Whether it was the big, chunky sweaters that dominated Fashion Week, or Chris Evans in that Knives Out sweater, earlier this year I declared (to no one in particular) that my 2020 resolution would be to knit my own sweater. While I began knitting way back in the early aughts, I would still consider myself a casual, entry-level knitter, only completing a couple baby hats or simple scarves here and there. But the more I looked at sweater designs — especially those with boxy silhouettes made from thick or fluffy teddy-like yarn — I thought, “I want to do that.” And my mom, herself a fabulous knitter, assured me I could, as long as I had the right pattern and materials.
Even so, I’d never tackled something as large and complicated as a sweater, and the knitting world, with all its different yarns and supplies and techniques and vocabulary, can feel vast and intimidating, even to someone who’s cast on and bound off before (knitting terms). I poked around on Ravelry for simple sweater patterns and went to my local yarn shop (the lovely Loop, in Philadelphia) to squeeze some fluffy balls of wool, but beyond some key pointers — choose a soft, pretty yarn that you like since you’ll be working with it a while; select a wide, chunky yarn because it knits up faster; use bamboo or wooden needles because they’re less slippery than metal — I still felt adrift. After sifting through several knitting sites (namely New York’s Purl Soho, Portland’s Brooklyn Tweed, and Spain’s We Are Knitters), I settled on the Audrey Cropped Sweater Kit from Wool And The Gang, a fun British knitting company with modern, easy-to-wear designs and (crucially) soft yarns in excellent colors. I chose the Audrey sweater because it checked all my boxes: a difficulty rating of “beginner,” a super-soft chunky yarn made from a merino-baby-alpaca blend, and a pattern that promised a sweater with a loose silhouette without any tricky shaping.
Once I decided the Audrey kit was the one for me, all I had to do was select what size sweater I needed and the yarn color (I went with chestnut brown). My kit arrived a couple business days later, with no extra shipping costs, though I should note that its price met Wool And The Gang’s $80 free shipping minimum; otherwise, shipping is about $7. The kit comes with everything you need: the exact number of yarn balls your size calls for, an oversized, blunt sewing needle (called, naturally, a yarn needle) for sewing up the sides, a pair of the size-11 knitting needles needed for this sweater (but if you already have size 11 knitting needles like I did, you can cut them from the order and save $13.50), and printed instructions for every step of the sweater-making process. There’s a special circle of hell reserved for instructions that claim to be easy and clear and then aren’t — thankfully, these are not those instructions. While I went into making my sweater already knowing the two basic stitches in knitting — knitting and purling — even if I hadn’t, the instructions broke those down with both written and illustrated directions.
The Audrey sweater’s construction is deceptively simple: You essentially knit two big squares for the front and back, then two rectangles for the sleeves. Once those are finished, you thread some yarn onto the yarn needle and sew up the sides, shoulders, and sleeves (this is all very clearly detailed in the instructions). I knit my sweater over the course of about three weekends, and although a total knitting novice might have a bit of stop and starting in the beginning to get the hang of it, this really is an ideal kit for beginners. The alpaca-merino yarn is very forgiving (it doesn’t hold on to kinks or fray terribly if you end up unraveling it a bunch of times) and the piece’s edges — where a lot of knitting mistakes usually happen — are ingeniously hidden by the seaming and the natural curling of the knitted fabric.
Perhaps the greatest compliment I can give my handmade sweater is the fact that it doesn’t look handmade. It just looks like a perfectly normal, oversized sweater, not unlike the square-cut sweaters I’ve picked up from Everlane, or this sweater I’d been eyeing from Acne. I wore it to coffee with a friend (pre-social distancing) and she didn’t comment on it, which I took to mean that my very first knitted sweater fit in nicely with the other non-handmade, store-bought sweaters I usually wear. With that first Audrey sweater under my belt, I quickly went from casual knitter to addict, making a second sweater (another cropped, chunky number; please don’t let these go out of style), before starting work on a third in Wool And The Gang’s fluffy mohair yarn. The pastime is soothing and meditative, taking up just enough concentration to keep me off my phone and computer, so I find myself turning to it every chance I get. As those cutesy bulletin boards seen all over Knitting Instagram put it: If I’m sitting, I’m knitting.
More knitting tools worth considering
The Audrey sweater kit truly includes everything you need to make your sweater — if you’ve never knit a stitch in your life, you’ll be fine. But I found that there were a few things I already owned that made the process even smoother. One of them is this tape measure made specifically for crafting. While the Audrey’s instructions come with a ruler printed on one of the pages, this is much easier (and nicer) to use.
Chunky yarn can be hard and annoying to thread through a yarn needle, even if that needle’s eye is plenty long. I spotted these yarn needles with flexible eyes at my mom’s favorite knitting store in Berkeley (The Black Squirrel) and had to have them. The flexible wire eyes can expand and widen when you gently squeeze them, which allows you to easily thread bulky or even super-bulky yarn.
You’ll want to keep your yarn and sweater-in-progress safe while you work on it, as well as make it easy to tote from couch to bed and back to couch. I keep all my knitting works in progress in Baggu reusable bags, loosely tying up the handles at the top to form a sort of furoshiki situation for my sweater babies.
I was so happy to see this book recommended by experts in our guide to everything you need to start knitting, because I bought it years and years ago and still use it as a resource. The drawings are cute and clear, and Stoller’s tone is friendly and sassy — as you’d expect it to be, given that she is a co-founder of Bust magazine. If you’re looking for more helpful tips, most knitting sites (and YouTube, of course) have video tutorials breaking down every technique and piece of the knitting process. Wool And The Gang has an entire section of their site dedicated to how-to videos, and I constantly refer to those made by Purl Soho. I’ve found that the knitting community is really friendly and eager to welcome new knitters, so chances are if you leave a comment on an Instagram post or ask a question in a thread on a pattern page, people will respond with helpful tips. [Editor’s note: The price shown is for a new paperback edition, but Amazon also sells less-expensive used and digital copies.]
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