A Shining Sweater

October 15, 2013 at 2:23 pm 2 comments

Last week, Dudley House (Harvard’s Grad Student Center) held a Hitchcock/Kubrick movie night, showing The Lady Vanishes, followed by Doctor Strangelove. I was a bit bummed out to be 300 miles away, and I suggested to Jonathan that we have our own Kubrick night. We popped on our VPN and flipped through Netflix’s offerings (as the days tick down on my free trial), but didn’t find much. What we did find, however, was Room 237, a documentary about different interpretations of Kubrick’s The Shining. As someone who has taught courses on interpreting art, it was a fascinating, if sometimes mindboggling/face-palming experience, and I recommend it highly to anyone who liked The Shining, and who likes crackpot film analysis. It might be too much to take, however, if you’re currently teaching analysis/interpretation to undergrads, so beware. That aside, the film reminded me that I never got around to writing a blog post about an amazing sweater, inspired by The Shining, so here goes…

A year ago, at knitting group, I met Jess. Jess was on a mission. She had never knitted a stitch before, but that was not going to get in the way of her determination to knit her boyfriend a sweater. And not just any sweater, no. This sweater:

31VITALI3-articleLargeIn case you don’t recognize it, this is Danny’s Apollo 11 sweater, from Kubrick’s The Shining. She told me how, even though it was totally goofy, she knew her boyfriend would love it. She just needed some help knitting it. She even had a pattern, although it wasn’t quite right for what she wanted.

Now, if you are a knitter,  this story is probably setting off any number of red flags.

#1 – An adult sweater is a big knitting project for anyone, not just a beginner knitter.

#2 – New knitters often have a learning curve, and it usually takes a while before a knitter can produce fabric with an even texture and tension throughout, especially over the amount of knitting required for a man’s sweater.

#3 – This particular sweater is not just a vanilla project – it has seaming, color changes, and embroidery, on top of the more basic ribbing, sizing, and stockinette knitting.

#4 – Haven’t you heard of the “Sweater Curse”? Where giving your boyfriend a handknitted sweater will cause the relationship to self-destruct? Yeah, that.

#5 – The pattern in question was a hand-drawn chart, made for a worsted-weight (relatively fine-knit) sweater. Which is ok, but not quite the chunky sweater Danny is wearing in the picture. I’m pretty sure the pattern she had was this one, where you can see what the end result is. It’s an ok sweater, but it’s not quite right.

And that’s just the beginning. But I listened to Jess’ story, and frankly thought that it was an awesome project. Maybe I’m a sap, but I totally think that goofy sweaters for boyfriends, given with no expectation that they actually get worn, totally defy the drama of the sweater curse. Besides, as I came to discover, Jess is a very methodical person, and her approach to knitting reminded me a lot of my husband’s – slow, steady, determined and perfectionist. I’ve seen this kind of knitter-scientist take on technically challenging projects with great success, even with very minimal experience. So I told Jess I’d help her, and gave her some yarn and needles.

Jess got yarn, found a hat pattern, and started working on learning how to knit. I poked around online, found a basic free chunky raglan sweater pattern, and got to work in Excel to sketch out a chart for the Apollo shuttle that better matched Danny’s sweater, at the gauge of the chunky sweater. Jess did some reconnaissance, took many measurements, and set to work figuring out what size to knit the sweater. Lots of math was done. Lots of swatches made. Jess demanded certainty – that the color be perfect, that the sizing be exact. I offered experience – that one stitch or row’s difference here or there wouldn’t make or break things.

Over the next semester, the knitting group fell apart. Some people graduated, others were busy trying to graduate. I had an infant who didn’t really like hanging out until 10pm at the student cafe. But Jess had a sweater to knit, and was determined, so we kept meeting, and the sweater started to come to life. Sleeves were knit. A back was made. Colors were introduced.

Of course, there was another issue. I was moving away in July. So, as Jess knit away in secret, afraid to tell anyone lest the word get out to her boyfriend accidentally, she was also working against the calendar, trying to learn everything she needed to before her knitting teacher quit town. I last saw Jess in June, right before our moving day, when we went over seaming with the mattress stitch, and doing the final embroidery in black.

And then, in September, I got the photos of the sweater – it lives!

IMG_2338almost finished!

IMG_2369All done

IMG_2368the happy recipient

IMG_1884cute couple

So, I might be more invested in this sweater than I ought to be, but I’m super proud of Jess, who went from non-knitter to awesome sweater knitter in about a year’s time. May your sweater blast big, rocket-shaped holes in the sweater curse forevermore.


Entry filed under: knitting.

Taking root The Chronicles of Venezia

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Kelly  |  October 19, 2013 at 3:53 pm

    Awesome sweater! I have been wanting to make this for so long and I think this is the push to do it. I am an intermediate knitter, but have never tried a sweater… Unfortunately I am the best knitter out of everyone I know so I can’t even ask for help lol. Wish me luck 😉 Glad I found your site!

  • 2. Lisa  |  May 6, 2014 at 9:18 pm

    I just love this story! Our dear guitar teacher who has worked with the kids in our house for 10 years would die for this sweater. I am a skilled knitter but have never made an intarsia chart in excel would you be willing to share your chart?


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