One Sweater, Three Lovers
I have started my year of finishing with the oldest unfinished object in my collection. I use the term “collection” quite intentionally, having decided that my unfinished objects are a collection – not a bin of doom, as one friend says (although I love that term, Dagmar!) or a stash of projects I didn’t finish because I’m too distractible or deficient in some way. These unfinished projects are a knitter’s life collection and I am the curator. This oldest project is the Multi-Color Jacquard Sweater from Aarlan Journal 45, a knitting journal published in the 1980’s by a German publishing company. I bought Journal 45 and the yarn in 1987 at Knit One, a yarn store in Colorado Springs. I was 22 years old and, when I saw the photograph of the sweater on the cover of the journal, I had to knit it. Immediately.
When I started college I was a rudimentary knitter. I knew the basics of knit and purl and generally how to follow a pattern. But I had never knitted a garment and didn’t understand gauge or different yarn types and weights and the concept of how a knitted garment would look different in different yarns, let alone be a different size. I discovered Knit One a few blocks down the street from Colorado College early in my freshman year. I say now that I learned to knit as a child from a kind young German woman, but the women at Knit One TAUGHT me to knit. By the end of college, I could follow complicated patterns, had knit an aran sweater, and they had taught me to finish knitted work exquisitely.
Because of the women at Knit One, when I saw the Aarlan sweater, I was a confident enough knitter that, for the first time, I saw a knitted design and both craved to knit it and knew that I could, even if it involved intricate colorwork I had never done. I learned from tutoring with those skilled and talented knitters that, if I didn’t know a technique called for in a pattern, I could learn it. So I started the Multi-Color Jacquard Sweater and learned to knit with two colors of yarn in the same row and follow the chart. I knit on the sweater after I moved to New Mexico in 1988 but probably set it aside after starting law school in 1989. I had knit the body almost up to the point where the work is divided for the armholes. Since then, it’s been with me for over thirty years – through two lovers and four years with a third, through law school, pregnancies, children, private practice, a mid-life MFA in writing, and now a position as an administrative law judge. So many chapters of life.
I chose the same colors as the pattern and the photo of the sweater – cream and denim blue with light pastels (pale sky blue, rose, yellow, and a light aqua). The colors were fitting for a young woman barely in her twenties and it is an 80’s sweater with loose shaping, dropped shoulders and very full sleeves which I will modify to a more slim, modern fit. The websites that carry used copies of the Aarlan Journals describe the contents as “vintage knitwear patterns” and they truly are vintage 80’s, but the fairly traditional fair isle patterns in this sweater also give it a classic look.
When I started the sweater, I was in a relationship with someone much older than I that lasted just five years. A relationship I now look back on and think, “I’d know better now,” or at least, hope I would, for both our sakes. That relationship ended, another began, and I started law school. I may have worked on the sweater a bit during and after law school but, primarily, it languished for the next 28 years, though I never gave up on it and kept it stored away neatly – the knitting, instructions (including the marked up chart), and yarn. The next relationship was a 21 year partnership and we had two children, who are now 17 and 21. We split up in 2010 and I moved the project with my knitting to my new house.
Somewhere along the way, when I was looking through my collection of UFOs and came upon this project, I realized the sweater would not fit me after two pregnancies and, now that I was becoming middle-aged, there was no hope I was going to return to a size the sweater would fit! So it continued to languish, probably because I wasn’t motivated to knit it up without knowing who would wear it. But, still, I kept it tucked away in its plastic bin, thinking I would finish it for someone eventually. Since then, I have a new lover. We both are starting this relationship process again in our early fifties after long previous marriages. It has, so far, been a rich and passionate journey that seems much smoother than those bumpy, struggled-filled partnerships in our younger days.
This past fall, during a deep and thorough review and sorting of my yarn and UFO collection (read as, delving deep into many bins of doom or diving into the wreck, with a nod to Adrienne Rich), I considered this partially knitted sweater again. Over the past couple years, I had begun to think maybe my daughter could wear it. She is tiny, like I was as a teen and young adult, and has several store-bought sweaters she likes to wear. I showed it to her and asked her if it was something she would wear. “Sure,” she said, with the familiar luke-warm enthusiasm of a teenager that I have learned to understand still is a form of enthusiasm.
It seemed fitting to begin this creative project of finishing old projects with the oldest unfinished object, so I started with this sweater. I took it out one evening, unraveled a couple rows for a fresh start, and fell in love all over again. It’s a lovely design with colorwork that engages – making me want to finish each row so I can watch the pattern emerge.
It is easy to get caught up in a new knitting project. A new pattern or yarn is tantalizing, grabs my attention, and I want to cast on NOW. But I’m already noticing that picking up an old project can set a similar process in motion. I start knitting stitches, see a pattern emerging – a colorwork, lace, or stitch pattern – and I feel passionate yet again. I am filled with excitement and the anticipation of seeing the finished sweater, watching my daughter pull it over her head and onto her body, and learning whether she will love it as I do.
I am a wiser and much more skilled knitter now but still learning. Returning to work on this sweater, I am learning even more about colorwork and experimenting with modifying a garment pattern. Similarly, with my new partner, I am learning more about intimacy, exploring the uncharted territory of a blended family, and experimenting with new ways of being with a lover. I hope she will be my last lover in this life. If so, the sweater will be a knitting life journey. I will have begun it as a fairly new knitter in my first serious relationship and finished it as a seasoned knitter during my last.