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Big Sweater Smaller Sweater

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.

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Diamond Hat Redo

“Braces. What an evil word.” Those are the first words I jotted down when I wrote this beanie pattern ten years ago. I completely forgot about this hat. I don’t remember making it, wearing it, or getting rid of it, but I remember this orthodontic appointment.

When I was sixteen, shortly after I got my license, I drove myself to the orthodontist’s office for one of my last appointments. When I walked in, all the lights were off. The only light in the room came from the large windows in the back by the equipment. My chart was out on the receptionist’s desk as usual, but no receptionist. I took my chart back anyway and took a seat on a plastic-covered mint green dentist chair.

Thirty minutes passed and no one came. I kept looking at the clock on the wall. I checked my phone, again and again, to make sure I had gotten the date and time of my appointment right. I had an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach and a nagging thought in the back of my mind that if I weren’t so creeped out would have been immediately dismissed; am I dead? But no. That was stupid. I wasn’t dead. I was just forty minutes into my orthodontist appointment… Sitting in the dark… In the eerie quiet… Not being acknowledged… After I almost had a car accident…

The entrance to my orthodontist’s office was situated right at what looked like the end of a right turn lane, which I followed dutifully right until it suddenly dead-ended at the bank. I was in rush hour traffic and had to hang out in the right-hand turn lane waiting for someone to let me in. Finally, I saw an opening and went for it, but I misjudged the speed of the 18-wheeler coming towards me. It was a closer call than I was comfortable with, but it wasn’t a bump in, and the truck didn’t have to slam on the brakes. No one even honked at me. It really wasn’t a big deal. But, being a new driver I was pretty freaked out. My hands were shaking on the wheel and visions of mangled bodies in drivers’ ed accident scenes danced in my head.

The longer I sat on that crinkly plastic the more freaked out I became. I texted my sister. I wanted to say something like “text me back so I know I’m not dead” you know, because that’s the test – if you can text people, you aren’t dead. But I revised it to something like, still waiting on the orthodontist. It’s been forever

I waited to hear back from her, getting increasingly convinced that I had hit that truck and was now dead. Not only was I dead, but I was forced to haunt my orthodontist’s office as a ghost where I’d be forced to listen to the sound of whiny dentist drills and the condescending hygienist I hated. Why couldn’t I haunt my room? My quiet room, filled with my stuff. I wondered if that’s what Moaning Myrtle felt like after realizing she would live out her afterlife in the bathroom she died in.

The only positive was that I had the forethought to pack a ball of yarn and five double-pointed needles to the afterlife.

About forty-five minutes after my appointment, one of the hygienists arrived, panicked. They had forgotten about me. The whole office had taken a long Friday lunch. This lone photo is all I have to show for that afternoon.

To update this look the first thing I wanted to get rid of is the 2008 beanie vibe. I may have overdone the oversized look, but it’s a hell of a lot cozier than the original. And I didn’t have to haunt an orthodontist for it.

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Currant Sweater

I started this sweater in my parents’ living watching Home Alone 2 and realized a little late I was knitting practically the same sweater my sister was wearing. Despite the fact that we aren’t actually twins, my sister and I dress more and more alike with every passing year.

I stand by this sweater anyway. The perfect Christmas sweater in my mind is a little oversized, very soft, short enough to imply a waist but long enough to wear in front of a grandparent, and most importantly, only red adjacent. Red is not my star color. I need jewel tones only in my life.

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Bicycle Sweater

I don’t know if this counts as an abandoned knitting project seeing as I never actually started it, but I did sketch it sometime back in 2013 fresh from a rainy day trip to Savannah. I went as far as dropping some squares in MS Paint, and then immediately forgot about it. Probably because the sun came out.

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Little Black Dress

This dress started with a question: what does one wear with thigh-high boots? I bought the aforementioned boots in a major sale when the Diane Von Furstenburg store near me was closing its doors. It was the early days of covid, back when I was asking optimistic questions like, what should I wear to all the Christmas parties that will definitely be hosted in 2020? Dressing rooms were closed and no wrap dress has ever fit me properly, but there were still the shoes. The glorious shoes. I walked away with a pair of boots so stunning they would have made Nancy Sinatra jealous.

And now I have something to wear them with.

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Moss Crop Top

This part 90’s bubble shirt, part sweater I bought at the Gap eight years ago, is Jigglypuff reaimagined as a sweater. Jigglypuff easily makes my top three favorite Pokemon, but pink isn’t a color that’s usually featured in my closet.

I started with a giant cone of pink DK that’s made it’s way through three stashes to date. A friend of my sister’s, to my sister, to me. I imagine it’s from a Michaels over a decade ago. I have absolutely no idea how much yarn I ate through, but if my sister lets me borrow her kitchen scale, I may be able to figure it out.

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Striped Sweater

This might be my favorite stash yarn knit yet. It’s more relaxed than my usual raglan (or at least seamed) sweater and made entirely from scraps of worsted I bought from my yarn teacher’s store as a kid – back when I chose yarn for stitch visibility and nothing else. Not for the first time, I was glad I learned at a yarn shop. Sure it’s worsted and so easy to work with that it’s basically cheating, but it’s good quality. And it provided a moment of of zen – watching brown liquid swirl down the sink in my guest bathroom as the colors merged together. It really scratched a fall cleaning itch. And maybe created a monster. Now I’m mentally counting how many skeins of yarn I still have that haven’t been washed since the mid 2000s.

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