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.
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 :)