Sweater Curse

knitting

The sweater curse, or the ‘curse of the love sweater,’ is a knitting folktale which claims that if a knitter gives a hand-knit sweater to a significant other, it will lead to the recipient breaking up with them. In an alternative formulation, the relationship will end before the sweater is even completed. In a 2005 poll, 15% of active knitters said that they had experienced the sweater curse firsthand, and 41% considered it a possibility that should be taken seriously.

Despite its name, the ‘sweater curse’ is treated in knitting literature not as a superstition governed by paranormal forces, but rather as a real-world pitfall of knitting that has rational explanations. Several plausible mechanisms for the sweater curse have been proposed, but it has not been studied systematically.

The existence of the phenomenon is anecdotal, and may be related to confirmation bias; knitters may remember breakups more clearly after giving a hand-knit sweater, which represents a significant investment of money (typically over $100), effort (~100,000 stitches), time (as much as a year), and creative energy.

Although the existence of this effect remains uncertain, it is a common belief amongst the knitting population, and several plausible (and non-exclusive) mechanisms for the sweater curse have been suggested within knitting periodicals and books. For example, it has been described as resulting from unlucky timing (knitting a sweater takes a long time, and the relationship dies of natural causes during its making). The curse has also been explained as stemming from a so-called ‘rescue mission’ where the knitter senses subconsciously that the relationship is about to end, and knits a sweater as a dramatic gesture to save it.

Another explanation claims that the gift becomes a catalyst for analyzing the relationship. Giving or receiving a significant gift such as a sweater may cause either the giver or receiver to evaluate the relationship. For example, the gift may seem too intimate, too domestic, or too binding to the significant other. It can also be seen as a signal that makes them realize that the relationship is not reciprocal, prompting them to end the relationship before it involves obligations.

An aversion to hand-knit goods has also been said to be a related issue. A hand-knit sweater can potentially subject one to ridicule, either because the sweater looks bad (i.e., poorly made or unfashionable) or conveys overly domestic connotations. Relationship problems have also been blamed on misdirected attention where the knitter loves their sweater a little too much, and pesters the significant other about it. Alternatively, the knitter may love to knit too much, and spend too much time with their knitting instead of with the significant other.

Insufficient gratitude has been reported as the cause of knitting-related breakups. The knitter sees the sweater as a significant thing, having chosen the pattern and color carefully, and  invested hours of labor. If the recipient sees it as just another sweater, and resulting lack of gratitude can lead to tension in the relationship.

For many knitters, making a hand-knit gift is an emotional experience, an extended affectionate meditation on the person receiving the gift. A metaphor commonly used by knitters is, ‘I knit my love into every stitch.’ Since giving too significant a gift too early in a relationship can evoke apprehension, knitters have been advised to match the knitted gift to the stage in the relationship, beginning with hats, mittens, scarves, or socks before graduating to sweaters.

Many knitters wait until marriage before making a sweater for a significant other, or ask their affianced to sign a ‘pre-knitual agreement.’ Common-sense advice to knitters is that they should determine whether the recipient would ever wear a hand-knitted sweater. Knitters have also been advised to involve the significant other in designing the sweater (e.g. in choosing its design, colors and materials) and follow their suggestions, even if the knitter objects.

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