2017 FO-11 : The fisherman sweater (SoB-3)

Finished: The fisherman sweater (SoB-3)

The hardest part about making clothes, if you’re like me, is that when you’re done with them you have to put them on and have someone point a camera at you. Many are the times I feel I’ve done a disservice to a lovely garment due to my ineptitude as a “model,” but never more so than with this GLORIOUS fisherman sweater. My love, my holy grail. The reason I wanted to learn to knit. The garment I searched years for in shops and catalogs, then pored over patterns for another five+ years — between when I learned to knit and when I finally cast on. The sweater that’s been my constant companion for the past two-and-half months. Dearest Sweater: You deserve better than me.

So I’m being a little bit coy with the photos here because, basically, I blew it. Although, in fairness, we’re sort of both to blame — the sweater and me. In addition to my awkward self, the photos tell an unfortunate truth about the sweater, which is that there’s just a little too much of it. As a piece of knitting, it couldn’t be more stunning. But as a garment, it’s wide and droopy in the back, too long in the front, just a bit too big throughout the whole body. Schlumpy. (You’ll have to take my word for it.) But it’s fixable.

You may recall how obsessive I was being about the gauge and the proportions — blocking the first many inches of the back and the sleeve, doing my math, calculating for my perfect shape. I’m very particular about proportion, and the actual gauge and dimensions were a bit vague with this vintage pattern. A slight difference in how the gauge was measured could mean my version would be anywhere from fitted to enormous, and which of those it would be would determine how long I made it. (If it was going to be big, it could be on the long side, but if it was going to be fitted, I would make it shorter. I don’t like a long narrow tube of a sweater.) When the first half of the back blocked out to slightly wider than the XL dimensions given, I decided to go with it being oversized, while carefully controlling the upper sleeve dimensions so I wouldn’t appear to be drowning in it. And while the sleeves are fine, I am drowning in the body. Well, not quite drowning, but treading water a bit? And because the fabric is so dense, it matters. The good news is, I think it’s just that I blocked it too aggressively and may be able to fix it simply be reblocking it. It’s not very far from perfect, and if I can coax it a bit shorter, and resist laying it out quite as wide, that may be all that’s needed. It’s literally soaking as I type, and I’ll let you know how it turns out.

If that doesn’t solve it — if it requires surgery — I’m fully prepared to do it. I intend for this to be my forever sweater, and I love it way more than enough to get it absolutely right.

[UPDATE: Here’s how it turned out!]

Finished: The fisherman sweater (SoB-3)

I do believe it was fate that kept throwing this pattern into my path over the past few years, and am eternally grateful to the sweet reader, Catherine K, who sent me the stack of vintage booklets that included the Bernat Book of Irish Knits, seemingly the most popular knitting booklet (and aran sweater pattern) in the history of knitting. I’m so happy I decided to take Summer of Basics as the excuse to finally knit my long-longed-for fisherman, very pleased with my choice of Arranmore for the yarn, so insanely glad that when I finally settled on a pattern it was this one, and I love that I wound up knitting it in its 50th anniversary year. There’s also some poetry to the fact that I charted out the stitches on the flight to Squam at the beginning of June, knitted my swatch on the dock there on a cool early-summer morning, cast on in the car on a trip to see my family, bound off in the car on a trip back from seeing Bob’s family, and did the seaming on my screened porch at home on our first pleasant waning-of-summer day. Now I just have to wait for the weather to wear it!

Pattern mods and details are below, but remember today’s the last day to submit for SoB prizes. If you haven’t already, take a look at the notes on how to enter to win! Judges will deliberate and winners will be announced next week.

FO : The fisherman sweater

Regardless of any of the above, this is the most spectacular thing I’ve ever made and it was really very simple, which I’ll write more about another day. I know it looks complicated, but it’s just a few very straightforward, easily memorized stitch patterns knitted ad nauseum, with a decrease at each end of the RS rows for the raglan shaping, and a standard bit of neck shaping. There’s really not much to it!

The only tweaks I made were as follows:

– It’s essentially the XL at the bottom and scales down a bit in the upper regions, so I started the front and back pieces (on US5 for the ribbing, then US7) with 122 sts but I decreased three times between the ribbing and the underarms, leaving me with 116 each (in between the L and XL) when I reached the underarms. (Note that one of the ways the XL gets its width is there are 2 extra sts between the side cables and the raspberry stitch, which I didn’t like, so that’s where I did 2 of my 3 decreases on the back, with the third at the selvages. For the front, I moved those two stitches to the broken rib. You can see this in the photo below if you look closely.)

– For the cuffs, I cast on 46 sts on US5, increased to 60 on the plain knit row before starting the stitch patterns, and only increased 10 times as I worked the sleeves, so I had 80 sts at the underarms (in between the M and L).

– That meant I had fewer broken rib stitches in my sleeves (10 at each edge) than my sides (14 each). In order for the stitch patterns to stay aligned correctly at the raglans, I just decreased the sleeves more slowly at first than the body, so I arrived at the last of the broken rib stitches on the same row, then decreased evenly (every RS row) on all pieces from there up.

– Because I had fewer stitches throughout at the beginning of the shaping, I only needed to work 64 rows of yoke instead of 68, which made my yoke slightly shorter and spared me the overly deep underarms seen in the pattern photo.

– I did fudge the decreases a bit on the last few rows, since decreasing within the raspberry stitch portions is not normal and not equal from one side to the other — was careful to make sure I worked the same number of rows between underarm and bind-off on all edges, and that I had the same number of sts in each sleeve top at the end. (I kept a few more than the pattern called for — 10 or 12, I think, instead of 8.)

– And then I made up my own neck shaping, since I didn’t like the original and had different stitch counts anyway, but I did keep it high and small like the original — wanted to keep that vintage look.

– I also bound off all stitches and picked up for the neckband — I don’t believe in knitting a neckband from live stitches. I picked up 84 on US6, worked in the half-twisted rib for more like 2.5″ (pattern calls for 3″), bound off on US8 needles and sewed it to the pick-up ridge.

Pattern: Bernat 536-145 from Bernat Book of Irish Knits (1967)
Yarn: Arranmore in St. Claire, 8 skeins
Cost: Free pattern (gift from a friend) + $112 yarn (paid wholesale price)  = $112

You can scroll through all of my posts on this sweater hereInstagram posts here, and put a like on it at Ravelry if you do!

FO : The fisherman sweater

PREVIOUSLY in FOs: My first pants (SoB-2)


112 thoughts on “2017 FO-11 : The fisherman sweater (SoB-3)

      • I can’t wait to see what you do with it. I’ve had the pattern sitting on my shelf since my Nana died and have been busting to make it. But I do understand how annoying fit issues can be. I knitted BT’s Arlo for my daughter and the shoulders drive me crazy. I can’t bear them.

  1. I think you are being too hard on yourself! The sweater is lovely, and looks fab on you. It looks like a loose, comfortable garment that I would want to wear all winter long. And you have room for some layers – a turtleneck or denim shirt, or both. You did a really nice job! Reading over all your mods, I think that you are not giving yourself credit for a very clever pattern alteration. Great job! And I hope re-blocking solves all the invisible problems you have with the fit! :-)

  2. I love jumpers oversized, and it looks fantastic on you. I wouldn’t change a thing. ❤️❤️❤️

    • I love an oversized sweater, too, but there’s oversized and there’s unflattering, and this dips a toe into the latter category. I think it’s hard to appreciate without seeing it in person, since you can’t really get the weight or density of it from a photo.

  3. Please remember that you may not be exactly the same size and shape throughout your life. I have a few vests and a cardigan from my more svelte younger self that I wish I could still wear. I keep them as examples when I teach knitting classes. I have enough yarn to rework one of them, but it was the first garment I ever knit and I love to show it as an example of beginner’s (lack of) skills.

    • Many people would say all my clothes are too big, that’s how I like them, but they all fit the same as I’m approaching fifty as they did in my 20s. Regardless, I can’t know what shape I’ll be in the future so can only make it so that I want to wear it now, and the future will be what it will be. I’m definitely not putting a too-big sweater in my closet hoping I’ll grow into it someday!

  4. PS You’ve knit a beautiful garment. Congratulations! I have the same Bernat booklet, passed down from my mother-in-law who made many things from it.

  5. I think that the body shape and sleeve fit are pretty good (it’s difficult to really get a handle with the ‘coy’ photography) but I agree that its more of a sweater that’s perfect for layering …but…not with that choke-y collar….sorry. I just can’t get on with any knitwear that wraps itself tightly around my neck and even seeing it around some-one elses neck makes me feel claustrophobic and itchy.
    I guess that a trad sweater of this ilk would have that double collar and snug fit: but these were people living in non-heated houses, doing outdoor jobs, used to coarse wool and grateful for the one or two new garments they ever received. I would never wear anything that I didn’t really enjoy – bugger authenticity and ‘yay’ to comfort.

    • This was a book of patterns for suburban housewives, not so much actual fishermen. ;) But I’m the opposite of you: I love a high, folded neckband — did the same thing on my last three sweaters. What I can’t stand is a wide, gaping neck hole. To each our own!

      • Yes, so interesting what people prefer in not only the look but the feel of their clothes! My sister and I are like you two, respectively, jocolumbine and Karen. She hates anything close to her neck and I like it.

      • I guess that suburban housewives were encouraged to knit from the book (judging from the model) but it’s titled Irish knits – hence my comment, and I was also thinking about other similar trad knits and their chunky collars, I’ve seen quite a few patterns in my years as a knitter! But yes, to each his own.

  6. PS…I think some sort of modified, cabl-embellished wide funnel neck would suit the proportions of the sweater – and your face shape too.

  7. The sleeves fit you beautifully. And yes, a wee bit less “big” on the body would be perfection.

  8. It’s so beautiful!!! I’m making the Large, and having a few doubts now – maybe I should go bigger. I noticed that you went with the fold-over neckband. I’m not sure I like it. Does it feel bulky to you?

  9. It’s a gorgeous sweater! I hope re-blocking is all it takes to get the fit you want. It looks like a very complex design, so I’m interested in your future post about it being deceptively simple. Also, thanks for organizing the whole SOB17 challenge. It helped me – and by the content of the IG tags, a lot of others – get out of our comfort zones to try new things. I’m just in awe of the clothes people have made!

  10. And perhaps you will, as I did, fill out in your later years to find that the sweater was preparing you for many many years of wear (I cannot wear a small anything anymore, and I swear, I’m not any taller) A little bit of breathing room is a good thing.

  11. Stunning it is fabulous just the way it is. I love the way the back hangs on you – its fluid and will ebb and flow with you through the rest of your life!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  12. You and your gorgeous sweater are not the least bit shlumpy!!!! Spectacular is what I would say! Idon’t mind the collar but agree with jocolumbine that a cabley funnel neck would look great!

  13. I totally sympathize with the need to have it fit exactly. For me knitting is hard in this way – sewing I can tweak and tweak until it’s exactly right, and I haven’t spent so much time on each step – but knitting! Months until I know! and then potentially months to take out! But yeah. If I’m going to wear it it has to be right. And I completely agree, totally worth it to tweak until it’s perfect. I find myself taking the sweater to the sewing machine … heh. don’t tell!

  14. congratulations! i feel very happy for you and your holy grail project! like you i came to knitting through an obsession with the idea of The Perfect Sweater. i’ve yet to knit mine, many sweaters later…but i’m getting there! hope the blocking turns out well – personally, i think it looks wonderful on you in the photos!!

  15. What an accomplishment! I think it looks great — but I too have found that no matter how many swatches you make, how many times you check gauge, sweater knitting is always a bit of a crapshoot.

    • I was careful to let the swatch and the test parts dry naturally and unaffected, and then I pinned out the finished pieces, which was dumb. But correctable! Fingers crossed.

  16. This is absolutely the most beautiful sweater I have seen in a long time. From what you have shown of the sweater, I think it hangs beautifully on you! You’ve taken a classic look and given it a more modern feel – love it, love it, love it!!

  17. To be fair, it looks as though some of the droopiness that you’re complaining about is apparent in the model as well. I don’t think it looks “shlumpy,” rather, comfy. But I totally understand if it doesn’t match what you wanted it to and you don’t like it because of that.

  18. Wowww!!! Your sweater is stunningly beautiful and looks perfect on you!!! I also have the same Bernat Booklet from when I lived in the US back on the 70’s… Never had the courage do put any of those garments into real knitting but love to look at it. Thank you for organizing the SoB challenge. I did not finish any of my projects because I still work long hours, but it was a great stimulus for my return to knitting. Love to read your blog and also the comments. It is thorough and a great opportunity to learn and ponder about many daily issues.

  19. Glorious is right! Even as a maker, I can’t believe you made this. I feel like I should congratulate you, :) it’s that good!

  20. Its a beautiful sweater. I have to agree about the folded over neckband. They were definitely a “thing” back in the day, and I knitted a lot of them, but not as comfortable to wear (too bulky with two thickness of tight ribbing) and i would never make one now. I always thought it was because most of us lacked the skills to do a really neat elastic bind off at the neckline because I didn’t see it in the sweaters that came from Europe. I think it was more of an American thing.

    Looking closely at the bottom ribbing as an indication of what is above it, I think you over blocked the side panels: the spacing of the ribbing is different, and that is indicative of what is above it. Back in the 70s, we didn’t block much, if at all. Mostly just a quick steam. It is now an art all unto itself with great debates about method, and about the use of blocking boards, wire, etc. We didn’t have that then. If a pattern referred to it at all, it might say something like “lightly steam, then seam the pieces together”. So I suspect that the Bernat people were not assuming that the sweater would be stretched much, if at all, after the knitting. I think that if you just scrunch up the side panels as it is drying, and let them spring into their original selves, that all will be fine.

    And agreeing with PMcD: you will probably not be the same size all your life, nor will style remain the same forever. Your forever sweater should be ready to accomodate that.Please hold on the surgery!

    • The two panels in that bottom photo are identical except for the one detail they’re meant to show, which is that the bottom one (the back) has two extra stitches in the ditch between the outer cables and the raspberry stitch. On the front (the top panel) I moved those two stitches to the outside, leaving the same two stitches in the ditch as everywhere else. So they are different, but only in that regard.

  21. When you block again, remember that you might wear this over a tee or some sort of other layer. that will help use up some of the extra space. It really is stunning.

  22. I would never wear a too tight or fitted sweater-clingy makes me feel exposed-ha! So I also make mine on the larger side. They might look “big”but that is my comfort level.
    Once it is small it is small forever. You created a beautiful, wearable heirloom.

  23. Gorgeous Karen! The ease reminds me of a few vintage sweaters I’ve received as hand-me-downs, chunky yarns & maybe borderline “schlumpy” but perfect for the depths of winter. The stitch patterns are mesmerizing & I hope this round of blocking goes well.

  24. Your sweater is delicious! Congratulations on a job well done. Don’t worry, you’ll get it right…or you’ll find a new home for it. I’m sure your mother and sister are drooling.
    Just want to thank you for your blog. It inspired me to start knitting again (I haven’t touched the needles since the 1980’s) and I am so enjoying it.

  25. I have the same issues with a sweater I knitted last year. Paton’s Honeycomb Aran. It’s too oversized and bulky. It has been sitting in my closet for over a year as I decide what to do with it. I’ll be interested to know how you solve this problem! Otherwise, I think your sweater looks fantastic.

      • Well, it has a whole lot of other different problems. the proportions are too off–it’s wider than it is long, which sits funny on my 5ft tall frame. It’s made with O-wool 50/50 cotton/wool so it also doesn’t drape as nicely as it should. I’ve not tried to block it again, but maybe will do so.


        • If it’s Balance, have you machine washed and dried it? I actually like the fabric of that yarn better after machine-washing, and it does shrink up a bit. It’s risky — definitely keep an eye on it if you try it! Like check the dryer every ten minutes or something. But taking that risk might be better than it going unworn?

          • It’s balance and i’ve machined washed and dried in the dryer. It did shrink up a bit, but it also has the boxy look of sweaters from that time. I’m going to try to hand block it and see what happens. thanks!

  26. I wonder too if you could block it into the shape you like and then sew in ribbon along seam lines to prevent it from stretching out.

  27. I’m secretly hoping you end up going the surgery route, and posting about your process! Your blog has been such a great resource to learn about sweater knitting/fit! (PS the sweater + natural jeans combination is EVERYTHING)

  28. Bravo! I hope you get your intended fit without surgery. I focused immediately on how beautifully you corrected the vintage-y bits I dislike in the original photo. Your sleeves are not the baggy, lumpy ones in the photo (that would be even more so in push-up mode). Somehow, you made a foldover that doesn’t look like a rope around the neck. And your sweater hangs the way I like – not like those of yore where the ribbing always gripped my hips at the wrong place and the bulky sweater ballooned out above. Amazing!

    • Two things I can’t stand are voluminous upper sleeves or ribbing that clings to my hips, so I knew I had to work around that but hopefully without losing the 1960s flavor of the whole.

  29. Droopy knits, especially with heavier, textured fabrics, can be shored up using crocheted rows of horizontal slip stitches. Turn the sweater inside out, pin it to the dimensions you want, and then slip stitch across the fabric where the droop is occurring.

    It’s not a technique for major problems, but it can help when things are OK but not “right.” You aren’t necessarily going to go all the way across the fabric, you may only pick up the tops of ridges, and you definitely don’t want to distort the fabric.

    I mainly use it across the upper back of sweaters, 3-4 inches below the neckline, to give a bit of support for the sweater back. I’ve also done it across the tops of ribbing at the bottom of a sweater where that got a bit stretched out. It’s like kerning for knit stitches.

  30. It’s beautiful. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts about your process, and the reshaping of it. I learned a lot reading them.

  31. Il est vraiment génial, Karen ! Tu es en train de changer l’idée que je me faisais des pulls torsadés 😉

  32. Looks incredible. Hope you get it to exactly the fit you want and congratulations. Thanks for sharing so much about the process.

  33. First of all — Congratulations! What a beautiful sweater!!! I think that it looks great! Also, as I recall — I’m 57 and I remember this sweater pattern book (my mom owned it) and sweaters like this — these sweaters were meant to be layered. And the shirts that were to be worn under them were generally constructed with thick cotton twill fabric or thick flannel fabric. So I don’t think that your sweater is big at all. These sweaters were designed to be big. If you take another look at the model in the photogragh, her sleeves look quite large to me. So you’re okay! Wear that baby with pride! I would.

  34. It’s stunning! It doesn’t look too big to me but I’ll take your word for it. If you are uncomfortable with it then it’s too big – but still stunning!

  35. Okay. I understand the fit issue, and while we all adore you and anything you wear, if you’re not feeling it, then it needs to be changed. It is, nonetheless, a gorgeous sweater. I think I sighed audibly. When it works for you, it’ll sing.

  36. It’s so beautiful!! Please re-share when you’ve got it exactly as you want it :) I love the stitch patterns! I doubt it would work at all here, or if it’s even really a viable “solution” in general, but I knit a simple, a-line worsted sweater a size too big, which put it into the at-home-only category. Fine, but not ideal. But then I accidentally ran it through the washing machine and it felted a little. Now it’s so perfect! The fit, the added structure that looks vaguely architectural, the added protection from window drafts at my desk… happy accident!

    • I am never opposed to throwing a sweater in the dryer, with hawkish supervision. It can work wonders. So that’s definitely on the list of possibilities, depending how the reblock turns out.

  37. It is stunning and I hope you are able to doctor it to make it exactly what you dream it to be. I appreciate how candid you are about what you love or don’t love about things you’ve made and how intentional you are about the items in your closet. I have been knitting for 13 years and have made over 50 sweaters for myself. I would say that I love and wear about 20-25% of them…it seems like somewhat of a crap-shoot for me and has and continues to be a steep learning curve. I have recently been trying to spend more time going back and fixing things that just sit in my closet instead of making new things. I just wanted to say thank you for sharing your process and (sometimes) struggle to get exactly what you want out of things you make.

  38. Karen it is beautiful! You are so very talented and humble about too!! You always inspire me to go out of my comfort zone and try new things, thank you.

  39. Wow, you’ve done a beautiful job! While it looks great in the photos, I completely get your determination to have it fit EXACTLY the way you want. Getting the right fit is my main challenge in my knitting life. It doesn’t matter that others think it’s perfect. It’s only perfect when you think so. Cables, ribs, etc. are wasted on drawer liners…

  40. Sending good reblocking vibes your way, because as gorgeous as this sweater is (and yes, it is absolutely stunning), of course you want the fit you prefer!

    You still get a standing ovation for knitting this gorgeous thing, though!

  41. you know, i really like that slightly oversized look on you; it may take a little getting used to, if yo are used top more fitted things, but i find the things that are super utilitarian in colder months are those that are slightly oversized, thereby allowing for some insulation, warm, and not restrictive at all; plus it has to look cute and not too ”done”/effortless—all of which i think this sweater is on you!!
    maybe wear it a bit before you change it..?
    congrats on you very fine project.

  42. This will age me (55), but I made this sweater when I was in my early 20s living in London. I am 6’1″ with narrow hips and somewhat broad through the shoulders, though slim. I WAS SO PROUD. And it NEVER got worn. It should have been great but the ribbing rode up, the collar too tight, bulk in shoulders and armholes just dreadful. Just too bulky. I have thought, through the years, that I might steek and turn it into a cardi, but at the end of the day it went to Goodwill. I have been watching and watching your progress, as I was confident that you’d make it drape, and modernize it. I had thought you were working with O-wool Balance…with much empathy, Pat

    • My Amanda cardigan was Balance (among several other Balance sweaters I’ve knitted) but for this one I wanted wool. The fabric is amazing in this yarn, but definitely very dense.

  43. My 2nd sweater ever was a Penny Straker fisherman’s sweater. I made it the summer of 1987 out of bartlett yarns. I still have it. And it still irks me how not-perfectly it fit. I wish I knew then what I know now. Fix it. Unless you want it sitting in your closet sadly for 30 years.

  44. This is utterly outstanding. Just beautiful. I completely endorse your plans to change what you don’t like about it. Even though it will take time, you are so in love with it and its potential, it won’t be a burden. Well done. I can tell you’re proud of it, as well you should be. Can’t wait to see it post second blocking.

  45. By the way, if it is the same pamphlet, there is a darling hat with seed and popcorn sts that I’ve made a dozen times. Highly recommended! 2121-145 p.20 Women’s v.

  46. What an incredible job. It is completely stunning!! I hope you’ve patted yours of on the back – it’s richly deserved.

    (I hate taking photos of my makes, too. Ugh. )

  47. Fishermens sweaters were designed to be outerware. Other kayers could be worn underneath them. Can you shrink it a tad?

  48. It’s fabulous! What’s more, you look terrific in it! Enjoy every wearing–I’m completely jealous! 😃

  49. I feel your pain. In the past few months I have completed two knitted garments for myself neither of which came out as I had envisioned. However, since in each case there was limited yarn availability that played a key role, there is no chance to fix. Luckily, both are wearable and are fine; I have received compliments on them. I hope you are able to adjust this sweater as you want it to be. ( I do like it as is, but it is not my sweater)

  50. I totally understand because the same thing happened with my Aran sweater. All these cables add weight and volume, and in a worsted yarn, it does kind of hang on the body. I wonder if it isn’t just what it is supposed to be, I can’t see how such a textured sweater could fit more closely, unless you deliberately knit it smaller, or in a lightweight yarn.
    That being said, I think it is awesome.
    I just posted my SoB post today, impossible for me to do it earlier because of work, so I guess I´m out of the competition. Participating and finishing on time were my main goals, and I’m so happy I managed both.

  51. I’m looking at your pics again and it really looks amazing. I wouldn’t change a thing. It may be too warm for Nashville, but that’s a different matter.

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  54. I can totally relate. I made a lumber sweater in a honeycomb pattern that was beautiful but by the time I finished it was more like a coat than a sweater. Part of the problem was the size that I was measured for. My lumber was huge and I wasn’t wearing it, it sat in my closet. That bugged me because it is so beautiful. So this summer, I ripped it back to where I could adjust it although I totally reknit the back. I just have to knit the neckband and I will have a sweater that I can wear with pride for a very long time!! Plus I’ve also learned how to size a garment for myself!

  55. I cannot find the free pattern download anywhere. What am I doing wrong? All links run me in circles.

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