweater I might stop and make a second swatch.

Steamers = Good

I found a new use for the handy little garment steamer I bought on Amazon … they are great for reconditioning yarn! As you may or may not know, after you rip back yarn it is usually all crinkly, and if it is it has to be reconditioned before you knit with it again. In the past I have always skeined it up, washed it and hung it to dry. I was all set to give my skein a bath, when the “Hey! I have a steamer!” moment came. I steamed the crimps out of my yarn and was knitting with it twenty minutes later – sweet!

Locking Stitch Markers = Good

If you’re wondering about all the locking stitch markers in my sweater, I use them to mark my increases and decreases, and keep track of my rows. You can read more about this knit hack HERE.

Project Details

The pattern I hacked is Chuck, the yarn is Fibre Co Cumbria in Coniston. My project notes are still mostly scribbled all over the pattern but will go into Ravelry soon.


Well, it seems like the problem with pinning down the larger lesson was that there were at least half a dozen of them …. too much information for a succinct answer. Fair enough. Thank you so much for being my sounding board and helping me with this. sometimes you just need your people.

LESSON 6: When you find yourself stuck, reach out to your people.

I’ve had a consistent meditation practice for two and a half years, and since she made her debut on Netlfix I go back to my girl Brene Brown when I’m blocked (and more recently a new bestie Tara Brach) …. but in the vein of Lesson 2 (above), no man is an island.

LESSON 7: You need to connect with yourself AND with your people.

I’ll let you know how the sweater turns out, I’m in the home stretch and determined to finish it and over on to my next sweater (which I’m super psyched for and have already stashed the yarn away).

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