There’s a picture of my dad that used to sit on my mom’s bedside table – in the nebulous lore that is my dad’s past, I would place it somewhere around the time he took a break from college and lived in Colorado, getting by teaching other sometime-college-students to ski. In this picture, he’s leaning forward into the camera lens with a grin that tells you how perfectly aware he is of the power of his fluffy mane of 80’s hair, and he’s wearing the platonic ideal of the perfect fisherman’s sweater.
There are two points here – first, this is a man with standards, and second, I have wanted to knit this exacting man a perfect fisherman’s sweater for the past 15 years.
About 20 years ago, I had a babysitter who could knit. If my memory is at all reliable, she was a woman of no discernible age or facial features that would sit on our sofa while we watched Pixar movies on VHS and crank out stockinette stitch color-blocked scarves like it was nothing. Fast forward a handful of years – I’m now 9 and my 12-year-old sister is doing the babysitting, but a flip had switched in my brain and suddenly nothing would do but turning skeins of yarn into scarves, sweaters, and cross-eyed stuffed animals.
My first actual memory of this need is of my mother parking her silver Honda Odyssey in the gravel parking lot of a knitting supply store, and her subsequent breakdown. No one wanted to teach a 9-year-old how to knit. More people than you could possibly imagine all knit in my hometown had already told her no, and no was not a word she usually took at face value. She’d had the power of the internet at least since my older sister was born and had been wielding that power to homeschool us, manifesting books and curriculum and science classes out of a science teacher’s garage since I had been alive, and she didn’t accept that no one wanted to teach her child how to knit. And why not? I wasn’t loud, I was rarely sticky, and both those things were lies because I was 9 and always and impossibly coated in Elmer’s Glue.
But she didn’t leave, and because my mother is a force akin to the moving tide – initially unassuming, but never stopping- I was allowed to take a seat at a folding table in the back next to the microwave they used to heat up pound cake, and I was home.
It was a partial takeover. In a brilliant ploy my mother pulled off with the help of her Psychology degree, she convinced me my sister was dying to learn how to knit but was just too embarrassed to ask her younger sister to teach her anything. And if I could teach her the basics to see if she liked it, that would be great. And then Mom had somewhere she could drop the both of us while she ran errands and got her hair cut. From there, it snowballed. We started to bring our friends. We participated in an event to knit the largest sock, helped grandmothers with dropped stitches, and started a regrettable knitting club at our church.
But I was not ready for the fisherman’s sweater. For one thing, my dislike of being told what to do extends to knitting patterns. By 10, I hadn’t met a pattern I didn’t wrongly believe I could improve.
Initially and transparently, I took a pattern and made it worse. A cute, semi-realistic stuffed animal, became just the front of a blue bunny that I felted to give it a little width and stop halfway through. A hat with a folded brim, became a shorter hat, with no folded brim, and so on. I didn’t want to knit a gauge swatch, I wanted to dive into a project while the project still sounded fun. I wanted to knit right to left and then left to right so I would never have to purl. I didn’t stop that practice, reversing a line of a pattern in my head and marching back and forth across each row, until I realized the vs of each row were tilting in different directions, like writing with your left or right hand.
At this point knitting lessons had mostly become sitting in the yarn store surrounded by color-coordinated knitting supplies, eating cake, and knitting whatever I felt like. Honestly, I can’t recommend it highly enough no matter how old you are. If I could figure out how to quit my job and live in the backroom of a craft store, I would do it.
But I’m older now. A full-time job – several through the years – has softened my edges just enough, and Covid-19 has taken away the commute, gym, and social life that stopped me from taking on big projects, and I’m finally ready to sit down and make something with structure. I found a lovely vintage pattern off Etsy and buckled down.
It was fairly painless. There’s a lot of wisdom to be found in a knitting pattern. Start with the back to get your mistakes out of the way in an area that draws the least attention, there are more interesting ways to rib than 1×1, etc. The end result feels like I’m giving the gift of my own hair. Which has been thinning during the pandemic, so I’d love to take it back. Watching strand after strand tangle into my stitches made me consider a knitting hairnet to go along with the face masks I’ve taken to wearing to protect my lungs from the fibers floating through the air when I roll a fresh skein.
I cut no corners, even blocking the finished product after washing it gently with cashmere soap like a duckling in a Dawn commercial. But this half-a-blue-stuffed-dog energy has to go somewhere. I was good and followed a pattern to the letter, so my reward once my dad’s sweater was safely tucked under the Christmas tree was allowing myself to use the leftover yarn (6 skeins because I woefully over-ordered) to throw out the pattern and make whatever I felt like. I took what I liked – the smart construction of the raglan sleeves and the folded over neckline – and gave it what I felt it was missing. Namely, a crop top vibe. The pattern is below.
My Sweater Pattern
Yarn -Patons North America Classic Wool Worsted in Pine, 6 skeins
Needles – size 7 DPNs, size 9 straight
Size 7 needles
10 st and 14 rows / 2”
CO – cast on
RS – Right side
WS – Wrong side
K – knit
P – purl
st – stitch
sl – slip
cn – cable needle
H2B – hold to back
H2F – hold to front
BO – Bind off
CO 115 with size 7 needles
K in TS rib for 2.5”. End on an RS row. On the last row evenly distribute 9 sts. 124 sts in play
Switch to size 9 needles
Row 1: (WS) K 20 st in patt 1, 10 st in patt 2, 46 st in patt 3, 10 in patt 2, 20 in patt 4
Continue in established pattern until piece measures 12″ from the bottom of the rib, ending with WS row.
Row 1 (RS): P1, TS, P2tog, continue in pattern until the last 5 st, P2tog, TS k-wise, P1
Row 2 (WS): K1, P2, K2, continue in pattern until the last 5 st, K2, P2, K1
When I got to the raglan edge, I realized that the sides would look uneven if I continued in the seed stitch the way I had started. Since I’m using even sts rather than odd, the second seed pattern should be a reverse of the first. That’s why I added pattern 4.
This is also why I’m glad I’m knitting the back first.
Continue in established raglan armhole pattern until piece measures 20″. 68 sts remain. End on RS row
Row 1 (WS): K1, P2, K2tog, K21 in pattern, loosely BO 16 sts, K in pattern until last 5, K2tog, P2, K1. Place left side onto stitch holder. 25 stitches in play.
Back – Right Side
Row 1: (RS) P1, TS, P2tog, K in pattern until last 2, K2tog
Row 2: P2tog, K in pattern until last 5, K2tog, P2, Ki
Repeat rows 1 and 2 until 5 stitches remain.
P1, TS, K2tog
BO last 4
Back – Left Side
Pick up stitches from stitch holder
Row 1: (WS) K1, P2, K2tog, K in pattern until last 2, P2tog
Row 2: K2tog, K in pattern until last 5, P2tog, TS, P1
Repeat rows 1 and 2 until last 5 stitches remain
K1, P2, P2tog
BO last 4