Questions about making my first sweater

Hello to everyone,

I’m new to this board. I’ve lurked before but never posted.

I have some questions for all you out there who’ve had experience knitting a garment before.

I’ve been knitting for a couple of years now on and off. My first completed project was a bulky yarn baby sweater I gave as a gift. It turned out okay (although I won’t get into the impracticality of the sweater for a baby or the whole knitting for gifts thing :oops:), but since then I’ve been nervous about trying a sweater project for myself due to time commitment, cost, etc. Mainly I’ve done felting projects which don’t require much attention to detail. Now I think I’m ready to tackle something more and want to make a vest (not ready for arms yet!). What scares me is when I hear about how other people spent all this time to knit their sweater only to find they had problems with their garments fitting correctly or the yarn they used did not hold up well.

What am wondering is what things should I consider before I even start my vest? Anything I should think about when picking a pattern? I have some trouble strictly following patterns so would it be a mistake at this point to tweak a pattern to my own design or even design my own pattern? If the gauge is correct are the patterns usually true to size? Anything I should think about yarnwise before spending a lot of money on yarn?

Any advise would be greatly appreciated!


I have found that with your first knitted top, stick with the pattern as it is. I got cocky and changed some minor things on a lovely tank top (click the Tahki link below to see what I mean) thinking that it would make it better. :doh:

GAUGE GAUGE GAUGE. I hate gauge, but you have to get it. I got stitch gauge right on with the tank, but the rows were slightly off. (Which I compensated for in the wrong direction).

Find a pattern that you can easily read.

As far as yarn, buy something that you will love! And if your vest doesn’t turn out the way you invisioned, then you still have the lovely yarn for something else.

No one is putting you in a knitting race, so don’t worry about time.

Good luck!

There is no guarantee that a pattern will turn out perfectly. You do the best you can with gauge and keep measuring as you go.

I think it’s best to follow some patterns before attempting to create your own, since there are things in basic sweater construction that you only learn from making some.

I agree about the yarn. If you make a sweater in yarn you don’t love because of price, for example, you won’t love the sweater, either.

I must re-iterate the importance of the gauge…and I would also make a couple more projects before changing patterns too drastically. While it’s fun to “make it your own”, it could be so disappointing to have made an error the pattern would have saved you from. Be patient, before long you will be interchanging parts of patterns and putting your own touches on.

…all of the above.

Be sure that you choose a style you KNOW looks good on you; don’t be overly influenced by a pretty photograph. Be sure the size allows the right amount of ease. Choose something you know you’re going to enjoy wearing with other things in your wardrobe. Select a color that makes you look gorgeous. In other words, give yourself every possible advantage before you even begin knitting.

While you may not want to make changes in the pattern first time around, remember that the yarn and color you choose will make it individual.

Let the yarn do the work wherever possible. A hand-painted yarn, for instance, makes the simplest sweater special. Don’t feel you have to use the exact yarn in the pattern, unless you love it. If a yarn gives you the right gauge and a nice fabric, go for it.

Use the best quality yarn you can afford (or almost afford). You’ve heard it before: it takes just as much work to knit something with junk. You don’t have to spend a fortune to get good wool or a beautiful blend.

Take a look at Sally Melville’s first two “Knitting Experience” books – one on “The Knit Stitch,” one on “The Purl Stitch.” The technical help is terrific; the patterns are simple and contemporary – distinctive designs that you’ll really enjoy wearing. Even the simplest don’t look like “beginner’s work.”

Wow! Thanks to all for the excellent advice. You guys are great!

I was afraid of the G-word. I know it can’t be avoided, but I hate having to deal with it. Speaking of which, is it possible that you’re unable to get exact gauge on a project? If so, would it then follow to err on the larger side?

Some follow up questions:

If I were to substitute yarn in the pattern, assuming gauge fits, how do I determine it’s the right yarn for the project? How do I evaluate drape? Is it just something you learn from experience?

Sounds like drifting from the pattern as a newbie is a no-no but if I find a sweater pattern I like and want to make it a vest by eliminating the arms and doing ribbing around the armholes, is that something I could do or would I have armhole issues?

Knitasha, I love the handpainted yarn idea. I’ve heard of pooling with handpainted yarn. What would be the best way to deal with that if I decided to go that route?


I’d like to humbly offer a dissenting opinion on the follow-a-pattern-exactly approach. I only have one finished and two partially completed sweaters under my belt so far, but I’ve been very happy just using basic guidelines rather than specific patterns to knit them. (My two “in process” sweaters are top-down raglans using the percentage method. The finished one is a set-in-sleeve pullover using Barbara Walker’s basic instructions in Knitting from the Top.) Maybe I’m just weird, but I feel like I’m less apt to make mistakes if there are fewer directions to follow. I like the idea of taking a couple measurements, calculating how many stitches to cast on, and doing the try-it-on-as-you-go thing to figure out when to move on to the next step. I’m sure it’s not for everybody, but I did want to offer an alternative. You may actually prefer this approach if you’re a conceptual learner. I think you’d have a better chance of getting a good fit this way too. :stuck_out_tongue:

One more thing: choose a chunky yarn for the first one. It makes everything go so much faster! (In case you’re wondering, the one sweater I actually completed was the second one I started, and the only reason is because that one was a faster knit than the first one, which I quickly grew tired of because the DK yarn was taking forever.)

I have read and been told that stitch gauge is critical, and row gauge is important. In other words, stitch gauge should be dead on otherwise you will end up with a wider or tighter item than expected. As for row gauge it’s important to be close (say gauge calls for 10 rows per inch, you got 11), especially since many patterns will tell you to knit “for 14 more inches”. So many times you are counting inches and not rows.

As a newbie wanting to make sure they weren’t going to make tons of mistakes, I would find a vest pattern. Not a sweater pattern and rearrange it. You might find yourself in some trouble!

Kevalund, if you’re knitting in the round you can also try it on many times during the project and adjust by increasing or decreasing if necessary. Hopefully with a correct gauge that won’t be necessary, but I’ve found that most patterns are written for a perfect size 8,10 or whatever, not for real people. Knitting in the round makes it all easier, I think.

Sounds like drifting from the pattern as a newbie is a no-no but if I find a sweater pattern I like and want to make it a vest by eliminating the arms and doing ribbing around the armholes, is that something I could do or would I have armhole issues?

You could have armhole issues. Some sweaters have dropped shoulders, so the seam is down over shoulder, some are shaped, some are boxy. You might end up with something wierd looking.

I was very inspired by reading “The Sweater Workshop” (directions on how to design your own sweaters to knit without seams), but I bought an actual pattern for my 1st adult size sweater. I bought a Knitting Pure and Simple pattern and I’m very happy with it. (I tried their baby cardigan sweater first as it was free on the website.) The pattern is very clear and well written, and the LYS owner where I bought the pattern had used it in a class setting with great success. (I’m doing the women’s hooded tunic).

Good luck :slight_smile:

Thanks for all the additional comments. I like the suggestions about knitting in the round as that’s my preferred method of knitting although I can’t seem to find very many patterns knit in the round. Thanks for the book suggestion, Holly. I’ll have to check that out.

I think I’m going to try the Veste Everest pattern in IK Fall 2005. I’ve been doing some swatches and it seems like a pretty easy repeat cable pattern. If anyone has any experience with this pattern, let me know how it turned out for you.