The infamous Sweater Curse: real or imagined? Claire Montgomerie of the Monty Knits blog investigates.
Last week, I was wondering how many of the readers of this blog might have poured a lot of time, energy, blood, sweat and tears (not forgetting love of course) into knitting something special for their loved one? If you are a believer in superstition, then you might want to think again before gifting that special knitted item you have put so much effort into. There are some old superstitions concerning knitting for a significant other, which have prevented many a knitter over the years from making something for their partner.
What is The Sweater Curse?
The most well known superstition is known as ‘The Sweater Curse’. This sounds incredibly ominous, and when you delve deeper into the predictions of this curse, you can see why. Apparently, if you ever embark on making a sweater for your love interest, they will break up with you while it is in progress. Don’t start feeling secure if this hasn’t happened by the time you have finished, as I have spoken to people who also believe it can happen well after the sweater is gifted! I am unsure after what time frame you can begin to rest at ease, extensive Sweater Curse research could not give me a definitive answer to this, so perhaps we can conclude that those of us who have made a jumper for our other halves must always worry about when the curse will come into effect...? Well actually, I am here to tell you that, realistically, you probably needn’t worry and I have a few reasons why you can probably disregard the curse, or at the very least work around it!
An accompanying superstition to the sweater curse is that if you knit a mistake into your sweater, then it will break the curse, or if you knit one of your hairs into the sweater it will bind the recipient to you. I have heard that these methods don’t work, so it is a risky strategy. However, there is one point regarding the superstition on which most people seem to concur: the curse is only effective on relationships before marriage. So, once you have got your respective other down the aisle you can rest easy! In fact, there is an old wives tale that if you knit a sweater for your husband, it works in the opposite way and wards off other women. I am assuming in this instance that instead of the sweater having magical powers ‘knitting’ the husband to his spouse, the superstition was derived in an era when knitting was thought to be lumpy, ill-fitting and unfashionable, so the handmade garment in question would render the wearer ridiculous and unattractive to the opposite sex.
I think that if you look at the fact that the curse only applies to relationships where there is no commitment to marriage, there are a few theories to explain the phenomenon. Firstly, before we decide to commit to one person, most of us have many less serious, shorter relationships and added to which, knitting a garment takes a long time. It could just be a coincidence that a relationship has come to its natural conclusion during the lengthy time it takes to knit a jumper. In addition, if you commit to make a gift that takes up so much time and effort, it might make the recipient feel under a lot of pressure. Perhaps it may make them re-evaluate the relationship and decide that their feelings are not as strong as yours. It may feel quite suffocating to receive such a significant gift, or they may feel a lot of pressure to love and wear the sweater even if they don’t really like it. This leads the other side of the argument: after spending all that time making the sweater, the knitter may feel the recipient seemed underwhelmed or did not seem to appreciate how much effort went into the present – something I am sure all knitters have experienced – leading them to feel unappreciated and perhaps highlight underlying problems with the relationship.
All these points lead to my conclusion that the sweater curse may be just a coincidental phenomenon, but if you want to avoid it happening to you, there are a few things I would suggest. It may be a good idea to wait until the relationship is stable and committed. I know that these days not everyone feels that it is important to get married to show how much you are committed, but there does come a stage in any relationship where there is a mutual understanding that you are in it for the long haul, or at least the long-ish haul!
Most importantly, make sure you ask your other half if they want, need or will even wear a hand knit sweater!
If they do, then decide on the pattern, sizing and yarn together so there are no nasty surprises! I know that the surprise of a gift is often the nicest part, but I don’t think something as weighty as a handmade garment is included in those gifts. You want to make sure that the final garment fits your lover perfectly and looks great – what’s the point of going to the trouble of making a bespoke garment if it doesn’t?
So I am sure that you want to know what my credentials for debunking these myths is? Well this is the sweater I made for my significant other when we were courting. I let him choose the design, he approved the yarn, and I took all the measurements to ensure it would fit. It took forever as he is rather tall and broad, and I had to grit my teeth and bear it when he kept asking when it would be done. In the event, it took about a year to knit because, as you can imagine, I had a lot of knitting for work to be done in the meantime. I definitely understood that he felt hurt that I wasn’t making his sweater a priority and so I eventually decided to put everything else aside and take a final stab at it, cheating a little by making the sleeves on my knitting machine! That was about eight years ago now, we have been married for five, and the sweater has been in the mending pile for the last three of those! He wore it so much that the elbows have given way and I keep meaning to knit some patches for them.
In conclusion, if you want to make a beautiful, surprise knitted gift for your romantic interest, a small, easy to make accessory like a hat or scarf is definitely the way to go. Aha! I hear you say, I decided not to go down the time consuming sweater route and instead knitted my love a pair of comfy socks. Well beware, there is a lesser known superstition which says, don’t knit your other half a pair of socks or they will walk away from you. So. Best to avoid socks then too!
Want to knit something in spite of the Sweater Curse?
This free pattern from Rowan is a cabled classic that never goes out of style. Plus it's a chunky weight, so you can be finished in no time at all! Click here for the pattern.
Similarly, for the ladies, Lantic is so pretty and very simple and classic, she can’t fail to love this pattern. Featured in the new Rowan Magazine 61, it's classy and simple. Click here to see all the patterns in this book.
Finally, if you haven’t started knitting anything but want to send your love a little token of your love, why not knit this cute little heart – it will take less than an hour but will speak volumes! Click here to see the tutorial.
Claire Montgomerie is a textiles designer, author, stylist, teacher and craft editor. She was the editor of Inside Crochet for many years, she is now stylist and Photoshoot Editor for the publication and edits The Knitting Collection. She teaches knitting and crochet workshops at The City Literary Institute in Covent Garden and her most recent craft book is Hooked, a crochet guide for beginners published by Parragon. The main aim of her work is to reinvent the products of ancient and traditional needlecraft processes, while retaining all their intricacies and comforting charm!