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All That Yarn - Why I Don't Make Sweaters

Updated on July 27, 2017

Other knitted things.

Fair entries...no sweaters.
Fair entries...no sweaters.

Not that I haven't tried...again and again.

Everyone thinks that if you knit, then you must make sweaters. Well, I have tried and failed so many times that I just give up! There is no pattern that I am longing to make, no soft and fluffy yarn that would feel great. Sweaters are just not my thing.

I have tried and just can’t get the gauge thing to work for me. The gauge comes out correctly but the sweater does not. The only sweaters that I have made that I don’t know if they fit were baby sweaters to donate to church layette programs…many years ago.

I have even tried using a knitting machine - a very simple one with hand-operated back-and-forth to create stockinette stitch. I made my first sweater for myself on that knitting machine, and two sweaters for my sister. Mine turned out too short in the body and I was never into tummy-showing sweaters so I ended up tearing it out or giving it away, I don’t remember which I did with it. My sister wanted a baggy sweater in white yarn. I tried one and then made her a second one that was more of a vest. She tore out both and saved the yarn which was re-purposed for baby sweaters (crocheted) and baby afghans. She never asked me to make her another sweater.

Used to be a great little shop called Janknits

I discovered back in the 1980s a wool yarn and sweater pattern company out of Ingomar, Montana called Janknits. The lady created her own patterns and sold the yarn which was from the wool from her sheep. The price was fairly reasonable so I got enough yarn to make two sweaters. The first one I made from one of her kits was navy and cream wool. The patterns were all Scandinavian based designs. The kind of designs that have little dots all over the body pieces and an intricate pattern of snowflakes or hearts, etc. around the yoke.

Sweaters Scandinavian Style.

If you have never experienced a Scandinavian design sweater, it can be a little nerve wracking for a knitter. They have you knit the body in a tube shape and then you CUT (with scissors) the slits to make holes for the arms. (They say to first sew around the openings on a sewing machine if you don’t feel confident that it won’t ravel.) If you are making a cardigan you also cut down the front to put in the binding and button holes which are knitted in a ribbed strip. It took me a lot of courage to take sharp scissors in hand and cut an arm hole into my knitting. If I had been a better knitter I might have figured out how to make the sleeve holes without cutting, but then that may have messed with the pattern design elements.

Making a Sweater for Grandma.

Anyway, the sweater was a gift for my grandmother since she had bought all of us girls a Norwegian sweater when she was in Norway visiting relatives. I wanted to repay her by making her a Norwegian style sweater on my own. Somehow I found “Janknits” (the Montana wool and pattern I mentioned) and bought a kit with navy and cream wool. Remember, this was in the days prior to the Internet or Google search. Everything was in the back of magazines or newspaper ads, or word of mouth.

Well, I worked on that Norwegian style sweater for months. The pattern was easy to follow but the amount of stitches was what took so long to get it done. Might have been size 6 or 7 knitting needles, I don’t remember which needles I used. When it was finished I proudly gave it to my grandmother for Christmas. I didn’t see her wear it, other than trying it on that night. Turns out the thing weighed a ton and was too much for her tiny frame to support for long periods of time. She did mention that it was nice and warm, but I know that she was ready to give it back to me in the 1990s. I tried to get my mother to wear it since they were about the same size, but she felt it was too heavy for her as well. I don’t know where it ended up. I might have eventually convinced a cousin to take it and wear it.

All That Wool Yarn

At the same time that I got the sweater “kit” for my grandmother’s sweater, I bought another amount of white and gray wool yarn to make a second sweater, probably for myself. It sat in a suitcase in the storage shed (with mothballs) along with the pattern, and I finally gave it away to a friend who knit those sweaters with big pictures in the back of them (like a horse’s head or deer head). I’m sure she has made something of it by now.

I’ve never been a big fan of wool yarn but this was some of the nicest wool to work with. I was sorry to see that Janknits went out of business about eight years after I found it. I did get the one pattern book with Fisherman knit sweaters, but have never tried to make any of them.

My Very First Knitted Sweater.

The first sweater that I really had to make was one that Knitting 101 had for a class assignment – back in the day when the community college offered a half credit for classes like knitting or needlepoint. It was a baby sweater since I was taking other classes and didn’t have time to devote to a full size sweater.

The teacher gave us a baby sweater pattern and a full size (grown up) sweater pattern to pick from in order to do the class assignment. I used a pink yarn (called Love Knit) for most of the body and a white yarn for the ribbing on the bottom, neck, and cuffs. Each of the sleeves had a cable stitch running the full length so that was my “challenge” stitch for the assignment. Making an easy sweater was not acceptable for the assignment, there had to be a cable or other difficult stitch in it somewhere.

So between classes I would sit and knit on the baby sweater in the lounge area of the building where my next class was to be held. People I knew would stop by and say “are you pregnant?” or “we didn’t know you were having a baby!” which was totally wrong! I kept saying it was for my class and I picked the baby size since it would fit with my class schedule. They would just smile, nod and walk away. I don’t think I ever convinced them it was for class and not me.

My first (and only) baby sweater

This is my baby sweater pattern, from class, with my notes on colors that I used to make it.
This is my baby sweater pattern, from class, with my notes on colors that I used to make it.
My notes are on the page to show what I changed or what the teacher said to do, like for the button holes.
My notes are on the page to show what I changed or what the teacher said to do, like for the button holes.

It was a good pattern...maybe.

The pattern was fairly easy so I eventually used it again when I had my own beginning knit and crochet classes to teach at the same community college. After those classes were over, since I quit to go work on my Master’s degree and someone else took over “my” teaching job, I gave away the baby sweater to my church. They used to have an annual “baby shower” to gather items to give to new mothers at the hospital. I think they gave it up in the late 1990s since most of the members didn’t have time to make things and were just buying items to donate.

Baby Sweaters for Layettes

My grandmother’s church also had a knit baby sweater (easy?) pattern for their layette program. I think they sent their baby sweaters overseas. She was having a time trying to figure out the sweater pattern but I was able to help her with it.

The sweater was made in one continuous piece made from left front to right front going sideways instead of the normal bottom up knitting pattern. The pattern had "short rowing" which was a little odd to figure out for someone who knitted sweaters in pieces and then sewed those pieces together. It was a cute sweater and fairly easy and quick to make. I think I still have a copy of the pattern somewhere in with my old teaching stuff.

Even one for a dog.

Once, someone asked me to knit a sweater for a dog. The colors were school colors of red and white. She gave me the measurements and I worked out something in that size. I had no dog to try it on so my large cat volunteered to be the model. I put it on him and he promptly fell over on his side like it was way too heavy for him to wear. Don’t know if it fit the dog or not as after I was paid for it I never heard from the lady with the dog again.

And then there's me...

As for sweaters for myself? I decided that if I could get them at $5.00 on sale what was the use in trying to make one when the yarn would cost a lot more. Those “cheap” store-bought sweaters are still holding up after all these years, so I guess I made my own point in not making sweaters for myself. The same thing holds true anymore, if you can buy it cheaper than you can make it, why bother? I know some people claim it is not special unless it is handmade, but really, do you know if they use it for a dust rag when the kids out grew it?

No more knitting sweaters for me!

Some people like to make sweaters for themselves or family members and I say more power to them. It’s just not my style. So if I need a sweater I just shop the sales and find something close to what I want instead of trying to make a mess of one from a pattern. I have better things to make with my crochet and knitting time than fighting to make a sweater.

Oh, and don’t get me started on socks!

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