A Bit of My Knitting History

I learned to knit in the fifth grade, but it wasn’t until high school in the early 80s that I started serious knitting. I knew and used only three things: Vogue Knitting magazine, straight aluminum knitting needles, and the long-tail cast-on. I didn’t even know there were other ways to cast on.

I didn’t understand anything about gauge or those stupid swatches that were always recommended to obtain the correct one, so I substituted whatever yarn I liked, regardless of weight. I did, however, always use the recommended needle size. Needless to say, I never adjusted the pattern to account for the different raw materials, so sometimes the sweater fit and sometimes it didn’t, and I never really knew why. I just cast on for my size and started knitting.

And they were always sweaters. Not hats or scarves or anything easy. And on top of that, they were designer sweaters that now no one knits because they’re so involved. (Hey, Vogue Knitting—look at the number of projects on Ravelry for these silly designs and get a clue to stop publishing them.) Nothing in plain old stockinette stitch, either. Everything I knit was charted.

I had never heard of stitch counters (or stitch markers, for that matter), so I used tick marks on a piece of paper—usually one of the little subscription cards that came with the magazine—to count the rows. I never thought to use a ruler or other sort of straight edge on a chart, so I was always having to find my place and count stitches. (As I remember and write this, I’m not sure whether to think I was a dummy or the bomb.)

I knitted Perry Ellis’s #27 Theatre Sweater from Vogue Knitting Fall/Winter 1985. In acrylic. (Please, please forgive me.) I knit it in the original primary colors with a bright blue background with mustard faces and red ribbons. I don’t have the sweater anymore because a younger, dumber me donated it to a thrift store.

My knitting formula in the 80s.

I also remember knitting a sweater that was a sort of sampler of bobbles and bells and other complicated stitches. By Adrienne Vittadini, I think. It’s so old vintage, it’s not in the Ravelry pattern database. It was supposed to be a cropped sweater, but I wasn’t paying attention to that part of the pattern, and it ended up tunic length. I used Sugar ‘n’ Cream cotton (a yarn usually reserved for dish rags) in white, and the thing weighed a ton. It was knit in pieces then seamed together, but I didn’t trust myself to execute the seaming (i.e., set-in sleeves) properly, so I took it to a yarn shop and asked the owner to seam it for me. She said it would be a couple of weeks before she could get to it, but called me two or three days later to say it was done. She was anxious to see how it would turn out. I don’t remember how much I paid her, but it was worth it. The sweater was fabulous. I don’t have that one anymore either, because I bleached it one too many times trying to remove a rusty water stain on the left shoulder. It came out of the washing machine in shreds. (I didn’t know anything about doing laundry, either.)

As I’ve matured as a person, I’ve matured as a knitter. I knit with wool or wool blends almost exclusively. I understand the importance of dye lots. I discovered circular needles and knit everything I can in the round. I know a bunch of different cast-ons, the Chinese Waitress Cast-On being my current favorite. And I use proper knitter tools, like stitch counters and magnetic boards for charts.

I still don’t knit swatches, but I think everyone else should.


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