I’m kicking off a new interview series today that’s been on my mind for a bit. My favorite thing I hear from you all is “I got up the nerve to knit my first sweater because of your blog!” That’s a momentous occurrence in any knitter’s life that I want to encourage in any way I can! So I thought it would be fun to talk to a wide variety of knitters about their first sweater — from seasoned vets who might have knitted their first one decades ago to newer knitters who’ve just cast off. When my good friend Marlee Grace of Have Company finished her first sweater two weeks ago, I knew I wanted her to go first. So here she is! Hope you love this, and thanks Marlee!
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How long had you been knitting when you decided to cast on your first sweater? And what drove you to do it?
I’ve been knitting on and off since I was 10 or so, but always rectangles — ya know, just scarves really. About a year ago, I bought some Lopi from Tolt Yarn and Wool and made the Nordic Wind shawl by cabinfour. That was the first pattern I ever knitted, first ever non-rectangle. It was part of what drove me to want to carry yarn in my shop, which certainly helped drive me to want to make a sweater. In the past year I was able to make hats, socks, more shawls, but the idea of a sweater was still so scary.
What pattern did you choose for your first sweater (if any), and how did you choose it?
I chose the top-down version of Lila by Carrie Bostick Hoge, I was pretty in love with the sloped nature of the bottom and was encouraged by the hashtag on Instagram, #lilakal — it’s inspiring to see so many rad people making the same sweater but with their own yarn/color/style choices. BUT that was scary like HOW WILL I MAKE A SLOPE, what if I mess up, how will I learn the skills needed?!
I also chose top-down because it felt the most intuitive to me. I knew I could decrease and increase, add stitches, pick up stitches, a lot of the language made sense to me after having made socks and shawls.
What yarn did you use, and why?
I used Quince & Co. Lark (worsted weight) in the color Petal. Have Company (the shop/artist residency/gallery I own) started carrying Quince & Co. last July, and it’s been staring at me, whispering ‘turn me into clothes Marlee‘ and I’ve especially wanted to make a sweater out of it. I love their colors, patterns, USA-sourced wool magic, and feel grateful to have a lil shop filled with it.
What size did you knit? And did you feel like you knew how to choose the right size, with regard to intended ease and all that?
Definitely still navigating this side of knitting, and was part of why I was always so hesitant. I am a pretty loose knitter, often needing to go down one to two needle sizes from what is suggested on a pattern. The pattern called for size 7 needles and I made a swatch with size 6 and was right on! I even knit it in the round and blocked it like a pro, but once I got into it and started knitting I was off [gauge]! I had 20 sts per 4″ instead of 19. However I like things baggy and picked a size with a lot of room, so knowing it would be a tad smaller [due to my smaller stitches] was fine. And in the end the fit was literally perfect so I guess it worked out!
Lila is knitted in the round. Had you knitted your swatch flat, or did you know to knit it in the round?
I did knit it in the round.
Was there anything that surprised you about the pattern or sweater along the way? What was the most challenging or interesting part for you?
I think the most challenging part was that the sweater didn’t match my swatch, even though it was literally the exact same yarn, needles, etc., that I swatched with. It made me feel a little defeated, like come on universe I finally did this thing you told me to do and it wasn’t really right.
The other part that’s hard for me, partly I think because I knit so loose and because it’s new to me, is when you go to pick up stitches to make the sleeves. It felt like I was going to have huge holes in the underarm, so I picked up a few extras and then just knit them together. This definitely seemed to help, but in terms of construction/technique that was definitely the most awakward part for me.
1) It’s not uncommon for your sweater gauge to vary slightly from your swatch gauge — especially with top-down where you have so much fabric on the needles. It could be that, your stress level, lots of things. It’s always a good idea once you’ve knitted a few inches to stop and measure your sweater gauge so you can make any adjustments if needed. Also, hopefully you blocked your swatch before measuring it, whereas you haven’t blocked your sweater yet.
2) Gaps at the armholes are perfectly common in seamless sweaters and thumb gussets. What Marlee did intuitively is the standard fix: Pick up an extra stitch at each end and then decrease them out on the next round. When you weave in your ends, use them to do any further cinching up that might be needed.
Did you make any modifications, or did you knit the pattern exactly as written?
I did! I cropped that baby up! I prefer to wear high-waisted pants or dresses, so I like to wear my sweaters short. I cropped it maybe 2 or 3 inches. The cool part about making the top-down version of Lila is you can just try it on to see how long you want it.
Also holy empowerment to make a sweater and have it be the EXACT length you want it to be.
Were there any particular people or resources you leaned on in tackling this sweater?
To learn how to pick up the stitches for the sleeves I used YouTube — my go-to knitting teacher. And I was lucky to be finishing it when Jaime Jennings of Fancy Tiger Crafts was in residence here. Jaime has an incredible collection of handknit sweaters and is just a generally beautiful and encouraging friend. She was working on a sweater while she was here and kept helping me stay excited. Once you finish that first sleeve it’s easy to feel bored knowing you still have another one to make :)
And I had trouble reading the part of the pattern for the sleeve. Like you knit normal 7 times, then do an increase round, then you repeat that series 9 times, but I just increased 9 times in a row and had this funny little pleat and a sleeve made for a doll. Jaime set me straight.
How did you feel when you finished — and how did it turn out, as compared to your goals and expectations for it? Do you wear it?
Finishing my sweater was a powerful moment in an otherwise really difficult week. My dad was in the hospital (he is home and healing now) but it was really scary, and I was hanging with him a lot and knitting in his hospital room. His mother, who passed away before I was born, was an incredible knitter and I’ve always felt a connection with her spirit through my own knitting and quilting practice. She knit dozens of sweaters, cables galore, some of the most immaculate garments I’ve ever seen.
So casting off sitting with him was exciting for both of us. I got to try it on and spin around and show it off, and we both relished in this legacy passed through her blood to him and into me.
AND it fits like a dream! Like I said, I knit for the 40.5 size but it ended up being 38, which was perfect! So see, no mistakes, just the universe looking out.
Would you recommend this pattern to other first-time sweater knitters?
YES! The pattern is well written and easy to follow. Plus it’s simple, knitting and purling, and learning Sunday Short Rows is WAY easier than expected and makes you feel like you are a brilliant and fancy knitter.
I love Sunday short rows. So do you have your next sweater picked out?
Yes! Since I finished this one while Jaime and Lizzy House were residents we decided to all cast on the same sweater and host a knitalong together! We’ll be casting on the Agnes Sweater today [February 1st] in Quince and Co. Puffin. Folks can join in and follow along with the hashtag #havefancyhouse — and there will be prizes ;)
Thank you, Marlee! For anyone wanting to read more about how top-down sweaters work, see How to improvise a top-down sweater.