Thursday, May 3, 2012

How to widen a sweater

So, how do you widen a sweater? Just by asking that question, I know I have your attention! This is an on-going challenge for a plus-size knitter. Teresa, my very first blog reader, asked me last week how to widen Chris de Longpre's Our Gang pullover. The pattern only comes in a size 46, but she needs a 56-inch finished bust size measurement. She doesn't want to adjust any other measurements; the size 46 will fit her crossback, sleeves, and neckline just fine.

As always, I start with the schematic. The pattern says it comes in size 46 so I expected the finished bust size to be 46-inches wide. WRONG. The finished bust size on this pattern is really 49.5 inches. Here is a perfect example of why I tell you that sizes are completely useless. If you want to knit a sweater that fits,  you will never again look at the size on the pattern. You will always look at the finished bust size because it's the only size that matters.

Anyway, in the original design, the schematic tells us the body width is 24.75 inches for one side or 49.5 inches around. Teresa needs 56 inches around - or 28 for each side (56/2=28).

Next we need to figure out how many stitches to cast on for this bottom-up sweater. The design's gauge calls for 7 stitches per inch in the k3, p2 stitch pattern (and of course, Teresa has already knitted her swatch because she knows the only way to knit something that fits is to swatch first). So, to figure out the cast-on stitches, we multiply the width in inches by the gauge per inch:

28 inches x 7 stitches per inch = 196 stitches

I always add two more stitches for the seams, so the total number of number of cast-on stitches is 198 for each side. Now that was easy!

After cast on, she knits for her total body length. The pattern calls for 14 inches, but she can easily adjust this measurement to match her body by knitting more or fewer rows.

There are only two other modifications Teresa needs to make to enlarge this sweater. First, she needs to bind off additional stitches at the armholes to remove the extra inches she added for the body. As we already established, she wants to use the largest size offered by the pattern to knit the top of the sweater. So, when she gets to the armhole bind-off, she'll need to bind off the stitches called for in the pattern plus X more for the extra inches she added. 

How do we figure that out? First, calculate the total number of inches added to the newly sized pattern:

Upsized version of 28 inches - Original version of  24.75 inches =
3.25 total inches added to both front and back

When she added these new inches, she essentially added them to the side seams of both the front and the back, so now we need to figure out how many inches went to each side seam:

3.25 inches / 2 = 1.625 inches on each side seam

Finally, we calculate the total number of stitches based on the 1.625 measurement and the gauge:

1.625 x 7 = 11.375 or 11 stitches

So, when Teresa gets to the armholes, she will bind off 35 stitches:

11 stitches for the additional room + 24 stitches called for in the pattern = 35 stitches

The other modification she needs to make is to add those additional inches she's decreasing from the armhole on to the top of the sleeve cap. The following diagram shows where the original sleeve cap ended. 

But for Teresa's modified sleeve needs to be deeper to accommodate for the added width:

So, she will add the 3.25 inches added to each side of the garment to the top of the sleeve cap. This makes the sleeve fit perfectly in the notch created by the underarm bind-off. When she knits the sleeve cap, she will make it 4.5 inches long as prescribed in the pattern plus 3.25 inches for the modification or 7.75 inches.

Well, after all those changes, that's it. Sweater is officially resized! I hope you followed all that. Note that these mods work for modified drop-sleeve sweaters only; you'd have to use more sophisticated techniques to resize set-in or raglan sleeve sweaters. 

Here's wishing Teresa's Our Gang turns out perfectly - and that it fits her perfectly, too.


  1. Thank you for that clear tutorial ,Mentor Julie and also my knitting Guru!!!!

  2. But... wouldn't those extra inches be the wearing ease? So the new sweater will be exactly her bust size, but that means no ease, right?
    Though personally, I like a more fitted sweater on larger bodies. Not sausage casing... just slim fit.
    I totally agree about the uselessness of general sizing. What would really help me is knowing what the finished circumference is AND if it's to be worn with positive or negative ease. Interweave started labelling the sweater in the photos with their size, but without telling me the model's size it's worthless information.

    1. Kathleen, excellent question... I should have underscored the fact that Teresa wants a 56-inch FINISHED bust size - that includes three inches of ease. Thanks for reading!

  3. Thank you so much for this tutorial Julie! Very helpful to a new knitter.

  4. absolutely brilliant Julie, thanks for this
    Helen x

  5. And this is exactly why, over the years, I have used ONE pattern for myself, then just changed the texture or color(s)....that pattern FIT. I'm trolling for a pattern for the KAL that is NOT my top down go to pattern, and if this kind of sizing assistance is available, that would really open up my choice field! But, is the bust size the only relevant one on, say, a more PEAR shaped body?

    1. No, bust is not the only pertinent measurement, but as a pear girl myself, I can tell you that the best fitting sweaters are those that fit your bustline well. Then you can modify the sweater to accommodate your hips. But if you do what I always did - pick all clothes based on their ability to cover my mighty derriere - then nothing ever fits well or looks right. Open up your choice field, girl! I'll help you out and the rest of the girls here will, too.

    2. should have said shoulders, too... getting your upper body to fit is key... then it's easy to fit the rest.

    3. Where's the 'agree' button when you need it? :-)


  6. Thank You! Thank You! This makes so much sense now.