Something Unexpected

So, I knit a sweater.

Did I knit it particularly well? No. But did I knit it *quickly*?

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

I cast on in early November 2020, mindful that we might be going into another lockdown (we didn’t, but I tucked away a couple hobby-acorns for quarantine winter just in case) and I finished it last month, late November 2021. Most of the sweater took me that first year (extremely non-continuously); the sleeves took me the last two weeks. By then, I was VERY ready to be done. I spent 54 weeks as an auto-hostage, but now I am freeee and I’ve learned a lot! These were my starting assets:

Your brains I could knit and purl (in the simplest sense)

Fezzik’s strength YouTube, baby

My steel Access to skilled knitters

Particularly Eloise Narrigan – will it surprise you to hear that in addition to being the toppest-notch illustrator and a brilliant friend, she’s also a meticulous and amazing knitter? I picked the No Frills Sweater pattern for my first project after running it by her. She mentioned that the short rows on the back neck were a promising sign that the pattern would be solid, and I immediately formed a religion around that casual comment and now judge all sweaters by whether or not there’s short rows, and nothing else. Actually, the part of the directions that challenged me the most were those about shaping the short rows, but she did some invaluable translating from knitting pattern to plain English and it turns out it was a simple idea expressed in a way I found confusing (basically, make each row longer than the one before).

I was frightened of reading the knitting pattern, but it was okay. The hardest part was working out which yarn to buy. After lots of back-and-forth math between grams and yards I decided that instead of using two strands of madly expensive yarn, I could use one strand of nice in-budget DK yarn, and I bought 8 skeins of Cloudborn Highland DK (100% wool) in Ocean from Webs. I knit a size M and I have a full skein leftover.

I very nearly bought cute stitch markers, too, but I stifled the urge. In the meantime I used jewelry jump rings. My first, shockingly basic piece of learning: the marker goes on the knitting needle, not the stitch. So that’s roughly the level of ability I started at.  

I want to talk quickly about the two kinds of skills I used during this process, ‘learned’ skills and ‘loaned’ skills. The skills I actually, thoroughly learned while working on this sweater include: the magic loop method. How to join yarn. The inscrutable K2tog tbl. How to weave in ends. How to block a sweater. How to get your boyfriend to help you wind yarn into a ball by telling him it’s what a courtly gentleman would do.

My loaned skills, skills I could perform after (or while) watching a YouTube video, but not on a permanent basis, were a cabled cast-on, joining in the round, left- and right-leaning raglan stitches, German short rows, a backwards loop cast-on (I honestly don’t remember what this one was for), a tubular bind-off, and what ‘pick up and knit’ meant. All those linked videos are novice-recommended – clear, performed slowly, not too chatty.

My missing skills, which are still missing, not available in video format, and pretty fundamental, are: reading knitting. As in, looking at a loop on the needle and understanding whether it’s a knit or a purl stitch, and any other information contained there. And possibly more importantly, ripping out mistakes without going all the way back to the beginning. I can just about pick up a dropped stitch, but that’s it. Often I found my mistakes by knitting past them, then looking at the formed fabric and realizing “that’s a funny spot”, at which point it was already too late for my butterfingers to fumble back. This is why I have one lumpy learner’s sleeve and one pretty good sleeve.

It took me ages to realize I was getting yarn caught on the needle while magic-looping and then knitting the decoy stitches as though they were real ones. Definitely a rookie mistake. On the other hand, knitting anything was going to be a challenge, and I’d rather sail out of a challenge with a lumpy sweater than a lumpy scarf.

Here is my not-so-good armpit! Here’s my better one! Capital ‘I’ for Improving, Lia!

Maybe some wiser eyes can help solve some lingering knitting mysteries. For example: why do the short rows have this feathery texture, and the body of the sweater doesn’t? Knitting is knitting, surely?

Also, how did I manage to switch the ‘right’ side and ‘wrong’ side of the collar halfway through, and how is that a k1/p1 rib HAS a right side and a wrong side? Shouldn’t they be the same? Yet I have tight braids on one side and open braids on the other. I prefer the look of the ‘wrong’ side, unfortunately. Actually I find this k1/p1 rib to be a bit thready and wimpy looking but I’m definitely not at the stage where I can change a pattern. HAHA no no no.

Mysteries or not, it’s done! Finishing was a rush (and also about damn time). I thought weaving in ends was going to be a pain, but I realized triumphantly ‘this is just sewing!’ and it felt quick to me. This sweater had no seams to sew, so once I was done, I was done – except for the 48 hours of cold wet sweater taking up my table, but you’re s’posed to, so I did.

So, like, do I knit now? Um…this is comfy, this is warm, this took me a year and much woe and it made my brain and my fingers creak and it’s a ridiculous way to form a garment and it takes far too long and I’m free now and oh yes I bought more yarn. So, I guess, sort of.

Look for another in about a year!

Pattern: No Frills Sweater pattern

Pattern cost: $6.61  

Size: M

Supplies: 8 skeins of Cloudborn Highland DK in Ocean, $35.71; needles (US 3 16″ + 40” circular, US 6 16″ + 40” circular), $27.52, WEBS

Total time: 11/12/2020 – 11/27/2021 (no way I recorded hours)

Total cost: $69.84

16 thoughts on “Something Unexpected

  1. You are amazing! I’ve been knitting for years and rarely knit anything that has to fit someone – so you’re braver than I am. Enjoy your beautiful warm sweater!

    You might be twisting your purl stitches so it affected the back & forth of the short rows but not the round & round of the bulk of the sweater.

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    1. Oooh I never would have attempted something with a precise fit, swatching is another one of those mysteries to me! And thanks so much for the tip – that’s exactly what I needed to know! You also got me to start reading about purl tension, which might explain why my k1p1 looks so different on the front and back…

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  2. Thanks for showing all the wobbly bits because it gives me hope for my own knitting project, but honestly in the longer shots (ie at a distance any reasonable person would be) it looks super even. Lovely colour too.

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    1. Oh good! I felt a bit Roman Catholic pointing out all its flaws when really I was just happy to have it done, but I hoped it would be/glad it was useful! 😂

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  3. I agree with Catherine that it looks amazing in the long shots. And! The fact that it is such a well fitting sweater is TRUELY A FEAT for a first sweater. Thanks for being brave and showing all the lumpy bits. I believe that the best way to learn all the skills is to stretch yourself. The improvement in the second sleeve shows that you did! I also agree with Cheryl that you twisted some of your stitches in the short rows and on half of the neck band. What that means is you knit or purled through the “back” leg of the stitch instead of the “front” leg, whether that is because it was oriented on your needle twisted or stuck your needle through the opposite leg. One knitting style actually twists the stitch on purpose on one row and then untwists it on the next row for ease of knitting or to have more uniform stitch size between knit and purl. Maybe you’re just ahead of the game! Keep on knitting!.

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    1. That is so helpful, thank you!! Now that I know the name I can read about it more. I’m realizing that having a little understanding about knitting unlocks a whole wonderful world of 🌟KNITTING BLOGS🌟! Hooray! Thanks again. 😊

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  4. Ahh!! So exciting and so cute! I don’t think the short rows are supposed to be feathery looking but honestly it looks kinda cool! I had a few more knitting projects under my belt before my first sweater but I also knit the No Frills Sweater for my first sweater. It also took me over a year. My 2nd and 3rd and 4th sweaters were MUCH faster. (Working on sweater 5 right now, and I have about 1 month before the 1 year mark…)

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    1. Ooh, how exciting! 5 handknit sweaters (heck, 2 sweaters) sounds like a royal ransom. 😍 What cozy riches! My 2nd sweater is *also* going to be a No Frills Sweater – I’m hoping the familiarity will make it more of a nine- or ten-month project. 😂

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  5. Oh, boy! Those crazy knitters sucked you in too? I gave up knitting due to fitting woes and then found sewing, which I thought was faster and more fun. (I still think that.) Then I went to work in a fabric and yarn shop for four years. Those crazy knitters sucked me back in with all their beautiful yarn and finished objects. I keep telling myself I won’t keep a yarn stash, but the bin in the basement says I lie.

    I’m going to guess you may have twisted your stitches somehow on the short rows, although I think it looks cool. Not quite sure about the ribbing, which also looks cool. Regardless, you made a sweater! And it’s great! Congratulations! And welcome to knitting. It’s pretty fun and addictive, even if slow. 🙂

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    1. The colors! The color-coded cubbies!! Who can resist? Actually the yarn section of my local fabric store is GORGEOUS but so completely out of my budget it’s basically another planet. Still, I’ve pet some swatches there with a new appreciation…
      I still think knitters are not like other people!! I am not truly one of them! I just love sweaters and being warm. 😂

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  6. Oh I finally felt qualified to actually comment on one of your posts since it’s about knitting and of course others have answered your question! 🤣 I definitely agree that the back looks like you’ve got a twisted stitches in there, and since that section is straight and not in the round, it’s likely the purl stitches where you’re doing it.
    That’s probably why the front and back of the ribbing look different too, it looks like the knit stitches are actually the ones that are twisted at the very top of the neck in the close up picture of the back. The article below has kind of crummy pictures, but you can see the difference between 1×1 rib and 1×1 twisted rib.
    https://www.allfreeknitting.com/Knitting-Tutorials/Knitting-Ribbing-Variations
    But seriously, this is so awesome!! The sweater looks amazing and you did so many techniques that not everyone would try on one of their first projects. The color is amazing too, I used Cloudborn Highland (the the sport weight) for a recent project and it’s a great yarn. Welcome to the dark side! 🧶🌚

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  7. Thank you so much! I’m awed by your ability to look at a photograph and figure out what my hands were doing who knows how far away. Thanks for the link, as well – maybe I can find a ribbing style that I like better/looks better with my twisted habit. 😉 I definitely spent a lot of the time making this sweater muttering stuff like “KNITTERS ARE NOT LIKE OTHER PEOPLE”.

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