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Do you remember the first time? Slowly slipping each stitch over the other and off the needle, until the final one remained. Then there it was, a wearable object! From a ball of yarn to a wearable object, transformed by magically interconnecting loops. That feeling of accomplishment and pride stays with you, even if those first attempts always don’t.

Sonya is wearing: garter stitch scarf (own pattern) in La Gran Mohair by Classic Elite; Joan Fuller by Ellen Mason  in Merino/Mohair Worsted by Beaverslide Dry Goods; 100 Acts of Sewing Dress no. 2; and Pants no. 1.


The first accessory I knit was a garter stitch scarf made with hot pink La Gran Mohair (pictured above). I second-guessed the width and cast on too many stitches, which of course resulted in another trip to the store to buy more yarn.

What drew me to the yarn was the color. I didn’t consider how scratchy a mohair blend would feel against my neck. Likening the sensation to a brillo pad might be a slight exaggeration, but it’s a comparison that gets across the general point.

Machine knit cowl by Julia Billings of Woollenflower; cardigan (own pattern) in Alpaca Silk by Blue Sky Alpaca; first dress of the 100 Acts of Sewing project (own pattern); and Pants no. 2.

After tackling more scarves and hats, I was ready to up my garment game and decided to knit a cardigan for my daughter, who was a toddler at the time. I followed a pattern, but was cavalier with yarn substitution. While I might have grasped the concept of gauge, it wasn’t something I put into practice with much accuracy. It was another case of running out of yarn, but this time the store had closed and I couldn’t find anything to match the tweedy pink yarn. A decision was made to use a contrasting yarn and make it look like a deliberate choice, with one pink front, one green front and opposite color sleeves. The result was an overly large garment that didn’t fit her until she was in kindergarten and had the look of a letter jacket crossed with a watermelon.

Knitting Pure & Simple Neck Down Cardigan # 9725 (modified) by Diane Soucy  in Manos Classica; Dress no. 2 and Pants no. 1.

One would think my approach to knitting myself a sweater for the first time, given my previous track record, would be one of more careful deliberation. Dear reader, this was not the case. It was the early 2000s and like many newly-minted knitters of the time, I worshipped at the altar of Rowan Magazine. The sweater pattern came from A Season’s Tale and I knit with the yarn called for in the pattern, but that was where my adherence ended.

For whatever reason, I decided to make my sweater striped, nothing too major there. Not like the decision to modify the raglan pullover pattern into a cardigan. Needless to say, it was a complex undertaking for my ability at the time, and something went wonky at the underarms. When I tried the sweater on, it looked like I had an extra set of breasts, which was not appealing. I salvaged the sweater by chopping off the excess fabric and serging a new seam, an unconventional approach to be sure.

Shona by Kim Hargreaves (heavily modified) in Rowanspun DK; Shirt no. 1; Dress no. 1; and denim pants (own pattern).

My early projects were full of beginner mistakes and much fudging. I know I learned a lot from them and over time, steadily sharpened my skills. I started paying more attention to gauge and knitting swatches.

But I continue to make modifications and still run out of yarn on occasion. I am just as scrappy in all my making, be it sewing or cooking. I prefer to think of it as innovating. Diving in with enthusiasm can lead to interesting things, and in my case they usually end up being of the bright colored variety.

About The Author

Sonya Philip is an artist, designer, teacher, and the author of The Act of Sewing. She has made it her mission to convince people to make their own clothes, by teaching classes and selling patterns. When not covered in bits of thread, she can be found knitting another shawl or cardigan. Sonya lives in San Francisco with her family and their scruffy terrier duo, Willie and Hazel.


  • This was such a great read! I really admire that you make things for your self, actually wear them, and get a chance to enjoy them. So many times I have purchased yarn to make myself something but get distracted because I need to make something for someone else. It’s happening right now, even though I swore it would never happen again. Your wonderful example, Sonya, gives me inspiration to keep trying.

  • Hi Sonya,
    You make your work creative and personal while learning and developing new techniques.
    Knitting and sewing are functional pursuits but many of us have the souls of artists and we need to insert ourselves in the midst of patterns and instructions.
    I love the way you do that.

  • Love this! I too made a mohair scarf because it was the most wonderful orange in the world. Could only wear it with a turtleneck but I stuck with that itchy thing for quite a few years because of the color. I still make many knitting decisions that are still probably not a good idea but hey, it’s only yarn, I have loads of fun playing around, and sometimes crazy turns out crazy good. (If anyone reading this is someone I test knit for, I do behave myself -more or less- when test knitting!

  • Laugh out loud funny. I’ve done the mohair scarf, as an example of lace knitting. It is beautifully and carefully done and graces my dresser top. Although it might help out on droopy neck skin with the Brillo pad qualities. I love your sweaters. Nice simple designs.

    • Goodmorning Sonya, again (always) you made my morning! ( waking up each day is a gift) you are so funny, and refreshingly honest, candid, in sharing with us your fabulous, beautiful designer projects. Your not afraid to experiment, therefore your fabulous wares!!! There is hope for me Sonya, Yaay! Have a great safe day, Sincerly, Dorian

  • Love this!
    I seem to find myself geneticly unable to follow knitting patterns or recipes exactly as written. Brings some fun into my life’s!
    Thanks for all the cardigan patterns I’m collecting because of you.

  • When I was in high school I took a class that taught all of the decorative arts embroidery, crochet, knitting and I am sure there were several more. For my first knitting project I chose to knit a sweater. I had two colors of yarn so ended up with a lovely mix. I learned just about everything I needed even button holes and a turned facing. That sweater has stood the test of time it is now almost 55 years old and I am unraveling very worn cuffs and neckline to attempt to repair the ribbing so that my daughter can continue to wear it. I have received many compliments over the years as well as many hours of snuggling in it warmth. I believe if I can fix the cuffs and neckline it will give my daughter many more years of warmth. I haven’t knitted much over the years but knowing how to do all of the creative arts has been invaluable.

  • I enjoy reading every single one of your posts. And our color sense – sensational!

  • This was an amazing piece of writing to find, especially when I just tore apart a lace scarf attempt for a second time after crapping up the pattern beyond any saving or hiding or calling the uneven holes “a feature” of the pattern. Thank you- as a long time notice knitter, can’ wait to read more of you!

  • Your articles are always so fun, funny and inspiring! And your outfits are just gorgeous and original – it’s really what we yarn/fabric crafters aspire to, isn’t it? Something that will make us feel happy and creative in the end, whether we wear it or not. 🙂

  • I always enjoy your articles. So much fun and encouraging. Would love to know more about how you came to discover your “uniform”.

  • I love Sonya’s posts. They’re so honest and real and make me feel good about my novice knitting abilities.

  • Omg! I totally have A Season’s Tale and remember looking at the knitting in it longingly as a beginning knitter. That giant ridiculous/awesome coat near the back!? I think I still (sort of ) wish I had the gumption and yarn reserves to make that happen.

  • Love the bright colors. So proud to be wearing her projects. I loved her stories.

  • Fantastic read as always. I really love the striped sweater!!!!

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