Saturday, November 17, 2012

How to knit a sweater that fits - Step 1

I've got a small but dedicated group of girls on the Knitting at Large site who hanker to make a sweater that really fits. Today I share some rules that I used to make my sweaters.

1. Sizes don't matter. 

I know, that makes your brain explode, but it's true. Trying to cobble together different sizes works well if you need to add an inch or two to your cardigan pattern's hip measurement. But if you're doing major resizing, you need to look at sizing as a mere suggestion. You've heard me rattle on about the uselessness of sizes before. You need to accept the unfortunate reality that sizes mean NOTHING in the knitting world. Whether the pattern says XL or 14XL, it still has no meaning. What matters is the finished garment measurements. This leads to my next rule.

2. You must have a sweater schematic. 

If a sweater pattern doesn't have a schematic, you shouldn't be knitting it. Not if you want it to fit anyway. If a pattern gives you only a bust measurement, don't make it. Just throw it away because it's useless for our purposes. The reason you need a schematic is because it provides the road map to knitting the sweater. If you don't have a schematic, it's like driving without a map or a compass from Washington, DC to Washington State on a cloudy day. You'll neither know where you're going or where you'll end up.

3. Get accurate measurements of your body. 

The operative word is ACCURATE. Don't guess. Don't fudge. If you want the sweater to fit when you're done, then you must take good measurements. Use this worksheet from the Craft Council or equivalent.

Get help with your crossback measurement which is the most important measurement of all. The crossback is the space between your shoulder bones. I learned to make sweaters based on the crossback, but Amy Herzog thinks the measurement above your bustline is an even better method. So take that one, too.

4. Make a schematic of your body.

Now that you've got your measurements, dig up a pencil and some graph paper. You're going to make a schematic of your own body so that you can visualize the modifications you'll need to make on sweater patterns. Your task: graph your measurements onto the paper.

Here is an example. Note that your body may look very different than this one. Your measurements may include fractions, too. Don't round up or down; use your specific measurements to create a map of your body.

First, draw a line down the center to represent the center of your body. Every square represents two inches. Remember that you're graphing only one side of your body; think of it as a sweater laying flat on a table. So you need to divide your bust, waist, and hip measurements in half.

Starting at the bottom with your hips, count out the number of squares to represent your hip measurement. Draw the line for your hips and write the measurement below.

Next, put a dot where your waist, bust, crossback, and shoulders should be. Then count out the squares to represent your waist measurement and draw a line; make sure the measurement is centered around the center line. Write the measurement below. Then move up and do the same for your crossback, bust, and shoulder lines. Then draw the side body lines connecting the hip, waist, and bust lines. Then draw a perpendicular line from the shoulders to the bust line and mark where your neck width would be. Ta-da! You now have a schematic of your body.

5. Analyze your schematic.

Take a look at your body shape. Are you a rectangle? An oval? An hourglass? Bottom-heavy? Whatever you are, I can promise that you don't look like a standard sweater schematic. This is the problem! Your sweater needs to match YOUR schematic. Is it any wonder sweaters don't fit when they are so different from your body? 

Next time, we'll talk about the bane of ample knitter's existence: ease.


  1. awesome info, Julie... thanks for sharing info so that everyone can do it...

  2. Julie - this is fantastic! I always read your comments and Dottie's - but I guess I am more of a visual person, so this makes sense to me. Thanks a bunch!

  3. I had to chuckle at the examples of the two schematic I'm shaped more like the one on the left. God didn't bless me with a waist! But I do have other anomalies.

    May I make some additional suggestions from someone who was a seamstress before they were a knitter? I would take getting measurements for my schematic further. While I am having someone measure my back at shoulder level I would have them do some more measuring for me, like measure my back at my bust line from side seam to side seam. Then measure my bust from side seam to side seam. I would do that with each measurement; you might discover that the two measurements are not equal. I.E. I may be 60" around the bust but my back is 26" and my front is 34" or your hips are 60" but your front is 26" and across the widest part of your hips it is 34".

    I would also want to tie a string around my waist and measure my back length and my front length across the point of my bust. Those measurements will probably not be the same in someone who is big-busted. I might also want to measure from my waist down to the widest part of my hips both front and back because if I have a big bottom I will probably be longer in the back than the front. This will help get the garment to hang level and not appear too short in the front or back for that matter.

    Thank-you for starting this series of posts! There is no reason why any woman should have to wear ill-fitting clothing.

  4. You make that look so easy! Fabulous way to simplify something that isn't so simple. Can't wait for the next installment. Ease is something I've been struggling with as well.

  5. Thank you so much for all this information!
    I'll definitly come back, when I start knitting my first sweater!

  6. Fantastic! I will be doing this as soon as I get over being afraid to see the cold, hard facts of my shape... I. Can. Do. This.

  7. This is so incredibly helpful! I need visuals, and this is perfect. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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