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7 common sweater knitting mistakes

Knitting garments take time and money so wouldn’t it be great if the garment would look and feel fabulous on you. Below I have listed 7 most common reasons why knitters end up being unhappy with their sweater project and how to avoid these mistakes. If you enjoy content like this subscribe to my newsletter to get notified when new articles are available.

1. Not measuring the gauge correctly

The most important thing in knitting is to know your gauge before you start. You need to make a swatch that is big enough and treat it as if you would treat your finished garment meaning that if you are going to block and machine wash your garment then you should do that to your swatch as well. Also if you are going to knit your garment in the round then you should swatch in the round and vice versa.

Let’s take an example. I am going to make a sweater for myself and the gauge should be 24 stitches / 4″ (10 cm) and I have 240 stitches for my bust. With those numbers the bust measurement is 40″ (100 cm). If I’m a bit lazy and make too small and thus inaccurate swatch and my gauge ends up being 25 stitches 4″ (10 cm) instead of 24 the bust circumference of my garment ends up being approximately 38″ (96 cm). That is one clothing size smaller than intended and that certainly affects how the sweater fits you.

2. Ignoring the fabric characteristics

In addition to gauge, it also matters how the fabric feels and looks like. For instance, depending on the nature of the yarn some yarns bloom and can be knit with a looser gauge than the yarn weight might suggest and the fabric is still not see-through. But if you take yarn with similar fiber content and weight but different construction (for instance single ply vs. multiple plys) the fabric with the same gauge might be see-through. So when you have reached the desired gauge check the fabric and consider if that fits the sweater you are going to make and most importantly that you like the fabric.

If you are interested in learning more about what to look for in a yarn besides gauge and how each of these factors affects your final results check out the Craftsy class Yarn substitution made easy or the book Yarn substitution made easy that is available at least on Amazon.

3. Not trying the sweater on

If you are a beginner sweater knitter I recommend you to start with top-down sweaters because then you can try the sweater on. I know it takes a little bit extra work to transfer the stitches into two cables but I promise it is worth the time. Try the sweater on at least after finishing the neckline shaping, a little after you have separated your body and the sleeves and before you bind off the body and the sleeves. Don’t be afraid to rip back and fix the mistakes or fit issues. 

If you are knitting with yarn that has been handled with superwash treatment I also recommend that you wet block your garment at some point in the midway and try it on because superwash wools might stretch surprisingly much and you might end up having way too long sleeves or body for your sweater. I also recommend that you write down the finished measurements of your garment so that you learn to know what are the perfect measurements for your body. When you know your numbers you can also easily knit fitting sweaters bottom-up.

I learned this the hard way. I should have tried the sweater featured on the images below on after the neckline shaping. Read more about how I fixed the sweater without starting all over again.

4. Not selecting size based on your measurements

Before you start to knit your sweater I recommend that you measure at least your bust and upper arm circumference and then select your size based on them. Be honest to yourself and to your body and don’t hold your breath or try otherwise to be smaller than you are. Select the size based on your measurements and not based on the label meaning that if you would normally buy size M clothes but based on your measurements the pattern suggests you to make size L then I recommend you to make the size L.

5. Knitting exactly as the pattern tells you to

Knitwear designers use sizing charts to grade their patterns. The charts are based on an average body and there are very few bodies in this world that match those numbers exactly. Our bodies are all unique: Some of us have much wider bust than hips and others have the other way around. Someone has long hands and torso and someone short.  

Adjusting the length of the body and sleeves is usually easy so if the pattern tells you to knit your sleeves to a certain length but they seem too short or too long don’t do it. Knit them to the length that fits your body. There are also other adjustments you can make and if you would like to learn more about how to modify a sweater pattern to fit your unique body check out either the Craftsy class Knit to Flatter or the book Knit to flatter by Amy Herzog.

6. Selecting garment type that does not fit your body

Before committing yourself to a project take a look at your wardrobe. What kind of sweaters do you like the most? How much wider or narrower they are than your body? What kind of necklines do you like most? Is the body cropped or do you like longer sweaters? Then try to look at the knitting patterns and think if they have the same characteristics as the clothes you love. That is because if you have never felt comfortable in cropped sweaters with V-neck it is quite likely that you don’t end up wearing that kind of sweaters even if you knit them yourself.

I already mentioned previously Amy Herzog and her amazing book and online class. If you would like to know your body type and understand what kind of clothes fit it you should check them out!

Noticed only after several days of knitting: Chunky drop shoulder sweater does not look good on me.

7. Selecting badly designed garment

It is also possible that you do everything exactly as the pattern says with the same yarn and gauge but still the sweater might not fit you well. This is because these days it is really easy for anyone to put a pattern for sale on Ravelry or Etsy without any experience of designing knitwear. There are a lot of well designed patterns by budding designers but there are also many badly designed patterns as well. If you are just beginning to knit sweaters and you don’t completely understand how they are constructed I recommend that you select patterns by well known designers. 

Two Etsy shops that have beginner-friendly and well-designed garments are for instance Knitatude and MamaInAStitch.

Do you have any tips and tricks related to sweater knitting you would like to share with your fellow crafters? Just drop a comment below!

12 Responses

  1. I’d add: Be nice yourself. Every oops is a learning opportunity.

    My first sweater, even though I measured my favorite fitting sweater, fit my very petite sister. The next attempt and first cardigan, fit my very plus size friend. The third attempt fit me providing I wear a bulky layer underneath. Thinking all previous attempts would result in the perfect sweater, it wound up fitting like a slim base layer. What’s next? I have some beautiful yarn looking for the next project.

  2. Thanks for calling out patterns that are badly designed. I’ve also struggled with inadequate or error-ridden instructions. A good pattern is worth its weight in gold!

  3. I measure how many rows in an inch, then make my garment by counting the rows, not using the measuring tape to measure the garment.
    I’ve never blocked a garment.
    I’ve been knitting since I was 13 and I’m 83 now.

  4. Take a similar sweater out of your closet that fits well and measure it. Shoulders, bust, waist, length etc. This will tell you what size to choose on the pattern.
    Also, with a pattern with a collar that is sewn to the back section, start in the middle and sew out toward the sleeves. Much easier that starting at one end.

  5. If your pattern has unfamiliar techniques, research and swatch BEFORE you try knitting them into the patten. It is much easier to rip out a 20 stitch swatch than to frog several rows of a sweater!

  6. I too knit flat before knitting in the round. No stress.
    I also colour code all the sizes on the pattern before starting. Even though I probably will only ever do the one size. It just makes life simpler.

  7. When knitting circular projects, I always teach knitting flat for the first few rows before connecting the row. This makes it much easier to avoid twisting. You can sew up the gap later with the tail. For example: Cast on 144 stitches, join ends and knit 20 rows of ribbing….change to Cast on 144 stitches leaving a 20cm tail. Knit back and forth for a few rows THEN join ends. Twisting almost impossible at that point. Sew up gap later with tail.

  8. Knitted sweater (jumper) for my brother-in-law for Christmas 2021 and followed the pattern. Body width fit fine; I forgot to add the length since he’s long in the torso. Then had to add to sleeve length as well. Fortunately the sweater was knit circular top-down so adding to the bottom only meant taking out the ribbing and then adding the required length before re-doing the ribbing. (Wasn’t paying attention when I got to the ribbing and had it half done on the body before I realized I was doing 1 x 1 and it was meant to be 2 x 2 – take out that part and re-do again. Didn’t make the same mistake on the sleeves!) Have made similar pattern for him for this Christmas and this time remembered to add the length – and it fits so don’t have to do a repeat performance!

  9. Read the pattern all the way through before you start!! I know this, practically every knitter knows this, and get I still I neglect to do it when I get really excited about a project. Also, get a highlighter and highlight the size you are going to make, so when you are going through the pattern its easier to focus.

  10. I would like to add when selecting yarn to read the washing instructions because I made a replan top with 50% cotton and 50% acrylic. Reading about cotton that doesn’t give and it stretches after wearing, I made the top to fit a 40” bust. Think that the acrylic would keep its shape. It fit just right. But when I washed it, it shrank up making it into a short top for young girls. I’m 73 yrs and don’t like showing my belly anymore! A knitted top that is going to be given away.

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