5 Steps to Your Perfect Sweater - Patty Lyons | Knitting Teacher
5 Steps to Your Perfect Sweater

5 Steps to Your Perfect Sweater

Tuesday Tip copy

I love sweaters. I love to knit sweaters. I love to wear sweaters. I have knit some great ones and some not great ones. Over the years I’ve made just about every sweater mistake that can be made.

Since we are about to cast on for the newest video sweater class on my Ravelry group (jump in anytime!), it seemed like a good time to look at some simple sweater secrets (say THAT 5 times fast!)

5 Steps to Your Perfect Sweater

All of my video sweater classes have hours of video tutorials that take you through the sweater every step of the way. But they also teach some basic sweater skills that you can take to every sweater you do. There are so many ways a sweater can go right or wrong, but here are my top five tips to happy sweater knitting.

1) Pick the Right Yarn

After picking the right pattern choosing the right yarn is the single most important step to sweater success. There is a lot that goes into this decision. Think of how many yarns the designer might have swatched before settling on this one. What are some of the most important yarn properties to consider?

To do a yarn substitution you need to look at

1) Gauge – If you use a different gauge yarn, you might have to make sure pattern adjustments. Remember sometimes NOT matching gauge is what you want to get an in between size. However, that might be fine for using a DK weight for a pattern that uses sport. BUT if you start using a chunky yarn for a pattern that calls for fingering, even if you can do the math to change the pattern, it won’t look the same.

2) Weight / Density – That is how much yardage you get for how many grams. When you compare a yarn, check what it’s weight to yardage ratio is to see if it is similar.

3) Fiber content – If you want the similar look, this might be a strong factor. However, it will not always be a deal breaker. You do want to think about drape and how the finished fabric will move.

4) Yarn construction – A chainette construction is going to look and behave differently then a 4 ply. You might love the rustic look of a 2 ply yarn in an aran sweater, and if you substitute a smooth 4 ply it will look totally different.

5) Amount – Don’t forget when comparing price to factor in how much money per yard a yarn is. Also you’ll have to multiple the number of balls originally used with yardage of the original yarn and then divide it by the yardage of the yarn you are subbing to see how many balls of yarn you need.

Finally, check the Ravelry page for the yarn you are considering and look at the garments that people have knit with it. Often you’ll get a peek into the reality of how that yarn works up. For instance sometimes there’s a yarn marked DK but you see many projects that knit it up at a tighter gauge, or a yarn that’s marked DK and many knitters who note in their project page that it’s really more like a worsted.

For more information about yarn substitution, you can take my webinar “Secrets of Yarn Substitution.

2) Pick the Right Size Understanding Ease

This might seem obvious, but it’s not. There are so many misunderstandings about fit and ease. I’ve written a lot about reading schematics and in every sweater class there will always be a video about size.

The best thing you can do for yourself is measure a sweater or top (in a similar weight fabric) that fits you well. You might be very surprised to find that the side seam to side seam measurement of an standard fit sweater (flat sweater chest measurement) is the same or even smaller then your body measurement.

You can read more about ease (using Harbor Springs as an example) here. Here’s a bit more about how to measure yourself vs your finished garment for armhole depth and crossback.

For more information on understanding the schematic and size, you can take my webinar “Unlocking Pattern Secrets.”

3) Swatch (Without lying)

If you want a cake that tastes like a cake, you must measure your ingredients. If you want a sweater to fit, you must do the same. Doing a proper gauge swatch is our way to test drive our sweater fabric. Do we like the stitch definition, the way the fabric drapes, have we created a fabric we like, THEN measure it and make whatever pattern adjustments you need.

We have to start by listing all the ways we let our swatch lie to us:

  • We don’t cast on enough stitches to allow us to knit the way we actually knit AND to have enough stitches to realistically measure.
  • We add a large garter border that alters our gauge (don’t believe me . . . read this article I wrote for Twist Collective.)
  • We measure the swatch still on our needle. Your swatch should behave exactly like you cut a section out of you sweater. When your stitches are all spread out on your needle they will not be anything like they are off your needle
  • We skip blocking our swatch . . . this one blows my mind. It’s like assuming the unbaked cake batter is going to taste the same as the cake!
  • We stretch out and pin our stockinette swatch as we block it. Believe me once you let that swatch dry and leave it alone for a day, it will go right back to where it was!
  • We try to measure our swatch while it’s still wet (see above).
  • and a million other ways.

Since I’ve written so darn much about gauge, I will not repeat myself here, but here’s a handy dandy guide to some of my gauge tutorials: Secrets to Stitch Gauge, Secrets of Row Gauge.

4) Don’t Overcomplicate

For every knitter who has ever over thought a pattern and gotten into a mess (I TOTALLY have), I can tell you the single most important thing I learned as a new sweater knitter was to take a (good) pattern at face value.

Sometimes we read what we think is there, not what is actually there. I remember doing a top down raglan pattern years ago and was SURE the pattern was wrong. Every other raglan pattern I had done up to then had a decrease on either side of the marker so there were 8 sts decreased each round. I just read what I THOUGHT was there and didn’t notice the pattern called for a double decrease on either side of the marker which meant 16 st went away each round.

Then there’s the reading too much into the instructions and thinking it has to be more complicated. Anytime you say to yourself “when the pattern says . . . does it really mean . . . “, stop, try reading it out loud and take the simplest path. You can also look for other tools in the pattern to support that it really is that simple.

For instance if a pattern has you do a decrease row and then says to repeat that decrease row every six rows 8 times, you might start over thinking it and say “does it mean do it a TOTAL of 8 times so I really repeat it 7 times”, well, odds are, no, if it says to repeat it 8 times it means REPEAT it 8 times, so there will be a total of 9 decrease rows, but there, the stitch count when you finish the decreases will tell you if that is correct.

For more about pattern reading and reading your knitting take “How to Read Your Knit Stitches and Master the Pattern.

5) Know your blocking and finishing

Nothing can ruin perfectly knit pieces like bad blocking or finishing. Take the time to learn good blocking techniques and know what is the right blocking method (steam, wet, spray bottle) for your fabric.

Seams are nothing to be afraid of. They are there for structure and stability, so don’t go nuts trying to convert flat patterns to in the round (one of my early sweater knitting fails). All my sweater classes come with extensive videos on seaming that will make it seem like a snap. The three most often used seams are also on my YouTube channel.

What is the REAL secret to sweater success? Relax, take your time and have fun. It’s not nearly has hard as you think.

Hope to see you in the group for some more sweater talk.

 

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