The unbearable challenge of learning – my first jersey

posted in: Finished projects, knitting | 49

I had never knitted a wearable garment.

It may seem strange that while I have made several lifetimes worth of clothes with needle, thread and cloth, I had tried, but never succeeded in knitting myself a garment I could wear. For decades I longed to create something that I could pull on over my head and wear with pride. Yet making a jumper eluded me – failed attempts sit in carrier bags in a long forgotten cupboard somewhere, feeding my guilt and underlining my incompetence.

I put knitting a wearable garment on my bucket list (ie things to do before I die). And then, after a trip to the Knitting and Stitching exhibition in March, I bought a kit. Not a full kit (no needles) but a pattern, and the correct yarn in a useful (sturdy) paper carrier bag. With a cute picture of one of the Alpacas which had allegedly contributed some hairs to the batch. At the exhibition I saw made up jerseys, examined them (I lacked the confidence to ask if I might try one on), talked to the owner and the designer, and asked them if they felt, as a complete beginner, I might achieve a completed garment. They thought about it, and told me I could. Cheerily they suggested I might visit their farm, join a class and get started with supervision. And while feeding the llamas did have some appeal, I guessed that the problems would come not at the casting on stage, but more at the yoke and finishing area. (And I was proved right-see below). The reason I alighted on alpaca rather than sheep’s’ wool, was that it seemed to have a nicer feel. I now know a bit more about yarn, and I can see that alpaca has its own limitations. But it is warm, light, soft and the natural colours are very pretty (similar colours to human hair – there is something for everybody in the range).

So although it is scary to be a total beginner I bought the kit, and I struggled a bit to start with, as I have elaborated already. The terminology, the equipment, and even how to knit in the round foxed me at first. I needed to call a friend. But eventually I managed to get to the yoke. Natalie had suggested a second dinner at this stage, but as things had gone quite well to date I decided push on, unguided. I got into an enormous pickle as a result and almost gave up. In fact I started a second knitting project at this point as I was so exasperated.

Knitting project gone wrong
The second knitting project – also stalled


Then the designer reached out to me, Kari-Helene Rane, through Instagram and email, and she helped me work out how to proceed. Photo from The Yarn Loop. 

Kari Helene Rene
Kari-Helene Rane

She may have had an ulterior motive in that she wants to see people making her jersey successfully, but I believe she helped me because she wanted to help a beginner gain confidence. How else can I explain her generosity in virtually holding my hand over a period of weeks, checking in and making sure I was OK with the knitting. And I was getting all this help plus the time and encouragement of about 60 experienced knitters from all over the world.

I am in tears as I write this.

For me this jumper has been pretty challenging. I know the stitches are a bit uneven, and I know I could do a much better job if I ever make it again. Something that seems quite straightforward even the second time around (ever made a toile?) can seem completely baffling when you are inexperienced. Following instructions is really hard if you have no idea how a jumper is shaped. Now it is done it is fairly obvious how fullness is suppressed in a knitted garment. But if you just read instructions and follow without understanding it is easy to make a mess of it. For example decrease at marker, meant decrease at each marker, rather than at all markers – of course we need to reduce fullness evenly across the jumper not just in one place, but I didn’t get that.

I had to rip out the yoke and re-knit it. Going back and re-doing work is pretty frustrating and a little bit upsetting. But I do it all the time when I sew and I approach it with equanimity. The equanimity comes from experience, that you know it can be fixed. Without that experience of ultimate success every correction reinforced my fear that  the knitting would never be successfully completed. The feeling of potential failure and incompetence was very uncomfortable. It meant that for a couple of weeks I could not bring myself to destroy my work, even if it meant eradicating mistakes and getting back on track. Destruction was necessary in order to create. But I had to tell myself that I could do it, and I would eventually succeed. For me having others say this, who had been through it before, was the thing that made the difference.

The lesson for me is that starting something new is quite frightening. That others are not just willing to help but actually want to. That the helping hand makes all the difference but if we are treated with indifference or distain our incompetence is so painful that we would rather give up than preserve.  My efforts have been rewarded, and I have grown and learnt through this experience. Not just about knitting a jumper, but how incredibly important experience is and how enriching it is when it is shared.

I also chose this pattern as it had minimum making up requirements – two tiny seams under the arms that don’t even show. I just sewed them up the best I could but I have lots of learn about finishing as well as knitting. I have still to learn how to do this process, so will be seeking help again. But for now I have tackled my fears and overcome my failures, and I feel amazingly happy as well as moved to tears.

Lorelle Purl Alpaca Fabrickated
Me in my First Jersey Ever

I want to say thank you to all of you – Nat, Stephanie and Kari-Helene especially – but also all the wonderful commentators who reached out with advice and encouragement.

You have encouraged me to help other beginners, and people who have tried and failed, and to reach out to those who give up in the face of difficulty. I now understand that sometimes we just don’t have sufficient experience to understand. And to recognise how fragile our egos are when we are demonstrably incompetent.

And now the jumper is finally finished I am delighted, as you can see. Of course I can spot plenty of faults and failings, but right now I feel like this!

Goal scored





49 Responses

  1. Stephanie

    Yay! Looks just great and so do you in it. (I really had no idea that you were struggling so much). Wonderful that Kari-Helen stepped in to help you to the finish line.

    I read some obvious advice from someone once about how everything can be broken down into small steps, that a writer is just someone who sat down at some point and started writing a bit at a time, etc. We set ourselves up for misery so easily without remembering that everyone starts at the beginning at some point. Bask in the glow! PS Gee you have progressed quickly on the second project!

  2. Janice

    ….wow . You have a garment to treasure – it looks beautiful. Of course it will have imperfections – everything in this world does. You have created something wonderful and with a lovely back story of support and encouragement. You persevered through the pain and have ended up with something beautiful and unique.

  3. Paula

    Wow, that is amazing. A very big well done to you. I am in tears after reading your story but mine are proud tears for what you have achieved. Well done.

  4. Barbara

    That sweater (jersey) is FABULOUS. I’m wearing my fingers to the bone knitting and unknitting a very basic sweater for a newborn, so I am very appreciative of the labor this sweater must have needed.

    • fabrickated

      It took quite a few hours – especially as I knitted about two sweaters with all the unpicking. But I have overcome my fear of undoing rows now, and can pick up stitches I drop and keep the right number of stitches going. So I feel like I have had a breakthrough.

      I hope the little sweater is finished before the new baby arrives – I have made kids clothes before that are outgrown before they have been completed.

    • Annieloveslinen

      I forgot to say that your knitting endeavours spurred me to knit the socks I’ve wanted to knit for a couple of year but been too scared to tackle. Thanks to you I’ve found inspiration and enthusiasm, I’ve unraveled them again but am determined to carry on.

      • fabrickated

        Oh great news. I am pretty intrigued by socks. I plan a pair of slippers soon, but I would like to tackle socks eventually. I hope you blog about them Annie – I would love to know more.

        • Christine Burns

          Socks are very portable in that you can easily put them in your bag when traveling.The basic sock is not at all difficult and you can have such fun with some really beautiful wool.

  5. Jane

    Sorry we didn’t have time to discuss the yoke when I visited a couple of weeks ago. I’m so pleased you managed to work it out. The jumper looks lovely – I love the colour. I think I need to look into this yarn

  6. Anne Frances

    That’s amazing! There is a huge amount of knitting in it and it looks terrific. What an ambitious first project and what a huge success, since it is is so eminently wearable. The second project looks good too. Many congratulations on your patience and perseverance, and do enjoy wearing the result. It looks so light and cosy!

    • fabrickated

      That is very kind of you to say Anne. I hope to get the second one finished next week. If it is a success then I will feel I can sign up to being part of the world of knitting.

  7. Elaine Sabin-Simpson

    Very nice jumper! It’s a lovely, deceptively simple design, and I’m impressed by your perseverance, and by the finished piece.
    I hate knitting unless it’s sufficiently complicated to keep my attention- the missus is hinting that she’d like a new aran, as she’s..outgrown the last one I made [ten years back]. It might happen, but my hands are likely to fight me with my slowly worsening arthritis. Time will tell.
    Bravo you- will there be many more jumpers now, or has this cured you?

    • fabrickated

      I was attracted to the simple but a little bit different look of this sweater – also the neckline is terribly important – to avoid looking like you are being strangled by yarn. I do hope you do the Aran for D – I love them and hope to make one, one day. Is it good or bad for arthritis to knit? A very old lady I know still makes her own bread as she claims it is good to work the hands even when you get something like arthritis.

      I have plans for several more – unfortunately – I am like the child in a sweet shop – the possibilities are endless. It is a very slow hobby, but quite a sociable one.

  8. Giorgia

    Well done Kate! it’s really hard being a beginner again after years of feeling well experienced all around, many kudos to you for taking on the challenge!

    I really love the jumper and I might ask for details on how to get the pattern at some point 😉


  9. Liz Cooney

    I LOVE it! It looks very soft and cosy! – Once you learn a few basic things Kate you will find it just repeats itself. Knitting isn’t very difficult…. – I am just starting a new top, and find the part I enjoy least is finding gauge!

  10. Christine Burns

    The jumper looks lovely. And wearable. As so m who has ripped out and reknitted quite a few times I am so impressed.
    I was taught to knit when I lived in Donegal by one of the Aran knitters. No patterns. I would turn up with wool and needles and say what I wanted to make (always for my young children). She would tell me how many stitches and I would follow directions, going back when I reached, say, the arms, or yoke. None of it was in the Aran patterns. She just knew how things would knit up.

  11. Joyce Latham

    Congrats kate! It looks fabulous on you, but more important I’m super happy you are happy with the experience. I will be sharing my beginner experience soon too ( on road trip at the moment).
    Your sweater looks so great. Very cool! And I love the last visual – super cute and captures that winning feeling perfectly.
    Phenomenal! Cannot wait to see the next one !

  12. Bernice

    Fantastic! It’s a beautiful sweater, and a job well done. Thank you for sharing your beginner experience. As one who has only ever knitted a scarf (and 30 years ago t that), it is inspiring to think that one day I could manage something like this.

  13. Jan brandt

    It is absolutely wonderful. The first sweater I made wa large enough for a small tent. Not kidding! Keep knitting and you will be amazed how quickly you improv. Bravo!

  14. Lynn

    That is a great jumper. It is basic in style but still special enough to really stand out. It is fabulous. Nothing builds courage and confidence more than striving and succeeding. Congratulations!

  15. Jo

    It’s absolutely beautiful, and the fit is spot on! (Something I struggle with tremendously in knitting). I too am often bowled over by the open-heartedness of knitters and their generosity with advice. Really lovely post. And by the way – I have been meaning to say for a while – when your posts appear in my reader I am always inspired to click through and read immediately, you have a way of putting your finger on things in such an interesting way 🙂

    • fabrickated

      Thank you so much – I have been so moved by the generosity of knitters of the world. It is astonishing how many people I don’t know stopped by to offer a helping hand. And thank you for your kind feedback about the blog. People like you motivate me to write what I hope are interesting articles – not too long, topical and a little bit provocative.

  16. Verona Woodhouse

    Looks great and fits really well. You were concerned about scratchy wool – memories of childhood jumpers. There is lots of lambswool available and it has good heft/body in the yarn. Some yarns in shops are so soft that they are really only suitable for scarves, though, wow, what scarves they make. Why not try a sleeveless jumper – really a T shirt shape – in lambswool to see if you can cope. Then you can pick up all sorts of single balls or cones of lambswool in different colours as you find it – it shows up in charity shops all the time. I have just finished a cardigan with over 40 different colours – a dark over pattern of very small juniper and ash trees in dark greens and blues with the background going from dark green to deep pink going up the jumper. Sounds a bit garish, but it has had the approval of the 18 year old and her friend. Yarns picked up from everywhere over a number of years. Go for 4 ply weight (now actually done as 2 plies of yarn) with weight say between 200m – 280m per 50g. This allows for intricate details on say fairisle or slip stitch patterns (my personal favourite as less bulky) and you can double up if you want a heavy casual winter jumper. If you use masses of colours, you can also slip in a bit of, say, a chunky yarn, or a shiny ribbon yarn for a row or two and as it is only a small amount it doesn’t affect the size of the garment. The t-shirt shape is quick to knit. Knit body up to underarm as you have done (with or without some shaping for waist). Knit two cuffs for arms (but wide enough for the upper arm), then join for yoke and continue knitting yoke. Somehow this is really quick – sleeves seem to take forever. It is a very handy garment for over jeans and you could have sewn tops or long sleeve t-shirts underneath. This might be good for SWAP as a full jumper or cardigan takes a long time. See the type of T shirt I mean on Kate Davies ‘Paper Dolls’ or look at some of Finnish designer Veera Valimaki on Ravelry (she has a T with a scrunched up bit pulled together with a button to one side at the bottom that I like. If you do knit with random charity shop purchases you definitely need to do tension squares and if you are knitting from a pattern you will probably need to modify the pattern, which is why I usually do my own patterns. You are probably better getting some more experience first, but you can always start building a stash of yarn bargains in colours you know you will like as you see them.

    • fabrickated

      Thank you for your suggestions Verona. Lots there for me to think about. I do aspire to design my own patterns once I get sufficient knowledge. Your suggestion on basic shapes is very interesting. And I have been buying yarn. I still have to learn much more about how it performs and how to get the best finish. I would love to see what you have done with 40 different colours!

  17. Brenda Marks

    Well done! I’m completely impressed!

    I have knitted exactly one jumper, and I considered it a research project. I wanted to have the feeling of being a beginner and take on something I felt to be very challenging. As a teacher, I thought this would help me remember what it might be like to be a student. I wore my jumper exactly once. The knitted fabric was too transparent to wear without an underlayer, and I’m a middle aged (hot) woman. But I appreciated the experience!

    I am knitting now, but my goal is to knit fabric that I will gently felt and cut up to make a jacket. I feel much more confident about this project.

  18. Jenny

    It’s looks amazing and fits you so well. Knitting strikes me as quite risky in terms of finish. Will the style suit me, will it fit and will I figure out how to do it? Through perseverance you’ve nailed it! But you are right it’s the mistakes and the necessary and often painful corrections which has given you confidence and perhaps that’s true in life for all of us whatever we tackle. Looking forward to seeing the next one.

    • fabrickated

      Thanks so much Jenny. I think knitting and sewing is always a risk. I have an advantage in that I think I chose a pattern I was pretty sure would suit me, in a colour I know is good on me. But I do make mistakes even when I follow failsafe rules – being a bit out on the fit or proportion can ruin it for me.

  19. PendleStitches

    There is much to be proud of in this sweater. Not only have you learnt a new skill, made new friends, and created a truly beautiful and inspirational garment (I really want that sweater in my wardrobe now), but also overcome some personal fears and learnt more about yourself.

    Knitting is often described as a therapeutic art due to its meditative and repetitive nature. I find it’s therapeutic in many more ways, including the wonderfully supportive and encouraging community of talented and generous folk it creates.

    Here’s to many more happy knits and beautiful friendships.

  20. Elle

    Somehow I missed this, so seeing the reference in your latest post, have come back to be amazed and excited by your wonderful sweater. It is truly lovely and suits you so well. Your comment about the fragile state we are in when learning something new resonates with me, and prompts so much thought about the tender state of other learners, especially children or refugee/immigrants trying to learn English. A little support goes a long way, and a dismissal or sneer hurts to the core. I think too that when we are accustomed to being more or less competent adults that being utterly incompetent at something new–and being supported–can open us emotionally. Kudos to you for persevering on this lovely garment.

  21. Kim Hood

    Well done for persisting on a difficult project for you. You have achieved a wonderful result, and I’m sure you will enjoy wearing this jumper. As you have identified the next will feel easier.

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