Yes, You Can Knit a Sweater! Part 1/2: Make It Fit

I can’t believe how many knitters, even experienced ones, shy away from knitting sweaters – especially pullovers.  I too have had plenty of horror stories.  Remember the months you spent creating that beautiful sweater – you followed the pattern to the letter, assured by the designer that it would fit a perfect size M.  The model looks great in it, and you know you would look just as good.  You sew up the item, block it to death, and, low and behold, it is 3” too big around the waist, the sleeves are too short, and the seams are puckered so badly that thing looks like it is about to fall apart!  #*(%(*@!

The poor sweater you labored for hours on is now sitting at the bottom of your knitting basket collecting dust.  For those who are thinking that this is the designer’s fault for creating a sloppy pattern, I am here to assure you that there are ways to make sure your sweater turns out beautifully with a few simple tips on fit and finishing.  Part I of this tutorial will focus on sweater fit.

George is yawning, but his expression is pretty funny 🙂 Poor pup, Mom tortures him so!


1) Measurements

The first thing to do when planning a sweater or garment is to take CAREFUL measurements of yourself, or whomever the garment is intended for.  Even if the item is intended as a gift, you should always ask the recipient for his/her measurements.  They may get a hint as to what you are making, but they will be much more pleased with the result when they can actually WEAR the item as intended.

Just because the designer says the sweater is a standard size (S, M, L, etc), do not go on their word alone.  If the pattern is well written, it should come with a schematic that looks something like this:


Find a friend and have them take careful measurements.  Wielding a tape measure can be a bit tricky; I have found that the most accurate method is to take some heavier scrap yarn and drape it around your body, then measure the amount you used afterwards.  The Craft Yarn Council has an excellent resource for measurements for standard knitting:

After measuring, compare your measurements to the one given by your pattern’s schematic.  These will almost never match up exactly, but you will find one that will work best.  It is usually easiest to choose the size in the pattern with the most accurate bust size, as bust shaping is the trickiest to alter.

2) Checking Gauge

Next, MAKE A GAUGE SWATCH!!!  I cannot stress this enough.  Every time I hear a knitter say, “I knit to gauge,” it makes me cringe.  I say a little prayer to the knitting gods that their garment works out for them.  Please, please, please, just take a few minutes and at least knit a few rows in the pattern as directed, with the needles you intend to use, slap a ruler on it and check to see if you are even close.  When using a heavier yarn, even being off by one stitch will make a large difference in your finished size.  Even changing needle materials will affect your gauge (yes,the same size with the same yarn).  I will not delve into this subject here, as there are plenty of very helpful articles on the subject.  A couple of sites with helpful information on creating a gauge swatch are:

Find a safe place (on the pattern itself is desirable) and write down how many sts/in and how many row/in you have obtained.

3) Compare Measurements

Now that these two tasks are complete, go back to your measurements and pattern schematic.  Ask yourself, how to I want this item to fit?  In other words, how much “ease” do you need?  If you want it to fit snugly against the body, the sweater should have measurements of very close or equal to your actual body measurements.  For a very tight-fitting garment, up to 1” of negative ease (1” less than your measurements) will work, and for a looser-standard fitting garment, up to 2” positive ease will suffice (2” greater than your measurements).  If you are not sure, find a sweater that you love (it fits you perfectly), and measure it as well to decide.

4) Determine Any Pattern Alterations

Before you begin knitting, determine how you will adjust the pattern to accommodate any fit issues.  This may be as simple as knitting a size L for the body, while knitting a M size for the sleeves.  But, what do you do if you need a more complicated alteration, for example:  the sleeves on your schematic measure 17” in length, but you have monkey arms (like me) and need about 17 ¾”.  How do you add length to accommodate this without changing any other size aspect of the sleeve?  First, figure out which WAY the sleeve is knitted: commonly, the sleeve will be knit lengthwise (up from the cuff or fromt the shoulder down) in which the stitches run this way:

You will need to add ROWS to your sleeve.  Go back to your gauge swatch.  How many rows do you have per inch?  Let’s say you have 8 rows in one inch on your swatch.  Since you need to add ¾”, you will need to add (3/4) x 8 rows = 6 rows!  Usually, this will be added to the forearm, or spread them out along the length evenly.

What if you need to adjust the waist of a sweater?  Let’s say that all measurements are good except that the waist will be ½” larger than you would prefer.  Now, you need to make an adjustment based on STITCH count.  Assume your stitches run lengthwise again, like this:

Now, you guessed it, pull out your handy gauge swatch measurements and determine how many stitches you have per inch.  Let’s say that you have 6 stitches/inch.  You will need to subtract (1/2) x 6 stitches = 3 stitches in order to decrease by ½”.  When you reach the waist of your garment (determine where this change will occur in the pattern and mark it on the schematic), find a handy place to decrease 3 stitches.  When making an alteration that will affect the shaping (especially bustline and waistline), either include these changes with the shaping as the designer intends or subtract/increase stitches along the sides of your piece (underneath the arms) so that they cause as little disruption in the pattern as possible.

Take the time to make sure your garment will fit properly and you will be extremely happy with your finished item.  If this will be your first sweater project, I highly recommend trying a top-down raglan style sweater.  With this type of sweater, it can be tried on as you go so that you can adjust on the fly!  Some recommendations:

Margot by Linden Down

Mud Season by Elizabeth Smith

Brick by Clare Lee

Stay tuned for part two, where I will explain some common finishing techniques and how to use them to create a professional looking knitted garment.  Please leave any questions in the comment area and I will do my best to help.

Have fun and happy knitting!

If you are in the Cincinnati area, stop by Fiberge, where myself or any other lovely lady available will help you with your sweater concerns.


3 thoughts on “Yes, You Can Knit a Sweater! Part 1/2: Make It Fit

  1. Pingback: Yes, You Can Knit a Sweater! Part 2/2: Finish It With Pride | Rhiannon Knits


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