A Tale of Two Sweaters
Several years ago I set out to knit a “sweatshirt” sweater. I wanted the type of sweater that I could throw on easily and wear around like a sweatshirt. I decided upon Brick, a popular free pattern on Ravelry that required a worsted weight yarn. I decided on a punchy combination of electric blue and acid green using HiKoo’s Sueno Worsted. My sweater would be a solid color with contrasting cuffs. I found Brick easy to follow, light on details and effortless in construction. However, when my sweater was all done I was totally underwhelmed. The sweater had grown in blocking, the fabric was much softer and had more drape than I anticipated. This unexpected result was my own fault. I swatched for my sweater, but I didn’t block my swatch. Turns out, Sueno blooms beautifully with its first wash. It’s slight crunch that existed before blocking was gone. Most people would think that is a good thing, but it wasn’t what I wanted. My sleeves were also way too long. Don’t get me wrong, the sweater is pretty darn great, but I don’t wear it because I am that person that drags her sleeves through her lunch. I learned the importance of blocking my swatches, particularly with yarns that I don’t have any experience with. I also learned to measure my sweaters in progress against my own body or my own beloved garments.
I learned my lessons the hard way. My mistakes and missteps could not be undone, and I had to live with them. I could think about the $80+ of yarn and all that time spent as having gone down the drain. However, I learned more from making my Brick than ever before, and those lessons have made me a better knitter. The way I see it, a month of knitting and $80 is well worth the wisdom that I gained from it. Each sweater I’ve made since Brick has improved my skills in some way!
Fast-forward several years, and one of our knitters made the same sweater with the same yarn. Her journey was not without its ups and downs. Terri knit up her Brick in a tonal blue and that yarn’s special dye has created some dramatic visual effects on her otherwise basic sweater.
Terri is relatively new to knitting (she’s been at it for about a year and a half) so I’m incredibly impressed that she has already completed her second sweater. Brick was Terri’s first seamless sweater. It’s also light on details and specifics (this is often the case with free patterns like Brick), and leaves it up to knitters to hone in on several details on their own. At the end of it all Terri has an absolutely lovely sweater, but she had her fair share of learning through this project. Terri was generous to share all the things about this sweater that confounded her and what she gained from it, and I’d love to share some of this with you.
It’s my impression that Brick is light on details because of its top-down, seamless construction. You have the ability to try on the sweater throughout the knitting and customize its fit according to your liking. This means stitch counts are missing at seemingly important places. When it was time for Terri to switch to her hem ribbing, she didn’t know to check her stitch count to work in k1p1 ribbing, and she had an odd number of stitches. Instead of working a p2tog at the end, she worked two purls at the end of her row, and she worked her stitches like this for the remainder of her hem. For the record, I’m proud of Terri for trying to figure it out on her own and I also guarantee that no one will ever notice her double purl on her hem. Plus, now Terri understands how stitch count and pattern stitches factor into her projects!
Picking up stitches was another technique that Terri needed to hunker down on for this project. She did not nail it on the first try. Even the most experienced knitters need to play with their picked up stitches to figure out how to space it to get the proper stitch count or to get the look they desire. Also, there isn’t one right way to pick up stitches, so we all have options in how to make it work! With some trial and error, Terri figured it out. No doubt she feels more confident about picking up stitches than she did before.
Terri noticed with me how her neckline looks so different than that one pictured on the pattern. An easy explanation for this is that Terri’s sweater is worn with positive ease, meaning that the measurements of her sweater are bigger than the measurements of her body. One can tell that the sweater worn by the model on the pattern is worn with negative ease. The sweater is a bit stretched around her body, thus stretching the neckline as well!
Brick doesn’t give any details about finishing for the underarms, once again leaving it up to Terri (and her team of knitting instructors) to figure it out on their own. Experienced sweater knitters know there is always a little nip and tuck required at the underarms, but poor Terri probably thought there was something wrong with her beautiful sweater when each underarm had a couple holes for ventilation!
Terri shared that one of the best things she learned was a method of small-circumference knitting in the round. All knitters have their preference about this, and Terri decided to jump in and try magic loop. She was able to work her sleeves with comfort and ease using magic loop! New technique learned? Check!
While Terri admitted that she thought this pattern was too open-ended for a knitter with her level of experience, I beg to differ. She may disagree with me, but I feel like this project (however much it may have frustrated her) made her pay attention and learn some important lessons. The fact that the answers weren’t written into the pattern for her meant she had to come up with them on her own, or collaboratively with her knitting instructors. Since we often learn so much more by doing rather than seeing, I’d argue that Terri has learned enough with this project to propel her through several more years of sweater knitting.
One thing Terri and I both learned in making this sweater is about finding the right fiber for your project. Sueno Worsted is a super wash wool. Without being too technical, this means that the fibers stretch and have more drape than a typical wool. The seamless construction of Brick did not seem to hold up well to the drape and weight of this yarn. I love making and wearing seamless sweaters: they are magical to knit and comfortable to wear. However, I try to use untreated wools or lightweight wools in my seamless projects. (I just made a top-down, seamless sweater using Baah’s La Jolla with glorious results!) I would absolutely make Brick again, but at the gauge listed, I’d avoid using super wash yarns or even yarns that are heavily alpaca or silk. Brick’s suggested yarn is Shelter, and that would be a wonderful choice, as would something like HiKoo’s Kenzie, Shepherd’s Wool, Iris or Falkland Aran. These yarns will have more loft and lightness, and will hold up to the seamless construction better than a soft and buttery super wash like Sueno Worsted.
My biggest take away, from Terri’s experience an my own, is that we learn by making mistakes or muddling our way through things. I know that these missteps feel overwhelming to new sweater knitters. They feel that they can’t make room for imperfections given the time and investment they’ve made in this project. An imperfect sweater made with trial & error and a few risks will lead to more beautiful sweaters in the future.