My Beautiful Stiff-As-A-Board Sweater

To my delight and horror I have found The Second Sweater I Ever Knit (garage cleaning can be a truly scary thing for a knitter).

I actually found this uh, "early work of art" a few weeks back, and have been gathering up my courage to share it with you all. Why courage, you ask? Well, first of all, I knit it when I was fourteen. Secondly, I knit it rather badly.

There it is in the photo. It's on Bertha because I'm fairly certain that anyone with arms couldn't get into that little pullover without dislocating something–like a shoulder, maybe, or possibly a neck. The armholes are tight, the neckline is small, and the waist…well. I must have been knitting for a life-sized Barbie doll. And the fabric…how shall I say this? The fabric could stop bullets, it is so stiff. See how the sleeves stick straight out from the body? Talk about a sweater holding its shape. That cute girly sweater could do double-duty as body armor.

To be fair: This really was only my second sweater ever. And I confess, I was blinded by a girlfriend crush. C'mon, you remember those horrible high school things, where you desperately wanted to be friends with someone who didn't even know you were on the same planet? Ah, yes. I was one of those super-dorky nerdy kids–big glasses, really dumb clothes, always in Honors Calculus but never picked for ball teams. The Beautiful Susan had red hair, green eyes, gorgeous clothes, and was just as good at sports as she was at math. I adored Susan…from afar, of course. I couldn't really get near her, because, well…I was a dork and she was a cheerleader. See? Doomed.

So, with the clear logic of teenagers, I decided to knit her a sweater. Yeah, I know. It makes total sense, doesn't it? I couldn't speak to her, couldn't be seen with her, but I could win her friendship with a handknit sweater. (Go me.)

I chose ivory yarn, because it would compliment her skin and her hair. I chose acrylic, because that's all there was at Woolworths. And I chose a puff-sleeve, textured, cropped-waist pullover pattern, because I thought it would make her look like a move star. And her size? I totally eyeballed it, because of course, when you're fourteen, you are gifted with extra-sensory perception and you know all things, right?

Oh. My. Goodness. Let us now count the ways in which both I and this project were doomed.

Not only was the gauge wrong for the yarn, and the yarn wrong for the gauge, but each and every stitch was knitted through the back loop. See how the ribbing at the bottom twists to the right? The whole sweater does that. The pattern did not require the stitches to be knit through the back loop, of course. I was just kind of going through a stage, shall we say.

The result was a sweater that might be considered by the police department for use as body armor. Knitted Kevlar. People in the Witness Protection Program could wear sweaters like this, be perfectly safe, and stylish, besides.

I thought perhaps blocking might work out the kinks a bit. So I washed it gently, let it dry, and breathlessly tried it on myself. (That, by the way, is how I discovered the part about not being able to get it on or off without nearly dislocating someting. I serously considered calling 911 to have someone come and help me get out of it.) The sweater was completely and utterly hopeless.

OK. Maybe not quite hopeless. It was never going to be worn by anyone other than Bertha, perhaps, but I've kept this sweater for quite a long time, unwrapping it periodically and viewing it rather fondly. Why? Certainly not because it reminds me to check my gauge, or knit my stitches properly.

I keep this sweater because a fourteen-year-old-girl spent her own money and hours of her own time knitting a sweater out of love for someone, someone who barely knew she was alive. In the end, of course, I was far too shy to even show the sweater to The Beautiful Susan; I packed it away in a box, taking it out now and then over the years to ponder it with affection: Why I would possibly invest so much in a gift for someone I barely knew? And why was I keeping it, year after year?

Because knitting is not always about perfect stitches and accurate gauge. Sometimes knitting is a way of telling a story to ourselves, and to those around us.

That sweater will never be wearable. But I think, out of all the sweaters I've knitted so far, it's kind of my favorite. I like the story it tells.

— Sandi



Sandi Wiseheart is the editor of Knitting Daily.

What's on Sandi's needles? Working on the Drawstring Raglan!


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