It happens to every knitter. You spend hours, days, sometimes months on a garment only to try it on when it's done to discover that all your work has resulted in an utter disaster. You feel frustrated and even angry. Sometimes on the project pages of my designs I encounter a knitter who has experienced this disappointment. How does this happen? How can it be avoided? What can you do with a failed sweater? In this post I attempt to answer these questions. Sweater knitting involves a lot of time, effort, and often money. You want to get it right. Here are my tips for disaster avoidance and recovery.
1. Choose your project carefully, especially if you are a sweater newbie.
a) Visit your current wardrobe to get a clear picture of what silhouettes work best for you. If you have a lot of A-line tops in your closet, then you can be pretty sure that an A-line sweater will make you look great. If cropped, boxy silhouettes aren't your thing, then avoid a cardigan such as the Wolfe Island Gansey.
b) Consider the weight of the finished fabric. A lightweight, drapey fabric will generally be more flattering to a wider array of figure types. Again, look to your current wardrobe to get a picture of what weights of fabric make you look and feel your best. I enjoy knitting with chunky wool, but I'm careful to use wools that are lightly spun, and I prefer to knit them at a slightly loose gauge to prevent any kind of stiffness in the finished fabric. Glenora comes to mind.
c) Compare your figure type with that of the model. For example, a sweater shown on a small-busted model may not work on someone who is very busty. The closure method in Brookline
is best suited to those with a smaller bust. The corollary applies; a small-busted woman will look dreadful in something meant to be more filled out. And it's not just busts that cause problems. Use the project page of Ravelry to see how your chosen design works on a variety of figure types.
d) Make sure you choose the right size. Check the FINISHED SIZE. Is the sweater meant to fit with negative ease (closely), standard ease, or is it oversized? If the latter, make sure you read how much ease is intended, and decide whether you'll feel attractive wearing something significantly larger than standard sizing. Audrey's Coat, for instance, looks best when it's worn with about 10" of ease,
but I've noticed that a lot of knitters seem to be uncomfortable adding so many extra inches.
e) Check out the construction method. For the best chance of success, choose a design that can be tried on during construction. A seamless, top-down sweater such as the Modern Gansey
is the easiest to get right, but sweaters constructed by other methods shouldn't be ruled out. Harriet's Jacket is a side-to-side construction in the bodice,
then top down for the "skirt", and easily tried on. Even a steeked cardigan such as Fusion
can be tried on, since the only steek is in the centre front. Of course, you'll get an even better idea of the final fit if you block as you go (see below). The problem with seams is that they make adjustments so difficult. Once a sleeve seam, knitted from the bottom up, is sewn, the effort required to undo the seam, then unpick the knitting and re-do everything is enormous.
2. Choose your yarn with success in mind.
a)Yes, those beautiful hand-dyed superwash yarns beckon, but superwash treated wools grow when wet blocked. You can throw them in the dryer for a few minutes to help bring them back to size, then lay flat to dry, but the end result is unpredictable. I restrict superwash yarns to scarves and socks and only use untreated wools for sweaters. You do not have to sacrifice softness. There are plenty of lovely untreated wools out there.
b) Keep in mind that superwash yarns will not hold their shape in the same way as untreated wool. You can easily bend untreated wool to your will. Collars (such as the one in Buttonbox)
will stay in place and points on shawls and scarves (such as Wheatsheaves) willl stay crisp. FYI, we took the Buttonbox pics in a gale blowing directly off Lake Ontario. That's why one side of the collar is partially turned up!
3. Block your work in progress. I can't emphasize this enough. It may feel hard to let go of the momentum, but force yourself to do this. Many stitch patterns grow in length. The Perth Cardi is a perfect example of this.
In a top-down sweater like the Perth Cardi, I like to knit down to about an inch below the underarm, then transfer all the stitches to a length of waste yarn and soak the whole thing in a bowl for about 20 minutes to allow the fibres to fully absorb the water. I leave the ball of wool attached and outside the bowl. Then I gently squeeze out the water, wrap in a towel, jump on it a couple of times, and lay it flat to dry. When I try on the dried piece, I can get an accurate read on the fit. I repeat this process a couple of inches before the intended length is reached. No surprises!
Disaster Recovery Options
Take a breather. Put the sweater out of sight, go for a walk, and don't come back to it for a few months--or years! Absorb the lessons learned and cool off emotionally.
1. Give the sweater away.
2. If the yarn is very expensive, unravel, re-skein, wash to remove kinks, and re-use.
3. If the wool is suitable for felting, throw the whole thing in the washer and dryer, then cut up to make mitts, a tea cosy, whatever you want...