I have finally knit myself a sweater!

I’ve been wanting to make myself a bulky-weight cardigan ever since I saw Wilde back in 2012. I know that a thicker yarn will add bulk, and I already have enough bulk of my own, thankyou. But the idea of an adult-sized sweater you could finish inside of a week intrigued me, so I priced some different super-bulky yarns just to see what it’d set me back. On the high end (the Malabrigo Rasta called for in the pattern) I’d be looking at over $260 just for the yarn; at the very least, I could get away with spending less than $45, but I’d have to hold my nose and go to Walmart to get it, and then I’d have to knit up and wear almost 1100 yards of acrylic.

Not only that, but I never really had a need for such a sweater, between all the random sweaters and hoodies I have around the house, and the scrub jacket I wore to work. The instant gratification of it was terribly appealing, but I didn’t really have the means, motive, and opportunity to start such a project, so I put it to bed for a while.

Then I decided to make my husband’s grandfather a pair of slipper socks for Christmas, and I settled on Loops & Threads Cozy Wool, which is a 50/50 blend of acrylic and wool. It was wonderfully soft and very nice to knit with, and the idea occurred to me that it’d be a wonderful yarn to knit a quick, bulky sweater.

As luck would have it, I got a Michaels gift card for my birthday, so I set out to procure enough balls of Cozy Wool to do just that. I originally wanted to buy them one at a time with coupons, since the gift card value was $50 and I wasn’t about to give Michaels any of my own personal money (we’re having a bit of a beef). But I quickly grew frustrated with that, as the dark blue color I’d decided on went weeks without being restocked, and I was continually freezing my ass off at work.

Eventually I realized that a gray sweater would match my wardrobe better, so went to Michaels and exchanged the five balls I had for their entire stock of Pewter. Then I went to the other Michaels in town and bought the three balls they had, and using one coupon, I ended up spending one cent less than half the amount I had left on the card. Desperate to finally get this thing cast on, I called the Michaels in Winston-Salem and luckily they had the three final balls I needed, and set them aside for me.

Now, normally I can’t stand Winston, and I wasn’t exactly thrilled to have to go there this time. (I know I technically didn’t have to go right then, but the line between want and need gets very blurry when yarn is involved.) But I have to say, they came through for me, for once. I bought three balls, used the same coupon, and ended up with exactly one cent left on the card, which I told the cashier she could throw away.

I drove back home in the cruddy, rainy weather and immediately started a swatch, where I ran into the problem of not having the right size needle I needed. My HiyaHiyas only go up to US 15, and the next biggest circ I have is a 19, and it’s a Susan Bates, which means the cable is only 29″ and is stiff as all get out. I have a set of 17 straights, but they’re terribly unwieldy, have really difficult tapers, and wouldn’t be able to make the sleeves. I decided to go ahead and start the pattern with the 15s, because I really liked the fabric I was getting. I would compensate for the 1/2″ short gauge by going up two sizes in the pattern. (Once I got into the raglan increases, I decided to add another size above that, just to be safe. I’m glad I did.)

I bound off Saturday, so the knitting part of the sweater took just a week. It was a headache, not because the knitting was tough (it wasn’t), but because the yarn had a strong chemical smell. How I didn’t notice it in the store is anyone’s guess, but the fumes were undeniable once I started knitting. I’ve had this issue once before, when I made a pair of Simple Skyp socks for my mom. The yarn was lovely, but smelled undeniably like diesel fuel. A trip through the wash took care of the socks, but that was a superwash sock yarn. Cozy Wool is hand-wash-dry-flat, but even after I hand-washed this sweater (twice!) the water was gray (twice!) but the smell remained, and even permeated the house as it lay drying.

Finally I threw my swatch in with a load of clothes, and it came out smelling clean. I ran the sweater the washer, and the swatch through the dryer on low heat, which didn’t seem to hurt it at all. It came out smelling Spring Garden Fresh, which is also a chemical smell, but a much more pleasant one to be wearing three inches away from your nose.

Then I had to find buttons, which is another adventure in itself.

I’m all about supporting my local stores, but I’ve seen the prices of buttons in LYSes, and I’m sure the independent fabric stores are no cheaper. Since I spaced my buttonholes a little closer than the pattern called for, I would need 12 buttons, and at $5 apiece (at least), I’d be looking at $60, which is more than the sweater itself cost. You could argue that since I hadn’t spent any of my own money on the yarn, I could easily justify dropping some cash on them… but even ignoring the bare economics of my own personal situation, I don’t know that I could ever justify spending that much money on, well, buttons.

So aside from needing twelve buttons, I’d need twelve large buttons, from 1 1/8″ to 1 1/2″. At that size, they come two (or one) to a card, and even at the chain stores, they can get pricey. Fortunately, both Jo-Ann and Hancock were having sales: Hancock’s had 40% off all buttons, and Jo-Ann had certain ones marked down 60%. This was exciting at first, until I realized that at that size, it would be impossible to find 6 (or 12!) cards of the same button.

I decided that it would do to get 10 buttons and use a decorative clasp for the neck instead of the button loops the pattern illustrated. I ended up getting some “earth-tone” buttons that weren’t even on sale, but I liked the color and at $1.25 a card, they were very affordable.

Before I could put the buttons on, though, I had to prepare my button bands. I used the Knitmore Girls’ tutorial for adding grosgrain ribbon, but I actually added it to both the button side and the buttonhole side. This upped the degree of difficulty because I couldn’t just make buttonholes in the knitting with my sewing machine; I had already created them in the knitting, and trying to make buttonholes in knitting that bulky would have torn up my machine.

So I had to make sure the buttonholes on the ribbon would align with the holes I’d already knit in, which I did by hand-sewing one side of the ribbon to the sweater, then laying it flat and facing up, and using two pins to stretch each knitted buttonhole. Then I pushed the top pin in place and removed the bottom pin, and on the reverse side I marked where that pin came through. That would be the top edge of the buttonhole. (The buttonholes were as long as the buttonhole foot on my sewing machine would allow, which is just over 1 1/4″.) Once I had marked the place for each hole, I flipped the ribbon away from the knitting and made each buttonhole on my machine. I then hand-sewed the other side and the ends of the ribbon to the sweater, and then I hand-stitched through each buttonhole to attach the knitted buttonhole to the sewed one.

This was a lot of work, but I feel like the end result is worth it, because the buttonhole strip is the part that is most visible, and most likely to gap (especially on a fitted sweater). This way both the button band and the buttonhole row will lie flat and straight. Knowing I can do this makes me more inclined to make cardigans, something that I, as a large-busted woman, have kind of shied away from. Could Paulie be in my future?

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