Sep 21, 2012

Mindful Knitting

I know that I'm not alone when I say that I have knitting-on-the-brain.  I mean all.the.time!  You know you got it bad when you fall asleep thinking about your knitting and then wake up how ever many hours later thinking about your knitting.  Sigh ... is this a good thing or a bad thing?

Over the past week, I've been mainly thinking about the too many projects I want to cast on this fall.  So many of you have offered incredible suggestions, and my mind is on overdrive thinking about each and every one of them.  But that's also where I start to get a little nervous.  I've only recently begun knitting sweaters -- I've always been more of an accessories gal.  For many of us, knitting cardigans or pullovers is a goal and, for me, I want to try my hardest to master it.  I want to call myself a sweater knitter and gift or wear my FOs with pride and big smiles. 

My most recent FO has me coming to terms with the fact that I still have a lot to learn ... and that's okay ... but what I want, more than anything, is to become a mindful knitter.  I want to take my time, to choose patterns that appeal to me on multiple levels, to consider my yarn choices carefully, and to knit with thoughtfulness.  In my recent projects, I've realized that I tend to fall in love with a pattern and then jump into knitting it.  I might have yarn in my stash that only kinda makes sense.  I might not swatch to gauge (shhh).  I might not fully know the methods and techniques and then just fudge them.

I'm not proud of this, and I'm on a mission to change my ways.  One thing that I do know is that I now have a huge group of friends, met all through our blogs, who have given me the call a friend option.  So, I'll be calling on you to help me become the sweater knitter I know exists within me.  I'm also going to do A LOT of reading to get me the foundation that I need.  One commenter (Barbara) recently suggested Ann Budd's book, Top-down Sweaters, so I'm ordering that today.  More simply, if you haven't been reading these blog posts about knitting sweaters, I highly recommend it.  I'm starting here and working my way around the library, so to speak.  If there are books, blogs, or anecdotes from personal experience that you'd like to share, I'm all ears!

Happy weekend, everyone.


  1. Fit to Flatter was very informative as far as helping you decide what kind of fit you want/need.

    Personally I knit a lot of sweaters at this point in my "knitting career," and all I can say is that I used to knit hideous things all the time and now I usually knit decent things and occasionally knit a very nice thing. I think that just comes with the practice.

    I used to follow patterns word for word, but now can design a sweater the way I want (I know you prefer top-down sweaters, but I generally do bottom up and either do an EPS sweater or a sort of vest and then pick up and knit the sleeves top down.)
    My biggest advice is to SWATCH. Right now I'm designing a sweater for my son. I wanted to do a bulky (size 9's)cardigan with purl ridges and since I use the same yarn all the time I didn't bother swatching, I just fudged the math compared with the gauge I get on 6's with the same yarn. I knit on it for a while, finishing the whole body before I blocked it.
    Well I had guessed my gauge correctly. As I imagined, my gauge with 9's on the yarn after blocking is 14 stitches/4". However, because it is a worsted weight yarn that gauge is too loose to be a sweater. Not incredibly holey and see-through loose, but I want something sturdier. So you really have to swatch first even if you've used the yarn before and think you know how it's going to behave.

    If you're following a pattern you don't necessarily have to swatch "to gauge" though. If you get a fabric you like and the math works out so that you can knit the medium instead of the small or something I say do it! And as for fudging techniques we all do a little of that, but as long as it's bothering you that means it's time to learn the "right way." (whether or not you decide to do it "correctly" or keep doing what works just as well is up to you.)

    Good luck with your decision for the next sweater!

  2. I've been having this very conversation with another friend over the last few days. She too is just beginning to work on making bottom-up sweaters, and is a little afraid of having it not work out, because as you know, you won't discover the result until the very end!

    WAY back in the day, I used to just pick up some yarn and knit with whatever needles the pattern suggested. I ended up making some sweaters that fit, but a lot of sweaters that didn't fit and weren't even proportional! Finally, about 25 years ago, I thought maybe I should try out this "swatching for gauge" idea. And wow! What a difference it made! I have been a firm believer in swatching ever since, and as Grandmastatus said, even if you don't get the recommended gauge, you have a valuable piece of information that will help you get the fit you want. Assuming you're not math-averse!

    The other thing I'd suggest is to have a firm understanding of YOUR body's measurements (or the body of the person you're knitting for) - not only bust and waist, but length from armhole to waist, from waist to high hip, circumference of high hip, difference between high hip and hip, etc. Downloading a blank croquis and using that to record your measurements for all parts of your body can be a huge help.

    So for instance, I've learned that I'm long-waisted, so I almost always add at least an inch on the body sections between the hip decreases and the torso increases on a shaped sweater. And I often add extra stitches for my upper arms, and sometimes shorten the arm length as well. Some of this comes from experience, but a lot of it comes from really analyzing my body shape and measurements.

  3. I think it's really smart to focus on trying to do some mindful crafting. This makes you more interested in your work, more focused and more immersed in the experience. As you develop this skill, you can actually use your craft to achieve a deeper state of mindfulness, practing the whole "be here now" experience at every stage of your craft. This offers immense healing benefits (something I learned a lot about in researching my new book, Crochet Saved My Life, which is about the health benefits of crafting). Mindfulness is something that we get better and better at as we try and it can add such a great dimension of improved quality in our lives!

  4. It's good you are honest and real about your habits and choices.
    I've only knitted one top-down cardi for myself that came out way too big since I had lost the preggers weight and a baby crew neck sweater. Oh can't forget my mum's alpaca cardi and a few toddler shrugs. Oh yeah and that bulky cardi that had tight sleeves and still needs to be frogged.
    But garments for myself, I'm super lazy. They take so long. But in trying to step up my wardrobe and the Pins I've Pinned, I need to get make cardis and simple top-downs for myself. I'll get there one day this year!

  5. I love the blog post you linked to with the sweater series, it looks like it could be very helpful for me as well. Thank you for posting it. I completely understand how you feel (although I don't articulate it quite as well as you have here). I've often wanted to take my knitting to a more professional level, especially in terms of finishing (blocking, seaming..). My big goal is to be able to alter patterns, especially sweaters. I hope to learn alongside you to become a master sweater knitter!

  6. I think that you are already on your way to being a mindful knitter with each sweater that you knit. Recognizing what sweater styles work for your body and wardrobe and choosing yarns that are suitable for a particular pattern are some things that I would suggest. Also, knitting a gauge swatch and blocking it are two things that can save you a lot of time and heartache. I think that jumping excitedly into a sweater project happens to us all. Especially when browsing through all the great sweater patterns on Ravelry. But before casting on, I try to pause and take a look at some knitters' finished sweaters for the project that I am considering. It is a great way to see how versatile a pattern is and if there are any mods that might improve the pattern. I also look for knitters that might have the same body shape as me so that I can get an idea of how the finished sweater would look on me. In the end, just have fun with the process!

  7. Oh yes, a mindful knitter, what a lovely idea! I am minded to join you ;)

  8. Much here that I've been pondering as well...have you run across Amy Herzog's series Knit to Fit? Really well done. There is a group on Ravelry working through her "Trimmings" pattern and the info shared has been very helpful to me. I really enjoy the process of knitting but I know I want something I can actually wear in the end.

  9. So sorry that should have read Fit to Flatter-not knit to Fit

  10. Evelyn, such a great discussion you've provoked ! ! !
    Mindful is very much the approach to completing a garment that I'll be proud to wear.
    I'm working toward that goal.
    Thanks for your post today!


  11. I read extensively when I first started knitting - most of the books on my shelf were reference 'how to' and stitch pattern books until recently. This book was very helpful as it gave me extra knowledge beyond the basics.

    There's a saying "the more you know, the less you think you know". I think that's so true. Isn't the universe of knitting so great! There's always something new to learn.

  12. Excellent post, excellent comments.

    Like you, I'm trying to get mindful, stop fudging and hone my skills. At this stage, I'd rather finish fewer pieces, but know each one was as good as I could make it at the time.

    Toward that end, I'm committed to swatching religiously, and equally important, blocking the swatch before I leap into knitting. I also make detailed notes on every pattern to document what I did, what worked (and didn't), and leave a breadcrumb trail should I knit the pattern again.

    Hope Top-Down Sweaters hits the spot, Evelyn. The patterns are very nice, but the real power comes from the detailed tables that show how to execute each basic style in different gauges and sizes.

  13. Also a great resource is the book "Custom Knits" by Wendy Bernard. I've yet to knit a sweater but when I do, I will be consulting it for modification advice.

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  15. I know how you feel about being a mindful knitter, it's something I wish I could be too. And I really would love to do more sweaters if I didn't have school to focus on. I wish I could give some advice like these guys did, but alas I don't have much experience in these fields.

  16. I hear you. Lately I have not had so much time for knitting and so need to be more careful with my choices too ... I've lost a fair few precious knitting minutes to frogging!

    I'd recommend Knitting in the Old Way: Designs and Techniques from Ethnic Sweaters by Priscilla Gibson-Roberts ... everything you ever needed to know about sweater construction :D

  17. Being mindful is a lovely way of putting it. Because of money limitations, I am forced a bit to be mindful--there is not a large stash in my house as I usually only purchase yarn for a known project, which in a way forces me to be mindful of my yarn purchases. Thank you for the recommended reading on sweater knitting--I am bookmarking as knitting myself my first cardi is on my list to try this year....right after knitting my first pair of socks! Your projects are all just lovely and I am a bit green with envy over them. :)