Why You Need to Knit a Bulky Sweater

Do you do bulky? I know you knit socks and I know you knit shawls, but do you knit with bulky weight yarn? Bulky sweater patterns have been a staple in my queue since I started knitting. My first sweater was Big Sack Sweater, in bulky yarn and so is the one I’m currently planning.

Whereas my tastes in other things have changed, going from “Why would I ever knit a shawl?” to spending untold hours digging through stash for various shawl color combos, I don’t think my preference for working with bulky yarns will ever dissipate.  It is still my favorite type of project, my favorite little getaway from this stressful world. Enter Strathcona by Tara-Lynn Morrison.

I realize that bulky isn’t everyone’s favorite yarn type. You insane knitters with your microscopic needles. Cross train your poor hands with some heavyweight yarn! Most of us have never used the needles sized higher than US 10 in our interchangeable sets. I get it. It really isn’t super practical for me to knit things in heavyweight wool. Fortunately practicality has little bearing on my craft life. Cough…a hundred plus sweaters..cough…cough… Yet, even I have a few really cold days a year to wear a heavyweight sweater, and when I do, I still feel a bit of amazement that I was able to make a garment that is keeping me this warm. When it’s not that cold, I can always rely on a chill when family members slyly bump the air conditioning ever further down in our ongoing Temperature Wars.

Something I’ve heard about using bulky yarn is, “I don’t need to add anything called ‘bulky’ or ‘chunky’ to my body.” I understand that taste in garment fit is individual, and our choices are personal, but I’m convinced there’s a bulky garment out there for everyone’s tastes. Hint: try Strathcona.

Most of Tara-Lynn’s designs require the heavier weight yarns and she uses them to create garments anybody can feel good in. Her yarn choices are always the very colors I want to work with at the moment and they’re perfectly styled. I remember looking at her knits via Etsy, before she was using the name Good Night Day, and thinking her styling was so much better than that of other sellers. I don’t see myself as into fashion (You should see what I am wearing at the moment.) yet I love handmade things, unique expressions of self, and good photography. Tara’s Good Night Day Knits books feature some really beautiful photography by Arden Wray. They draw me in by creating an environment for this kind of making. Nothing satisfies me more than sinking into my couch with some bulky yarn and one of her designs. I have a neat little collection of all of her printed books on my knitting book shelf, even the first one which still has my penciled notes on what yarns and needle sizes I used to make Markham, Simcoe, and the Pembroke Tank. It’s strange to think it’s almost been ten years since then. Now these patterns don’t just bring me knitting joy, but also a healthy dose of nostalgia. If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time you’ll know I sort of live for that sweet, melancholy feeling.

It has been exciting to see Tara Lynn’s business grow from the sale of finished hand knit pieces to also include very popular pattern collections.  There are so many Good Night Day FOs popping up on Instagram. Let’s take a look at them now.

Seriously, click the link and you will see every possible color used and all body type wearing these sweaters. There are multiple variations: long sleeves or not, cropped body, added length, color blocking, stripes, variegated, and fringe. If you do a quick Ravelry search of finished Strathcona sweaters, you’ll see over 460 of them on the site as of today. Do you see one that doesn’t suit the knitter? You may not love their color choice or the yarn type, but again and again, I find every iteration of this design just works. I think it’s the simplicity of it. It is capable of being both a functional wardrobe basic and/ or a bold statement.

Another thing I noticed about the pool of finished Strathcona’s was that a third of them were knit in yarns I would consider very affordable. By that, I mean a superbulky sweater that doesn’t cost $100, or even $40. There’s nothing wrong with moderately priced or luxury yarn. But the price of super bulky yarn can be a deal breaker for a lot of knitters. Here, I’m seeing some knit in Cascade Magnum and Spuntaneous, and some in Lion Brand Thick and Quick. And they’re all really nice.

When I was looking for yarn for mine, I really wanted to use 100% wool but was on a budget, so I searched for superbulky wool by price and found this line by Drops sold at Sun Yarn Studios on Etsy. It is about $3.28 per ball at the time I’m typing this. That is $40 plus change, including shipping, for enough yarn to make a Strathcona or another of Tara-Lynn’s designs in real wool. This yarn did give me the kind of fabric I have always wanted in a super bulky yarn.

There are other work-arounds for not having the right size yarn or the type of wool you’d prefer. Once, when seeing I didn’t have a superbulky yarn in wool for a test knit, I held lightly variegated Aran wool with a bulky synthetic blend for a piece that had a natural feel and some visual interest. That was my Lambton Cowl, another Good Night Day knit, and I’m still enjoying it. What was at first a compromise with my budget, made for a favorite winter walk accessory. You will still find it in my car for surprise cold spells.

I’ve also doubled up bulky strands to meet the correct gauge of a superbulky yarn and in my upcoming Tofino Cardigan I intend to hold an affordable mohair lace weight yarn together with bulky Wool of the Andes in a similar color to get a look like that of the sample, which was knit in luxe Loopy Mango Mohair So Soft.

So have I convinced you that you too must try a super bulky sweater? Consider one more aspect of this kind of knit: it will make your non-knitting friends want to learn how to knit. I have been asked by friends and my daughter to knit Tara’s designs for them more often than any other patterns.  This is the perfect opportunity to say, “Let me help you knit one.” The fact that the individual stitches are so clearly visible to them, so fluffy and touchable, makes them more likely to take you up on the request.  And just like that, you could have a knitting friend. 

In all honesty, this hasn’t worked so well for me. They just lean on me harder to make it for them, but I’ve seen enough people under #goodnightdayknits proclaiming it their first knit sweater to know it does work.

I used US size needles 8, 11, and 13 along with 9 skeins of Ganstudio Drops Eskimo yarn in the Army colorway. It is a single spun strand, very roving like.

I’m not really sure how well this yarn will hold up, but it feels comparable to Crazy Sexy Wool and Brown Sheep Lamb’s Pride. If you’re wondering if it will pill because it isn’t plied, there’s a trick I learned on Ravelry to stop pilling: fill your sink with water that is heated almost to boiling. Put your completed garment in and let it soak until it becomes thoroughly wet and the water has cooled some. Press the water out of it with a towel and let it air dry like normal. It is supposed to be pill free afterward. This is a fairly recent knit so I haven’t worn it enough to really test that process (also…Texas) but it is pill-free so far.

Modifications: This is not as bulky a yarn as that used in the sample so I knit on smaller needles and got a slightly tighter gauge for a nice fabric. However, I was able to add 2 or 3 raglan increases to compensate for the smaller gauge.

Fixing gaps: I often have gaps on each side of the sleeve, where stitches are picked up. I used this trick to deal with that: I pick up two stitches more than the pattern calls for, knit around the sleeve to one st before the picked up stitches, ssk (joining a held st with a picked up st) knit to just before the last picked up stitch, k2tog (joining that last picked up stitch with one that was held), then knit around as usual. Sometimes I just have to fiddle.

I made sure to keep my Strathcona cropped. I wanted a cropped body and cropped sleeves, with no shaping to them. All of which could be modified if you wanted.  I love the way my sleeves turned out. They are exactly the fit, and length I wanted.

No doubt that is why it is a retreat-like kind of project for me. I find nothing soothes me more than closing out the noise of the world and working on a chunky sweater and having something substantial to show for that time. In a small way it is something tangible and lasting to hold onto in a time where everything feels strange and in flux. It is somewhat grounding.

(more on Ravelry, Instagram, and Flickr)

You can hear more about my experience knitting Strathcona on My So-Called Handmade Life Podcast: Episode 25: Our Goals , Episode 26: That DIY Mixtape Zine Ethos, Episode 27: My Sweet Little Abomination, and obviously its in Episode 40: The Sweater Experience with all the sweaters ever (Don’t judge!)

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