Have you ever been in a situation when you knit and knit and knit something (most often a sweater), and then when your project is finished you discover that it doesn't fit the way you expected or it doesn't fit at all? I hope not ...
If the project is relatively small like a hat, you find some consolation in the fact that at least you learned something new (that's my way of keeping myself from bursting into tears).
But if the project is big like a sweater, and you spent weeks making it - that's agony you want to avoid at any cost.
I remember at least three sweaters I had to give away because they were too big for me. So I did knit my share of misfits until I developed a strategy that I'm going to share with you in this article.
There are a few simple (much simpler than re-knitting the whole project) steps that minimise the risk of ending up with a project you can't wear.
Most of the issues usually happen with tops, sweaters and cardigans, so I'll be explaining each step with those projects in mind. The same steps apply if you want to make sure other projects, like hats and socks, fit well.
Normally you are quite safe with scarves, shawls and blankets because they are not supposed to fit, and if they turn out slightly smaller or bigger, it's not really a big deal.
So here's what you need to do to make sure your sweaters (and other projects) fit well.
1. ALWAYS CHOOSE A PATTERN WITH SCHEMATICS
Schematics is the drawing of the finished project with measurements for different sizes. These drawings are usually provided in the majority of the commercially available patterns, and there is a substantial reason for that - you HAVE to know the measurements of your future sweater BEFORE you start knitting it. That's the most important part of planning your project.
Why not just rely on general sizing like Small, Medium, Large etc.? Because those sizes can vary depending on the designer, the part of the world he or she lives in, even on the year the pattern was written.
And of course, no designer can know how tall YOU are, how long are YOUR arms, and how long YOU want your sweater to be.
So consider schematics to be your new best friend.
2. MEASURE YOUR FAVOURITE SWEATER
Ok, we've got the schematics, but that's only part of the task. Now we need to compare the measurements in the schematics to something. The obvious solution would be to take your actual measurements.
But that's not the best option for several reasons. First, the measurements should be pretty accurate, and that means you have to be quite skilled at taking your own measurements, or you will need help from someone who is skilled at taking measurements of other people.
Second, you have to consider ease and to know how much ease will make the sweater fit just right.
In other words, relying on your actual measurements takes a lot of experience and some understanding of garment constructions. And that makes it all quite complicated.
But there is a much simpler way - measure a sweater that has a nice fit and use those measurements to compare to the schematics in the pattern. Easy-peasy :-)
There are only two things to remember:
1. Make sure the sweater you are measuring is about as thick as the sweater you plan to knit.
2. Note, that you measure the sweater when it's lying flat, so some of the numbers will represent only half of the actual measurement. For example, the sweater width will be half of the bust size, and the sleeve width will be only half of the circumference of the sleeve. Depending on the construction of the sweater you plan to make, you might need to double those "half-measurements" to get the "full measurement".
I have a few favourite sweaters. Some of them are the ones I knitted, others are store-bought, but what really matters is that some of them are thick, others medium or light. I measured them and marked the measurements on a drawing like the one I made for you in this PDF. Click here to download it.
Now I have my little library of sweaters that I like, and I use those measurements to plan all my new sweaters. So far this little trick hasn't failed me once. I hope it will work for you too :-)
3. CHOOSE THE SIZE OF YOUR PROJECT
When you compare the measurements of your favourite sweater to the measurements of the schematics, pay particular attention to the bust measurement. If you normally wear size Small, but the bust measurement of the favourite sweater is close to the bust measurement shown for Medium size, then follow pattern instructions for the Medium size, not Small.
Another essential measurement is the length of the sweater and the length of the sleeves. If these measurements in the schematics are smaller or bigger than the measurements of your sweater, you can easily add or remove a couple of centimetres / inches in the sections between body / sleeve shaping (if any).
And that leads us to the next step:
4. MAKE NOTES IN THE PATTERN ABOUT ALL CHANGES YOU PLAN TO DO
Don't think you will remember to make the sleeves shorter / longer when you get to knit them in a few weeks. You won't. Even if you do remember to make the change, you will have to remeasure and recalculate it all over again.
Save yourself the trouble, and make all notes in the pattern right away. Write down what you want to change, how many rows you plan to add or remove and where exactly you will do it.
5. FIND THE YARN THAT HAS SIMILAR FIBRE CONTENT AS THE YARN RECOMMENDED IN THE PATTERN
As if we didn't have enough pain with measuring everything, right :-)
But yes, the choice of yarn has a significant impact on the fit of your new sweater. If the pattern is written for a woollen sweater, stick with wools or at least wool blends. If the recommended yarn is cotton, you'll be safe with substituting it for cotton or linen. Bamboo and rayon are the most tricky ones, so make sure you don't substitute them for anything else.
Of course, the best solution will be to get exactly the same yarn as the one recommended in the pattern. I will highly recommend doing that if you plan to knit your first sweater.
6. MAKE A SWATCH
Now, that we picked the yarn there are just a couple more steps to do. And one of those steps is swatching. Carefully read the information about gauge provided in the pattern, and make your swatch in the same stitch pattern as the designer did to measure gauge given in the pattern.
For example, you can see something like: "Gauge: 17 sts and 28 rows = 4" (10cm) in moss st." Then the pattern gives you instructions on how to make moss stitch. Follow these instructions and make your swatch in the moss stitch.
In other cases, you can see something like: "Gauge: 13 sts and 22 rows = 4" (10cm) in main pat on largest needles." Look for the instructions for the "main pattern" (in this particular pattern, it referred to a chart) and check the sizes of the needles required for knitting this project. To make a swatch, use the largest of the recommended sizes and work according to the instructions given for the main pattern.
Both examples are patterns from "Filati Handknitting" magazine.
Your swatch has to be quite big, at least 10cm / 4" square. I usually cast on around 30 stitches for a swatch and knit it until it becomes a square.
If you use an expensive yarn, or the amount of yarn you have is just enough to finish the project, don't cut the yarn when you are done making the swatch. Bind off stitches and pull the ball of yarn through the last loop to secure it, but don't cut the yarn. This way you can unravel the swatch later on, and use the yarn in your project.
Now, that the swatch is finished block it (steam it or wash it, then lay it flat to dry). It is very important to block your swatch before measuring it because that's what you are going to do to your new sweater once it is finished. Even if you don't plan to block it right away, you will have to wash it at some point in the future. So please, block your swatch to get the most accurate gauge measurements.
7. MEASURE THE GAUGE
It's the moment of truth. Lay your swatch flat (make sure it's fully dry after blocking) and measure it to find out how many stitches and rows you have in 10cm / 4".
Keep a piece of paper and a pen close, and write all numbers down as soon as you measure the swatch.
If your gauge is the same as the gauge given in the pattern, congratulations! Now you can confidently follow pattern instructions to make your new masterpiece.
If your gauge is off, you will have to repeat step 6 again, but this time with a different size of needles. I know that doesn't sound fun, but neither does the idea of re-knitting the whole project or abandoning it altogether.
It is super important that at least the number of stitches in your gauge is the same as the number of stitches recommended in the pattern. If the number of rows is slightly different (the keyword here is "slightly"!), you can add or remove a couple of rows in the body of the sweater and the sleeves as you knit.
But if the number of stitches is different, that's a problem, and we need to fix it by choosing a different size of the needles.
The general guideline is:
If you have more stitches in 10cm / 4" than the gauge in the pattern, choose a bigger size of the needles. For example, your swatch has 25 stitches in 10cm / 4", and the pattern gauge is 23 stitches.
If you have fewer stitches in 10cm / 4" than the gauge in the pattern, choose a smaller size of the needles. For example, your swatch has 20 stitches in 10cm / 4", and the pattern gauge is 23 stitches.
Experiment with different sizes of the needles until you get the same gauge as the gauge given in the pattern.
Now you are all set to cast on and get started on your project. But to be extra-cautious, there is one last step to perform.
8. MEASURE YOUR WORK AS YOU KNIT
As you work on your project, stop once in a while, place the piece on a flat surface, and measure it.
If the project has a lot of stitches, like a sweater worked sideways, for example, I usually transfer the stitches from the needle to a piece of scrap yarn, so I could lay the piece flat and measure it properly. It takes an extra half an hour of my time, but to me, it's worth it because it gives me a peace of mind. This way I know my sweater is going to fit nicely.
Of course, this additional step is entirely up to you (you don't have to be as paranoid as I am :-)), but even if you decide to skip the "transferring to a scrap yarn" part, at least make the piece as flat as you can to measure it properly.
Then compare your measurements with the ones in the pattern to see whether you are on track to making a sweater that fits.
If you followed all the above steps, chances are this sweater will become your new favourite as soon as it comes off your needles.
Here's the sweater size chart to help you measure your favourite sweater. Print as many copies as you need to make your own little library of well-fitting sweaters.