9/13/2006

About That Curse . . .

Thanks for all of the wonderful feedback about Avast! It’s my first successful sweater design——hopefully the first of many.

Because more women knit than men, and because people like to knit for their romantic partners, and because Avast is (mostly) a men’s sweater, its inevitable that many Avasts will be knit for men by women who are in romantic relationships with them. Equally inevitable, apparently, are the inquiries I’ve received about whether knitting Avast will invite the curse——the phenomenon in which the knitting of a sweater dooms the romance that inspired it. I’ve addressed this issue in ask yarn boy, albeit indirectly, so it’s time to take the issue head-on. The best way to do that is to take a short trip into a subject that is near and dear to my heart: horror movies!

The Invasion of the Body Snatchers came out in 1953, just as the Cold War was gaining serious momentum and Senator Joseph McCarthy was getting warmed up. Its invasion of alien spores that turn humans into emotionless automatons was one short remove from what the Soviets supposedly had in mind for the entire world. The 1978 update (starring Donald Sutherland and Leonard Nimoy!) worked with the same paranoia while also playing on fears of nuclear war-induced mutation. Both take an anxiety that was created by humans and turn it into an external threat, drawing a clear line between victims and aggressors. Almost any pre-1980 alien invasion movie can be read this way (before the aliens started healing us with glowing fingers and eating Reese’s Pieces).

Horror movies are a lot different these days, but their habit of externalizing their threats is no different. The victims of the vengeful ghost in The Ring are even more hapless and random, having made the grevious error of watching an unmarked video tape. The Ring——long popular in Japan——introduced Americans to their anxiety of pervasive technology, that it may be a conduit to forces beyond our control. Pulse (the Japanese version) brought that anxiety full circle, uniting deep suspicions of the internet, cellular phones and televisions with the terror of nuclear war. The creepy shadows left by the movie’s victims echo the prints left on buildings and streets by the victims of the bombs we dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In both of these movies (and their J-horror bretheren) innocent people doing innocent things find themselves at the mercy of the beyond. Like all good horror movies, they take the fears and anxieties that we create ourselves and turn them into monsters beyond our control, and beyond our responsibility.

It’s the same thing that gives us the notion that knitting a sweater might invite a curse into our lives. The fear that someone we love might leave us is primal; so primal that we’re willing to believe that it can be accomplished by a curse. But it’s not the sweater that causes the leaving, nor is it the act of knitting that sweater. It’s the unspoken expectations——the hope that the reaction of the person for whom you’re knitting that sweater will match up to the time, energy and love that you put into it——that will haunt your relationship. I’m not saying that the reaction won’t match; just that it’s the honesty about the expectations that keeps the ghosts away.

Sorry if I sound preachy, but this curse thing just bothers me. All horror films, after all, have something ridiculous in their premise, without which the movie would never work. It’s what caused Eddie Murphy, in a 1983 skit, to ask this blatantly obvious question: “Why don’t white people just leave when there’s a ghost in the house?”

18 Comments »

  1. I’m laughing – this is SO TRUE. I love that you’ve made the comparision to horror movies. Thanks!

    Comment by wenders — 9/13/2006 @ 5:50 am

  2. But…but…

    Either way he leaves, he leaves when a sweater is knit. I don’t think there can’t be high expectations after a month or so of knitting a sweater for a man (or woman) — especially when they, like my husband, have really long arms and the trip to sleeve island is nearly interminable.

    Of course, before I got married I didn’t know how to knit so the point is moot. *laugh*

    Comment by twig — 9/13/2006 @ 7:03 am

  3. Perhaps it would be better thought of as a test than a curse. A relationship that can’t survive a sweater probably wasn’t meant to last, anyway.

    However, you did hit upon the knitting-related dilemma in my marriage: knitting versus foreign films. I like to knit at night; my husband likes to watch movies and make me watch them with him. All was well when he was renting English-language films, but lately he only wants to watch Asian films (and then have long discussions about things like why red tape around doors keeps showing up in Japanese horror films), and I find it hard to read subtitles while knitting. But even this is not insurmountable.

    That’s a very nice pattern on Knitty. I almost always end up substituting yarn anyway, but I’m all for basically simple designs made with affordable yarn.

    Comment by Lori — 9/13/2006 @ 8:02 am

  4. My way of getting around that pesky sweater curse? Knit the (absolutely fantastic have fallen in love with it hooray for you) Avast for myself. Me. Why should he get it?
    Congrats on the publishing!

    Comment by KnitMongrel — 9/13/2006 @ 9:11 am

  5. Avast looks like an absolutely awesome sweater to knit. I might knit it for my husband for Christmas! Congrats and keep more patters coming!

    Comment by Carolyn — 9/13/2006 @ 9:16 am

  6. Hi Jesse. What a beautiful sweater! You must be very proud of it. (I didn’t even realize the fall edition of Knitty was out! Cool, now I can kill some time here in the post-lunch work doldrums.)

    I enjoyed your examination of the “Sweater Curse”. (And not just because I love horror movies like you do.) I think that any time we knit something to give as a gift, we open ourselves up to feeling hurt or resentful if the recipient doesn’t love the hat, scarf, socks, sweater as much as we had hoped. Since sweaters are generally one of the largest and most complicated projects that knitters undertake, I suppose it stands to reason that feelings are more easily hurt when a sweater doesn’t sweep the recipient of his or her feet. I think there is also an implicit criticism of the knitter’s sense of style in such a rejection, and that stings, too.

    It’s the rare non-knitter who understands this emotional highwire act. “Hey, when are you going to knit *me* a sweater?” they ask. Um… never? Non-knitters just don’t appreciate all the care (and time!) that goes into making a hand-knit garment.

    Of course, there are exceptions to this general rule. Take my partner, Darren, for example. For the first couple years I was a knitter, I would ask him, “Hey, do you want me to knit you a hat or scarf?” He would always refuse. Finally, somewhat hurt by his cryptic rejections, I asked him, “Don’t you like the things I knit? Why don’t you ever want one of my hats like all my friends do?”

    His response surprised me. He said he felt worried that maybe I would knit him a hat and he wouldn’t like it. “And then I would have to choose–Do I wear something I don’t like, so you’re not hurt, or do I tell you I don’t like it and hurt you? And you know I won’t wear it much if I don’t like it, so you would get hurt either way. That’s why I always say no.”

    So, he sensed something like “the curse” and he wanted to avoid it. To get around this impass, we made a deal–I only knit for him if he chooses the pattern and the yarn in advance. No surprises. If, despite our combined efforts, it still turns out that he doesn’t like the finished product, I’m free to give it to the first cute man I see on the street. (Or, as is far more likely, to one of my pals at work.) Our system has worked well for us. He now has several snazzy hats and a couple of great scarves to go along with the Rowan Plaid stick-shift cozy I made for him last winter.

    I have been knitting about three years now, and I have only made one sweater. I knitted it for myself. It turned out just the way it was supposed to, and I hate it anyway. I can’t bear the feel of the scratchy wool yarn against my skin, and I was aghast at the dumpy dropped shoulders. I’m a much better knitter now, and I will make different choices for my next sweater. (When that day comes.) One thing will be the same, though. I’ll be knitting it for myself. Not because I believe in the curse, mind you, but because I’m just plain selfish.

    Congrats on another great design!

    Comment by Sean — 9/13/2006 @ 10:46 am

  7. Found you via knitty.com I don’t as a norm post comments but your blog had me in stitches nodding at the computer screen in complete agreement. Your previous post about knitting in unison touched me also. Your pictures made the post beautiful – enough gush. I shall be knitting Avast – for my boy child who already loves it!! I hope your roll continues to bare lots more good fruit.

    Comment by Johanne — 9/13/2006 @ 12:26 pm

  8. Thank you for the Avast sweater pattern. It will be months, okay a year, before I get to it (probably longer as I just acquired a brown/gray fleece that I plan to process and spin for it) but I’ve been looking for a pattern for my husband forever and I haven’t found anything that seemed right for him. I don’t fear the sweater curse with him; I’ve been making him bulky, oversized pullovers for work (outside) for years and no matter what I do I can’t get rid of him.

    Sweet blog.

    Comment by jessie — 9/14/2006 @ 3:27 am

  9. First, thanks for Avast! I haven’t yet done the thorough-reading-through of the pattern, but I really like it. (I learned entrelac by making your Danica scarf, so I think I can count on your directions being pretty clear.) As someone else mentioned above, I’m not going to risk the curse, though – I’ll make it for me! =)

    I think you’re right about it not really being a curse. Relationships don’t end because of a sweater or any other kind of knitted item. They end because of lack of commitments or differing expectations/ambitions, not because of some poor sheep’s hair!

    Comment by Katie — 9/14/2006 @ 10:20 am

  10. K, I’m bookmarking you. I love both horror movies and knitting. (I’m knitting your Half Dome pattern for my husband right now, actually)

    I also just wrote about my musings on society’s technology fear in horror movies lately, as well. I’ve read that a society’s worries tend to show up in horror, so technology and viruses seem to be current topics of anxiety. Anyway. Thanks for the great patterns, and I’ll be reading your blog!

    Comment by Amanda — 9/16/2006 @ 7:46 pm

  11. This post was just great, especially the reference to Eddie Murphy at the end because that skit is hilarious. Sweaters are usually too daunting a task for me to even look at half the pattern before giving up. However your Avast pattern looks pretty sweet, so I’ll definitely have to try it out. Thanks for giving the world patterns that don’t scare the crap out of people but still look awesome.

    Comment by Lindsey — 9/16/2006 @ 7:58 pm

  12. Jesse, I am sending you eight thousand hugs for designing such an awesome classy sweater and including directions for big beefy boy sizes! My husband is a very huggable 2xl and so many mens sweaters only go to L or XL! You rock, I am jumping for joy and doing the happy dance!

    Holly

    Comment by Holly — 9/18/2006 @ 9:19 am

  13. Finally, someone else who thinks that the sweater curse is a complete crock. I explained early on to my boyfriend that the rule with things I knit was that if he didn’t like them that they could be given back to me for redistribution, or given to someone who would like them. That being said, the sweater I’m starting for him soon is from yarn & a pattern that he chose, just in case… there’s limits to how much effort I want to put in for a random.

    Comment by Christine — 9/19/2006 @ 9:26 am

  14. Hmmm…I’ve been thinking of taking the plunge with the boyfriend sweater. We’re going to start with a “Matrix” sweater–a sort of planned failure. And, I’m gonna make him read your post first, too!

    Avast is such a great pattern–just enough detail. Maybe I’ll teach him to knit.

    (the original “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” is one of my favorite movies, btw).

    Comment by Stephy — 9/21/2006 @ 1:23 pm

  15. When I checked my bloglines this a.m. 4 posts popped up and I thought that they were new but they are past posts that you have made that seem to involve the issues of boys and knitting and the curse. I for one don’t believe in the curse. I agree with you that it’s more the expectations that the sweater brings. I knit a lot of sweaters because I like it but I only make it for the people that really seem to want one – my husband being the recipient most of the time. I’m knitting a sweater for one of my sisters that asked for one but not for the other ones since they didn’t. I feel it’s the same as the so-called sweater curse. Would a sister like it? Would she wear it? What if she’s embarrassed to wear it but doesn’t want to hurt my feelings? So I only make things for people that want it and boy does my husband want Avast! Thank you for this pattern! Regarding the issues of boys and knitting – my oldest son knows how to knit at 8 years old and he is teaching my husband how to knit! I love it! My husband can be accused of being too “feminine” meaning emotional, affectionate, supportive, loving, neat, etc.. Are those really feminine traits? I’d rather see my husband knitting with my son than seeing him forcing my son to learn to play football. My husband is his baseball coach, his soccer coach and will be his coach in life teaching him how to really treat people well – not just women b/c what if my son should turn out to be gay? (not caused by knitting, of course). My son’s best friend comes from a family of 3 really masculine boys and they all think pink is their favorite color. They have come over to our house and have put on my daughters skirts, tutus, and dresses for fun and my daughters have all played with their dirt bikes, soccer balls, and the so-called boy toys. We’re hoping that this continues. Sorry this comment is so long! I was trying to address your other posts that popped up too. Thank you again for your great patterns and awesome blog!

    Comment by tiennie — 9/24/2006 @ 8:37 am

  16. I have a new position on “The Curse” The boyfriend doesn’t leave ’cause of teh amount of commiment the girl show sin making a sweater. SHE leaves HIM Cause of all teh damn frustration she goes through making said sweater, throws it in his face when it’s FINALLY finished, and walks out the door. Was that a little harsh? Sorry but I’ve been having a damn time altering a fingerless glove pattern for my boyfriend. I need a few days to chill beforeI give them to him. :)

    Comment by Jessy — 9/24/2006 @ 4:08 pm

  17. Avast is one handsome sweater. If I ever achieve true knitting proficiency, it’s high up on my list of projects. My non-knitting husband reads knitting blogs. He got it from me, but now reads them on his own, he’s even left a comment or two. He appreciates the writing, but doesn’t plan to knit, yet has an appreciation for the process. I don’t believe in THE CURSE, but I do believe that the best recipient for a knitted gift is another knitter, because non-knitters have no clue about the effort that goes into said gift. I believe it’s something of a “casting-pearls-before-swine” frustration, and yes, the relationship not living up to the fantasy that the knitter creates in her/his mind during all those hours of knitting.

    Comment by sherry — 9/30/2006 @ 12:28 pm

  18. [...] And if the sweater actually takes, then I am going to be a very lucky guy. Back in September I wrote a post about what’s really behind the sweater curse, and how it’s really just a bunch of hooey. I stand by that belief——the odds that Z and I would get divorced over a sweater is probably around zero——but in the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that this is my third attempt at knitting a sweater for Z. [...]

    Pingback by yarn boy yarn blog » The Charm? — 1/12/2007 @ 12:54 pm

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