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.
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 here, here, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.