The biggest appeal of seamless sweater patterns is that you can try them on as you go and make adjustments to fit your body. It’s a little more difficult to do with bottom-up sweaters, but it can certainly be done! Top-down sweaters are perfect for making adjustments as you go!
I think one of the biggest things to keep in mind is that you don’t need to follow the pattern exactly. You’ll be much happier with your finished sweater if the smallest part of the waist lines up with your waist, the hem hits you in a flattering spot, and the sleeves are the correct length.
Let’s use the Bayside Pullover from Coastal Knits as an example. Below is the schematic from the pattern. We’ll start at the top of the sweater and work our way down.
We’re not going to talk about every single measurement and change you can make to your sweater, but I’d like to hit the big ones: Yoke depth, sleeve circumference, chest, waist, and hem.
Yoke Depth: As a fairly short person, I find that the yoke depth on many knitting patterns are a touch longer than I’d like. But some of you taller folks may find that it’s not quite long enough. Take a tape measure and start measuring from the top of your shoulder. Look at where the yoke depth as written will hit you. If you follow the directions, this is where the sleeves will be split off from your sweater. Does it reach where you’d like the underarm of your sweater to begin? Is it going to be saggy in the armpits if you knit that length? Figure out your ideal length. After you’ve done your raglan increases you can keep knitting without increasing until you reach this measurement. You can also “try on” your sweater to figure this part out. It’s a little tricky, but put your sweater on some waste yarn, drape it over your shoulders and pinch the sleeve stitches around your upper arm/shoulder. You can then decide if you’d like to make the yoke a bit longer or split for the sleeves.
Let’s take a minute to look at what your stitches on your needle will look like if you are knitting a top-down sweater:
If you are knitting a cardigan, the front stitches won’t be connected and you might be adding a button band afterwards, so don’t freak out if you try on your cardigan without the button band and it seems too small! The stitch markers mark the raglan increases. There will always be 4, and you will be increasing on BOTH sides of the markers. This will result in a total of 8 stitches being increased during each raglan increase round.
Chest Circumference: If you’ve decided that you’d like your sweater to be an in-between size for the chest measurements, you can either do more or less raglan increases to get your desired size. For example, if you wanted a sweater (using the Bayside Pullover from above) that measured 34″, you could follow the directions for the size 32″ and do a few extra sets of increases. Now, you probably want to know how many sets of increases. Well…the gauge for the pattern is 24 sts/4 inches which equals 6 sts/inch. Since you want TWO extra inches you’d want 12 extra stitches. You’ll be adding 4 body stitches during each increase round. See Diagram Above. So, to achieve 12 extra stitches you’ll want to do THREE extra raglan increases on the BODY ONLY.
If you want your sweater to be a little bit SMALLER, just leave out an increase or two using your gauge to figure out how many increases to leave out.
Arm Circumference: The idea of altering the circumference of the upper arms is exactly the same as the chest circumference. If you’d like them a bit larger than the schematic, add an extra increase or two on the SLEEVES ONLY (see diagram above for placement of these stitches) and if you want them smaller leave out an increase or two. Of course, this would be a bit more complicated if you were doing a pattern that had cables or lace and required a specific number of stitches.
If you’d like your entire sweater (sleeves and body) larger/smaller, do more/less increases on both the body and sleeves.
Waist: Ideally you want the smallest part of your sweater to match up with the smallest part of your waist. The best way to achieve this is to measure how far it is from just below your full bust to just before the smallest part of your waist. You’ll need to look at the pattern and decide if the pattern as written will work, or if you want to do your waist decreases closer together or farther apart. Instead of doing decreases every “X” number or rows (this will likely be how the pattern has the decreases written), take the measurement from above and divide it by the number of decreases the pattern calls for. This will tell you how often to do your decreases. Let’s say that you measure and get 6 inches and the pattern has 4 waist decreases…you’ll want to do your decreases 1.5″ apart. You can also look at the waist measurement and decide if you want to do more or less decreases. Is the waist measurement smaller than you’d like? Skip a decrease. Too big? Do an extra decrease!
Make sure you don’t begin your decreases until you’ve knit far enough to reach your full bust. You don’t want to start getting rid of stitches (and inches) before the fullest part of your bust. If the pattern says to start the waist decreases after you’ve knit an inch from the sleeve split, but your full bust isn’t until 2 inches past…wait until 2 inches.
The waist shaping is where being able to try on your sweater comes in handy:
To try your sweater on, either put it on 2 really long circular needles or thread a piece of waste yarn through all of your stitches and pull your needle out. If you use 2 circular needles make sure that the total circumference will be able to fit over your shoulders…you don’t want to drop stitches while trying on your sweater! Trust me, it’s not fun to have to pick them back up.
After your waist decreases you want to knit straight for a couple of inches to where your waist starts increasing to your hips.
For the hip increases, use the same method as for figuring out the waist decreases. Your waist decreases and hip increases may not be spaced out the same depending on your body type. For example, I typically spread out my decreases farther than patterns call for, but put my hip increases closer together. Measure on your body where you’d like your increases to start and end. Divide this number by the number of increases you want to do to figure out how many inches apart to place them. There is no reason you need to do the same number of waist decreases and hip increases (unless you need a certain number of stitches for a cable or lace pattern). Tailor it to your body measurements.
For sweaters that don’t have any waist shaping, such as the Rocky Coast Cardigan or the Schoodic Cardigan, you’ll just need to worry about hem length and the sleeves.
Hem Length: The beauty of a hand knit sweater is that you can make it as short or long as you’d like! Something to keep in mind: if you use wool, your sweater will likely grow a little bit. Err on the side of a little short (you can block it longer or add length later) instead of too long. Trying your sweater on is a great way to decide exactly when to bind-off!
A few words about bust darts: I’m nowhere near as knowledgeable about bust darts as I am about many other aspects of sweater knitting. I’ve done horizontal bust darts in one knitted top so far, and it worked out beautifully. I’ll probably start doing them more often, but I can’t really give good instructions yet! If you have a cup-size larger than a C, it’s worth considering doing bust darts so that the front of your sweater doesn’t ride up. Horizontal bust darts give you a little extra room in the bust area without making the entire sweater larger. The bust darts are done by using short rows across the front of the sweater. Custom Knits 2 (which we have at the shop) has a section on adding bust darts by using short rows. Little Red in the City (also at the shop!), has a great section on shaping and horizontal bust darts. Ysolda tells you how to calculate how many short rows to do and gives tips on figuring out where to place them. Little Red is chock full of other great sweater-knitting information as well.
Come on back on Friday for Tips and Tricks for Sleeves!