Choosing the Right (Sweater) Project

The other week, I was teaching a class and, as usual, at the beginning we went around the table and did introductions.  Often I ask people to give their name, how long they've been knitting, and then some kind of tidbit about their knitting:  maybe their most recent FO, or what they are currently working on.I'm not sure this is actually a toad, but I like his expression.  Close enough.

This particular class was part of a series, and many of the same people were there as had been there the week before.  So I started trying to think up a new "question".

For some crazy reason, I asked them to tell the group about one of their TOADs.

TOAD is one of those cutesy knitting acronyms birthed in the online era, to go with "frogging" and "tinking" and "UFO".

TOAD stands for Trashed Object, Abandoned in Disgust.

I really don't know why I thought it was a good idea for us all to confess our knitting sins to each other.  What the heck was I thinking?  In hindsight, the only excuse I can offer is that I had been chatting prior to class with some of the students, and some of my own TOADs came up.  Maybe I just didn't want to feel lonely?

About halfway around the table, though, I was really feeling bad about this choice, because the amount of knitterly pathos being revealed was just heartbreaking.  I did try to suggest that maybe this was not such a hot idea — but since "confession is good for the soul", and "misery loves company", they persevered.  And, I kind of like to think they were bonding.

(We did also agree that "what happens at the knit shop, stays at the knit shop", so don't worry — everyone's TOADs are safe with me.)

I didn't exactly keep count, but most of the sad tales were about sweaters.  And most of those stories were about sweaters that looked wonderful on the pattern page, but didn't look so wonderful when finished and tried on.

This is a particularly horrible form of disappointment.  A knitter buys yarn, chooses a pattern, works for weeks or months, sews seams, adds buttons, and for what?  To put the thing on finally and look in the mirror and go, "Ugh."

No wonder a lot of us stick to socks and scarves, with, say, the occasional bag or baby sweater thrown in.  Only a masochist would continue to do this to herself over and over!

But how do you avoid it?  I mean, it's not like shopping, where you can try the thing on and then decide not to buy it if it looks like crap.  The only thing you can do at the moment of truth is gift the wretched thing to someone else, and go lick your wounds and cry in your booze.

Well, I've made plenty of sweaters and yes, some of them were TOADS — but my batting average is probably better than most.  So — I'm here to tell you my big secret.

The secret is in picking the right sweater project to begin with.

And to do that, you need to learn what looks good on YOU.

(And OBTW, you're not allowed to say, "Nothing.")


True, this is not always easy — "If dressing well were easy, then everyone would do it."

But, it's totally worth it:  not only in day-to-day getting dressed, but particularly in choosing a sweater to knit.

If (like me) you can look at the pictures in the magazines and say, "Well, that's cute, but a boat neckline always makes my shoulders look like a linebacker's" — why, then you've just dodged a big ol' boat-necked bullet.

And it's really not about complicating things with more choices; it is about simplification.  It's about eliminating unflattering styles, and narrowing down the wide world of fashion to what works for you.

I bet you already do this, to some extent.  You have, perhaps, a color that you avoid like the plague?  (mauve pink)  Or one that is "yours", that you know is always a flattering choice?  (any shade of green)


I grew up with this kind of thinking, partly because I have unusual coloring — but also because I had a mother who was interested in fashion, and sewed.  And after the above-mentioned conversation around the knitting class table, it occurred to me that there are plenty of books written for sewers on the subject of "How to Build a Flattering Wardrobe in 15 Minutes" or whatever — but I can't think of any for knitters.

And how unfair is that?  Because we put a heckuva lot more time into our projects than sewers!

Well, here are a few relatively inexpensive suggestions to get you started learning your own personal fashion rules.  (Oh, and if you click on the picture or the title of a book, you will be might be taken to the listing for it on  If that doesn't work, it may be because I am not doing something right, or you might have an AdBlocker running on your browser.)

Flatter Your FigureOne of the knitters in that TOAD-confessing class suggested a book that I also have owned for years, and it was in fact the first one that came to mind when listening to all these sad TOAD stories.  It's "Flatter Your Figure", by Jan Larkey.  The before-and-after pictures on the cover should be enough to convince you that this stuff works!  If this book has a flaw, it's that it is close to 20 years old and the styles can look a little dated.  But it's easy to use and understand, and to take with you when you're shopping!

Science of SexyAnother current book is somewhat misnamed, I feel, but the info is very good.  "The Science of Sexy" by Bradley Bayou is not 100% about sexy.  It's also about "sassy".  The drawings are cute, and the styles are more current.  Its system takes into account the measurement around your shoulders, as well as the other Big Three, in determining your "Dressing Room" and your best clothing choices.

Looking GoodAnother one geared specifically towards the sewers, comprehensive but perhaps a bit dated, is "Looking Good" by Nancy Nix-Rice.  This one also has a pretty impressive before-and-after photo, but it's on the inside.  And I have to say, they used the old trick of taking the "before" photo straight on, and the "after" photo at 3/4 profile.  But heck, it might be worth looking at just to learn how that makes a big difference in the photos you see on the patterns!

  2 comments for “Choosing the Right (Sweater) Project

  1. roberta
    11/17/2009 at 4:55 PM

    I agree with you 100%.  Another suggestion would be to try on ready-to-wear.  This helps you to narrow down the style that looks good.

    • 11/17/2009 at 7:46 PM

      That is definitely a good idea, especially if you have gone through one of the books but are unsure about the advice. I love the review on Amazon for “Flatter Your Figure” where one woman says she wasn’t sure about a square neckline, until she bought one and received two compliments in one day!

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