As knitters, we are often asked, "Can you knit me a sweater?” The knitted sweater is a work of art, a labor of love. We can measure the sweater in terms of how many stitches there are per inch; how many rows make up each piece of the sweater; or how many hours it takes to complete the project. But a handmade sweater is a gift that is immeasurable. A hand knit sweater is a gift of love, a hug you wear. There is so much love in the hand knit sweater that many are handed down or kept for many years. I often hear, "I saved a sweater my grandmother made" or "I kept my first hand knit sweater."
The Fisherman sweater originated in the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland, classically knitted in the natural colors of sheep's wool. In damp, frigidly cold sea, the Fisherman sweater kept the fishermen warm. The natural oils in the wool made the sweater water resistant. These sweaters tell a story of tradition through the cables and stitch design as families pass the patterns down for generations. The sweater holds history, warmth, and love. Like a family recipe, the stitches are rich with meaning. The cables represented the hope of catching many fish. The zigzag stitch was for the winding cliffs off the Island. The Tree of Life stitch is a symbol of the importance of the family.
There are so many legends about knitting a sweater. Did you know that it is bad luck to knit your boyfriend a sweater? In fact, it's called the "sweater curse" or "curse of the love sweater." Legend has it, if the knitter gives a hand knit sweater to her boyfriend, it will lead to a break up. If you want to break the curse, you can knit a mistake into your sweater. Did you ever think that knitting a mistake would be a good thing? Or even funnier, if you knit your hair in the sweater, you will break the curse... in fact, it creates a union! When I was in high school, I knitted my boyfriend a sweater. It was my first hand knit sweater, and I followed the pattern stitch by stitch, row by row. The sleeves turned out so long, but my boyfriend still wore it with the sleeves rolled up. In case you were wondering, we did break up, so the legend held true for me.
Throughout all the traditions, history, and legends, the unifying thread is that the hand knit sweater is a symbol of love. Knitters carefully choose which yarn, color, and needles will be used. A gauge is knitted first for the correct fit, just to make sure. As knitters, we think of the recipient as we knit and say, what can I do to make this sweater even better? Love is knitted into every stitch, and that is a beautiful thing.
By Mary Ann Gebhardt
Mary Ann Gebhardt began knitting at age seven and started yoga in her twenties. Picking up her needles and quietly sitting to knit is pure peace for Mary Ann.