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.




  • 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

  • Thank you for such a beautiful story!

    Yvonne on

  • My mother taught me to knit when I was fourteen and other than a short hiatus in college and when we were stationed in the far east I have never stopped. It is my mood calmer, my stress release, the destination for my mental energy. I, too, still have my sweater, a burgundy cardigan. It has buttonholes I forgot, ribbing with more purl than knit stitches, but I treasure it. And it has my mother’s ever present finishing attention, a grosgrain ribbon inside the ribbing to keep it neat and in place. Thank you for allowing me to reminisce. HappyNew Year.

    Margaret MCMinn on

  • Thank you for sharing this wonderfully heartwarming story, Allison. I loved every word.

    Ann Cameron on

  • How lovely. I learned to knit from YouTube, and while I’m ever so grateful for its bounty, that story doesn’t generate the love yours does. You have helped your Grandma Ause time travel, as each stitch has a tie to her, and will always be present in your knitting projects.

    Rebecca on

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