The Boyfriend Sweater
OK, all you knitters out there, young and old, here’s a question for you. What always starts out with good intentions and the thump, thump, thump of a young heart? Oh, and of course, a pair of needles, a ball of yarn, and hopefully, a very good pattern.
A sweater for a boyfriend. Maybe the "one." Maybe not. Volumes could be written on the subject. Every knitter who knows what I am talking about put down your needles a moment. You are not alone. You are part of a sisterhood of women, many who even find the experience slightly humorous by middle age.
Here is my tale: told across time and a vast space and yet still so very clear in my mind. I met Avi (name has been changed) at a garage sale. It was late August in Troy, New York. My mom’s neighborhood was having its annual garage sale featuring tables, chairs, pots, pans, plates, and kitchen appliances. The kind of household goods that foreign grad students like Avi needed to survive in nearby student housing.
The garage sale was a big social event in our neighborhood; everyone popped in and out, sipping coffee and joking around to pass the time while the goods were inspected by the student customers. I had returned from living and working and Israel just in time to join in the festivities.
I heard someone speaking Hebrew: a young, dark and handsome male someone. Perhaps I could help him find something, I asked in my best Hebrew accent. That question was the beginning of my relationship with Avi. The middle is where the boyfriend sweater comes in and the sweater is what this essay is about.
One cool autumn night, Avi and I were talking about winter clothes. It gets cold in upstate New York and he would definitely need to buy some sweaters. "What about ski sweaters?" he asked. I don’t know what possessed me to offer to knit him one, but I did.
"I can knit anything," I told him that night, not feeling that this was an exaggeration. I had been knitting for years, but rarely anything complicated and almost never with a pattern. Still, I felt I was an expert knitter.
Avi was impressed. I don’t know if he had researched ski sweaters, but he asked for one with snowflakes and reindeer.
That was the easy part. I smiled.
Later that week, Avi and I picked out the yarn and the pattern. I set to work. It all seemed so straightforward. I didn’t ask for any advice or help, not even from my mother who had knit lots of sweaters. I finished the front and back. Beautiful. The snowflakes and reindeer were perfect. The fabric was tight and firm. Was I great or what?
I brought the sweater on our next date and could hardly wait for Avi to try it on. But as he lifted the sweater, I could already see it was too small. I told Avi not to worry. It wasn’t a big deal. I worried all night how to fix it.
I brought Avi’s sweater to my in-house expert. My mother’s solution: dump the project and buy him a ski sweater.
I called my good friend Isabel, a wonderful knitter. She was calm, mathematical, and totally understood the concept of the boyfriend sweater. She told me to carefully take Avi’s measurements (decidedly the best part of making the sweater). She mapped out the entire sweater on graph paper so that it was a visual guide for me. I still have that paper. Her basic advice was; watch your gauge.
I stumbled around and fixed the sweater the best I could. The relationship was winding down by then. I had made plans to go study printmaking in Iowa and Avi was going to return to Israel. Still, when I gave him the sweater I told him the following: it was a special sweater. Not only special because I made it, but special because I had made it so that if he looked at other woman or thought about another woman, the neck would grow tighter and tighter, and well, you get the picture. So did he. I never saw Avi wear the sweater I made him.
When I met my husband, I bit my tongue every time I thought I might blurt out an offer to knit him a sweater. In our twenty-some years together, I have made him lots of mittens. Even complicated Scandinavian ones with snowflakes when we lived in Minnesota. He wore them until they could be patched no more. But I never made him a ski sweater with reindeer. That was for boyfriends.
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