The other day at a knitting group, I brought up a thought that I had been mulling over for a while: It seems to me that knitting small items, such as shawls, shawlettes, hats and socks, has surpassed knitting larger items, such as sweaters, dresses, skirts and jackets. I admitted I based my observation on the knit items (1) I have seen worn at various fiber events, and (2) shared at knitting circles and guilds.
Only one person – a young woman who regularly teaches knitting classes – seemed interested in this topic, and we had an interesting conversation. I shared my guesses with her:
- The increasing cost of the yarns – especially the hand dyed and specialty dyed yarns – creates a prohibitive cost for making larger items.
- Too many knitters don’t want to be “bothered” with or don’t know how to fit larger items.
- A small project out of a gorgeous yarn can be finished fairly quickly and worn (or gifted) quickly.
The knitting teacher added one more guess:
4. Gauge: Many knitters prefer smaller projects where gauge isn’t as critical.
Hmmm … gauge is math-based … most knitters and crocheters are women … women are underrepresented in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) degrees and careers, … and there is a powerful stereotype that too many women quickly grab onto: “Oh, I’m just not good at math.” (Sadly, I heard that a lot from a lot of female students, and not just when I tutored algebra at an inner city high school. I heard it routinely from both undergraduate and graduate female students.)
Yet knitting and crocheting are math-based! So if you can knit and crochet, take heart: You can knit/crochet your way to stronger math skills! I will use Thor’s cardigan, a work in progress), as an example.
In order to get the perfect combination as well as a perfect fit, you cannot rush swatching and gauging. Look for the right combinations of cables, stitches and sweater design that will work well with your yarn for your selected project.
For Thor’s sweater, I chose to use Brown Sheep’s no-longer-produced Prairie Silk (72% wool, 18% mohair, 10% silk, 50g/88y/80m), which I overdyed. I poured through many books of cables, knit many swatches in various gauges and stitch patterns, measured swatches and explored various sweater designs.
Some of you will recognize the cables as one of Elsebeth Lavold’s designs, Bjärs Hitches. Thor loves cables, but an all-over-cabled cardigan knit in Prairie Silk would have been overly warm – for where we live, at least. Instead, each side of the cardigan has a mirror image of the cable. I didn’t want to use a plain stockinette stitch in between the cables and decided ribbed garter.
I knit swatches for both Bjärs Hitches and the ribbed garter on different needle sizes until deciding on the size that worked best with both the cable and the ribbed garter. In calculating the number of stitches I needed (after the initial 2/2 ribbing), I needed separate gauges for the cable and the body stitch.
The result will be a cardigan fully customized for Thor, one that he can wear for the rest of his life. And every time I see him wear it, I will know all those hours of gauging and swatching were worth it.