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Knitting success: wears-per-sweater

“I’m trying to wear my knits more.”

“I guess I’m just more of a process knitter.”

“I love knitting, but my fashion aesthetic isn’t ‘knitted sweater.’

“I can’t wear wool, so there's no point in knitting myself a sweater.”

How do you measure success in knitting? Coziness? Was it fun to knit? Is it a work of art? I have a rhetorical metric (I am, after all, an accounting nerd): 'wears-per-sweater.' How often are you actually reaching for and wearing your projects?

The wearability trifecta - comfort, aesthetics, and knit appeal

For maximum wears-per-sweater, your garment has to be comfortable, it has to appeal to your fashion sense and go with your other clothes, and it has to be an enjoyable enough knitting project that you finish it. If the tags I see on Instagram are any indication, there are stacks of finished sweaters languishing on shelves!

Ideally, your sweater will also fit. That a much bigger convo that I'll write on later! Consider also, a sweater can fit and still never get worn, and a sweater can have a lousy fit and still climb to the top of your ratings. So - and I feel heretical writing this - fit isn't necessarily a top measure of success unless it impacts comfort.

In Picking Your First Sweater, I talk about looking into your closet to find sweaters that you like to wear. How about going further? Conduct a post mortem on knits you don’t love to wear, and get really specific about why you don’t wear them. Are they too hot? Are you constantly adjusting the shoulders? Too scratchy? Maybe they’re just not your style, or it turns out you prefer wearing dark-colored sweaters?

Friends, I’m sensitive

It took me a long time to figure out that I process sensory input a little ...differently. Like many folks with sensory processing differences, I'm particularly sensitive about anything touching my skin. I don’t own lotion, I’ve built a career around wearing tagless leggings as pants, and… anything scratchier than the inside of a twice-washed hoodie is off the list.

As a knitter, what a bummer.

As a designer, though - what a superpower! I’ve got your kids in mind, and how much they hate a snug neckline being pulled over their head, or a cuff touching their hand, or a collar crowding their necks. And I’ve got your back, too, thinking about whether you’re actually going to wear that sweater once you knit it.

Evaluating a project

So what's in your pattern queue? Think about the top ten sweaters you’re itching to cast on. If you can find some overlap between what you’ll wear and what you’ll knit, you’ll be on your way to being someone who consistently wears their knits.

A screen shot of some of my Ravelry patterns, some pullovers, some cardigans.
Clockwise from upper left: J. Cieslak, H. Fettig, O. Sucche, J. Flood, K. Davies, Weichien, E. Green, Ysolda

Here are eight of my patterns from my favorites list, and here’s how the Wearability Trifecta lens helps me get real about what's going to end up in rotation:

  • nuna has tons of knit appeal, but the combination of trim silhouette and precision colorwork is what I love about it, and I’d need to size up to get some serious layers between me and the raw wooliness of the yarn that makes that sweater so special.

  • I’d totally wear Featherweight, and it would lend itself to a skin-friendly fiber, but I’d weep tears of boredom if I had to knit a flat stockinette sweater in fingering weight yarn.

  • Sol would be a joy to knit and calls for a super wearable fiber, but not only is Sol not a great match for my wardrobe style, but my shoulders are narrow in relation to my bust size, and this tank is guaranteed to slip off my shoulders.

Wardrobe planning as a tool to knitting success

Maybe you’ve heard of professionals who adopt a voluntary work uniform? They’ll stick to something like black pants and a white top, and that’s it. I’ve embraced this concept by narrowing my choices to a few templates -- every morning I reach for leggings layered either with a top or a loose dress. I add a pullover or a cardigan, and a seasonal scarf finishes the look.

Now when I’m shopping for a new sweater cast-on, I’m constantly asking myself, ‘how will this layer with my linens, or can I wear it with leggings by itself?’ The rest of the sweaters on my list above are all perfectly suited for this AND are things I’d enjoy knitting.

Substituting fibers - caution!

It’s tempting to fix the scratchy wool situation by swapping out your yarn. But proceed cautiously - changing out wool for a plant fiber will affect the weight, bounce, and drape of your fabric. Trading your wool for a different animal fiber can also have an impact -- baby alpaca, for example, is next-to-the-skin soft but slippery and heavy. That sweater will drift lower and lower during the day (and therefore cling more to your body) and probably be much hotter. Even superwash wool, too, is slippery in comparison to its non-superwash cousin.

An alternate strategy is to think about how you can capture what you love about a garment or a style and work within the constraints of the fiber. Instead of bludgeoning your way through the problem by making a huge modification like changing the fiber type, and fundamentally changing the sweater, how can you work with your challenges, or make gentle tweaks?

  • If you find yourself drawn to naturally-dyed wooly-wools like shetland or lopi, look into sweaters designed for outerwear.

  • Love delicate indoor cardigans? Look for designs written for cotton or cotton blends.

  • Adore the decadence of mohair? An oversized cardigan layering piece will be easier to wear than an against-the skin tunic.

  • If you can tolerate slippery alpaca and superwash and want to use them, look for patterns with lots of structure (such as seams and cable) and cropped lengths. MCN (superwash merino, cashmere, nylon) has similar properties and many find it imminently wearable.

  • Cotton and wool blends are often much easier to wear close to the skin than wool alone and retain some of the properties that give wool such lovely body.

Skeins of liquid looking blue yarn in fat hanks
Vulpine from Little Fox Yarns, a luxurious MCN blend.

To find patterns that will work for sensitive skin, put yourself where the patterns are. Ravelry’s advanced search function will let you search patterns by fiber. Follow tags like #veganknitting and #cottonknit on social media. Find yarn dyers and manufacturers that create fibers that you think will work for you, and then subscribe to their work.

Extra tips for sensory challenges

I’m not an expert on sensory challenges. But I hope that by sharing some of the things in the front of my mind when I’m planning my wardrobe, my outfits, and my designs, you might find something that opens up more fiber options.

  • Reduce sensory input from your outfit in other places. I can wear a scratchier yarn if I’m not also contending with input from earrings, a necklace, AND a mask.

  • Similarly, make sure your other clothes and shoes fit you, and you feel good in them.

  • Save your more challenging garments for calmer environments. In a quiet office, I can tune out more input than I can if I’m contending with a toddler’s birthday party or trying to get three dishes on the table at the same time.

  • Skip the wooliest knits on days you’re in pain or distress - physical or mental.

  • Think about the temperatures of your environments throughout the day, and plan to layer

  • Crop sleeves to bracelet length so that they don’t exceed your sleeves in length.

  • Look for wide collars that will sit further from your neck than an underlayer.

  • If you don’t like a tight waistband, be conscious of choosing cropped designs that may rest on a similar spot mid-torso

  • Roomy sweaters are great - but too much room, and suddenly you’re managing wads of fabric, overheating, and constantly readjusting the shoulders - fussy and uncomfortable!

  • Wondering if a yarn that feels soft in the store will work for you in sweater quantities? Work up a swatch and pin it inside your clothes for a day.

Delicate lace scarf layered with a gauze scarf, mustard fleece jacket.
Layer a gauze scarf under a knit one to keep wool from your neck.

The trap of precious knits

I have a few beloved knits that I never choose - not because I don’t love to wear them or because they’re for special occasions, but because I don’t want to lounge in them, cook in them, or sweat into them. Don’t fall into the circular trap of spending all that time and money only to make something you won’t wear...because of all that time and money! Choose colors that are suited to the environment you expect the garment to encounter, choose fibers with care requirements that are appropriate for how you’d like to wear the garment -- and remind yourself that you've been meaning to jump on the visible mending trend anyway!

Go further

Check out these patterns on Ravelry, which I consider either sensory-friendly (for me) as is, or that lend themselves to substitution or modification, or that are designed as outerwear that will sit away from your neck but still fit properly.

There’s oodles of content out there about capsule wardrobes, but Sister Mountain talks specifically about knitting and capsules. Since I’ve already told you that my fashion sense is limited to wearing leggings as pants, I’ll let her tell you more on her blog here.

I live in leggings, yes. And I’m incredibly picky, demanding a wide waist, no shaping or constriction, and 100% opacity. I have like, 5 pairs of these.

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