The Best Worst Sweater

A decade of knitting may as well count for a century’s worth, given all the technical growth and knowledge expansion I have accumulated in that time. My Grandma Ause taught me to knit when I was a freshman in college. Throughout my childhood she was always knitting, lovingly working her way through 10 grandkids' worth of feather-and-fan afghans. When I came home for that first Christmas break, I swept her off her feet, out to lunch and then, eagerly, to a yarn store. I just had this feeling that I would love knitting. I hadn’t ever tried it and she had never tried to teach me, but somehow I knew it would be a rabbit hole I would happily fall down. And I was right.

From that day on, my needles were never far from my grasp and I scaffolded my skills slowly and intentionally. First circular knitting, then cables, then colorwork, adding one new technique at a time. Finally, in 2011, I decided to knit my very first sweater. Cue sweaty palms and heart palpitations! Though the project intimidated me, I felt incredibly motivated because there was no question who that sweater would be for: my mentor, my cheerleader, my Grandmother, Donna. Overwhelmed by what seemed to be Impossibly Complex Patterns (see: beginner level seamless pullovers …), I thought it made more sense to do all of the math myself based on my gauge and follow a raglan “recipe”. Phew. Big mistake. As a first-time sweater knitter, it would have been so much easier to follow a published pattern rather than muscle my way through all those numbers! Alas, everyone has to learn somewhere.

Simultaneous to this sweater decision, I had also just obtained my very first stitchionary and I was over the moon with its infinite and delightful designs. So I selected an easy wave motif, an arrestingly blue acrylic yarn and I got down to work. Operating off of the measurements of my Grandma’s favorite sweatshirt, I stressed and fretted my way through the yoke — discovering too late that I hadn’t even considered row gauge! Ugh. Now finding myself with armholes two times larger than the neck, I knew I would have to do some considerable decreases on the sleeves to get to the proper cuff circumference. Tragically, dolman sleeves were not nearly so popular then, otherwise I could have called it a design element and gotten away with it!

Eventually I washed up on sleeve island, exhausted but motivated. Following a too-tight bind off, I wove in the ends and chucked it in the washing machine with a real sense of accomplishment. I had done the impossible: I had knit an entire sweater!

In the end, the armholes were huge, the length was halfway to a sweater dress and my Grandma loved it more than words can say. My Grandma Ause passed away last year, but her loving legacy lives on in every click of my needles. These days I breeze through three-color stranded yokes and vast charts of cables that would have once made me shriek in fear. I ditched the acrylic for the welcoming arms of wool and never looked back. But in the rich history of my knitting, my growth and my heart, the sweater that taught me the most — and the one that meant the most — will always be that first, blue acrylic pullover I made for her.

 

 

14 comments

  • I love your story and how happy your grandmother looks in that sweater. I learned how to knit when I was 10. My mom crocheted but didn’t knit. But our neighbor Katherine knit beautiful aran sweaters for her family. I thought they were so beautiful that I decided I wanted to learn how to knit. Both Katherine and I loved figure skating, especially during the winter. So I would go over to house to watch the Olympic figure skating and Katherine taught me to knit. She made me start with a scarf. I knit and knit that scarf—it turned out to be about 10 feet long and no one in the family would wear it. With the scarf under my belt I wanted to make an aran sweater (youthful ignorance). When Katherine said I needed to make something else that was boring I quit knitting. Until college when I decided I would make my boyfriend a sweater. Between my sister and I we remembered how to cast on. I didn’t know how to measure a sleeve and so I measured from the bottom of the cuff. Needless to say the sleeves were way too long. I twisted the knit stitch, but at least I accomplished consistent tension. My boyfriend, who had short arms, loved the sweater and gamely rolled up the sleeves to a better length. At least until I took the sweater back, took it apart and shortened the sleeves. I learned a lot from that sweater. Which is good because now I know how to customize a sweater, like the one I am making for my 6 foot 4 inch niece.

    Helen on

  • My wee granny died when I was 19 and had dementia for a while before that, but she was the recipient of my most adventurous craft project (a cross-stitch pattern) at age 15, just because she was my crafty inspiration. She sewed all five of her kids’ clothes— even her daughters’ wedding dresses. And grandkids’ clothes, and matching doll clothes. Before my time, when her eyesight was better, she made each of her kids a beautiful Irish lace crochet tablecloth for their weddings. For my dad, she made gorgeous Aran pullovers, one of which I’d love to reverse engineer. I wish she had lived to see me become a knitter.

    Anya on

  • How persistent you were Allison, your grandma must have been delighted to have someone (you) make something for her for a change.
    My gran taught me to knit too, but I think the whole gauge thing passed her by, her sister probably steered her in the right direction when she was choosing her projects, but sadly I missed out. So, my first attempt at knitting a sweater was a white bri-nylon polo neck, it was the early 1970s. It could have doubled as a corset, if I could have gotten it over my head! Thankfully things improved once I discovered the value of swatching and natural fibres.
    Debra

    Debra on

  • What a delightful story! I know your dear grandma must have treasured your true labor of love! I am sure that made her so happy that you did fall down the knitting rabbit hole and that you honored her with your first sweater! Personally, I think you both look lovely in it!

    Karen Machado on

  • Thank you for sharing your story! My first sweater was too short as I was adapting from a men’s pattern and didn’t think I needed nearly the length that was recommended. Alas, cropped sweaters were not so popular 10 years ago either!

    Jenny on

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