This curse is one of those things which receives much scoffing and yet many a knitter holds near and dear to their hearts. Don't believe me? Then check out Google and the 65,000 results I got when I searched for "boyfriend sweater curse."

Why? Because many knitters, and indeed crocheters, have seen too many situations, lived them even, where the significant other receives a hand knit sweater from their main squeeze and then departs soon after.

There are many reasons why the Sweater Curse appears to exist, and it's never the fault of the sweater. Still, many many knitters refuse to knit a sweater for their honey until after they get engaged. Indeed, many refuse to do so until they are safely married because as we all know a commitment ceremony negates the sweater curse. Personally, for some of the reasons below I think engagement and marriage merely mean it's harder to escape.

Some possible underlying reasons for such a curse to "exist":

  1. Knitter with poor timing - For novices, the sweater takes so long to make that the relationship dies a natural death at roughly the same time.
    "It took me eight months to knit! I hope you don't mind the neck is a little large, it's the first one I've ever made."
    Then there are the faster knitters who wait to make a sweater for their lover and then find the completion of the sweater caught up in the death throes of their relationship.
    "Er, do you want your sweater back? I'll have to fight the dog for it...."
  2. Precipitous knitter - The amount of perceived effort to go into the sweater frightens off a lover who has commitment issues or otherwise thinks that it signifies a permanence to which he or she is unwilling to agree.
    "It's nothing really! Why wouldn't I give you a sweater to keep you warm when I can't?"
    Of course, some knitters can churn out sweaters quite quickly and enjoy every minute of it. And some feel the urge to clothe everyone for whom they harbor any fondness. The relative difficulty and gravity of a garment should not be judged by size. A sweater made out of bulky yarn on large needles can be considerably less knitting than a pair of knee length socks in fine yarn on tiny needles, and some people find turning heels intimidating. Ignorance over one's lover's favorite hobby at such a basic level can be a sign of more worrisome indifference, although not always.
    "Oh, a sweater is too much work! How about socks? I like socks!"
  3. Clueless knitter - The item is hideously outside the range of acceptable clothing for the lover, and yet he or she is expected to wear it.
    "Oh, it's chilly today, why don't you wear your new bulky acrylic sweater with the purple koala on the front that makes you look like an eggplant (only just a little)? None of your friends have seen it yet!"
    This may highlight to the lover that there are areas of incompatibility and expectation with which they are unwilling to live. Of course, there are some who will just as carefully choose to wear the awful thing anyway.
    "Good idea, sweetheart, I'll go get it."
    On the other hand, there is also.
    "Oh, why don't you wear that butter-soft cream colored merino cable-knit sweater that makes you look like a model, especially when you just get out of bed and aren't wearing socks?"
    Which gets met with disdain because it is outside the range of acceptable clothing for the lover. Sometimes it's not the knitter whose fashion sense is at fault and sometimes the knitter disregards their lover's preferences on purpose.
    "I don't know, it doesn't go with my Comme des Garçons ensemble."
  4. Selfish knitter - Often knitters become attached to their work and almost fetishize it. When the sweater becomes more important than the person for whom it is intended, this may warn the lover that the end is near or should be encouraged.
    "You shrank it on purpose didn't you? I told you how to take care of it and you put it in the dryer anyway. I don't care if it itched, it was hand-processed Peruvian Alpaca on US#0000s! and the color-work used 8 charts I designed myself!"
    Of course, if I made something heirloom quality and my lover ruined it, I would look carefully at the relationship as well. Especially since there are things you can do about itching....
    "It itched! And what does it matter, really, it's just a sweater! You spend more time knitting than with me these days."

In the end, the sweater is not the cause of the relationship ending but rather yet another indicator of its health. Days, even weeks or months of effort can go into a hand knit item, but that doesn't mean the item is necessarily made or given in the hoped for spirit or received with pleasure. Still, if I ever knit a lover a sweater which is followed by a break-up I would hope that he'd recognize that the sweater is well made and intended to be both comfortable and look well on him. I have my knitter's pride after all and long after he's gone I'll still be knitting.

Further reading:
Knitty article on the curse.
You Knit What? entry of sweaters horrible enough to expose the problems of #3.
The Knitting Fiend's take on awful sweaters, with some thoughts on fashion in the comments.
The Daily Knitter's article on the curse.

And a proactive look at the sweater curse, with free pattern included. Weave a curse into your sweater to either kill or keep.


Q: Dear yclept, My honey just knitted me a scarf, and is currently knitting SOCKS. Should I be worried? (signed, "Worried", of Woking.) - A: Oh, Worried of Woking, no indeed. The Sweater Curse applies only to sweaters.

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