Today, one of my twins wore a new sweater for the first time. He looked so pleased as I folded up his cuffs (with long sleeves for ‘growth’ opportunities)! It wasn’t store bought. It was hand knit and designed by me, according to his specifications.
My twins each get at least one new hand knit sweater every fall, never mind the mitts, hats, and other items that ‘get ordered’ from Mommy. We live on the Canadian prairies, in a very cold climate. Since they were preschoolers, their yearly sweater has become tradition. However, as most moms know, this doesn’t happen overnight! How does it work?
My world-wide fiber friends gave me the most beautiful baby shower. After the twins’ birth, an enormous box arrived in the mail. Without telling me, these knitters each created something special. Each item had a tag and a note sent with love. Add the talents of my mother and my technical editor and my kids were wrapped in woolly love and goodness from birth until the age of four. What a gift! When I started collaborating on new sweaters with my boys, they knew the value of a warm sweater, and also what they wanted and appreciated.
What’s the process?
Limit the kid’s choices: If you’ve brought your child to a knitting store, you know it’s both a fantastic exploration of color, texture and touch…and a nightmare. It isn’t fair to you or your child to allow them free reign in terms of their choices. There are too many options…and many aren’t quite right!
Before beginning, identify a few guidelines. What one or two colors does he want? What styles work best? Give them easy choices. Perhaps do an art project together first, where you draw pictures of the sweater each of you envisions.
Remind your child that while we can imagine anything, not everything can be knit to match your wildest imagination!
Use what you have: A great way to reign in a child with a lot of creative ideas is to pick out suitable colors or yarns from your stash. Sometimes I’ll pull out sweater quantities from the stash, of two or three yarns, and ask what my boys see. We create word pictures and color our designs with crayons. We don’t choose from every sweater shape imaginable. If a kid has a favorite style or shape, start there. Knit it bigger so there’s room for growth.
If you go shopping, bring along another adult or plan another activity to occupy your kid while selecting your yarn palette. Let your kid grab the skeins he likes, make a pile, and then go play. I took both my six-year-olds to Custom Woolen Mills in Alberta, Canada while we were on vacation. After a quick mill tour, the boys grabbed the brightest skeins they could find in the shop…and left. Outside, they had fun in the sunshine, meeting the chickens, visiting the dye plant gardens and climbing the handmade play structure to bang old pots and pans. I bought yarns for a winter’s worth of sweaters.
Do what is possible: You know your abilities as a knitter and parent best. My boys asked me to knit sheep patterns and infinity signs into their sweaters and I did it. The sheep pattern became Woolly, a pattern now available for anyone to make. The infinity sweater? This involved an enormous amount of math to fit infinity signs, in two sizes, into a size 6 sweater yoke. After I’d pulled my hair in frustration, it became a one-of-a-kind (ie: never again) creation.
If stranded knitting, cables, or intarsia aren’t your thing, don’t take it on. Don’t feel pressure to produce something difficult for your kid. Make the technical aspects easier so you can provide something warm and useful for winter…before spring hits.
Be realistic about fiber choice: If your kid makes mud pies or spills, (who doesn’t?!) choose yarns that are durable and won’t felt, such as superwash wool. The best part about making my kids handknits is the feeling of pride when they wear and enjoy them. It’s hard to relax if you think your masterwork is being ruined by good old-fashioned play!
Also, think about your budget for yarn and children’s clothing. If you splurge, will you be heartbroken when it becomes too small or ends up with magic marker on it?
Find a way to satisfy your desires…and your kid’s: Often, my children’s preferences evolve, even when the project is on the needles. We find ways to meet some of everyone’s expectations. For instance, if the plan was a purple sweater with letters knit into the yoke, but the letter doesn’t work out, then I am happy to point out, “Look, you’ve got a purple sweater!”
For the knitter, making a sweater with nothing in it of interest can be a real slog. Integrating something fulfilling can make all the difference, whether it’s stockinette stitch, color changes, stranded knitting, or cables. Sometimes, if their requests try my patience, I remind myself that I do this because I want to knit. (We’re lucky to live at a time in history when I don’t have to make all their clothes.)
Last, but not least?
Be Realistic. Maintain a sense of detachment: Kids grow, their tastes change, and their play evolves. That train sweater they desperately needed at three will probably be discarded by the time they are five, even if they haven’t outgrown it yet.
Alice Walker’s poem comes to mind, “Even as I hold you, I am letting go.” We knit things for people we love and because we love to knit. If something is loved, it is going to be outgrown, need mending, get dirty, or even (gasp!) get lost during play. Gaining control of our emotions as we watch this can be hard.
For a while, we saved all the handmade knitwear as our kids outgrew it. I washed it and put away. One day, there was a community call for winter woolly donations for new immigrant families. I donated the whole bag of knits. I knew those families would appreciate my work and see every stitch, made with love. True, I cried on the drive home, but I make these things so we stay warm, not so they insulate closets.
Cooperating with your loved ones to create one-of-a-kind knitwear is a special joy… one I wish every knitter might have. Lately I’ve been mending a lot of heavily loved sweaters… but only after kids’ bedtime, because they have to be ready to wear again tomorrow. That’s a sign of knitwear collaboration that works! &
See more of Joanne’s work at joanneseiff.com.