Blog, Fiber Musings, Tips and Tricks / March 8, 2017

Sweater Knitting: 5 Mistakes Knitters Make

Knitters! We sure love our sweaters, but there are five mistakes I see over and over when I meet with students and customers. I want you to have sweaters that fit you beautifully, feel great and look awesome, so I’m going to share the top five things to watch for when knitting a sweater.

  1. Making your sweater too big. Believe it or not, less is often more when it comes to sweater knitting. Most of the time, knitting your own size (usually based on bust size) is the right way to go. Pay attention to the ease in a sweater. Don’t knit your sweater with more than about 2-ish” of ease unless it’s intended to be a loose fit as part of the intended style. Often, even sweaters with just 1″ of ease or even no ease can be quite flattering; it just depends on the person and the style. Don’t go up a few sizes just to be safe. If you’re getting gauge (Don’t skip this part! Knit a gauge swatch, my friends!), then you can trust that a well-written pattern will give you the results you want. Going up a size or two often results in a sloppy fit, and makes you look bigger than you actually are. Sure, some sweaters are meant for a super slouchy fit, and I’m not talking about those. More often than not, a sweater that fits will be FAR more flattering than a sweater that’s too large. A too-big sweater looks like a yurt (below). Don’t knit a yurt. 
  2. Knitting your sweaters too long. Friends, I know what you’re going to say. “But I have a long torso…” No. If you have a long torso, a long sweater is actually going to make your torso look (…wait for it…) LONGER. Sure, you want coverage, but what looks even better than a super long sweater is a nice length shirt with a shorter sweater over it to help balance out the long torso and make your body proportions look more even. Longer is not better. If you want a long sweater, then go for one that’s really long like Reedsport but is open at the front so you can have the comfort of length while you balance out your proportions with what you wear underneath it. A great way to learn about your proportions AND the right length for you is from the super talented Stasia Savasuk and her totally unique and whole-hearted Style School. I highly recommend it if you’re serious about figuring out the right shape, length and style for your body. I’ll teach you all about the hand knit sweater side of things, but since sweaters are just one part of the style equation, Style School can get you the rest of the way.
  3. Choosing the wrong yarn for the job. Holy moly, yarn makes a difference; it’s one of the issues that can be the most frustrating for knitters. There are so many great/gorgeous/incredible yarns to choose from, and that’s part of the challenge. Knitters don’t always use the recommended yarn, either because it’s hard to access, it’s at the wrong price point, or because of an allergy or texture preference. The number one best way to substitute yarn is to choose another yarn with the same – or similar – fiber content and ply (AND the same weight/gauge that the pattern requires). If fiber content is an issue, choose another fiber with similar qualities. An oversimplification: Substitute plant fibers with other plant fibers, and animal fibers with other animal fibers. Think about the qualities of the yarn you’re replacing (sheen, texture, drape, ply, superwash vs. non-superwash) and look for those same qualities in the yarn you choose to use, instead. When allergies are an issue, substitutions won’t fit the fiber-for-fiber substitution rule of thumb, and in this case it can really help to choose patterns that are written specifically for the fiber you intend to use (for example, cotton or silk). Some patterns that were written for wool can still work well in cotton, but not all – getting familiar with the qualities of the fiber you plan to use can help you make decisions about when and where it can be used successfully. There’s a lot more to it than that, but that’s a good place to start. To learn more about the qualities of various yarns and fibers, I highly recommend books like The Knitter’s Book of Yarn: The Ultimate Guide to Choosing, Using, and Enjoying Yarn by Clara Parkes. She covers all the bases and it’s never too late to educate yourself on the nitty gritty of fiber; I guarantee it will make you a better knitter.
  4. Getting gauge but not the right fabric. Gauge is an interesting little phenomenon. It’s possible to get gauge, but still be entirely wrong about the yarn you’ve chosen. When knitting a gauge swatch, don’t just aim for the right number of stitches and rows over 4″ – also check for the feel of the fabric. If the fabric is especially dense or especially loose, check to make sure that’s the kind of fabric the pattern intends. The results can be drastically different, so it’s worth taking the time to make sure you’re getting it right. Also, friends, please block your swatches. Yarn can surprise you. (Psst… below is what swatches look like when they’ve been crumpled up in your teaching bins after traveling. Don’t judge.)
  5. Checking your gauge as you go. I don’t know if this has ever happened to you, but it turns out that the gauge in your swatch might not be the same gauge in the actual sweater. A good friend of mine knit one of my early designs and came to me a bit bewildered when her finished sweater was nothing short of huge. She’d knit a gauge swatch. She was dead-on. But the sweater was ginormous. What happened? I grabbed a measuring tape and measured the gauge in the actual sweater, and guess what? She’d relaxed along the process of knitting it, and the end result was off by more than a whole stitch, meaning that instead of a 38″ bust, she’d knit a 44″ bust – woah! Knitters often underestimate just how significant a slight gauge variation can be. I recommend that you check your gauge three times: in the swatch, after a few inches of the yoke, and after the sleeve divide (we’re talking specifically about top-down, seamless sweaters in this scenario). Doing so will give you an opportunity to check as you go so you can avoid surprises later. Quick tip: Often knitters get a bit loose on the purl side if you’re knitting flat, so I recommend keeping this in mind and consciously trying to be a little tighter on those wrong side rows so you can prevent the dreaded “rowing out” phenomenon that happens when the wrong side rows are too loose (those loose rows will throw off your gauge significantly).

So there you go! Five common sweater knitting mistakes and what to do about them. Now, go knit a great sweater!

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Marie Greene