Crafting the Striped Hoodie

"No, Mom! You can't take pictures of my sweater for a story without me. It is TOO COZY!"

I love making things. I feel like I'm always asking myself, "Can I make that?" or "Can I make that better?" And because lots of people do work better than I can, I am a big fan of "On second thought, can I have someone make that for me?" But the story of this hooded cardigan sweater springs from the first two questions.

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About four years ago, I picked up the cutest baby cardigan from Kiwi Industries. I liked it so much, that for the next two years whenever the cardigan went on sale, I bought it in a bigger size. But this past year, there weren't any bigger sizes to buy. I thought to myself, "Can I make that?" I wasn't too sure, so I didn't try.

One day last fall, I brought Wyatt with me to Imagiknit for a yarn-related errand, and he wore his Kiwi Industries cardigan. After a short conversation with the saleswoman, in which I sheepishly admitted I hadn't made his sweater but wished I had (or knew how), she stated, with the crisp confidence that only a seasoned knitter brings, "You could totally make that. And I don't think it would be that hard. Just sit down and see if you can figure out what they did."

Of course. I mean, how difficult could it be to just whip out a sweater without a pattern? Especially for someone who had only ever knitted a few sweaters (most of them during high school) and had never created a knitting design? The answer is: Paralyzingly difficult. 

But over the last eight months, I consciously worked to improve my knitting, taking on new projects only if they include at least one skill I've never tried. After knitting a praying mantis, I tried a baby sweater. After that, I felt ready for a basket of knitted vegetables. And after that, I felt confident enough to design my own throw blanket. And when that blanket turned out well, and I had already started a lace scarf, I began to think that the little hooded cardigan might be possible after all.

In a decisive move nine weeks ago, Wyatt and I went to Carolina Homespun to buy some yarn for his sweater. I wanted to grab a handful of Elemental Affects--yarn that is "Homegrown, Hand-dyed, and Spun in the U.S.A."--to see if it would be as good choice as I thought it would be for his sweater. It was a great choice, and we selected sport weight Cormo wool yarn after we found ourselves cuddling the soft, springy skeins right there in the shop. 

Six weeks ago, I made and blocked swatches. I obviously meant business.

Three weeks ago, I started doing the math and sketching a pattern for this sweater. I referred to the sweater construction descriptions in Elizabeth Zimmerman's Knitting Without Tears (pictured below), as well as the dimensions of the three Kiwi Industries sweaters, and Wyatt's measurements.

I cast on what I had calculated to be the right number of stitches, hoped for the best, and continued to measure obsessively my stitches and rows. After a couple of days, I decided I had better start over. I hated the bottom edge. Because it hurt more than a little bit to rip out my own work, I let Wyatt do it. He gleefully unraveled about five inches of knitting in no time. I started over with a welted hem, and I continued obsessively measuring my gauge. As the body of the cardigan grew, I started to wonder about the sleeves. How would the stripes on the sleeves work? Would they be jagged? I hate when stripes don't match. A few online searches later, I knew what to do to achieve matching sleeve stripes in the round.

Once I was into one sleeve and it was actually working, I started to wonder about how on earth I'd manage to build a rounded hood with colored stripes of equal width. After a few failed attempts, and just as I was about to grumble my way into knitting a solid-color hood, my infinitely creative and ridiculously skilled friend came to the rescue with an idea about how to build the hood I wanted. It worked.  


With the end of the sweater in sight, I nearly soured Wyatt on ever wearing it by making him try it on so many times that he started to sprint away from me whenever I approached him with yarn. I also stayed up far too late for several nights, finishing the knitting, and then meticulously weaving in over 60 yarn tails so I could block the sweater and see if it actually fit. It did. And then it was done, except for the buttons.

On Sunday, Wyatt and I headed over to Imagiknit in search of buttons. Choosing the right buttons wasn't easy. We found lots of buttons we liked, but most of the tubes were short of the seven (six, plus one for insurance) buttons we needed. And I insisted that the buttons match the sweater in color and style, requirements Wyatt accepted only reluctantly. We eventually agreed on yellow metal ducks from Italy. And much to my delight, even though I had forgotten to bring the yarn for a color comparison, they match the sweater perfectly.

Unlike the socks I knit for him, which he hates, Wyatt loves his new cardigan so much that he wore it today until sweat was beading on his upper lip and his hair was plastered to his head. After that, he peeled it off, and just hugged it, refusing to let me photograph it for this story without him because it was "too cozy for pictures." 

I'm still surprised at how well this project went. It evolved into exactly what I wanted, and I like it even better than the garments that inspired it. In fact, I'm so pleased with the work I did that it has recently occurred to me that writing a pattern for this hooded cardigan would definitely be beyond me. I am happy to predict that based on my past behavior, there's a really good chance I'll complete my first written pattern within the next few months.