4 Things to Remember When Knitting Your First Sweater (Guest Post)

27 Jan

I’ve got a treat for y’all today 🙂 Mika (our wise & patient knit-along cohost) graciously agreed to write up a guest post with regards to knitting a first sweater. Whether or not you are joining us in the Agatha/First Sweater Knit-Along, this is really great information straight from the mouth (fingers?) of a seasoned pro.

Ok, enough blab – I’ll let Mika take it from here –

Knitting your first sweater is incredibly exciting, and also pretty nerve-wracking. What if you spend all of these hours knitting something, and then put it on and there are holes where there shouldn’t be and it doesn’t fit? (No, of course I’m not speaking from personal experience! There is definitely not a mangled sweater sitting in my old room at my parents’ house.) Here are my top 4 things to keep in mind when knitting your first sweater, things that I wish someone had told me before I made mine. Obviously picking your pattern and yarn are very important and I don’t discuss them here, but if you’re looking for tips on these issues, check out my blog – I’ll be posting my favorite sweater patterns for beginners, with yarn recommendations, sometime during the next week.

1. Size: Picking your size to knit can be confusing. Sweater sizes are generally by your full bust measurement, not your bra band size! The sizes listed by the pattern reflect the finished measurements. Think about ease as well – some sweaters are meant to be worn with negative ease (like the Agatha cardi), meaning the finished garment size should be smaller than your bust measurement. Others should have positive ease. Others should have zero ease. If you’re not sure, check out the Ravelry project page for your pattern – has someone written about the ease in their sweater? Do you prefer those that are more fitted, or loose? If you’re in between sizes and considering ease doesn’t change that, in my opinion its best to size down. Blocking (see below) can work wonders on adding width, but it really doesn’t help much with making anything smaller.

Don’t let this happen to you! [Image Source]

2. Swatching & Gauge: Swatch! Especially for your first sweater. Once they’ve been knitting a while, many people skip this step, depending on the pattern. For sweaters that are meant to be fairly fitted, however, swatching is crucial. Swatching is also a great way to figure out a complex lace pattern and make sure you understand it. Swatches are also helpful for testing the durability of your yarn. Does it say superwash? Soak it, lay it out to dry, and measure your gauge so that you don’t have to knit another swatch. Then chuck it in the washing machine and the dryer. If it comes out a felted, pilled mess, at least you know not to do that to your whole sweater.

Knit your swatch to at least 4″ wide. Then, block it (see #4). Once it’s dry, measure and compare your gauge to what’s stated in the pattern. Is it the same? Great! You can start knitting now. If it isn’t, try again with a different needle size. Even if the 1/4″ extra width in your 4″ swatch doesn’t seem like a lot to you now, the difference will turn a 34″ bust into a 36″ bust – which can make a big difference in how your sweater fits.

[Image Source]

3. Blocking: Blocking is the queen of knitting. If you plan to wash your sweater at all (and I hope you do!) you have to wash and block your swatch – gauge can change dramatically once a swatch has been blocked. If you’re knitting lace, use blocking pins to expand your swatch and open up the pattern. For ribbing and stockinette, lay your swatches flat on a towel, yoga mat, etc. Once you’re done knitting, block in pieces (if it’s a seamed sweater) by soaking the pieces, gently lifting them out of the water, squeezing (not wringing!) out the excess water, rolling them up in a towel, and then laying them flat according to the pattern measurements. Blocking is invaluable if, despite your best efforts, the pieces come out a little bit too short or too narrow.

4. Perfection: Even if you do everything you can, your sweater may not be perfect. My first sweater looked ok in pieces, and then I seamed it and there were holes in the seams because of my loose tension at the edges of my knitting (and some bad seaming). And then I machine washed and dried it (I used a superwash yarn, so why not, right? Wrong.) and it partially felted and shrank. And never saw the light of day again. But it was a learning experience. If it hadn’t felted and shrunk, I would have worn it anyway. Under a coat. 🙂 The only way to get better at knitting is with practice – some people make perfect sweaters on their first try, and I hope some of these tips help you get there. And even if the final result isn’t perfect, a) you made a sweater!! With string and sticks!! and b) your next one will be better.

Thanks again, Mika, for this guest post – very very helpful!
Does anyone have sweater-knittin’ questions for Mika? Ask away in the comments 🙂


10 Responses to “4 Things to Remember When Knitting Your First Sweater (Guest Post)”

  1. SuzySewing January 27, 2012 at 1:50 pm #

    Wonderful tips here! I have just finished sewing up my first cardigan but have now started a sweater and these come in handy!

  2. Anne January 27, 2012 at 2:01 pm #

    great post! I’m on the last sleeve of an aran cardi for daughter 2, keeping fingers crossed the end result will be what she wants!!! I’ve also just bought A Stitch in Time volume 2 which has some great vintage patterns, I just need to choose one to get on with next….:) looking forward to reading more posts on the Agatha, thanks!

  3. Beth January 27, 2012 at 4:03 pm #

    A note on the perfection front: If you really love your yarn and you really don’t like how things turned out, there always remains the option to frog the yarn and reuse it. I recently re-knitted the entire body of a sweater because I decided I didn’t like the shaping in the pattern. Now I adore the fit of my sweater. It isn’t easy to decide to frog, but it is wonderful having things that you truly love and are proud of.

  4. Debi January 28, 2012 at 4:22 am #

    I am teetering on the edge! Would love to join the world of knitting…Great post and great encouragement!

    • mikaea7ka January 28, 2012 at 6:45 am #

      You should try it! In some ways it’s much more forgiving than sewing… as Beth mentions above, you can always rip it out and start over.

  5. didyoumakethat January 28, 2012 at 4:05 pm #

    Great post, even for those of us who have been knitting a while. I still don’t feel like a knitting expert, I have to say, and there are many knits I am fearful of. I have to say, I’ve never totally wet a knit piece for blocking – I just cover with a wet (clean!) tea towel and hover my iron over it. Is that really bad?!

    • mikaea January 31, 2012 at 8:02 pm #

      Lots of people steam block – I think that sometimes this can make your knitting too relaxed (for example, when you’re working with ribbing), and I always feel like I have a harder time shaping things the way I’d like. But if it works for you then it’s not bad! I always feel more adventurous with my knitting than sewing – knitting is always a combination of knitting and purling, increases and decreases, and you can rip it out pretty easily when you’re not pleased. But using my seam ripper is so much more frustrating, and I always find sewing to require so much more brain energy.

  6. Marie January 28, 2012 at 6:52 pm #

    This is really, really helpful – thank you both for sharing!


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    […] 4 Things to Remember When Knitting Your First Sweater (Guest … by Ayshah Maiorano on Saturday, January 28th, 2012 | No Comments Knitting your first sweater is incredibly exciting, and also pretty nerve-wracking. What if you spend all of these hours knitting something, and then put it on and …lladybird.wordpress.com/2012/01/27/4-things-to-remember/ […]

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