Knitting sweaters are not different from knitting other things but unlike a scarf, getting gauge is critical. Gauge is how many stitches and rows you have over a certain length. It is often measured in stitches and rows over 10 cm (4″). The swatches described below are for stockinet stitch but you should make your swatches in the stitch pattern called for in the pattern, if you have part colour work or seed stitch you should make one for each stitch pattern.
How do a test my gauge?
You make a swatch using the needles you intend to use for your project, if your project is knit back and forth your swatch should be knit back and forth and if your project is knit in the round you swatch should be as well. The material in your needles affect your tension and the gauge of needles of the same size can vary a tiny bit. Knitting is a precision art and a tiny bit can make all the difference.
How to swatch back and forth
Cast on, knit a few rows of garter stitch back and forth to make it lay flat.
Right side row: knit to the end
Wrong side row: knit 2 stitches purl until 2 stitches from end, knit 2 stitches.
Repeat right and wrong side row until it measures 12 cm then knit garter stitch back and forth a few rows before binding off.
How to swatch in the round
Cast on, knit a few rows of garter stitch back and forth to make it lay flat, knit to the end *take your yarn on the back side and pull it to the other side on the back without pulling tight and knit another row and repeat from* until it measures 12 cm then knit garter stitch back and forth a few rows before binding off.
How big should a swatch be and what do I do with it?
Big, in order for you to easily measure it correctly it should be at least 10*10 cm inside the gather stitch. It is important to measure it (count the stitches and rows over 10 cm) before and after you wash it. Before so you can check that you maintain your gauge as you are knitting and after you wash it and lay it flat to dry so you can see if it coincides with the patterns gauge. If it does not coincide you need to change your needle size or possibly recalculate the pattern to fit your gauge and the persons measurements. Almost all yarns changes when washed and you do not want to knit and entire sweater only to have it grow three sizes in the wash. Some yarns grow, some stay the same and some shrink up. You wash the swatch in the same way as you intend to wash your finished item in the future without being to careful, because you are going to wash a sweater a few or many times in it’s lifespan and washing a big sweater and rinsing it properly takes some mashing even if you are careful which you should be, you don’t want to felt it.
Besides gauge what is a swatch for?
Do you like the fabric? If you don’t like the fabric it doesn’t matter if the gauge is perfect, you do not want to knit and entire sweater in something you don’t like, it’s not getting any better. To see how it will wear you can keep your swatch in your pocket for a week and keep pulling it and tug on it, this is revealing and bad yarn will start pilling and you don’t want a sweater that starts pilling the first time you wear it.
Sweaters can be knit in several different ways, the most common are
Top-down seamless: This looks like a sweater when you knit it, usually doesn’t strain at any point and doesn’t require any seaming in the end.
Bottom up seamless: You knit the body and the sleeves separately and then join and knit the yoke all together, usually strain for a few rows when you just have joined the yoke. (My favorite)
In pieces: You knit everything flat (no switching between knitting flat and knitting in the round). It is never very heavy on the needles since you are knitting everything separately but you do have to seam it up in the end.
Bottom up sleeves down: Knit from hem to armhole separate for front and back knit up and join shoulder, pickup stitches and knit sleeves down.
Different yoke styles
Round yoked, either bottom up or top down.
Set in sleeves, either bottom up, top down, in pieces or bottom up sleeves down
Raglan, either bottom up, top down or in pieces
Saddle shoulder, either bottom up, top down or in pieces
Drop shoulder, in pieces or bottom up sleeves down
First sweater tips
Use a nice wool yarn for your first, you are going to spend a lot of time on it so make sure that you like it. Wool has a little give to it which makes it more forgiving than cotton and linen, it’s also nice on your wrists and hands (yarn without give can make them ache after a little while). Don’t use a very fine gauge for your first, it takes a long time to knit and if you after having made your first, find that you like sweater knitting you can take on a finer gauge sweater. (14-22 stitches/10cm are relatively quick to knit and give nice sweaters 14 stitches/10cm gives a very thick sweater and 22stitches/10cm gives a medium weight sweater).
A top-down raglan in stockinette stitch with ribbing in the neck, hem and button band is a perfect first sweater. It only requires you to make left and right increases, button holes (which can be as easy as knit 2 together followed by yarn over), cast on and bind off, knit and purl stitch. If the button band is knit simultaneously that is all you need to know. Otherwise picking up button band is not that hard with this little trick: pick up 3 stitches for every 4 rows or pick up a stitch for every row and decrease the next row to the number the pattern calls for.
A sweater is not necessarily more difficult to knit then mittens or a hat, only bigger and though I do not recommend it as a first knitting project it could be your second (it was my second when I started knitting again as a teenager) as long as you have got the hang of your stitches and don’t increase and decrease by mistake anymore, you can do it. If you find a word that you don’t understand, use youtube. There are tons and tons of knitting tutorials on youtube, use them when you find something new. If it feels a bit much to commit to an adult sweater, make a baby one first, any new parent will love to get a handmade sweater to their new little human that only deserve the best and handmade is the best only make sure to use a soft yarn (merino, baby alpaca, corriedale or blue face leicester).
What do I do with my lumpy finished sweater?
Don’t be discouraged, most peoples knitting look a bit lumpy when it comes off the needles. You block it to get the fibre to behave. It is like braided wet hair, letting it dry and unbraid it, the hair will stay curly because the fibre set in a curly shape when it was drying in the braid. You can wet block, dry block or steam block, but the first time you block it, you should wet block it so that you can get all the grease out of the yarn before you start using your sweater. Dyed yarn often have excess dye in the yarn, most dyes can cause allergies (allergies are caused by exposure so it’s important to minimize exposure). When the fibre is spun, mineral oils are added to prevent static electricity from damaging the machines. The yarn can have been handled and anti-moth agents may have been added to it during shipping or storing, before it even reaches the yarn store. So you really want to wash your finished items and sweaters before you start using them every day (new sweaters have a tendency to be loved everyday since you are so proud of them).
Wash it carefully in wool friendly detergent (preferably unscented so you can smell the wool as it is + common scents such as limonene(lemon), linalool(lavender), cinnamaldehyde(cinnamon) are allergens). Rinse it until the water is clear, sometimes you need to wash it twice the first time. Press as much water as you can, then roll it in a towel and step on it to press out more water. When you have your damp sweater, take a new dry towel and spread out the sweater according to the schematic measurements in the pattern, make sure that everything is smooth and even, this is when you shape your sweater then let it dry. If you do not have the possibility to put it on top of a drying rack you need to flip it over everyday until it’s dry.
Spread out the sweater according to the schematic measurements in the pattern, make sure that everything is smooth and even this is when you shape your sweater. Put a damp towel over it and press carefully, leave it for half an hour then remove the damp towel, shape the sweater check the measurements and make it smooth and let it dry.
Spread out the sweater according to the schematic measurements in the pattern, make sure that everything is smooth and even, this is when you shape your sweater. Steam with a steamer or an iron, if you use an iron be careful not to touch the wool with the hot iron, it will burn, crumble and make a hole. Shape the sweater check the measurements and make it smooth, steam some more and let it cool down and dry if necessary before moving it.