Category Archives: sweaters

On the Subject of Sweaters Part 2: Style, Construction, and Fit

This post is Part 2 in a series of weekly posts I’ll be doing on the process of sweater knitting: not exactly the nitty gritty details and techniques, but the opportunities and decisions you may encounter on the way to getting a knitted sweater that works for you.

Because this is the 21st Century, and because knitting has been going on for a while now and knitters are human beings, there is a great variety of sweater styles out there to choose from. A lot of knitters have a distinctive preference for certain kinds of sweater patterns – top-down seamless, for example, or cardigans instead of pullovers – and they will choose sweater patterns based on that preference. If you are a knitter who is relatively new to sweater knitting, this can feel a bit disorienting, as though you must suddenly declare your position on these things right away or be lost forever. (Spoiler alert: you don’t have to do this). In particular one of the biggest discussions amongst knitters (well, sometimes it’s more of a debate) is whether to work in the round or “seamless”, or to work flat or “in pieces.” I have done both and enjoy both, and you can rest assured that there is no “right” way to do this – but there are certainly advantages and disadvantages to both.

Sweaters constructed in pieces are usually ones with either set-in sleeves, raglan sleeves, drop-shoulder sleeves, or modified drop-shoulders, and may be either pullovers or cardigans. A sweater constructed in pieces (flat) allows you two distinct advantages: Portability, and structure. If you are the sort of person who carries knitting with you wherever you go, you may find it easier to work a sweater in pieces because you only ever need to carry a small amount of the project with you at any given time and it will fit easily in your handbag. (If you’re concerned about portability, you might also want to consider if the pattern calls for charts that need to be consulted in detail, whether you are comfortable working all of the necessary techniques while on the go, etc). I will often work on a sweater like this and keep the sleeves for portable knitting and the body for working at home. The structural advantage here is that the seams offer stability. This can be particularly helpful if you are working with a yarn that is itself less stable (blends with alpaca, or cotton, for example, will drape more heavily than wool and retain their shapes less easily), but also contributes to shape and “stay-put-ness” of the sweater while you’re wearing it. (The Gwendolyn cardigan, below, is worked in pieces with set-in sleeves and shaped sleeve caps. )


The disadvantages of working a sweater in pieces largely revolve around the fact that your finishing time is longer due to the fact that you will need to sew up those wonderfully structured seams. (Though it is worth pointing out that a lot of people like sewing up seams and take a lot of pleasure in doing this part well – your mileage may vary). Even though it feels like finishing the knitting part should mean that you’re “done,” you can’t actually wear a set of disassembled sweater pieces and call it a sweater. (Though many of us trying to rush-finish a sweater to wear to Rhinebeck have contemplated this many, many times). For me I usually have to mentally add on an extra day to do the finishing. You are also more likely to be working from the bottom up rather than the top down, which is a disadvantage if you prefer going from the top down to be able to measure fit as you go.

Sweater styles constructed seamlessly are likely to include bottom-up or top-down construction, raglan sleeve, some set-in sleeve (with picked-up sts and short row sleeve cap shaping), and circular yoked sweaters, and may be also used for pullovers or cardigans. These kinds of sweaters have seen a resurgence in the last decade or so, for knitters who like to be able to avoid seams. This is one of the main advantages of working seamlessly. This kind of style also lends itself very easily to top-down construction, which has also been recently popular for knitters who like to be able to judge fit and length as you work, because a seamless top-down sweater can easily be “tried on” by slipping it off the needle and onto some waste yarn or multiple circular needles, and this makes it easier to judge the length and modify accordingly (for example, sleeve length can be easily extended or shortened simply by ceasing knitting at the desired point). You will also have a clearer sense right away if you are going to run out of yarn or not, as you will be able to see the full progress of the entire garment all at the same time. (The Hourglass pullover, below, and yoked cardigan from instructions by Elizabeth Zimmerman, are both seamless sweaters worked from the bottom up).

Disadvantages of sweaters constructed seamlessly include the lack of structure provided by seams (which means you are best limited to yarn choices that include some structure and elasticity themselves, such as wool or wool blends, and plied yarn), and the fact that the project becomes more physically cumbersome the closer you get to finishing it. You need to mentally reckon with yourself that you will at some point have almost an entire sweater in your lap while you are still knitting with it, and this puts more weight onto your hands and wrists. If you are familiar with knitting blankets or afghans, consider the differences between knitting squares that are later pieced together, versus a blanket knitted all in one piece, and you will discover some similarities between knitting sweaters seamlessly vs. in pieces.


In general, take a moment to look at how the sweater is constructed and how this fits into your own knitting preferences, along with considerations like whether the style pleases you and seems like something you would feel comfortable in. Always remember that you get to choose what you knit – breathe easy knowing that you can be in control of deciding what you like and don’t like.

Ease, Size and Fit
Construction method is important to think about when choosing a sweater pattern, because this can also sometimes lend itself to a particular garment style. For example, a drop-shoulder pullover constructed in pieces is probably going to have a fairly boxy fit, so as long as you choose a size that will fit you loosely, you can wear it comfortably. A lot of classic sweater patterns work like this, such as traditional Aran pullovers with lots of cables. These sweaters are meant to be warm and comfortable, more so than fitted and modern. Similarly, a circular yoked pullover is not ideal for a very fitted look, but is a classic when worn a little bit loosely. On the other hand, if you are making a set-in sleeve or raglan-sleeve sweater with waist shaping, you could more easily aim for a fitted style. A lot of contemporary patterns follow the fitted look, and these styles are becoming very diverse.

When considering fit and style, this is also the moment when you want to think about ease. Positive ease means the garment is larger than your body, zero ease means the garment is the about same size as your body, for a close fit, and negative ease means the garment measures smaller than your body, for a very fitted look. My Water St. cardigan (Ravelry link) is intended for positive ease, since it is relatively light and drapey, whereas my Royale pullover is more suitable for zero ease or negative ease, since it is a fitted pullover shape and because a close fit displays the Bavarian cables very nicely. Knitted fabric does have some stretch to it, so the potential for comfortable negative-ease garments exists in the knitting world. The kind of ease you want will depend on the garment style and your own personal preferences. Often, the pattern instructions will indicate what is intended with the original sample or what kind of ease is being shown in the photographs, but just as often you may need to judge this for yourself.

In terms of fit, one of the first pieces of information you will likely be looking for in any knitting pattern you are considering knitting is the range of sizes offered, and what size is closest to your own fit. This is a good place to start in deciding whether the pattern is for you – for example, if you are on the very-small or very-large end of the size range, you are more likely to encounter challenges in finding patterns that fit you, so if you’re new to sweaters it might help your comfort zone to choose a pattern that doesn’t require a lot of size modification (if you can help it). Having said that, though, size ranges do tend to be more expansive than they used to be (in the sense that they don’t always stop at a 42-inch bust, unlike many patterns of decades past), especially since the number of pattern sources out there is growing every year and more designers are aware of this issue.


In order to understand what size you want, you must consider the kind of garment ease you want (positive ease/loose fit, negative ease/snug fit), but also your own body size. This means that if you are going to follow pattern instructions based on a specific pattern size, you must, absolutely, 100%, no getting around it, measure yourself. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. Get a fellow knitter friend over to your place and help each other out with this if you must, but absolutely know what size your own body is and how you want your knitted sweater to be related to that measurement. This will allow you to choose the pattern size that is right for you AND perform modifications to the pattern if necessary.

There are a lot of measurements that are useful to take (and I’ll point out some resources for this, below), but the two most important ones off the top are: your bust circumference (measurement #1 shown here), and the width across your back between the ideal placement of the shoulder seams – also referred to as the cross-back measurement (measurement #4 shown at same link as previous). The bust circumference relates to how the sweater will fit around your body, and the cross-back measurement relates to how well the sweater will hang from your shoulders while it is worn. (Consider your shoulders to be the “coat hanger” in this scenario – and imagine what happens to sweaters in your closet if they are hung from a coat hanger that is too small or too large for the sweater that is hung on it. Pretty significant, no?) There ARE other measurements that come into play here, particularly if you are large-busted and want to add shaping with short-rows or vertical darts, but these two are important to start with no matter what your body size or shape is.

Related to measuring yourself, I cannot stress these two facts hard enough:

1. Your bust circumference is not necessarily the same size as the number on your bra band. This is partly because bra size isn’t just about band size but is also about cup size – just ask two women with 38AA and 38D bra sizes to compare measurements – and also because, well, a lot of us are just plain wearing the wrong bra size. Do yourself a favour and get the measuring tape out every so often. Remember, when working with knitting patterns we want to work from our own body size and shape, not from commercially established numbers. (If you want to go full throttle, you could also go ahead and get yourself an appointment for a bra fitting, but I digress.)

2. Your pattern size is not necessarily the same as your dress size or off-the-rack clothing size. This might seem like an obvious statement, but is worth pointing out nonetheless. When different sizes are indicated in the opening notes of a pattern, you may see a sizing note that looks something like: S(M, L, XL, 2XL, 3XL), and so on. Some patterns may even use dress size numbers like 6(8, 10, 12, 14), etc, but this is fortunately less likely to be the case in recent years. In any case: keep reading. Do not assume that because you buy Size L when purchasing clothing off the rack from your usual retail outlets that you are likely to need the Size L pattern size. These kinds of pattern references are most often used to track the pattern grading so that you the pattern instructions can later refer to notes like “when making sizes XL-3XL, proceed as follows”, or similar. To determine your own size, look closely in the pattern notes for a note like: S(M, L, XL, 2XL, 3XL), “to fit bust size 34(38, 42, 44, 48) ins”, or “garment bust size 36(40, 44, 46, 50), and so on. Armed with your own bust measurement notes and your desired amount of ease, you will be able to choose your pattern size accordingly.

Yarn and What it Means

In the next installment of this blog series, I’ll talk a bit about yarn, yarn subsitution, and (gasp) the dratted gauge measurement. Choosing pattern size is an important step, but putting it together with yarn selection is what makes the completed sweater come together.


Here are some great resources if you would like to explore further the themes in this post, both in print (always check with your Local Yarn Shop if you can!) and on the web:

Knitting Around, by Elizabeth Zimmerman, for a ‘first principles’ style discussion of patterns along with entertaining stories from her life and her knitting.

Knitting from the Top Down, by Barbara Walker; one of the earliest guides to knitting from the top down, and a great resource for all kinds of garments worked in the round seamlessly.

The Knitter’s Handy Book of Sweater Patterns, by Ann Budd; a comprehensive guide to customizing your own sweater, choosing from many different construction styles

Circular Knitting Workshop, by Maggie Righetti; an expansive manual for knitting skills related to knitting in the round, from cast-on to cast-off

Knitting Plus: Mastering Fit + Plus Size Style, by Lisa Shroyer; a guide for fit and pattern customization especially for women in the ‘plus’ size range

Big Girl Knits, by Jillian Moreno and Amy Singer; one of the earliest plus-size specific knitting books for women, including discussion of measurement, style, and fit.

Little Red in the City, by Ysolda Teague; Contains an expansive section on garment fit and measurement, including different methods of bust-dart construction and detailed measurements.

SweaterWise: Knitting a Sweater That Finally Fits You (Ravelry Links); This is an online resource by Sandi Wiseheart with a comprehensive worksheet and discussion of the kinds of measurements that can help you in achieving a sweater that fits you well.

Fit to Flatter, by Amy Herzog; This is a blog post series with discussion not just of measurement and fit but of how different sweater styles might be customized for different body shapes.

Happy knitting until next time!




Filed under fearless knitting, sweaters

On the Subject of Sweaters (Addendum): Browsing for Patterns

As an addendum to yesterday’s post on choosing what sweater pattern(s) you’d like to knit for yourself, I wanted to take a moment to point out some very nice ways that the knitting internet has already made this easier for us. It’s possible that you already know the things I’m about to point out, but if you don’t, I can promise you that this is going to help you out a LOT in your browsing.

First, if you are searching generally on the internet through a search engine, it is worth remembering that Google or any search engine will return best results to you if you are a little bit specific about you want. It might be that you are very happy to sift through many pages of pattern websites (heck, I love a good procrastination spell myself), but at some point you have to put some limits on it and give the search engine a search string that will return a more refined result. Here are three examples, courtesy of Let me Google that For you:
Knitting pattern sweater
Knitting pattern sweater cardigan cables worsted buttons
knitting blog finished sweater cardigan

I include that last one because often bloggers will go into detail about their finished knitted items and talk about why they liked the pattern and what kind of modifications they did to it. Each of the above three search strings return very different sets of results – and a different number of potential web pages to sift through.

Ravelry: Advanced Pattern Search
By now, if you are a knitter who uses the internet, you probably know about Ravelry. It’s a website that’s free to use and functions in many different ways to help knitters think about their knitting. The notebook function allows you to store project pages for each of your in-progress or completed knitting projects, noting yarn and pattern selection, needle choice, and your own project notes and photos. However, once you store your information in your notebook pages, these are connected to the entire Ravelry archive of information, so, if I come across an entry on your Ravelry page, I can click on the entries for the pattern (sometimes it may be available for sale on Ravelry, but usually you will be able to find out where it is from) and yarn and find out more information about these, along with all the different kinds of projects that pattern and yarn have been involved in. It is a library of knitterly knowledge and much of the information stored there is the result of many knitters geekily entering in project information and talking about their stuff. In short, there’s a lot you can do on Ravelry, and one of those things is finding patterns.

To browse for patterns on Ravelry, you start with the “Patterns” tab up there at the top:

Ravelry A

Many people then start by browsing according to general category (a bit cut off there at the right of the image), or by perusing the “hot right now” items (this screen shot was taken last week, when Cookie A’s new book was just out and those patterns were getting a lot of attention). However, I want to also draw your attention to the “Advanced Pattern Search” feature up at the top. It’s a relatively recent addition to Ravelry (in the sense that it’s only been around for about two years or so, if my memory serves – as opposed to being there from the beginning of the site), and one that can save you a whack of time to help you browse for just what you’re looking for.

Ravelry 1

When you first click on this link, you will be taken to a page with the potential for a lot of filtering – but when you first look at it, there is no filtering whatsoever, and it is basically the first of many pages showing you all of the patterns that are listed in the Ravelry archives. So, a lot of patterns. The way to use this feature is to immediately start narrowing down the search filters. One is a drop-down menu at the top of the page towards the right: You can filter by most popular, most recent, etc. Another is the expansive set of menus and sub-menus that are listed in a column at the left: when you use these menus you immediately start narrowing down your search parameters based on specific criteria. Knitting vs Crochet, photographed vs. not photographed, garment type, yarn weight, male or female garment, and so on. This is your time to get picky and tell the Advanced Pattern Search exactly what you want to see, and it is going to save you so much time I can hardly stand it.

Ravelry 2

If you’re a Ravelry member (it’s free to join if you’re not), go onto the advanced pattern search and start clicking in some selection criteria and watch how the results are immediately refined for you, it’s awesome. (All of these Ravelry screen shots above and below are refining the same search from an open pattern search down to a women’s cardigan sweater in worsted weight yarn, knitted, with a photograph, worked in pieces from the bottom up; from hundreds of thousands of patterns down to about eight hundred. You’ve still got some browsing to do, but now it’s a matter of an evening instead of all week.)

Ravelry 3

Ravelry 4

Ravelry 5

Patternfish Pattern Search
If you are a knitter who uses Patternfish (also free to use, and hosts sale patterns only and no discussion forums or groups), a very similar search process is available to you. While the main page shows you the most recent patterns added (and their newsletter will also highlight specific patterns for you to peruse), you can refine your pattern search along specific criteria that you choose:

Patternfish 1

Patternfish 2

Patternfish 3

While it might seem fairly obvious to use these kinds of search techniques online, in fact these specific websites have only been around in Knitting Internet Land for the last few years, and are under constant improvement and adjustment every year, as more knitters come to use them. It’s entirely possible for a person to use a website (or the entire internet, for that matter), in the same manner for months or years at a time before discovering, “oh, wait, what does that button do, I’ve not noticed that one before,” and on the off chance that you are one of those people – I salute you and encourage you to get as picky as you like in your pattern browsing.

Next post: Style, Construction, and Fit

With that, I’m looking ahead to the weekend, and I hope you’ll have some knitting in it just as I will. Until next time!


Filed under demo, sweaters

On the Subject of Sweaters Part 1: Choosing a Pattern

This post is Part 1 in a series of weekly posts I’ll be doing on the process of sweater knitting: not exactly the nitty gritty details and techniques, but the opportunities and decisions you may encounter on the way to getting a knitted sweater that works for you.

The Challenge of Choice
In my mind, there is only one real “rule” of sweater knitting, and here it is: You can knit whatever sweater you want. There are no “musts” in knitting. There are big advantages to knitting your own sweater – getting it to fit your body, for one. Sleeves can be as long or short as you want, you can control stitch counts and gauge to make the pattern smaller or larger if necessary, and your colour selection is limited only to the yarn colours available to you in your yarn shop or online retailers; Which is to say you can basically knit whatever sweater you want in whatever colour you want, whenever you damned well feel like it.

Knit a big classic Aran fisherman’s pullover. Knit a wispy drapey unstructured thing that looks like it belongs on a modern runway. Knit something from the magazine that just arrived in the yarn shop because you liked how it looked on the cover. Knit the sweater you just saw online this morning. Knit a sweater from a vintage book that you inherited from a friend’s great-aunt’s yarn stash even though you have to sift through modification after modification to get right. Knit the sweater all your friends are knitting. Knit a sweater none of your friends have even heard of. Part of the fun of knitting is getting to make these kinds of selfish choices when we knit things for ourselves. So really, the only thing you must do, is knit whatever the heck you want. For many of us, choosing a sweater pattern is easy because it’s an “I know it when I see it” sort of thing – one day you turn the page of a magazine or come across a website and gasp out loud a little bit and think “oh my goodness I need to make that.”


Still, a lot of us struggle over the pattern selection part because our brain often stops us from viewing a particular pattern as something that is desirable for us. For example, the colours yellow and orange are the least common colours in my closet (though I’m working on liking orange more, really I swear), and I also very rarely wear pale colours like pastels. So if a pattern sample is knitted up in yarn in one of these colours, I’m less likely to glance at it first when I’m flipping through the magazine. It’s absolutely nonsensical and something that any logical person wouldn’t let get in their way, but I guarantee you it happens to the best of us. It’s a rare day when someone at a knitting circle or on a podcast will be flipping through a magazine or reviewing a new knitting book without dropping a comment like, “well it could be a really neat sweater, but I don’t knit with red. It might work for me if I made it in blue instead.” Knitters are visual people.

There are a lot of other mental starting points you can train yourself to work from when you’re considering a sweater, aside from the colour (though colour choice does certainly matter in the final yarn selection, something we’ll look at in a later post). Not the least of these are: the sweater’s structure and construction technique, the sweater’s style, the fiber content of the yarn, the availability of the pattern, what kind of yarns you are best able to access or afford, and your own personal style.


Handknits and Your Wardrobe
A good general place to start is to go to your own closet and pull out the sweaters – be they commercially made or hand knit – that you enjoy wearing the most. They should be sweaters that fit you comfortably and would be pleased to be seen wearing in front of other people (which people, and where, is entirely up to you). One thing to pay attention to here is the measurements and fit – are they loose, fitted, short, long, boxy, belted, etc. But more than fit, look at these sweaters and ask yourself overall what it is you like about them.

Many people would tell you that your favourite sweaters in your closet are the kinds of things you should be trying to reproduce in your handknit sweaters, and I partially agree with this. These sweaters in your closet should tell you about what size feels good, what kind of materials feel comfortable, and what shapes and styles appeal to you. All of these are worthwhile to reproduce in your knitting. However, you should also take a moment to ask yourself this: Are these sweaters you like to purchase the same kinds of sweaters you would like to knit? Sometimes this might be the case. If you purchase a lot of buttoned cardigans but can’t ever find one that has sleeves that fit your arms, for example, knitting a buttoned cardigan is a way you can achieve a more satisfying result than what’s in your closet even if the overall style is similar. If this is the case for you, then by all means search for patterns that reflect the styles that already exist in your closet. A lot of my own knitting comes from this motivation, because as a 5’9” gal, I often have trouble in stores finding clothes that are the right length for me.

On the other hand, it might be the case that your favourite sweaters in your closet do not actually reflect the kinds of sweater you would like to knit. Your wardrobe might have gaps or vacancies that you need knitting to fill for you. For example, if the sweater you want to knit is an all-over cabled cardigan in dark orange wool, you might actually not stand as strong a chance of being able to find that in a store, and the reason you want to knit a sweater like that is because you can’t acquire one by shopping for it. Also consider the projects that bring you to knitting in the first place: what kinds of projects do you like to knit? A good reason to ask yourself this question is to find out if there is a difference between the kinds of sweaters you prefer to buy and the kinds of sweaters you prefer to knit. If you are the sort of knitter who prefers interesting techniques like lace or cables, this is likely to be the kind of vacancy in your wardrobe that knitting can fill for you. Much of my sweater knitting in particular also fills this niche for me, more often as I dive deeper into knitting world: I like knitting the kinds of garments that I can’t buy in stores.

We have a lot of options open to us in knitting pattern world because designers have just as much variation in style preference as knitters do. Ask yourself what you would like to wear AND knit for yourself, and you’ll narrow down the kind of sweater patterns you should be looking for.


Materials and Structure: Thinking Ahead
If you are truly in doubt, start with the yarn. Choose a favourite yarn from your stash or favourite yarn shop and investigate what kinds of sweaters other knitters have made from it – in doing so you may actually discover some new patterns, or you may also discover that it is a less ideal yarn for sweaters, and you’ll end up steering yourself in a different direction. But chances are, if you start with a yarn that you love and work from there, you will take the care to get a garment that you love just as much. In a later post I’ll also get into considerations of yarn substitution and basic principles to keep in mind when working with a yarn that is not the one specified in the pattern instructions.

Knitters are inventive people. There are thousands upon thousands of sweater patterns out there, in many different kinds of styles, using many different stitch techniques. Something that can help you narrow things down is to consider how the sweater is actually constructed. In other words, is it worked in the round or in pieces, from the bottom-up or from top down. It’s entirely possible that you don’t have a preference or don’t know what your preference is: if that’s the case, just pick something that looks good or that closely matches the structure of the sweaters you already like from your closet, and you’ll likely discover along the way whether or not you have a preference or not in this regard. In my next post in this series next week, we’ll consider these qualities of style and structure along with fit and size.

Tomorrow, though, I’m going to follow-up with an interim post (I wanted to do it today but it is enough to have its own blog post space), on searching for patterns online, particularly through sites like Patternfish or Ravelry. There are a few search mechanisms you can use on these sites that often go un-noticed even by experienced users, so it’s great to have a few tricks like that up your sleeve when browsing for your next sweater project.

Happy knitting this fine Thursday! Until next time, knitting friends.

Sweaters from my own closet seen above, from the top of the top photo on down:

Gwendolyn, pattern by Fiona Ellis, in Cascade 220 Heathers
Yoked cardigan, from instructions by Elizabeth Zimmerman in Knitting Workshop, in Cascade 220 Heathers
Hourglass Pullover, in Last-Minute Knitted Gifts by Joelle Hoverson (one in Malabrigo worsted and one in alternating stripes of Noro Silk Garden
Dusseldorf Aran (Ravelry link), pattern by Fiona Ellis, in Berocco Ultra Alpaca
Cabled Swing Cardigan from Knitter’s Book of Yarn, pattern by Norah Gaughan, in Berocco Ultra Alpaca


Continue with Part 1 (Addendum): Browsing For Patterns

Or Part 2: Construction, Style, and Fit


Filed under fearless knitting, sweaters

On the subject of sweaters

This is the introductory post for my 6-part post series on the process of knitting a sweater. Scroll down to the end of the post to find links to all of the individual posts. 

Because fall is quickly approaching – and with it, sweater knitting season – I’ve been doing a bit of thought behind the scenes here at Knitting to Stay Sane (me and my yarn stash are all very excited about it) and prepping a series of a few blog posts on the subject of sweater knitting. One post a week here for the next few weeks will be about a different aspect of the process: a sort of road map to the kinds of decisions that will help you get a sweater that you like. It won’t be an absolutely fully detailed explanation of every technique or step involved – a lot of people have written or published about different aspects of this, and I’ll be pointing you in the direction of many of them – but rather, is intended to be a bit of encouragement if you are a knitter interested in sweaters or figuring out how to approach them with some thought.

I often hear from knitters about the whole Sweater Knitting Thing. Among all the many possible choices of garments or items for knitters to construct, many people point to sweaters as being among the most challenging and intimidating. I think much of this is due to their sheer size. Compared to the ball or two of yarn that is normally required for a hat or pair of mittens, or maybe twice that for a scarf, it’s true that sweaters are a commitment of both yardage and time – and let’s face it, some days you don’t have much of either. But I don’t think that project size is always the true litmus test of challenge. Hold up a scarf worked in the Orenburg style of lace in one hand, and a stockinette pullover in the other, and then ask yourself if sweaters are always going to be more challenging than scarves. It’s true that larger projects do ask a commitment of you, but “challenging” or “easy” is often in the eye of the beholder.


However, I do agree that sweaters offer the knitter a sufficient – and often satisfying – amount of challenge, even putting aside the whole notion of size. Sometimes it is because we fixate on a particular technique that is used in the pattern (“Oh, that’s a beautiful cabled pullover, but I’ve never done cables before and I’m worried it’ll be too hard”), but it’s a rare technique that is applicable only to one kind of garment. Much of the real challenge with sweaters has to do with the fact that sweaters are garments that are going to be worn over a large portion of our bodies, and therefore need to fit us according to the many dimensions of those parts. The fact is that even if you choose a pattern which is a loose-fitting stockinette box (thus avoiding fabric-construction techniques which might be daunting), you still have to ask yourself how long you want it to be so as not to overwhelm your body, and how long the sleeves should be so as to not end up constantly tugging them down or rolling them up, and what colour it should be, and what yarn you should use, and so on. The challenge comes from the fact that we need to be in control of our relationship with the garment we are knitting, much, much more so than with other kinds of knitted objects.

If you’re a person who is already familiar with other methods of garment construction – for example, if you’re a sewist who also knits – you’ve had other opportunities to ask yourself some of these kinds of clothing-making questions. Still, knitting offers us the chance to ask different questions than other crafts. Not only are we constructing a garment, but we are constructing the very fabric that the garment is going to be made of. This fact results in a lot of agonizing over things like gauge, swatches, yarn substitution, fiber content, yardage, and so on. Put these together with the project of making a large garment, and, well. There is a lot going on with sweaters.


For many of us, we are used to acquiring clothes by going to a store (or many stores), trying on clothes (possibly many many clothes), and buying the ones that fit and leaving the store with those specific items. Sometimes our knitterly approach to making sweaters mimics this – we choose the sweater size we think will fit, then knit it, then try it on and see if it fits. While this is certainly a way to get sweaters, it overlooks a lot of steps that are open to us as knitters to help us get the sweater we really like and will actually wear. When you knit a sweater, you have many possible decisions open to you, relating to pattern and yarn selection, fit, techniques, and so forth. Rather than viewing this as a series of little intimidations, I think it’s best to consider these as opportunities for you to be in charge and get the results that you want. You are the boss of your knitting, and even if you make mistakes they are your mistakes, not the mistakes that were made for you by some clothing manufacturer. YOU get to decide what results from the work of your needles.

If you are a knitter new to sweater knitting, or simply a knitter happy to learn more about the whole process of working a completed, satisfying sweater, this blog post series will definitely be you. Over the next few weeks I’ll be writing about the process of constructing a knitted sweater, from pattern selection and construction styles, to gauge, yarn selection, and finishing. I don’t intend this to be a comprehensive guide to all things involved in sweater knitting; I won’t, for example, be giving you step-by-step breakdowns of how or where to add short rows or demonstrating all kinds of increases or decreases – but I’m going to include links to resources along the way for things like that which might be helpful. While this will not be a comprehensive guide to every possible sweater pattern or every possible detail involved, it will help you find your footing in the land of sweater knitting if that is something you are interested in learning more about. I won’t tell you what sweater you should make or how much time you should give yourself to knit it, but I do hope that when you do arrive at making these decisions for yourself, you’ll be armed and ready to do it right.

Part 1: Choosing A Pattern

Part 1 (Addendum): Browsing For Patterns

Part 2: Construction, Style, and Fit

Part 3: Yarn Selection and Substitution

Part 4: Reading the Pattern

Part 5: Modifying the Pattern

Part 6: Knitting it Up

Looking forward to seeing you all next time! I hope you’ve got something fun on the needles, whether big or small.


Filed under fearless knitting, knitting knowledge, sweaters

Summer camp for grown ups

I spent this past week in the company of a group of knitters and other artists and art students at the Haliburton arts workshops, teaching my ‘Knitting Sweaters That Fit’ class that I did last year. It was a good week and I look forward to returning again – I not only had a great bunch of students but the weather was mercifully cool and calm, with the exception of one day of rain. (July has been trending towards the unbearably hot and humid this year, and I emotionally braced myself accordingly when setting off for a week in an un-airconditioned cabin, grateful to discover the peaceful weather report ahead. Excellent for knitting.)



Having a full week to teach is really an extraordinary thing, since I’m used to doing half-day or single-day workshops. In this class we spend time alternating knitting on sweater projects to talking all about the many details that go into sweater knitting like swatching, fit, measuring, finishing steps, considering your yarn and substitution possiblities, even making duct tape dress forms, and on and on. And because it’s knitting, everyone gets to chat while working away, and this week my students finished their time with hugs and a hope to see people again next year – it really is sort of like summer camp for grownups.



It is also an intriguing thing to be doing a class like this down the hall from such a diversity of other workshops – pastel drawing, painting, fiddling, jewelry-making, clowning, and so on. Chatting with the other instructors inevitably brings up interesting comparisons between our work and it is fascinating to try to place knitting amongst or in parallel to so many other creative pursuits. I think there is a lot of common ground in that everyone is trying to make something, create something, in a way that pleases them and meets some personal need in their lives or expresses something about themselves. I have no doubt there is artistic truth in knitting, but most days of my knitting life pass without me thinking directly about it.



In the mean time though, I’ve now gotten myself back to the real world, remembering how constant connection to the internet and reality is both wonderful and horrible all at once, and diving right back into the final stretch of my deadline projects before figuring out the next batch of things for August and the fall. And maybe catch up on a bit of sleep in there somewhere too, heh. It’s that re-entry, as they say.

My teaching page (up there on one of my blog tabs at the top) is on its way to filling up for the fall! Lots of day workshops scheduled for Toronto, and I’ll soon be adding a few more for Peterborough and who knows where else along the way.

Happy knitting this weekend!


Filed under sweaters, teaching

No rest for the wicked

Friends, I would have genuinely sworn it was the weekend, like…a minute ago. Wasn’t it just yesterday? I really thought it was. Apparently, though, we are now on to April, which means that Saturday wasn’t just last week, it was last month – HAH, nice trick there, calendar.

Saturday was a pretty great day, though. I met Kate at mumble-mumble-o’clock and we hit the road early in the morning for Collingwood, Ontario, where Karen at Grey Heron Yarns was hosting a day-long ‘Knit Fest’ of classes and food and gathering. Kate and I each taught two classes (Entrelac and Tips for her, Colour-work 101 and Lace 101 for me), and these knitters were ready. I’m not sure what they’re putting in the water up in Collingwood, but it makes for a very capable bunch of knitters, I’ll say that much.



We were so busy that I almost forgot to snap pictures until nearly the end of the day, but thankfully Karen and Brenda didn’t! Collingwood, I look forward to knitting with you again some time. (My teaching page is currently up to date, for anyone in Southern Ontario looking to come join in with some learnin’ this spring.)

In my own knitting life, projects and dreams continue apace, and my rich fantasy life is filling with all kinds of spring and summer plans. I have been thinking about what ambitious lace project I would like to work on this year, since Peacock Feathers took up some attention last summer. Knitted Lace of Estonia? I’m coming for you. (I’d be lying if my desires weren’t leaning towards the Crown Prince Square on the cover, but I might allow myself to start on a Miralda’s Triangle instead. I think that’s as close as I can get to being restrained and sensible ;) )


And speaking of being not at all restrained and sensible, because I apparently don’t have enough to knit on, I couldn’t take it anymore and cast on on Sunday for a third Royale pullover. I’m currently adding some revisions to this pattern – an additional size, and the option for full sleeves – and it’s making me want another one. I’m currently hoping this will be done before I go to teach Twisted Stitches and Travelling cables next (which will be at Shall We Knit in Waterloo, April 21st), so, you know. Nothing like some self-imposed deadlines.

If you need me, I’ll be over here knitting while staring lovingly at my yarn stash. I have plans.

Happy knitting this fine Wednesday!



Filed under sweaters, teaching

Event Horizon

You know, sometimes, when you start a sweater and then blink and discover that almost six months have passed since you started it and you still haven’t finished it yet, you then discover that you are actually pretty close to finishing it after all?

Me too.


I have started to feel a bit of unease with this project, because it’s been on my needles off and on for so many months now, and I’ve gone and changed the size I’m making halfway through, and then there’s the whole cable on the sleeve fix that I still have to go back and do, and (because I decided my 2011 self didn’t need to worry about that, and I’d let my 2012 self handle it instead)… and it actually occurred to me the other day that should I (stash forbid) end up running out of yarn and needing another skein, this will actually end up being a minor challenge since I’m pretty sure I neglected to keep any of the ball bands with dye lot numbers on them when I wound up all the yarn (self, that was not wise)…

But the thing is, and this is the most important thing, is that I am currently one front piece and one hood away from having a finished cardigan, and that is close enough for me to taste the sense of accomplishment. I have been loving working with this colour (it’s a Cascade 220 Heather, in a beautiful turquoise, edged in a dark reddish brown), and it finally hit me that, wait a second, soon I’ll actually be able to WEAR this colour, not just look at it on my needles.


Come on, cardi, you and me – and I know I said this back in October, and then November, and then again in January, but this time I mean it – LET’S DO THIS. February is for finishing! (And hey, if Steph’s Gwendolyn can survive a little re-knitting as well as a little singeing in the oven, mine can survive a bit of neglect. Probably.)

What will you finish in February, dear knitters?



Filed under cables, fearless knitting, sweaters