164 Sweaters: Knitting as an Act of Resilience
In 2014, I signed up for my first sweater class at my local yarn shop, Fibre Space. The pattern was Jane Richmond’s Gemini, and it had a little bit of a lace pattern to it. I was excited because if it turned out well I could wear it in the summer, since I was using Hempathy yarn. I had learned to knit in 2011, but until then, I had been hesitant to knit a sweater.
It Started with Cute Hats
I learned to knit because I wanted to make myself cute hats. That was all. And then I got introduced to Ravelry, and knitting magazines like Interweave Knits and Knitscene, and I saw all these pictures of sweaters, intricate lace weight cowls, and socks—so many socks. I felt my hat knitting didn’t qualify me as a real knitter, which translated into believing I couldn’t knit a sweater. But here’s the thing: I could knit a sweater—I just let my fear convince me otherwise.
After years of looking lovingly at sweater patterns, I decided to get help, and take a class so that my first sweater wouldn’t be a complete disaster.
It Isn’t That Hard
I took the class and quickly realized, sweater knitting isn’t that hard–what was I so afraid of?
2014. Sweater number 1: Gemini by Jane Richmond.
Now, whenever someone says to me, “I’m scared to knit a sweater,” my first question is always: why? And my second question is always: what’s the worst thing that could happen?
Tecumseh as a tee.
Here’s a smattering of the responses I get, and my responses to those responses.
- You: I make a mistake or I misread the directions. Me: OK, so you rip it back or frog it and start over.
- You: I didn’t make a gauge swatch. It might not fit. Me: OK, you can frog it and start over after you make a gauge swatch.
- You: I don’t like the pattern I picked. Me: OK, frog it and pick another one.
- You: I am afraid it will take forever. Me: What’s the hurry? It’s not a race.
Do you see where I’m going here? The beauty of knitting is that with every project we get the chance to learn something, and possibly challenge ourselves. You can learn a new stitch, a new cast-on or bind-off, a new fiber, or a new way to fix a mistake. Every time you pick up your needles, there is a chance to grow your knitting knowledge.
The Pink Professor (Dana’s own design).
For me, knitting is an act of resilience. Your finished sweater is a physical record of you knowingly applying positive energy in the face of a challenge. Despite doubts and reservations, you can persevere. Even if your finished sweater has a mistake (I’ve dropped a stitch in a sleeve and didn’t notice it until after I blocked it) or it took you two years to make, it’s still a sweater that you made with your two hands.
And yes, you’re definitely a real knitter, whether you knit a sweater or not.
But Who’s Counting?
Since I knit that first sweater in 2014 I’ve knit 164 sweaters so far (with another on my needles). The tally:
- 19 dog sweaters
- 42 sweaters for babies and toddlers
- 103 adult-sized sweaters
2019. Sweater number 164: Sweetheart sweater for jellybean (Dana’s own design).
I stopped letting my fear keep me from trying things that piqued my interest, and my knitting blossomed.
Last year, I tried stranded colorwork for the first time. It wasn’t as scary as I thought, even with cotton yarn.
After watching a million YouTube videos, I couldn’t get two-color brioche right, so I went back to Fibre Space and took a class. Now I’m a brioche fanatic.
When I’m stuck or confused, I reach out to knitting buddies, online and in person. That’s the other wonderful thing about knitting: there are always people willing to help you learn and fix your mistakes.
So maybe 2019 is your year of the sweater, or your year of socks? Or maybe it’s just time for you to try something new.
Whatever you do, don’t give up on yourself. You can do it. I know you can.
Editors’ note: We asked Dana to put her needles down overnight so that the numbers in this article would be accurate at the time of publication.