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The Sweater That Made me a Knitter

May 6th, 2008

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To me, my grandfather was larger than life. He had been the sheriff of a small town in the Adirondacks and personified elegance, authority and grace — he rode a chestnut-colored horse and wore a shiny, star-shaped badge. He was always impeccably dressed and adhered closely to a “don’t buy a lot, but buy well” philosophy. I remember his uniforms and suits and how all of the things that hung in his closet were tailored and pressed.

Kristy sweater made me learn to knit

One of the items my twin sister and I inherited from him was a beautiful, handmade extra-large gray wool cable knit sweater that he had gotten in Ireland. Every winter we would switch off and either she would wear it or I would. It got to the point where I would jokingly not want to give it back to her at the end of the season and I began to think to myself, what I need to do is make one of these and our problem would be solved. The idea was fun but seemed impossible — the only thing that I had ever knit was a few basic sweaters and blankets and I had no idea how to cable.

Kristy sweater cable closeup

I went to my local yarn store and had the great fortune of meeting a wonderful teacher named Beth. During one of her classes, I shared my cable sweater dilemma with her and told her with a smile that I planned to make an exact copy of it. With a large smile back she said, “Well, then let’s do it!” For several weeks, we mined stitch pattern books to try and find the series of cables we needed. Many of the diagonals were too short or too tall and there was an endless back and forth. Then the long hours of learning the twist stitches and different sequences came. We fiddled and charted and tested and finally came up with the pattern. I searched high and low for wool that was just the right color gray (which took a few weeks — had to be 100% wool in just the right shade) and finally set out to make the sweater.

The biggest challenge along the way was the saddle shoulder. I remember Beth said, “Well, we’ll just do a regular shoulder and won’t get involved with that mess!” And I remember pleading with her to help me figure out the saddle shoulder. “It has to be exactly the same!” I told her – big, huge pain in the neck that I was. I even insisted that we recreate two mistakes that I found along the way and ended up stretching out the neck a bit when I was done (Grandpa had a big neck). In the end, it was as close a replica as I could manage and took just under two years to complete.

Since then, I’ve used small sections of the pattern many times for smaller projects – once for a baby vest and another time for a scarf. I laminated the original graph and love having it in my larder to use for future designs. In many ways, I feel that when I use the pattern, I’m giving my friends a piece of my history and love for my grandfather.

  • Lizzie

    It’s a gorgeous sweater! Is the pattern available?

  • Tonya Thompson

    What a wonderful way to carry on the memory of your grandfather.

    Both of my grandfathers died before I was born. The only “things” I got from my maternal grandfather was red hair (born with it and then it turned brown), being left-handed, and being musically inclined. But I treasure those!

    Thanks for sharing!

  • http://tinascraftiness.blogspot.com/ Tina

    What a lovely story and beautiful sweater! Ditto on the pattern request:)

  • Ilana

    Thanks so much for your comments. The sweater was originally purchased in Ireland in the 1930s and it was copied visually. Unfortunately there is no pattern for it.

  • Zontee

    Hi ladies,

    While we don’t have a pattern for this particular sweater, we do have some great cable sweater patterns. The Family of Cable Sweaters has designs for almost every size, and the Forever Classic Heirloom Cables Adult Cardigan is an absolutely beautiful pattern. We hope you’ll take a look!

  • Ingrid Penrose

    I was always very much intriget with the Cable Knit. The Irish Pattern are so wonderful and when I found out that each pattern had a meaning and these pattern could identify an Irish Fisherman, who was lost at sea, I had to knit those pattern again and again.

    I like your Grandfathers sweater very much. I am still looking for the very special sweater to knit. I have an idea what kind of pattern I want to use, however I am still planning on how to arrange the pattern in the sweater.

    Is your Grandfathers Sweater hand knitted? That makes them twice as interesting. I can just piture a lady walking down the road and knitting away.

    I am so glad you shared this heirloom with others.

    Ingrid P.

  • Zilcia

    Thanks for sharing this story and sweater. I sometimes wonder if knitting is a labor of love, or a labor I love. I think it’s both;-)

  • Julie Smith

    What a beautiful story and sweater! Thank you so much for sharing!

  • Cheryl R. Cheong

    I love cables. Are there no written patterns to follow throughout as opposed to following graphs? I like to knit. I am not a very experienced knitter, but I love an challenge. I have three sons (all adults now and I would like to knit them the bulky aran cable sweaters for Christmas – yes I have to start now. Also I have a friend who keeps asking me to knit him a vest. Can you help me out?

    Thanks so much and a happy Mother’s Day to all of you knitting mothers and grandmothers.

    Zontee says: Hi Cheryl, there are written patterns for cables. Depending on the specific pattern, the designer may or may not include a chart. For instance, our Learn to Cable Scarf pattern has only written directions. BUT charts are not too difficult to learn to read, so I would say that it’s worth the effort to learn. As for patterns for your friend, I recommend searching our Pattern Finder. Hope that helps!

  • lata

    what a beautiful pattern and story.
    also can someone tell me if size 9 knitting needles are used with the fishermans wool yarn for the knit along?
    lata

    Zontee says: Hi Lata, like with any project, you may have to change your needle size to get the recommended gauge. Please read the comments on the knit-along post for more details, or listen to the latest YarnCraft podcast episode for more on gauge and what it’s useful for.

  • Laura

    What a wonderful story. I am forever on the hunt for the perfect sweater pattern. I have to admit I’ve had fun over the years with all the other sweaters and things I have made. I started making my son (who is now 27) sweaters when he was 1 years old. He got one every year for Christmas for a long time. He keeps them in a box for his children. What a nice boy :)

  • http://kks-design.dk Karin Sorensen

    I love our story about the sweater, which is beautiful.

    Many years ago I saw a wonderful pattern in a magasine. I pulled out the page and put it in my knitting basket. At first I thought it looked too complex, but iI gave it a try. That was my first experience with Aran Knitting, as it is actually called, coming from 3 small islands of the west coast of Ireland called the Aran Islands.

    This particular pattern was of a fairly long, slim, doublebreasted cardigan with wingsleeves and ‘smoking jacket’ collar. The cardigan was made of offwhite wool.

    Some years ago I actully visisted the Aran Islands and the ladies there had never seen their traditional pattern used in that way. I think they liked it.

    I made the cardigan approx. 25 years ago, and I still have it and I still use it.

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