The Knitting Mirror
Have you ever hear of the “The Curse of the Boyfriend Sweater”? It’s a concept that states that if you knit a sweater for your partner before you’re in a long term, committed partnership or married, it will result in a break up before the knitter completes the sweater. There are abundant cautions and anecdotal advice to NOT embark on knitting a sweater for a partner before “happily ever after”.
I waited until 20 or so years into my relationship to start a sweater, a cardigan specifically, for my husband.
It took about 3 years from start to finish.
Of course I knit many, many other garments and accessories along the way as well as sewed many pieces of clothing. I started teaching beginning knitting, I broke my ankle, a global pandemic broke out and lots of life happened all within the timeline of knitting this cardigan. All of this, stitched into the cardigan.
I wasn’t worried about the curse, but, I came understand why it exists and why many knitters have possibly experienced it.
Knitting is a mirror. It reflects what is happening in the knitters’ life at that moment providing a window into the events surrounding the rows. Stitches can be tight with stress or loose with relaxation. It can be the latest and greatest pattern, a popular colorway from a hot new yarn dyer, deep stash yarn that’s been saved and now found its’ home, a technical piece or an easy bulky object of accomplishment. There is a knitting pattern, yarn, needle, colorway that can fit every and any mood of a maker.
It was springtime when we took our kids to a birthday party located close to a favorite yarn shop. We had the luxury of dropping the kids off and having a few hours to ourselves. Since we rarely have dates, it felt special. I suggested we go to the yarn shop to select the yarn for the cardigan. It has already be half a year since the pattern was chosen and other yarn options rejected; the recipient with discerning taste had to pick the yarn out himself. I’ve learned over the years that if he chooses it, whatever it is, it will have a higher likelihood of being embraced. I steered him away from fingering weight to worsted and we settled on DK. He picked out an amazing yarn, I dutifully knit a swatch, did some measurements and math, casting on just a few months later while in Taipei, on his summer birthday. I thought here I am, demonstrating my commitment to making this sweater, full of meaning with this auspicious beginning. I intended to be a monogamous in my knitting as I was in my relationship, giving it my full attention.
I did for the back panel. And then…
Let me explain.
This was a pattern from a designer I had never knit before. It was constructed in a way I have never done before. The cardigan is made in pieces and then seamed together, with the collar knit last. The back panel went so fast that I thought I could totally knit myself something since this hubby cardigan was going to take no time to knit.
I now know, as a knitter, I have a hard time picking back up a project that I’ve already started when I already have a sense of completion. It’s kind of like second sock syndrome but in this case it was “I already knit the back and I still have to do the front panels, sleeves and collar”?
I knit two sweaters before I picked the hubby cardi back up, fresh with determination that I’d finish it by Christmas. That got me through one front panel when my new puppy chewed my knitting needles. So there it went in timeout (along with the puppy) awaiting a replacement. A poncho, a few hats for a friend newly diagnosed with cancer, another hat for a 50th birthday and…
It was not going to be done by Christmas.
The stops and starts also mirrored how things were going in my partnership, I suppose. If you’ve ever been in a long term relationship, be it familial, friendship or romantic, you know that there are ups and downs. These ebbs and flows corresponded with the enthusiasm for the knitting. This happens anytime when knitting for others. Cast on in love, gratitude and with the intention to give a physical object representing all the wonderful feelings you have for the recipient. The longer that item is on the needles, the more opportunities it has to go through different stages in a relationship. This is why there’s the boyfriend (or partner) sweater curse. It takes a long time to knit sweater and therefore can go through a lot in the time it takes to knit it. If you start off starry eyed and full of expectations, it may or may not be same when you cast off.
Throughout this entire time, my husband was awesome. Not once did I receive commentary or sideways glances when I had something other than his cardigan in my lap. Everytime I presented a finished piece he was so thankful. Steadfast, encouraging, supportive and kind. All the reasons I wanted to be in a relationship with him all those years ago. It kept me going. Plus the yarn he chose was a joy to knit.
Each step in the sweater provided an education. It felt like it was written in a foreign language, unlike any other knitting pattern I had tried before. I loved the challenge, the learning; I was growing as a knitter.
There was a point when all the panels were done and I thought it wouldn’t fit. I had done the swatch and blocked it! I did measure and chose the right size but in the interim time between cast on and that point, my husband had really started to work out and I wasn’t sure the shoulders and biceps would fit into the cardigan anymore. I forged ahead, knitted fabric can be forgiving, bodies change and this exercise was for the better.
At this point in the sweater’s life we were well into the Covid pandemic. (I had also knit a fingering weight sweater, a shawl, another two sweaters and….you get the picture.)
Seaming is like flossing your teeth. It’s absolutely necessary but you kind of dread doing it but afterwards you feel good. Seaming is also like magic. It brings all these random pieces into one cohesive piece. It takes time and focused attention. No reading, watching tv or even listening to a podcast for me- just seaming. A 24 hour power outage gave me a power start and I was on my way with the finish line in sight. Yes! With the seaming behind me and the fit looking like it would be close, I picked up the collar and started the final leg in the journey. Settling into the couch one night to knit, I heard a crack. I broke my needle with my knee! No! I could not endure another pause!
I quickly ordered a replacement but then we had a huge snow storm that delayed the mail. Instead of putting the cardigan down as in the past, I weaved in every. single. end.
The needle finally arrived and one million short rows later, I finished the collar. Excited and thrilled at being done with the knitting I blocked the sweater immediately upon binding off. And then, while drying, my husband and I got in a fight. I don’t even remember what it was about but it took the wind out of my cardigan giving sails. I had worked so hard (although it took a long time) and in the final step, I didn’t even want to give it to him. I chucked it in his direction when it was dry and said here you go.
And do you know what? It was just the bridge we needed to make up.
I’m biased but damn, that cardigan looks good.