Once upon a time, I joked that I should rename this blog “Vickilicious Knits Green Socks,” and I think at this point, my love of green knits is fairly well documented. Lately, I’ve moved from socks to sweaters, but as you can guess, green still factors heavily.
(I’m going to interrupt myself for one moment to say that I actually finished one of those long-overdue gifts that I mentioned in my last post, and its recipient loved it. I’m waiting for photos, but I’m also counting that as both my “finishing a nearly-finished project” and January project goals… even if I haven’t blogged it yet. Baby steps, right?)
Today I started a new green sweater, which ticks all the marks for projects I love: it’s a seamless, top-down raglan, knit in aran weight yarn, with just enough patterning on the back to make it interesting, and no closures to worry about. You probably know it better as the Leaflet cardigan, designed by Cecily Glowik MacDonald, available for free on Knitty.
This photo of the yarn is not from this sweater, and it’s so old that I’ve actually worn those shoes out by now (they were fairly poorly made and overpriced ballerina flats from Urban Outfitters, and I adored the color but won’t get fooled again). But you may recognize this yarn from my Katelyn Basic Sweater, which has gotten a surprisingly huge amount of wear and keeps getting more comfortable and cozier.
This yarn is one of those big box craft store acrylic yarns, Caron One Pound. I read a blog post a while back with some fairly derisive things to say about sweaters knit in forest green acrylic worsted weight yarn bought from a big box craft store, and I felt all defensive and inferior because as I was reading it, I was wearing that sweater. I had literally just been thinking how well it had worn, what a treat it was to have something machine washable that didn’t smell when it got rained on, didn’t stretch out, and got softer and lovelier with each wearing. Oh and as a major bonus, cost about $8 total, which made my student-loan-dependent wallet ecstatic.
I don’t want to be some sort of acrylic apologist because I don’t actually think it’s necessary and anyone inclined toward yarn snobbery probably isn’t going to be reading this blog anyway. But I will say I loved my Katelyn sweater so much that I had zero hesitation about using the rest of the Caron I had purchased on this project, which I hope to enjoy wearing as much as I’m already enjoying knitting it.
But, just for the heck of it…
How to Make 100% Acrylic Sweaters You Will Capital-L Love
- Pick a color that makes your heart sing. Bonus points if it’s a particularly saturated or exciting color that is difficult to achieve in dyeing natural fibers.
- Knit at the recommended gauge, for real. It’s not pleasant to knit any yarn at too tight a gauge, and the people who call acrylic “squeaky” and unpleasant are probably trying to force it into things it doesn’t want to do.
- Be diligent and careful about following the pattern correctly. Be painstaking in your finishing and do your absolute best seaming.
- Gently “kill” the acrylic before the piecing stage. You can either soak it in water or spray it, then steam it with an iron. Manufacturers steam acrylic knits all the time to neaten up the stitches and give a nice drape, just as you would do with a natural fiber garment. If the garment is saturated with water, you can also run the iron over it – using a press cloth – at a fairly low temperature, but this will flatten it out. That’s not necessarily a bad thing and can make it more drapey and thin, but you can experiment. If you skip this step, your yarn will soften considerably with a machine wash and dry, so have confidence that it will end up a nice garment even if it doesn’t immediately seem that way.
- Machine washing is good. You can lay it flat to dry, but I find that machine tumble drying only on low heat actually makes the sweater softer and fluffier, especially if you use a nice fabric softener (I use either Downy or Bounce sheets). The low heat is the most critical part of that sentence. If you dry anything acrylic on high heat, be it sweaters, blankets, or fleece jackets, they will become that crunchy, dry texture, full of pills, and unpleasant to the touch.
- To prevent pilling or mechanical damage, wash your sweater with other “soft” garments like blouses, underwear, and socks. I wash all of my clothes on a low agitation or gentle cycle, which keeps them from stretching or pulling in weird places. I also wash my jeans and corduroys separately from other clothing, as I think they are the main culprits in damaging knits.
- Above all, don’t treat your sweater as some inferior thing because you didn’t spend $150 on a Merino wool-unicorn down blend. Yes, luxury yarns are nice, and I love natural fibers just as much as the next knitter, but they are not necessary to a well-made, attractive, and wearable garment. Is every blouse in your closet silk or linen, or do you have some cotton or rayon blends? Are all your store-bought sweaters 100% cashmere, or do you allow yourself some garments that are attractive, machine-washable, and affordable? One of the most extraordinary things about knitting is that it is accessible to such an enormous variety of people, with the possibility to produce beautiful, wearable garments in any budget or skill level. Treat yourself to an $8 low-maintenance sweater every once in a while, without feeling like you’re a lesser knitter for it.
I didn’t start this post as an acrylic-lover’s manifesto, but it seems that’s where it’s gone. Of everything I’ve knit so far, my acrylic sweaters are the projects that have gotten the most wear, been the easiest to own, and fit the best in my life and budget. I’m excited that this project will be another such triumph.