So you’ve discovered sweater knitting

If you’re a knitter somewhere in the Northern Hemisphere with regular access to yarn supplies, you’re pretty much been experiencing peak sweater knitting season for the last month or two. Or at the very least, you’re likely to be in the time of year when you need to wear warm layers, and knitted sweaters start looking really appealing.

So, if you’re new to sweater knitting and embarking on your first sweater project, I humbly offer these pieces of advice. These aren’t step-by-step instructions (you can find a lot of those out there on the web and in print) or detailed evaluations of what patterns are appropriate for your skill level (it’s for each knitter to come to her own decision about that, as far as I’m concerned – skill categories are not finite), but rather, things that are good to keep in mind. As you dive in, consider one or two of the following.

DundurnCardigan1

Fit
This is a pretty obvious tip, but if you’re going to knit a sweater that covers a large part of your body, you need to know the size of your body. Measure yourself (or better, get someone to help you) – a few tips pages are herehere, here, and here. At the very least, know for sure what your bust circumference is at its widest (don’t assume that this is the same thing as your bra band size), know how wide your shoulders are across the back, and know how long you personally need your sleeves and total sweater length to be. There are other measurements involved in sweater knitting, absolutely there are, and you’ll accumulate more of that knowledge as you knit more. But you need to start somewhere.

Know your own body measurements, know what ease you want (don’t know what ease is? Here you go), and know how to read the pattern to use that information. The reason you need to know both your body size and how much ease you want is that this helps you decide what pattern size to make.

Patterns
Guys, there are so many knitting patterns out in the world now. It’s awesome, and designers and magazine editors are going to keep publishing more of them, and we will probably never ever want for new and exciting sweater patterns ever. Or, at least not until the apocalypse comes. I want to tell you there is no wrong one to start with. If you are looking for me to tell you what specific sweater pattern you should start with, I am about to disappoint you. But really, why would I want to deprive you of the chance to browse patterns online? As an avid sweater knitter one of my recurring pleasures is browsing patterns and dreaming of that next awesome cable-knit pullover or colour-work cardi.

Try an advanced pattern search on Ravelry, filtering for the categories you care about the most. Here is one search example filtered for Knitting patterns, with photo, for adult sweaters, using 1 colour, ranked by most popular. (If you want to get really into it, scroll down the left-hand menus for things like yarn weight, construction – top-down or bottom-up – difficulty, yardage, and gauge. Yes, you can search for knitting patterns according to gauge! What a time to be alive, guys.)

The important thing is to choose based on your comfort level and your existing skill set. If you’re cool with a sweater project generally but can’t handle stitches any more complex than stockinette, then refine your search for the most simply constructed stockinette sweaters. If you’ve knitted a lot of cabled accessories, though, and you know your way around reading a knitted chart, then maybe it’s fine to make a cabled sweater your first sweater project. Go with your instincts. Also, go with something that you actually want to wear. This is important, because sweaters are time consuming projects, and wanting the final product greatly increases your chances of finishing it.

Nov1-Pilling-Hourglass1

Be Real With Yourself About Expectations
One of the biggest differences between sweaters and other kinds of knitting project is the time (and yarn) involved in making them. Unless you’re someone who regularly knits bed-sized blankets, a sweater project is going to be a step up in time commitment, not a step down. It’s for this reason, I think, that sweaters count as a higher level of difficulty than accessories. Once you break down the skills involved – knit, purl, decrease, increase, following stitch patterns (cables, lace), sewing seams – your mind can start to break it down into manageable pieces. But the time commitment is a big one, because it represents a lot of hours of effort and emotion and decision-making that we can’t get back regardless of how the project turns out.

You may hit the ground running and get a fabulous and wearable finished sweater your first time out – many knitters do. Many of us also take (took) a few sweater projects to fine tune the process on a personal level, to completely understand the finer details of fit, construction, modifications, and personal preferences. I can’t predict how long that process will take for you, but I think it helps to be honest that it happens.

Joist2-Dec6

Budget
Because of the reasons I just wrote about above, it’s especially wise to have a mental budget for your sweater project that is within comfortable limits. Depending on the yarn and how much of it you need, you could spend less than $50 or more than $300 on a sweater project. For your first time out, consider that you are not purchasing a sweater with this money as much as you are purchasing a learning experience. Be honest with yourself about what you’re willing to pay for that experience.

Also, if I may be so bold as to say: achieving a perfect sweater on the first go around is not actually your goal. Becoming a better knitter is the goal, and it’s hard to reach that goal without spending both time and money for the effort. If you can get comfortable with this idea, it will be easier for you to go through the rest of the process. If you’ve over spent your budget, it will be harder.

There is every possibility your first sweater may not turn out perfectly. If this happens, it 100% does not make you a failure as a knitter. Knitting our own garments is a big learning process where we un-do some of the assumptions we have to make over years and years of purchasing garments in mass-market retail environments. I’ve knitted dozens of sweaters by now and I’m still learning things.

JacksonCreek1b

Yarn
Once you have an idea about your spending limits, ask yourself what kind of yarn you want to work with. Or, perhaps these two questions go hand in hand. If you specifically want to work with 100% wool, for example, that gives you certain spending options as compared to working with superwash wool or a fiber blend.

If you’re not sure what yarn to start with, this is another place where the wider knitting community will help you out. Ask your friends what they like to use, ask your LYS what they recommend for sweater first-timers, or do a Ravelry search for the most popular yarns used. Ask yourself what your own restrictions are – are there fibre types you need to avoid, are there specific patterns you have in mind that call for a specific weight (DK, worsted, and so forth), and does it need to be something you can access locally if you run out. These are all good questions to ask yourself and they will impact your budget as well as the look and feel of the final project.

Oct12-Sweaters

Then When It’s Done…
Once you’ve finished the sweater, first of all congratulate yourself! You knitted a sweater! Go team!

Then, be kindly honest with yourself about what you liked about it and what you didn’t like, and that will help you decide what your next sweater is going to be. (Because there’s going to be a next one, right?) You might discover that you chose the size correctly but the sleeves came out too short. Or maybe your gauge was off, and you didn’t discover that until later on. Maybe your gauge was 100% perfect and you’re going to knit with that yarn again because you love it wholeheartedly. Maybe you discovered you really need to learn how to sew seams properly, but your kitchener stitch is fantastic. Congratulations! Knowledge is awesome. You will be a different knitter for the next sweater, which is great.

Are you a knitter ready to start your first sweater? What are you most excited about for the project?

Until next time, knitter friends! Have a great weekend.

*

Sweaters shown, from top to bottom: Dundurn cardigan, Hourglass pullover, Joist pullover, Jackson creek cardigan, and (in progress) Ravine pullover and Jurisfiction cardigan.

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27 comments

  1. What a fabulous article, thank you so much.

  2. The best learning is to knit a sweater (hmm, I typed “swearer”) pattern that you didn’t realiz was out of your league. You’ll learn. A lot.

  3. Corollary to Budget: Don’t choose yarn because it’s cheap. It’s completely understandable if you can’t afford a sweater quantity of that drool-worthy yak blend you love. It’s also logical to not want to drop $300 on a first sweater that may not have consistent tension or a stellar fit. But if you don’t like the yarn to start with, at least a little bit, then you could easily end up with a perfectly fine sweater that you don’t actually want to wear because it’s scratchy/pilly/the color of moldy leftovers.

    I, uh, might have had some experience with this.

  4. I’m approaching my first sweater knitting project mostly with trepidation at this point rather than excitement. Don’t get me wrong here, I want to do it and it is the logical next step in my knitting development…but I’m mostly pretty anxious.

    I worry that the yarn I picked or the color won’t be quite right and I’ll hate it all when I’m done. I’m very certain I’m going to take 6 skeins of this lush yarn I picked and make something completely unrecognizable in relation to a wearable garment. I don’t know if I have the fortitude to get 100 hours into knitting..say the back…discovering an error at the very beginning, and ripping it all the way back.

    I guess I could say I’m excited about actually getting it on my needles and smashing out the fabric…everything else about it fills me with a vague sense of impending doom. In only the best possible way. If that makes sense at all…probably not.

    Oops, sorry I wrote a small novel 🙂

  5. Great advice. And one point to add… Don’t be afraid to ask for help and don’t give up. If a patterns not working put it away and find a new one.

  6. @Missy’s Crafty Mess: Amen to putting away patterns that don’t work and finding new ones! I have a lovely sweater quantity of yarn that I got for my birthday four years ago that I’ve tried to knit up twice. Both times, the yarn and pattern just didn’t want to play nicely. I’ve picked a third pattern, but no telling yet if it’s The One. But I know that when the yarn finally decides what it really wants to be, it’s going to be beautiful and cozy.

  7. Joy Dias · ·

    Great article. Thank you.

  8. Wonderful things to think about! I would add a thought about yarn for a sweater: remember that it’s probably not going to be against your skin much. For one of my favorite sweaters, I spent time in the yarn shop rubbing skeins against my cheek and picked a lovely soft 100% wool. Which has been pilling terribly ever since. Think about how you will wear the finished garment, and don’t be afraid of less-soft yarn. It’s often a trade-off between softness and sturdiness.

  9. Thank you for this! Though I’ve been knitting for quite a while, I’ve only knit three sweaters and was a tiny bit discouraged that I’ve never knit one I’m totally satisfied with. But I’ll just keep knitting and I’ll get there!

  10. Linda Toffolo · ·

    Thanks so much for this great article , I am very encouraged and appreciate south detailed advice!

    Sent from my iPad

    >

  11. Karla Oman · ·

    Great article and excellent comments! One thing of note that I’ve seen in the comments is that search for most popular yarns. It’s a great place to start. Then ***read the comments*** about said yarn. I’ve been drawn into almost purchasing a yummy yarn that once I’ve read the comments, decided against it for a particular project. If there are several years of comments, be sure to read the most recent, too. Sometimes a manufacturer changes either yarn composition or where it’s manufactured and that can make a huge difference. Also remember that bamboo and superwash wool can grow. Best of luck on your new sweaters!

  12. I need to add that for a first sweater, it’s a good idea to buy some nice sturdy yarn. There’s a good chance there will be a few mistakes that will need to be frogged and if (heaven forbid) the sweater is a total disaster, you can just unravel it and start again! 🙂

  13. hookedknitter · ·

    Really good advice here. I would also add a bit on checking tension and making a swatch. I’ve learnt the hard way when I’ve got it wrong. Also, I think it’s worth buying a wool rather than acrylic yarn. If you are going to spend hours knitting a garment, it’s more fun if you work with a yarn you really like. Also, you are more likely to wear it at the end.

  14. Thanks for the advice (and the comments here!). I’m planning to knit my first sweater soon, and have already noticed there’s quite a lot of help available on Ravelry when you need it – but am definitively going to keep your advice in mind too.

  15. This article was SO TIMELY. I started my first sweater a week ago, and I’ve already learned so much. Like, for instance, other knitters aren’t joking about the differences in dye lots (learned that the hard way), or that I need practice weaving in ends invisibly. I’ve also learned that after four days of intensive knitting on this sweater, I needed to take a break to make a cabled hat so that I didn’t suffer death by stockinette. I love your blog. Keep it coming!

  16. As it happens, I am knitting my first sweater right now. I took a Craftsy class beforehand, but the pattern I chose on Ravelry is knitted entirely differently, but the class will come in handy in the future. I have had to make some changes already to allow for a better fit. I need to knit from the waist to the bottom edge now before getting on with the sleeves and then it’s done. If I am lucky, I will be able to wear it in March when I visit Edinburgh – I bet it will be cold enough!

    While trying on this sweater, I noticed that the shoulders are not broad enough, which I will definitely change next time. I’m not sure if the fit there will be better once the sleeves are attached, but right now there is a bulge halfway between neck and end of shoulder that will be disappointing unless it smooths out in the end. As you start knitting from the top of this sweater, I don’t want to rip back now that I have come so far. But it will be a great sweater! I will. Love it anyway.

  17. This is great, thanks mate

  18. GeniaKnitz · ·

    This is fabulous, Glenna. Please, would you write a book? You explain things so beautifully, and in exactly the way my brain needs to hear them. Some instructions completely baffle me, but everything here makes such perfect sense.
    Thank you!
    Oh, and did you knit that Hourglass sweater? The color is spectacular!

  19. These are great pieces of advice! I have a coworker who is about to embark on her first sweater project, and I think she would really appreciate the tips you give. I will need to pass this along to her. Thank you!

  20. I’ve knit only 3 sweaters so far and I am hooked. I think my first one is still my favorite (single ply pills and all), but I learned a lot about what to do and not to do for me personally. Each sweater has taught me something valuable. I am currently planning a fourth and fifth 🙂

    Glenna, I am rather curious about your personal favorite needles and why kind of needles you like for different projects. Have you posted about needles before?

  21. Thank you for all your advice. I’ve made several sweaters but learned the hard way that knitting a gauge swatch is necessary. The information about finding my size is new for me and will be very helpful for the sweater I just started the sleeves for. It’s a raglan, bottom up knit in the round sweater and I want it to be loose like a sweatshirt. Sob your advice on ease will be helpful as well . Thank you!

  22. Thank you very much for the article & links.

    Perfect timing, first swatch for new sweater just cast on yesterday. Sweatshirt Sweater by Purl Soho in some old Cascade 220 from the stash.

  23. Thank you so much for this. This will be my year of adventuring into garment knitting and sweaters sure are on my list.

  24. Love this article! Great advice!

  25. Your posts have freakishly awesome timing. Your post on “So you’ve discovered sock knitting” gave me the push I needed for socks and 2016 happens to be the year of the knit top for me. I’ve chosen some simple tank tops and raglan sleeve tops and with any luck I’ll work my way up to a sweater for the next sweater season 🙂

  26. […] Glenna Knits sweater advice […]

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