Monday, June 27, 2016

Sweater baggage

I am in a very sorry state with my knitting right now--I finished knitting everything I was working on and I don't have a single work in progress that is actually in a working state. My hands are itching to knit, but not just anything. Sure, I could easily start another pair of socks and I have a baby shower or two coming up, but what I really, really, really want to knit is a sweater for me. I have five-six sweaters' worth of yarn in my possession but can't seem to commit to anything.

I think the problem is the sweaters I have already knitted for myself-- five in about as many years. Not one has made it into permanent wardrobe rotation-- not after the initial excitement of newness wore off and I began to no, notice wearability issues. A drawer full of barely worn sweaters is a lot of mental baggage for a knitter-- this knitter, at any rate. Let me take an inventory:

1. Shadow:

Finished May 2012. I adore the fabric and the cable pattern-- the yarn is Brooklyn Tweed Shelter and it is so airy, light, and squishy that I just want to hug it all day.  But it is undone by the details-- the sleeves are too short for layering over a long-sleeved shirt and the wide neckline bunches up under all of my coats. If it's just the right temperature-- not too warm for a sweater, but not cold enough to need an outer layer-- I can wear it. It has a loose, flared fit, so without an under layer it gets breezy on those not-warm days-- and with an under-layer it takes on a casual/sloppy look that I don't particularly like. I still try to wear it from time to time and I think it breaks my heart the most because it is SO close to being a great sweater.

2. White Pine:

Finished July 2012 and frogged in 2015. The yarn is a discontinued color of Berroco Ultra Alpaca that a LYS had not-quite-enough of-- but I fell in love and had to have it. I tracked down a sufficient quantity at another yarn shop-- in Minnesota! Turns out I can't stand the heavy, clingy, claustrophobic feeling of alpaca, at least not in this sweater. It's also seriously hot, hot enough for winter outerwear use... if it weren't for the deep v-neck, which leaves some body parts freezing while others roast! I thought about reusing the yarn-- hence the frogging-- but lost interest after a while and gave it away.

3. Shellseeker:

Finished February 2013 and sold at a consignment shop in 2014 for less than the cost of the yarn, which I got on sale at WEBS in 2012. Beware sale yarn! The sweater started out fitting well, but stretched and grew with each wear until it looked about two sizes too big-- I blame the rayon and alpaca content.

4. Orange top-down raglan, knit from my own head:

Finished in 2014 (I think). I got the yarn in a swap and this  sweater was an experiment in trying to match the neckline of a favorite t-shirt. I got pretty much what I was aiming for, but a wide, open neckline is not practical for a heavyweight sweater-- a shame because I took such care with all the details:

I'm really proud of those raglan lines and the purl row to start the neckband.

5. Cordova:

Finished September 2015. This one is also a heartbreaker, because it is objectively gorgeous:The practical details-- long sleeves, crew neck, relaxed but not oversized fit-- are all there. The yarn is Shelter, just like Shadow, but the texture of the fabric is stiff and a bit crunchy for some reason (different gauge, I think). And there is just a whole lot of texture going on-- the cables, the trinity stitch borders (hiding in this photo), all the tweedy flecks. It looks cluttered. The neckline doesn't lay quite right. And I don't love the color.

There they are, all the beautiful sweaters I don't wear. When I start to dream of a new sweater, they taunt me. Is one "just right" sweater too much to wish for? Are my expectations set impossibly high? I'm definitely not ready to give up the quest, not yet-- the process of knitting a sweater is just so satisfying, and the (elusive, seductive) pleasure of wearing a great sweater makes the effort worth it. I think I have some useful wearability criteria going forward:
  • Heavy yarns-- for me that means worsted weight and up-- are meant for warmth and should be knitted with warmth in mind. That means long sleeves and higher necklines! 
  • Pay attention to layering! I don't like to think too much about whether my layers coordinate-- wide necklines should be approached with caution. Also, a sweater without stand-alone warmth should go easily under a coat or jacket. 
  • Approach alpaca with extreme caution! Smooth, heavy alpaca yarns not only make me feel suffocated, they are prone to stretching out-- I'll have to stick to the airy, fluffy kind, or to more fitted shapes.
  • Get texture right: I like pebbly, wooly yarns and I like cables, but I need to be careful about overdoing it. Fabric texture is also important and small changes in gauge can lead to big changes in the feeling of the knitted fabric. I will knit big swatches on multiple needle sizes and if necessary adapt patterns to suit my preferences. 
That's a lot to ponder before I can get on with it! I don't think I'll remain stuck in planning mode for too much longer, but I may have to get my knit fix some other way in the meantime...

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