Sunday, October 16, 2011

So, when did you last knit a sweater?

High winds, heavy rain, and cold. I'm feeling better about the decision not to drive to Rhinebeck. Really, the driving would have been horrible, if not downright dangerous, all for only one day of frolicking in the company of wool (and knitters). Instead, I finished Carol Anderson's Babies and Bears for Grownups jacket. It was painless, since the pattern is so well written and I had my notes from the last time I made it years ago. Here it is:

Front view

Back view

Close-up of centre back
While Janie and I were stuck in the car with each other on our way to KnitEast a couple of weeks ago, she happened to mention that not very many of her customers are interested in sweater knitting. Most are interested in small projects like socks, scarves, and hats. The ones who are interested in knitting something bigger often choose shawls since there's no need to worry about fit.
When we got to KnitEast, I looked around the evening of the Yarn Harlot's talk; it was a good time to check out what the knitters were wearing because it was about the only occasion when we were all gathered in one place. Sure enough, out of about 300 knitters, I could count the number wearing handknitted sweaters on my fingers--and the room was pretty cold.
So, why aren't more knitters making sweaters?
I can think of a few reasons:
1. Sweaters take a lot of wool. A cabled sweater for a large person could take 1200-1600 yards of worsted weight wool. That's potentially (but not necessarily) expensive.
2. It takes a lot of time to knit all that wool.
3. What if you put in all the time and the sweater doesn't suit you, or it doesn't fit, or the person you're knitting it for decides (just as you are knitting up the borders after 6 weeks of labour) that he or she doesn't like it?
 The bottom line is that for a lot of knitters a sweater is a big commitment fraught with risks.
4. I also suspect a lot of knitters don't knit sweaters for themselves because they are overweight and think they won't look good in a handknitted sweater and/or they don't think they can find a pattern for their size.
So, what can you do to minimize those risks and end up with wardrobe of beautiful sweaters to wear?
1. Choose a pattern based on a sweater you already own and love. Look at the store-bought sweaters in your wardrobe and think about what silhouettes and fabric weights work for you. Take measurements of a favourite sweater so you will know what size to choose.
2. Look for a top-down, seamless design. You will automatically increase you chances of success by doing this. Not only will you be able to try the sweater on as it progresses, but you won't have to deal with the whole seaming thing at the end. You'll have total control over the sleeve and body lengths and you'll know long before you finish the knitting that the finished garment will be perfect for you. No angst as you sew the parts together, wondering if the sleeves might be just an inch too short. I strongly recommend patterns from "Knitting Pure and Simple" and "Cabin Fever" (both available through Patternfish) if this is your first top-down endeavour. 
3. There's no need to spend a small fortune on wool. Yarn store owners often tell me that plain wools such as Ella Rae Classic or St. Denis Nordique don't sell well in their stores. They don't look exciting enough to the average knitter. Yet, these are gorgeous wools available in scrumptious colours. I tell shop owners that the best way to sell these yarns is to have great sweater models on display. Use your imagination when you look at these yarns. Avoid the temptation of superwash. You won't have as much control through the blocking phase. Untreated wool is much easier to work with--it won't grow crazily when wet and you can "bend it to your will", in the words of EZ. And unlike superwash it hasn't lost the properties that make it warm.
4. Get over the body image problem. Check out Ysolda's latest book "Little Red in the City". The cover model is anything but little, but she looks gorgeous. If you are on the larger side, think about knitting a sweater in a lighter, drapier weight and read Ysolda's remarks on how to adjust patterns and wear sweaters attractively. Deb Gemmell of Cabin Fever is also working on patterns specifically for plus sizes. Her blog can be found here.
Now, go knit a sweater. It's cold outside!