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Ask the Experts: Knitting Disasters We've Learned From


Every knitter has a story about a project gone awry. There’s the gigantic sweater that won’t stop stretching out; the late baby gift finished after the baby has outgrown it; and, of course, the odd felting catastrophe. Some of our favorite knitting authors share their worst knitting disasters and how they managed to salvage them—or didn’t!

SALLY MELVILLE, author of Warm Knits, Cool Gifts and Mother-Daughter Knits: I made a sweater that skewed. The sleeve seams went from the top of the hand to the underarm and the side seams went from the underarm to the navel! I embellished each seam of the sweater, and everyone wanted one. (If it’s asymmetrical, it’s artistic, right?) This project illustrated an important design principle: If it looks like mistake, embellish it, and make feature out of it.

LILY CHIN, author of Lily Chin’s Knitting Tips and Tricks and Lily Chin’s Crochet Tips and Tricks: When I was 19, I worked for a handknit accessories manufacturer and was able to get pure angora at wholesale. Even at wholesale, it wasn’t cheap. I made myself a pure angora sweater in flaming scarlet and was so pleased that I went disco dancing in it. Big mistake. Angora is extremely warm, and so was the club. So what do you get when you subject an angora sweater to heat, moisture, and agitation? It started to felt right on my body! I wondered why it was getting smaller and smaller, until it was barely decent. When I got home, I had to peel the thing off me. I now have the world’s fanciest toilet seat cover that cost me way too much money. Lesson: Never go clubbing in a pure angora sweater.

WENDY D. JOHNSON, author of Wendy Knits Lace, Socks from the Toe Up, and Toe-Up Socks for Every Body: My early knitting disasters all seemed to involved colorwork. The first one was a Lopi-style sweater I knit when I was 18. My tension on the floats was so tight that it was impossible to wear the sweater. The colorwork yoke was pulled in at least 4″ tighter than the rest of the sweater. This project became a cat bed.

Another colorwork disaster was my first attempt at intarsia—the Princess Diana black sheep sweater from the mid-1980s. I didn’t realize that it was not meant to be stranded, so strand I did . . . with disastrous results. The yarn used was very fine and my clumsy attempts at stranding showed through on the right side. This project was abandoned in disgust.

JIL EATON, author of Jil Eaton’s Knitting School: When I met my husband I knit a sweater for him for our first Christmas. I was knitting at night and when he wasn’t around, and found my gauge was off—the sweater was 10″ too big! So I took it to my local yarn shop and they cut it down and sewed it together. So the moral is: Always check your gauge!

LORNA MISER, author of The Knitter’s Guide to Hand-Dyed and Variegated Yarn and Faith, Hope, Love, Knitting:Of course I made mistakes! I didn’t know anything about gauge. My first project was a baby sweater for my new baby boy. In that case, gauge really didn’t matter, since it fit him at some point. But my second project was a lace pullover vest for myself. It turned out about 8″ too large around! I was a skilled seamstress so I took it to the sewing machine, stitched the side seams, cut off the excess and covered the “steeks” with ribbon. It never occurred to me that I’d done something wrong or strange. My grandmother just about had a heart attack, though!

CLARA PARKES, author of The Knitter’s Book of Socks, The Knitter’s Book of Wool, and The Knitter’s Book of Yarn: My biggest teaching moment came with a Debbie Bliss onesie I made for a friend’s baby. It had a hood with ears, and the hands and feet were designed to look like teddy bear paws. All fine and good, except I’d somehow reversed the directions so that the hood faced backwards and covered up the baby’s face. Which, as you may imagine, isn’t exactly ideal.

By the time I discovered my mistake, the baby was already born and almost too big even to wear the thing, so I decided frogging and reknitting was out of the question. Instead, I took out my scissors and snipped a stitch at the neckline, unraveled the whole row, flipped the head around, and grafted the two pieces back together again. Desperation pushed me to try something new, and I’ve never looked at my knitting the same way again.



Michele September 22nd, 2011

My first fleece I ever washed (fiber for spinning), became a huge felted piece of modern art! FAIL!

cgorga September 22nd, 2011

Knitting fail! At least it’s crafty in a DIFFERENT way! Do you have a picture you can share on our FB page? I’d love to see it! Disasters are fun sometimes.

Lillian Lane September 22nd, 2011

I started a sweater for my husband in 1972. I worked on it during our move from Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida to California and got quite a bit done. That project got overcome by work, etc. One year (circa 1976) everyone in my office decided to work on crafts at lunch, so I started working on the sweater again. I was almost finished when I noticed an error way down on the front of the sweater. I learned to knit from a book, so I did not have the experience to know how to fix the error other than ripping out the stitches. Everyone told me it was not noticeable, but being the perfectionist that I am, I ripped out all my work down to the error. I worked a little more on it until the Christmas-crafts-at-lunch mission ended. Last year, a friend started the First Tuesday Club in which a bunch of us go to her home for crafts (with everyone working on their own thing), conversation, and food (of course). I decided to work on the sweater again, but it is a complicated pattern which requires concentration, so I couldn’t get much done with all the talk and eating. I have to have jaw surgery in November–benign tumor in the bone marrow. This will require three surgeries which will result in having my throat slit so that part of my jaw bone can be replaced first with titanium and then with part of my hipbone. During recuperation I won’t be going much out in public (due to bruising and missing 5 or 6 teeth), so I might get back to it during that time, but I make no promises that I’m not sure I can fulfill. Pain pills usually make me too sleepy to concentrate, so I am not confident.

cgorga September 22nd, 2011

Wow, Lillian, that’s quite a story! Good luck with your surgery! I hope that despite the recovery time, you are able to finally finish that sweater!

whirlybird ( September 22nd, 2011

No one really told me that you should do a gauge swatch over your pattern stitch when I first started out. So when I took a plain stockinette sweater pattern and decided to make it cabled all over, it was a disaster. Unfortunately I have never been as thin as I would need to be to wear that sweater.

Ronnie September 22nd, 2011

I knit my first hat recently. Determined to follow the directions perfectly, it didn’t occur to me that perhaps I should check the gauge. Needless to say, the hat is enormous. I’ve taken loads of pictures of friends and family wearing it and eventually the person with the biggest head will get it as a gift. Either that or it will become a tea cozy.

Kat the Knitter September 23rd, 2011

Wow! Good luck with your surgery, Lillian! And thanks for sharing!

Verona Bennetto, Cincinnati September 23rd, 2011

Good luck, Lillian! I too have a titanium jaw – 9 hours of surgery almost 2 years ago. Get in touch with a support group SPOHNC (google them) for advice about eating and they also have a cookbook. Also get “fat” straws that are used for “bubble, or bobble,” tea. Can order from Amazon. And thanks to all the knitters out there – I feel we’re “family”.

Sharon Hallman September 25th, 2011

Oh! My Gosh! I have really had some screw-ups. Most of the time from daydreaming instead of paying attention to my knitting. Ha! Sharon

Nancy Craid September 26th, 2011

Being a non-perfectionist, I have found buttons, ribbon, medallions, bows, etc. a major project saver. And Lillian, best wishes for a speedy recovery and a surgeon’s steady hand.

Pat September 26th, 2011

I had knitted a skirt and was planning to finish the top on a cross country car trip for a cousin’s wedding: lots of plain stockinette, then some fun stuff. It wasn’t until we arrived and I laid out the pieces to seam that I realized the front (which I knit in the car) was 4″ shorter than the back. I had depended on my row counter BUT my husband, driving along, had mindlessly clicked a few here, clicked a few there… I went on a shopping trip before Claire’s vows and eventually frogged the whole thing. And now count AND measure!



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