The Sweater Curse De-mystified

PaganCub's picture

By
Katherine Welsh


If you’ve been in a mall lately, you are well aware
that Gift Season—that giving-and-getting extravaganza
encompassing Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Year’s,
and more—is here. And close on its heels will
be Valentine’s Day. Knitters everywhere are turning
to their needles with a vengeance to whip up mittens
for mom, an afghan for an aunt, socks for sisters
and, perhaps, a sweater for a sweetheart. Before embarking
upon the latter, though, naïve knitters should
be aware that they are flying in the face of one of
the most pervasive superstitions of knittingdom: the
Sweater Curse.

Leah* was one of the myriad innocent victims of the Curse.
She once knit not one but two sweaters for her boyfriend—and
then they broke up. Her Dad was the lucky recipient
of one of the sweaters, and the other went to Leah’s
new boyfriend, making Leah feel plenty guilty for
giving him a gift made for another. Not one to give
up easily, Leah later knit a sweater for another boyfriend
and suffered another painful break-up. She is now
happily married to a man who [luckily?] doesn’t
even like sweaters.

Although Leah’s story ended happily, scores of knitters
will tell you that the Sweater Curse is nothing to
joke about. Just mention it to any group of knitters,
and you’ll be regaled with stories of romance
gone awry.

I first heard of the Curse when I wrote to a knitting
e-mail list for advice on a new project. I had discovered
that, although my boyfriend had previously dated at
least two knitters, none of them had made him a Dr.
Who scarf—a replica of the 15-foot erratically-striped
scarf used on the British science fiction show. And
he loves Dr. Who. I asked the group for advice on
knitting this scarf, but in response, I got advice
of a very different kind. I was immediately deluged
with cautionary messages. "Never knit for a man before
marriage!" one read. "Don’t put all that time
and effort into something for just a boyfriend," others
advised. And almost all of them mentioned the Sweater
Curse.

In its most dire form, the Sweater Curse states that
if you knit anything for a romantic interest before
he or she is bound to you by a tie such as marriage,
he or she will break up with you. Many knitters staunchly
believe this—some because of repeated personal
experience. Rose tells one such story:

"I made two sweaters for men I was involved with and
lost both, in addition to several men I lost while
I was still in the process of making a sweater. When
I started dating my last boyfriend, we talked about
the curse, so I made him an afghan, then a scarf.
Finally for Christmas that year, I made him a beautiful
green Aran sweater, and we laughed about the curse
because things were going so well between us. Two
weeks later he dumped me by e-mail without any explanation
then or since. People can laugh and give me a thousand
examples of times it didn’t happen [to them],
but I’m not risking it again. I’ve lost
the best sweaters that way."

There are plenty of knitters who don’t believe in the
curse. Libby writes, "I am proof that the curse is
not necessarily true! I knit a sweater for a boyfriend
one Christmas, and less than a year later, we were
married. Still are, too, and happily." Like Libby,
many doubters of the Curse are living proof that it
is not universal. Some doubters appear to be victims
of the Curse, but argue that other factors, such as
immaturity, were the true reason for the collapse
of their earlier relationships, not their knitted
gifts. Other knitters, though, believe that what we
call a Curse is, in fact, a symptom of the psychology
that plays out in our relationships.

Some suggest that knitting for a partner is a similar [albeit
less drastic] tactic to that of having a baby to save
the relationship. June broke up with her boyfriend
of a year and a half just as she was in the middle
of knitting him a pair of socks, which was the only
gift she ever knit for him. "I wonder if maybe I decided
to knit for him because I knew the relationship was
on the rocks," she writes. "I was hoping that affection
[as expressed by the socks] would hold us together
when we were drifting apart."

Sara ended a relationship because of her own knitting
project—or, rather, her boyfriend’s response to it. Although
he professed to like the sweater she knit him for
his birthday, he wouldn’t wear it in public because
it was "uncool" without a designer label; he even
put down the sweater in front of his friends because
they were teasing him about being too domestic. He
then went out of his way to buy Sara a birthday gift
of the exact same monetary value as the yarn that
went into the sweater, openly disregarding the time,
effort, and love she had put into the sweater’s
creation. "Gifts don’t have to be of the same
value, as long as they come from the heart, but this
one obviously didn’t," she writes. "So I broke
up."

While few knitters use knitted gifts so consciously as a
gauge for the worthiness of a potential mate, it seems
clear that the innocent sweaters may indeed serve
such a purpose. When a man receives a hand-knit gift
from his girlfriend, he must confront the fact that
she cares about him enough to spend the thought, time,
and energy required to create a personalized, hand-crafted
gift for him. Some men are uncomfortable with so obvious
and public a declaration of emotional intimacy, especially
if they fear or are not ready for a higher level of
commitment.

Indeed, a knitted gift may appear to be an outright
statement of commitment. "Knitting for a boyfriend is a
very domestic gesture which presumes a future together
. . . at least to somewhere beyond the time it takes
to knit the object," she wrote. If the one who receives
the gift is uncomfortable with these implications,
he may end the relationship as a result.

This, then, may be the "truth" of the Sweater Curse. The
creation of the sweater itself does not force the
relationship to end. But the sweater may serve as
a catalyst for one of the partners in the relationship—the
one who receives the gift or, in some cases, the knitter
herself—to recognize and express the fact that
he is not comfortable with the view his partner takes
of the relationship. Some knitters embrace this aspect
of the Curse and are happy that their sweater incidents
alerted them to the unsuitability of a potential partner.
After describing how she lost a boyfriend while finishing
a sweater that he had actually requested, Carrie praised
her husband for cherishing her knitting and wrote,
"I thank my lucky stars that the other guy was scared
off by the sweater!"

So what’s the verdict? Should you knit your boyfriend
a gorgeous raglan for Christmas or just go to Best
Buy and pick up the new computer game he’s been
eyeing? Well, would he like it and wear it? Some guys
just don’t wear sweaters, or scarves, or whatever
it is you are thinking of knitting. If you don’t
mind it not being a total surprise, it’s generally
smart to run the idea by him first, and perhaps ask
him to help pick out a pattern and yarn. That way
you won’t risk spending umpteen hours knitting
something in a style or color your partner secretly
despises.

If you determine that your partner would enjoy receiving
the gift, and that you’d enjoy knitting it, go
ahead. Just keep in mind what the sweater may suggest
to him. A hand-knit gift will hint at a certain level
of both commitment and domesticity. Make sure that
you are comfortable with this before you express it
to your partner. And be aware that your expression
of these feelings may cause your partner to confront
his own. Most importantly, though, keep in mind that
if you are in a loving, secure relationship, you should
have nothing to fear from the Sweater Curse.

So what happened with the boyfriend for whom I knit the
massive scarf? I gave him the work-in-progress for
Christmas and finally finished it around Valentine’s
Day. And, well, yes, he did break up with me in early
March. A year and a half later, though, he’s
still my best friend, and he still loves the scarf.
I’m knitting him socks for Christmas.

*All names have been changed.

**story and image(s)courtesy of knitty.com**

Comments

albert's picture

Caveat Knittor.

Caveat Knittor.

mikeracing77's picture

Very insightful and a good

Very insightful and a good read, a nice look into the psychology of knitting in a new relationship. Thanks for sharing, I enjoyed the read!

Thank you.

Thank you.

BuduR's picture

I don't believe in the

I don't believe in the sweater curse. If I did, I'd knit my ex 100's in hopes he would stop trying to come back.

MWK's Token Estrogen-American

When my (then) boyfriend

When my (then) boyfriend asked me to knit him a sweater because he admired the ones I knit for myself, I happily agreed. Forty nine years later we are still hanging in there. It's not the sweater - it's the people.

TomH's picture

Congrats ... Wish you many

Congrats ... Wish you many more!