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The Sims 4: Nifty Knitting’s knitting animation, reviewed

Where is the yarn ball?

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Two Sims knitting on a couch Image: Maxis/Electronic Arts

Knitting is notoriously hard to depict accurately in media. I get it. It can be confusing for the uninitiated — it’s all fiber! — but once you know, you know. Knitting is a craft that’s been represented onscreen in media since silent films, but ever since I started knitting, I can’t help but notice that lots of media just straight up gets it wrong. (Ahem, this Quilted Northern commercial ... you can’t knit a quilt or quilted toilet paper!!)

For someone who’s been knitting for years, it’s just a matter of simple mechanics, creating loops out of yarn and moving those loops back and forth between two needles. This creates a basic, flat stitch pattern, different than if you were crocheting, which is more like knots instead of knitting’s loops. As you can tell, I’m very passionate about knitting, which is why I am uniquely suited to review The Sims 4 Nifty Knitting’s knitting animation, and only the knitting animation.

What The Sims 4’s Nifty Knitting Stuff Pack gets right

The moves

Let’s start with the positives. Sims who are knitting look pretty good at first glance — they’re using two straight knitting needles that create a flat, looped fabric. Sims hold the sticks correctly, too, which is huge. (Media often gets this wrong, for some reason. Everyone seems to hold their sticks pointing down in plenty of depictions — weirdly enough, often in illustrations.) What you’re doing when you’re knitting is really just sticking your needle into an existing stitch, wrapping yarn around the needle, and pulling the stitch onto the other needle. When this happens, there’s a very satisfying sound of the knitting needles clanging together, and I’m happy to report that this is also included in The Sims 4’s Nifty Knitting animation.

The knitted fabric grows over time as Sims work on the project; it always looks soft and flexible, too, which is something developers worked hard to get right, The Sims 4 associate producer Sarah Holding told Polygon in an email.

“When Sims are knitting there is an ‘in progress’ length of finished knit that grows longer over time,” Holding said. “This knit is a 3-D model, but it needed to look and feel as if it was flexible cloth and look good with our animations, which was a technical challenge for our art team. While there is only one in progress knit used across all knitting projects, we wanted to represent the many different colors of items available to knit.”

Though it’s the same model each time a Sim knits, the colors of the product change as progress is made.

The lingo

Knitters have their own lingo. Reading a pattern is like interpreting a different language. But there are a lot of other terms you’ll need to know to fit into the knitting community, like “lifeline” (a piece of string that essentially acts as a save point for your knitting) and “yarn vomit” (the knotted clump of yarn that sometimes gets pulled out of a skein of yarn). There aren’t many knitting terms in the Nifty Knitting Stuff Pack, but there are a few, like little Easter eggs for seasoned knitters. I was surprised to see an option to “Frog” your knitting project in The Sims 4, which is a word for unraveling a project.

The curse

There’s also a reference to the Sweater Curse, which is a knitting superstition that goes like this: If you start a sweater for a romantic partner, you’ll break up before it’s finished. It’s a riff on how long it usually takes people to complete a sweater — for instance, I’ve been knitting one for years. Even Sims aren’t safe from the sweater curse.

The vibe

Electronic Arts and Maxis understand knitters. We’ll knit everywhere. In real life, I’ve brought my knitting needles to the movies, to bars, to the beach. I knit on my honeymoon in Hawaii and from a Starbucks overlooking Shibuya Crossing in Japan. In The Sims 4, Sims can knit on the couch, in bed, and from some chairs. But that’s not all. Sims can also knit from the toilet. (For the record, this is something I’ve never done. But I won’t rule it out.)

The other thing here is that knitters also like to convince other people to start knitting. I, for one, am guilty of bothering my family and friends until they let me teach them how to knit. Sims in Nifty Knitting can teach other Sims to knit. It’s accurate.

Cats

It’s a fact of life that cats are attracted to yarn. No piece of fiber is safe from my cat, Puppy. Cats can play with yarn balls now in The Sims 4, and it’s very, very cute. I can’t keep yarn anywhere in view of my cat. If she sees it, she will ruin/eat it. For this reason, I considered putting “cats” under the Wrong category — there’s no way I could ever put a yarn basket or ball of yarn in display in my house, like I can now in The Sims 4. In fact, I wrote about this experience for Polygon in 2017 (before I worked here!), in a story about The Sims 4: Cats & Dogs.

The first time I brought my actual Puppy, who is a cat, remember, to the real life emergency vet it was because she’d eaten a small stretch of string. I saw her playing with the string in one instant, and it was gone in the next instant. The online advice wasn’t good, and it felt awful to have put a loved one at risk because I hadn’t quite cleaned up well enough.

I packed Puppy into the car and drove off towards the vet, trying to drive safely while crying. After a few minutes of waiting the vet unfolded a piece of paper to reveal a seven-inch piece of rose–colored yarn curled up like a slinky that Puppy had thrown up.

“Does this look familiar?” she asked. My sense of relief was huge, and it’s hard to imagine that this would be a situation I’d want to relive in a video game. But you don’t fear losing something or someone unless you love them.

What The Sims 4’s Nifty Knitting Stuff Pack gets wrong

The moves

Though the animation gets a lot right, there’s also a lot wrong with it. When knitting, yarn travels back-and-forth between knitting needles for each row. (If you’re knitting in the round, it’s different — but I won’t get into that.) The whole thing is that you’re adding new loops while transferring them to the second needle. In The Sims 4’s Nifty Knitting animation, the yarn stays put on one needle for the duration of the action.

Floating project

Sure, The Sims 4 can be somewhat fantastical, but this isn’t Harry Potter — your knitting project is not magic. With Nifty Knitting, Sims are knitting out of thin air. There’s no ball of yarn, and the project isn’t connected to anything. There are balls of yarn in the Nifty Knitting Stuff Pack, but they disappear once Sims actually start knitting.

Granny chic

Look, I get it. Grandmas do knit. But knitting is cool now. Trust me on this one, she says, as she writes more than 1,000 words analyzing a knitting animation. With Nifty Knitting, there are a lot of fantastic and crafty items added to The Sims 4. But they’ve all also got a very “grandma” vibe — like rocking chairs and chunky sweaters — and it’d be great to see some variation.


Fortunately, I am a good woman who is willing to let Electronic Arts off the hook for these wrongs. I’m going to look at Nifty Knitting as an aspirational goal, wishing for unlimited yarn and that one day it will take me minutes to complete a sweater and not years.

Update (July 30): Immediately after publication, I noticed a detail with the knitting animation that is terribly wrong. There are too few stitches on the needle.

Close up of The Sims 4 knitting animation Image: Maxis/Electronic Arts via Polygon

By my count, The Sims 4’s knitting pattern is just a straight stockinette stitch fabric. There are seven stitches on main knitting needle, with another connected on the secondary needle. However, there are 11 stitches that make up the fabric — six of which I’ve designated with arrows in the image above. Each of the stitches is essentially one of the V shapes in the pattern. That’s the loop that’s pulled through other loops to create the pattern. Here, the stitches just don’t match up.

It is possible to be working in a pattern that’ll leave you with less stitches on your needles than in the fabric — to decrease the number of stitches on your needles, which would make your fabric smaller, you can knit two stitches together to decrease. This will change the shape of your knitted fabric, though. It’s one of the techniques used — along with adding stitches — to shape knitting into hats, socks, and sweaters.

However, that’s clearly not what’s happening here: There are always the same number of stitches on these needles and in the fabric, and the fabric created always stays straight.

I rest my case.