I recently had a PKE [Profound Knitting Experience]
and I wanted to share it because I know I would
have benefited from someone sharing these hard-earned
lessons with me.
to warn you, this is a long story...
all started in 1987 [I told you it was a long
story]. I was studying abroad in Galway, Ireland,
during my junior year in college. I was inspired
by my beautiful Irish surroundings and by the
incredible sweaters ["jumpers"] in the windows
of the shops in town. I wanted an Aran sweater,
but didn't want to spend $100 for it. "Why not
knit it myself?" I thought. Not an unusual thought
for a knitter, right? Well, at the time, I had
completed exactly two  knitting projects
in my life. A tank top and...a tank top.
I bought a bagful of authentic off-white Aran
wool, decided to make a man-sized sweater [I
was in college baggy was in] and found
a suitable pattern. I was surprised to learn
that cabling and following a chart really weren't
that hard. After a few inches of knitting, I
became addicted to seeing that beautiful, deceivingly
complex pattern emerge. I was actually making
an Aran sweater!
knitted the sweater over the course of a semester.
Besides the Guinness and the students, one of
my vivid memories of that time is hanging out
in my room, listening to Irish radio and working
on my sweater. The knitting bug must have spread
to my roommate Zena, too. She went out and got
a bagful of yarn and, for her first project,
chose to make a black mohair sweater with a
big pink intarsia flower knitted on the front
[obviously Zena was already familiar with Lesson
forward 15 years. My Aran sweater followed me
from college to my first apartment, from there
to my marriage, from there to my two apartments
after my divorce...unworn. Never seen in public
in 15 years. I had finished the sweater, but
was sadly disappointed when I put it on
it was bunchy, it was skinny, it was tight around
the bottom. It didn't look like the sweater
the smiling Euro-hunk in the picture was wearing.
I could never bring myself to wear it in public;
it just wasn't right.
blamed its problems on the fact that I had followed
a pattern for a man's sweater. Of course it
was a little skinny and long and tight around
the bottom. Men have smaller hips, right? I
would pull it out and look at it every year
or so, marvel at my ability to make something
that complicated before I was 20, and then sigh
in exasperation because it just looked WRONG.
So every year, after trying it on and becoming
depressed, I'd put it back in the closet and
hope that by the next time I tried it on it
would somehow magically be transformed into
The Perfect Sweater.
in my college days I was uninitiated in the
ways of the experienced knitter. I'm embarrassed
to admit that, after looking at the wrong side
of the sweater, it had never occurred to me
to join new balls of yarn at the edge of the
sweater. I started wherever I ran out of yarn
[which apparently was usually in the middle
of the row. Ugh.]. I was also unaware of the
concept of weaving in ends. Let's just say it's
a good thing I knew how to tie really strong
was another technique I was unfamiliar with
back then, and honestly, didn't become familiar
with until a few years ago. It's a step that's
crucial to Aran sweaters because of the patterns
and cabling which bunches up the fabric. And
especially crucial when you're working with
a 100% natural fiber like wool. You guessed
friend of mine recently wore her decades-old
Aran sweater to work. I was jealous. It was
so WEARABLE! I had made a sweater just like
it. Why didn't mine look like that? Hers was
authentically Irish, but mine was pretty darn
authentic too. It was made with real Irish wool.
With an Irish pattern. IN IRELAND, for chrissake.
Why didn't it look like hers?
went home and brought my sweater out for its
annual foray into daylight. I took one look
at it and realized that I had never blocked
it! Ding ding ding! Of course that's what it
needed! All I had to do was steam it into shape,
make the pattern relax a bit, maybe block out
the too-tight ribbing at the bottom, and it
might actually become a wearable sweater!
in all the years of storing the sweater and
not wearing it, it had somehow acquired a rust
stain. Not a big one about the size of
a quarter it was right smack in the front
of the sweater. Damn. Rust is one of those things
they always mention in the disclaimer on the
back of stain removal products "...might
be impossible to remove." Okay, stay positive.
First things first.
turned on my iron, filled it up with water,
took a deep breath and carefully blocked my
sweater. The transformation was incredible!
Thats what was missing all along!
It may have taken me 15 years to figure it out,
but I finally did figure it out. My faith in
my ability to make wearable sweaters was restored.
My faith in knitting was restored.
exhilarated [and maybe a little cocky], I picked
up my newly blocked sweater and began to tackle
the rust stain.
first thing I tried [Shout gel] worked fairly
well. About 30% of the color went away with
the first application. But most of the stain
was still there. I checked the web and found
a recommendation for using dry cream of tartar
to get rust stains out of vintage clothing.
Harmless and worth a try, I thought, so I put
some on. It actually did start working right
away. Cool! Who needs Helöise when you've
got the web?! I rubbed the cream of tartar in
a little, hoping to get the rust stain out of
all the nooks and crannies. Then I soaked it
in water, per the online instructions, making
sure the water wasnt hot enough to shrink
the wool. "This is great," I thought.
"When this dries, the sweater will be perfect!"
the sweater dried, I realized the fuzziness
of that spot was not going away. In fact, it
was getting worse. And somehow it looked brighter
than the rest of the sweater. As time passed,
the pattern was getting flatter. Damn. I had
inadvertently felted a 3" square in the front
of the sweater. Damn. Okay, don't panic. Maybe
it's just a trick of the light. Maybe if you
turn on another lamp it won't be there. Maybe
you're the only one who'll notice it.
was I kidding? I felted the stupid sweater by
sat down on the couch, took a deep breath and
called upon the Muses of Knitting to enlighten
me with a solution. Okay, it's flat, it's fuzzy
and it's too light. What will make it look normal
again? Fortunately, my personal knitting muse
was nearby and I realized that I could bring
this spot back to life or at least decrease
the distracting aura of it by overstitching
the pattern. It was a diamond trellis, a fairly
simple pattern made with single stitch lines
that crisscrossed each other and to create little
diamond shapes. It would be pretty simple to
just stitch over the original stitches and,
as a result, recreate the original pattern and
texture. And since that area had already shrunk
a little, the overstitching wouldn't make it
tried. Oh, I tried. I found something pretty
close, but after overstitching with it I realized
that it was just enough off color to create
an even bigger distraction to the eye. It wasn't
100% wool [alpaca blend] and believe it or not,
in 10 stitches you could tell. *sigh*
a pleading, desperate call to my knitting muse.
I was SO CLOSE to making this sweater gorgeous
and FINALLY being able to wear it! I didn't
want it to be ruined by one little spot. Well,
it was a slightly bigger spot now. But I'm not
one to throw out the baby with the bathwater,
and while on the train making my way to the
third yarn store that day, I had an inspiration.
that during my nomadic past I hadn't carried
around leftover yarn for this sweater, and being
desperate to match the color, I decided to do
something only a truly desperate knitter would
do: I cannibalized the side seams for yarn.
actually wasn't as painful as it sounds. The
seams weren't that hard to undo, and since the
sweater was damp from washing the wool wasn't
kinky at all. I pulled it out and fluffed it
a bit with my fingers and it was fine.
took my few feet of precious well-preserved
yarn and began to carefully strategize the best
spots to overstitch. Didn't want to waste an
inch, you know. I slowly did the stitching,
and lo and behold, it actually worked! You could
hardly tell there was ever a problem there.
In fact, I think the felting might have helped
a bit by clamping in on some of the nooks that
were still stained. The overstitching brought
the original pattern and texture back and completed
the line that your eye naturally follows when
looking at a pattern of diagonal lines. I couldn't
believe it had actually worked, and wasn't going
to completely admit to myself that it did work
until the damp sweater had dried, so I crossed
my fingers and waited.
letting the sweater dry flat overnight, sewing
up the side seams with that almost-identical
alpaca yarn, and re-blocking the sides, I now
have a brand spanking new 15-year-old handmade
Aran sweater! I can hardly believe it's the
same sweater. The pattern looks even and professional.
The spot really is just a trick of the light
now. And it actually fits!
mostly fits. When I said I knew how to follow
a pattern, I meant it literally: the sleeves
are Euro-hunk length.
to worry. One turnback of the cuff and it is,
once again, The Perfect Sweater.
Janish has been a knitter for over 20 years,
and hopes she never stops learning how to be
a better one.
make sure of that, she founded Stitch
'n' Bitch Chicago, a group of young women
in the city who get together every week to knit
andÉ well, you know.
she's constantly inspired by her talented SnB
cohorts to try new things like intarsia or sock
knitting, Aran knitting will always be her first
note: yes, that's the aran.
note: I found out recently that the formula
for getting rust out of wool is lemon juice
and salt. You wet the area with the lemon juice
then sprinkle salt on top. When the juice dries,
you gently brush off the salt. I'd try it on
my sweater, but now I'm afraid to touch it!
Maybe I'll get up the courage this winter.