Saturday, September 12, 2009


The inspiration
If your home is like mine, it doesn’t have central heat, and in September, the temperature begins to drop. While the day may be sunny, after the sun goes down, you feel the chill. At times like that, you begin to think about the gas or wood stove that will soon heat the house. Even if you are lucky enough to have a whole-house furnace, there are economic and ecological reasons for not turning on the heat before it’s absolutely necessary.

With a little foresight, everyone can practice home energy conservation, even in fall and winter. Instead of stoking the stove or turning up the heat, at the first sign of frosty air, you can consider “green” alternatives. One option that you have is to light up the stove for an hour or so in the morning and again in the evening, and hopefully that will be sufficient. For those with furnaces, you can keep the thermostat down to sixty-five degrees and put on another layer of clothes.

There are traditional ways to stay warm, even in a somewhat cold house. If it’s evening, you can wear a house robe over your pajamas and drink hot tea or cocoa and bundle up in blankets. A knitted night-cap can also be used. Or if it’s daytime, you can wear a heavy sweater over a long-sleeved shirt or lighter sweater. If that’s not enough, try wearing a vest, over or under your sweater (depending on how bulky it is). You can also put on a knitted cap and two pairs of socks. That’s the way, your grandpa and grandma did it years ago, and it still works today for people of all ages and both genders.

That’s why on this page, I’m thinking about the chill to come and praising the common sweater. In this case, I’m not referring to the stylish cardigan, but to the traditional bulky knit pullover – the kind that fishermen wear (or, at least used to wear). You won’t have to turn up the heat to keep warm. Instead, you can just pull on your bulky sweater. Who cares if it’s the latest syle or not? You want to be comfortable in your home, and a bulky sweater is the best way to stay warm.

I hope you have such a sweater, somewhere in your closet, or attic, or basement. Get it out and make sure it’s still in good shape. If it is, wash it and put it on whenever you feel the chill. If you don’t have one now, there are usually some heavy sweaters at thrift stores. If you find a great one, buy it. Check to see that other members of your household also have their own bulky sweaters and encourage them to wear them proudly this fall and winter. You can be sure that you’ve arrived at a “green” solution to what otherwise would be an uncomfortably cool house.

If, by chance, you don’t have a bulky sweater, or if a family member doesn’t have one, this is the perfect time to sit down and knit one. You can be doubly “green” when you knit up the new sweater using your extra yarn or recycled yarn. You may wonder where you are going to get recycled yarn. It’s easier than you might think. First, look through your closet and drawers, and ask the family to look, too, to see if anyone has a big ugly sweater that they don’t like or no longer fits well. If there is one, it can be unraveled and used to make a heavy sweater. You can also make a few trips to thrift stores looking for a sweater with usable yarn. (See note below.)

Bulky sweaters can also be made using 2 or 3 strands of yarn, but, in that case, it’s harder to calculate how much yarn you’re going to need. If you find that there isn’t enough yarn in the old sweater that you scavenged, you can add a stripe or two with 2 or 3 strands of another kind of yarn. If you'd rather not add stripes, choose a much bigger sweater to unravel than the one you’re making. That way you’ll be sure to have enough yarn.

There are many free patterns for knitting bulky sweaters on both commercial and free websites. If you're knitting your first sweater, look for one similar to the picture above.  On the web, you'll find a number of beginner-level patterns that can be made in one weekend, using heavy yarn and big needles. So, not having great knitting skills is not an excuse for skipping this project.

My version of the easy-knit bulky sweater calls for all garter stitch (see drawing above). You don't even have to have a specific pattern. Just check any garter stitch pattern in your size that calLs for the size needles and the approximate yarn gauge you want to use.  Then, cast on the same number of stitches as mentioned in the pattern. From there, it's all straight stitching, no increases or decreases. Check with your own body that what you're making is the size and length you want. The sleeves will need to be loose so cast on a few more than you think you need and check the width to see your results after you've stitched a few rows.

- One of my variations on this simple sweater calls for using about three inches of seed stitch (also an easy stitch that's slightly tighter than garter) for the waist and the same for the sleeves at the wrist. Garter for the rest. I use the same number of stitches as I would for a pattern in all garter stitch and one number smaller needles only for the seed stitch rows.

- Just as a warning, many factory-made sweaters that you’ll find are made from thinner or finer yarns, and unraveling them won’t be simple. If you find a sweater with interesting yarn, look at it carefully. Check the texture and weight of the yarn to see whether or not it can be taken apart easily. I've had some bad moments trying to take apart sweaters that had fine yarns. It's possible, of course, but you have to be very patient to do it.

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