Yes, You Can Knit a Sweater! Part 2/2: Finish It With Pride

I hope that the previous post about sweater fit was helpful and inspiring to all passionate knitters out there.  My posts are meant to give insight into some of the information out there that I have found most helpful in my knitting journey.

So, you decided to knit that sweater (or dress, tank-top, etc.).  First of all, good for you!  This is a big step in your knitting career and you should be proud of your work!  You finally finished, *hallelujah!*  and are now laying out all the pieces, however many there may be and… now what??

Chances are, your garment will require some (now take a deep breath) seaming.  Even if you are creating something with a top-down construction you will likely have to endure some type of finishing requiring a tapestry needle.  This guide is meant to serve as a reference for some common ways to piece together a professional-looking handknit garment.

Once again, this is not all encompassing.  If you are looking for a more complete reference material, may I suggest Deborah Newton’s book Finishing School: A Master Class for Knitters.

This book contains patterns, but they are mainly meant to serve as mini-workshops on demonstrations for common finishing techniques.  Her advice in the book is quite invaluable.  What is her best piece of advice?

Think about finishing before you begin your garment!  *Groan… well, once you begin gleaning information about finishing (from my post or any other source), you will begin to see that there are certain techniques where the item itself was designed to be put together a certain way.  At the very least READ your pattern through TO THE END!  Hopefully, the designer will have done this thinking for you and you can better visualize how the pieces will come together.   Once you have had some experience, you will begin to understand how you can make simple modifications to create the type of seam you prefer.

OK, now on to the good stuff.  I will attempt to explain some of the most helpful techniques I have come across and when to implement them.  The goal was to have a post with all main finishing techniques in one handy location.

First things first…

Blocking

Yeah, you read right.  A lot of new knitters do not even know what this means.  All knitted items go through the ringer while we are working on them, they curl up, wrinkle, the dog takes it and decides it is his new favorite toy…

OK, maybe I have the only dog in the world that loves yarn as much as I do.

Oh, George.

Blocking basically means washing, or at least steaming, a piece of knitting and then laying it out flat to shape it.  Yes, that is all it is.  It is particularly important to do this before seaming if you have several pieces that are meant to be “flat”, i.e. – a front, a back, sleeves, etc.  You will probably have to do this again once your item is completely finished, and some knitters prefer to wait until the very end, which is fine too, but I think that it is easier to line up seams while the garment was tamed a little bit.

Since this subject has been written about many times by authors much better than I, I have included some references for how to block.  This does not have to be such a complicated process though, if you are using a type of wool or blend, even a quick steam with an iron or garment steamer will help tame your items.

Why should you block and how?

http://knitty.com/ISSUEwinter02/FEATdiyknitter.html

http://techknitting.blogspot.com/2008/03/why-block-hand-knits-heres-why-and-how.html

http://www.knittingdaily.com/blogs/daily/archive/2007/07/25/the-basics-of-blocking_2C00_-part-one.aspx

Seaming

This is the “fun” part.  Imagine that you have completed a garment with a front and a back that need to be pieced together, like this:

Source: http://www.elliphantom.com/socks/jaywalkers/

Notice first, that the top stitches along the shoulder seams are open or “held” stitches, and that the other areas that need to be seamed are the sides and the shoulders (unless the sleeves will be picked up later).

Let’s focus on the shoulder seams first.  The shoulders of a garment carry the bulk of the items weight, so they should have a very sturdy seam along them.  Notice that these stitches are also HORIZONTAL (they run North-South along the garment, but they will be stitched perpendicular to this direction.

1) Horizontal Seams

If you have open stitches (such as those pictured above on the holders, these are also called live stitches), there are two main techniques for seaming them together: 3-needle bind-off, and grafting.

3-Needle Bind-Off:  This is my preferred technique for shoulders especially, it is very sturdy, but also leaves a distinct ridge or seam along the inside of the work.  Also, (hooray!) no tapestry needle required.

Check out this video explaining how to do the 3-needle BO:

Grafting:  This is another way of seaming live stitches together.  It is not as sturdy as a 3-needle BO, but it creates a seam that is practically invisible.  It looks as though the two finished pieces you seam together are continuous knitting!  This is usually done with Kitchener stitch.  There are two main ways to do this, depending on whether your fabric has a stockinette or a garter stitch on the right side.

Check out this video explaining how to graft live stitches in stockinette stitch:

Note that her working yarn is coming from the back piece that she is seaming together.

Check out this video explaining how to graft live stitches in garter stitch:

Preferrably, you will leave any horizontal stitches live, so that you can either use 3-needle BO or graft the stitches together. (As an aside, if you want to find a way to leave CO stitches live, search for how to do a provisional type cast on) But, if your horizontal stitches are closed, or bound off, you will need to use another method for seaming.  This is the most helpful video I have come across to demonstrate:

The main take-aways are: go under each “V”, alternating top and bottom pieces, and always beginning the next V where the previous one ended.

2) Vertical Seams

Now, you need to know how to seam up the sides of your garment.  There are many different ways to do this, depending on how you want the seam to look.  The most common method is called mattress stitch.

Mattress Stitch:  This is a great way to seam vertical pieces of knitting that produces a practically invisible edge.

If your pieces need to be joined in stockinette, check out this video explaining how to do mattress stitch:

You may also have a garter stitch fabric that needs to be seamed a long a vertical edge (such as the sides of your sweater or along sleeves.  Check out this video for a helpful demonstration:

3) Weaving in Ends

When you are finished, you will also need to pull out your handy tapestry needle to weave in any ends of yarn that stick out from your work.  You will simply thread your needle with the end of yarn sticking out and weave in in on the back side of the garment to hide it.  There is no rhyme or reason to how you do this, but I like to always weave one direction, and then change directions at least once and weave back the other way.  This will prevent the end from coming loose after wash and wear.

See, this wasn’t as complicated as you thought, right?  Do a quick search online for other explainations or methods that may clarify things for you as necessary.  You are on your way towards that perfect handknit garment.  Just wait until someone comments, “I love your sweater!  Where did you buy it?”  Ha!

As always, leave any comments or questions and I will do my best to help.

Happy knitting!

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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!

FIT

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:

Source: http://sophie-and-me.com/tag/knitting/

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: http://www.craftyarncouncil.com/sizing.html

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:

http://www.twistcollective.com/collection/component/content/article/35-features/877-got-gauge

http://www.double-ewe-yarn.com/gaugeschmagepart2

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.