Why I knit sweaters (which is not to say I will never knit anything else)

Before getting much further into project descriptions, I thought it was worth explaining that I mostly want to make sweaters these days. There are a bunch of weirdly contrarian reasons for this.

First, it’s hot in the desert (or at least in my part of it).

That probably doesn’t make any sense – why am I knitting sweaters if it’s hot? – but you can wear many kinds of sweaters throughout the year, while lots knitted accessories are useful only in cold weather. Mittens and gloves – even fingerless mitts – are really cold-weather things. Many scarves and hats are designed to keep you warm as well – admittedly, not all of them, but enough that the average person around here wouldn’t make much use of of them. Second, I’m not the biggest fan of certain knit garments on me.

I know, I know, this is kind of ridiculous given how much time I spend knitting, but here’s why: my 9-5 job is the kind that requires suits a bunch of the time. Even warm-weather versions of hats and mitts aren’t work-appropriate items for me, and I spend enough time at work that I prefer to invest in items I have a shot of wearing at work (at least occasionally). Leaving aside work, my casual style isn’t really one that involves hats or mitts, either.  Scarves are a little more complicated, because there are so many gorgeous patterns out there, and such a huge diversity of styles. But I’ll confess that I still mostly like handknit scarves as adjuncts to outerwear. I prefer fairly tailored and streamlined clothing, so while there are some laceweight scarves I would enjoy, anything much thicker than that still reads “outerwear” to me. I also have a fairly short neck, so bundling handknits around it can make me look like a turtle.

And that takes me to shawls, and lace, and my most shameful confession: I don’t really have any interest in wearing lace shawls. I just don’t see them as fitting most occasions these days besides maybe going out to the opera or a wedding; in my head they fit into the broader category “dressy wraps,” and, well, I never go anywhere where a dressy wrap would be fitting.

Which brings us to perhaps the final reason I knit sweaters, which underlies all the above: so far I am a selfish knitter, and a product knitter rather than a process knitter. As bad as it sounds put baldly like this, I knit so I can have more nice things, and they have to be things I can believe I will wear. I don’t get the chance to wear mittens or gloves or warm hats and scarves or dressy wraps very much, so I see no need to make them very often.

But sweaters… you can wear sweaters year-round. Sure, there are heavy warm winter sweaters I’m not going to make; I’m intrigued by fair isle/color work, but apart from not having a clue how it works, I know that carrying the colors along the back of the work makes the fabric even thicker and warmer, so most colorwork patterns aren’t going to be a great choice for me. Like I think I said once before, I’m not going to start churning out traditional Aran fisherman sweaters. But an elbow-sleeved open front cardigan can be worn much of the year, especially in air-conditioned office buildings, and depending on the yarn used.

So: I’m a warm-weather knitter knitting warm-ish weather sweaters.

I can’t say this is the last word, though; as I get more intrigued with the craft of knitting (and not just getting to an end result), I’m more drawn toward knitting smaller items to experiment with different techniques, and matching them with different kinds of yarn. I start to see the appeal of making a lace shawl just for the sake of having done it, of having learned new techniques and created something beautiful in its own right, even if I’ll probably never wear it. I can’t say I’m there just yet – I have little enough time for knitting that I still mostly want to spend it on things I want to wear – but I’m starting to see the appeal.

(It wasn’t till I was reading this over for the last time before sending it into the publishing queue that I realized I hadn’t once mentioned socks. That should make clear how frequently I make them. Oops.)

What about you? What do you knit, and why? Do you like the process, or the pretty product at the end?

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4 thoughts on “Why I knit sweaters (which is not to say I will never knit anything else)

  1. I mostly knit:

    -socks, because I wear them (and they don’t wear out at as quickly as store-bought socks), and because they’re small and I can carry them in my bag, especially when I travel
    -sweaters, because I like more complicated projects sometimes and because I like to wear them
    -the OCCASIONAL gift (a shawl or hat or something–made my brother a bearded hat for Christmas because he’d finally shaved off his beard)
    -recently, some convertible mitten/gloves for myself and another pair for my mom; these stemmed partly from a desire to knit without buying new yarn, party from a need for new hand-wear, and partly because I wanted to try something new and complicated.

    I guess I like utility + interesting complexity; learning new techniques is fun!

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    1. Hand knitted socks always look so attractive and comfortable! I may have to give them a try again, even though I don’t wear real socks very often. The portable project thing makes a lot of sense – I’ve never taken my knitting out in public, but then when I see people knitting on the bus or the like I completely envy them. Do you knit in meetings/at conferences? I know one particularly eminent prof who does, but I don’t think I could pull it off!

      The convertible mitts sound cool, too – very practical! And projects using up yarn are good, too.

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  2. I think I’m slowly converting to a sweater knitter. Even in cold weather, I’m not going to rotate between five hats. My daughter lost her current hat, so I’ll make her one new one, but then I’m done for hats. I do really enjoy the process, but don’t enjoy the process enough to make something I’m never going to wear. I am trying to knit socks because I will wear them. However so far I haven’t managed to figure out my gauge enough to make a pair that actually fit. I also like the portability, etc of socks, but definitely have to figure out what I’m doing wrong. You’d think I’d need gauge for sweaters, too, but children’s sweaters (all I’ve made so far) are remarkably forgiving…the children grow to fit whatever size it ends up being. My first adult sweater will be (re-)started soon, so that should be interesting to see.

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    1. I know, sweaters seem like they would need more precision with gauge, but I think they’re quite forgiving! Especially for kids. Socks that are too big make nice house slippers but aren’t very good for wearing out, and that’s what I usually end up doing. I do need to try again.

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