Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Knitting a Sweater For a Whale: The Definitive Project-Planning Guide

I’m not sure how the conversation started. I don’t exactly remember if Eli 4.0 asked me the question, or if it was a natural extension of what we were talking about. Somehow, though, we asked the question: How long would it take to knit a sweater for a whale?

This is one of the few questions that you can’t type into Google and get an immediate answer. Unfortunately, other Google searches about a whale’s circumference instead lead you to information about the whale’s penis.

Outstanding, so to speak.

I didn’t look at those links, but I’m guessing that it’s big as a whale. Too bad I wasn’t trying to find out how long it would take to knit a whale a condom.

The blue whale seems to have roughly a 2-to-1 length to circumference ratio (at its widest point). And we want a big whale, otherwise I could just be calculating how long it would take to knit a sweater for my cousin Tommy, so we’re using eighty feet for the length, which gives forty feet for the circumference.

That length measurement has to be adjusted, because obviously the sweater isn’t going to cover the whale’s face. That would be ridiculous.

After consulting some photographs, I’m going to estimate that 25% of the whale’s length would not be covered by the sweater—roughly the area above their flippers. Without legs, there’s no place for the sweater to logically stop, really, so it’s going to cover the rest of the whale’s body. That’s sixty feet for length, then.

Here are some fantastic photographs that helped me pin down those numbers, by the way:

So we’re working with a cylinder (not exactly, but it’s a damn whale—just getting a sweater is a great gift, even if it doesn’t fit exactly right) about sixty feet long and forty feet in circumference.

Now we come to the part where we’d have to all those unsightly calculations known as “math”, but fortunately that’s not really necessary. What we’re working with is the lateral face of the cylinder, and that base is just a rectangle—the length is the circumference of the base (forty feet) and the width is the height of the cylinder (sixty feet). We’re not knitting a giant sheet, but if you unrolled it, that’s just what it would be.

Thanks to the very nice Annie at for this vital piece of information:
It would take an average knitter, working with worsted weight wool, about 4-6 weeks to complete a man's size 42 sweater.

Now Annie, I have a follow-up question: what if that man was a whale? I didn’t send that question, but I wanted to. And I have no idea what worsted wool is, but since we have an unlimited budget for this project, that’s what we’re using.

Before we go on, let me mention that I tried to use a website to pre-calculate everything for me. Here are a couple of the steps I went through:

Enter the chest width of the sweater.(This should equal the wearer's chest size plus 1 to 4 inches).
Okay, that would be 480. Wait, with the “plus” it’s 484.

Enter the Total Length of the sweater. (Sweater length is a matter of taste and current fashion).
Very tough call on the current fashion of sweaters for whales, so let’s just say 720 inches.

Enter the Shoulder Slope for the sweater.(I advise making it 1/2" for an adult with very, very square shoulders. Make it 2" if your shoulders slope a lot.)
Definitely “2”.

Neck Depth (Front).This will be the depth of the V in the front of the sweater.

It was at this point, when I was considering the depth of the V-neck, that I decided that I was going to have go manual on this bad boy and calculate it by hand. My chest is a so-much-less-than strapping 39”, so I measured one of my sweaters (I have two). It’s 29”x22”, and the sleeves are (rounding a bit) 22”x8”. Those measurements are both for one side only.

So that’s a 29”x44” rectangle, with another 22”x16” rectangle for the combined size of the sleeves. Translate the sleeve area to match the height of the main sweater and the second rectangle magically becomes roughly 29”x12”, and the entire rectangle becomes 29”x56”. That’s what takes an average knitter 4-6 weeks (which we’ll call five weeks as an average) to complete.

I know you’re tired from all these fancy math calculations, so let’s cut to the chase: it takes 213 man-sweaters to make our whale sweater. And at five weeks for each sweater, it’s 1,065 weeks, or twenty and a half years.

So if you’re a blue whale, and you want to order a custom-made sweater online, and it says “Ships in 1-2 weeks”, you know that is total bullshit.

No way, my blue friend. I say go with something off the rack. It’ll still look good on you, playa.

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