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Avoiding the Sweater Curse: Knits that Fit the Entire Family

October 21, 2012

Antler CardiganThere are many methods for wrapping your beloved babes in hand-knits! At Tin Can Knits we are dedicated to creating many and more adorable patterns for you to knit for your tiny bairns and your full-grown darlings.

KNITS IN ALL SIZES:  There are so many baby sweater designs that would be adorable in adult sizes, and we also think it’s HILARIOUS to dress babies in tiny versions of ‘grown up’ clothes.  This has lead us to size our designs from newborn all the way up to adults 4XL.  It takes more knitting, calculations, testing, and editing, but we think the results are worthwhile!

If you are ready to venture into the world of sweater knitting I suggest that you begin with a baby sweater, because it allows you to learn all of the techniques but requires much less time and yarn [check out the Gramps Cardigan tutorial here].  With a baby sweater, you build your confidence and skills so that when you decide to knit for yourself, your mom, your sister or… most nerve-rackingly, for your Boyfriend… you will be ready to face the sweater curse with competence on your side!

ARE YOU READY?  As you prepare to face the sweater curse, I wish you the best of luck and a few tips and suggestions.  An ill-fitting sweater is probably not cause for a dumping… but lets not take the chance!  The best way to knit a sweater that will work for the wearer is to base it upon one that they alread like.

Lay the FAV sweater flat and measure:

1. Chest / Bust
2. Sleeve length (underarm to cuff)
3. Body length from underarm to hem

Armed with these critical dimensions, you can choose the correct size from the pattern options, and determine how to adjust arm and body lengths (if at all).  For most situations, arm and body length are all that you need to adjust.  If you are inclined to stray a bit further off the well-defined path… we will discuss how to add waist shaping in an upcoming post.

BEGIN AT THE BEGINNING ::: at the beginning there was a gauge swatch!

Now I really don’t care if you knit a gauge swatch… because I don’t care if your sweater fits.  But you should!  Many knitters have met desperate and depressing ends due to the TERRIBLE decision to skip the swatch.  I hope it won’t happen to you…   < click for more info on how to knit and measure a gauge swatch here >

HANDY EXAMPLE ::: To knit an Antler Cardigan for Emily

Lets look at an example – say I was knitting the Antler Cardigan for myself (I’m a little bit bigger and bustier than our lovely model Kim)

To start I would measure my favourite sweater.  The important measurements for me are:

1. Bust = 39″ (that’s my actual bust measurement, and I like my sweaters tight)
2. Sleeve length (underarm to cuff) = 20″  (I like my sleeves longish)
3. Body length from underarm to hem = 16″ (I like my sweaters short-ish)

Next I take a look at the pattern to review the schematic and measurements for the various sizes.  Always choose your size based on the finished bust / chest measurement.  Therefore I would knit the 39″ bust – ladies M.

As you can see, the ladies M has a sleeve length of 19″, but for a perfect fit, I will knit an extra inch of length before joining the sleeve to the body.  Also, the ladies M has an underarm to hem measurement of 17″, but I want to make mine 16″ long, so I will stop knitting 1″ short of the pattern instructions.

this is when … ‘OR DESIRED LENGTH’ … comes into play

The Antler Sweater is knit from the bottom up.  This means you knit the sleeves first (in the round – note that a sleeve makes a pretty good gauge swatch!).  Then knit the body (in rows, since it is a cardigan) to the underarm.

At the underarm point you join everything (sleeves and body) together into 1 big row for working the yoke up to the collar.

With this method of construction, you must make all of your length adjustments before you join the sweater together for the yoke.  At this point, you can slip the sleeve and body tubes on, and check how they fit.

We will have more info on sizing, including how to add waist shaping, in upcoming posts!

Like these suggestions?  Get our email updates to hear about our patterns and tutorials as they are launched!


lions gate cowl  north shore pullover 

65 Comments leave one →
  1. Jane Kirk permalink
    October 29, 2020 12:50 pm

    Just downloaded the pattern for Flax. On p2, col.2 I can’t figure out your sizing chart. What do a, b. c. d stand for at top of columns? FYI My chest measurement is 30″. I want 3″ of positive ease and I want a regular length sweater-I do see & understand that option in the chart. TIA.
    BTW, I’m eager to try adding some short rows to this sweater. Thanks for the tute on that.

    • October 29, 2020 10:24 pm

      Hi Jane – Check out the sketch to the left and the instructions underneath. They explain a, b, c, and d

      • Vikki Oshirak permalink
        July 27, 2021 11:23 am

        I have the same question, but do not see a sketch to the left and the instructions underneath. What sketch? To the left of what?

      • July 28, 2021 9:15 am

        Hi – On page 2 of the Love Note pattern there is a labelled sketch showing what those measurements are. Eg. A is the chest measurement.

      • Vikki Oshirak permalink
        July 27, 2021 11:27 am

        Sorry! I should have mentioned that I would like to knit Love Note, which is why I have questions about the sizing chart. Thanks!

  2. Elizabeth permalink
    June 19, 2020 4:24 am

    “There are many ways to skin a cat…” Really? In this day and age?

  3. Janet permalink
    May 25, 2020 2:05 pm

    I am trying to figure out how to increase the sleeve circumference on the Love Note. The XL-XXL size gives me 6″ positive ease with the bust measurement but the sleeve circumference has 1/2″ negative ease and I think that would be too tight. I can’t figure out how to use raglan increases to increase the sleeve stitches without also increasing the body stitches. Or do I just go ahead and increase and then decrease a couple stitches on each side of the body once I’ve divided for the sleeves? I may be overthinking this….

    • May 26, 2020 10:42 pm

      Hi Janet – You can work a couple extra increase rounds, but increase only at the sleeve sections, not at front and back.

      So when you’re working these extra rounds, knit from centre back which is the beginning-of-round to marker 1 without increasing. Slip marker 1. K1, m1, knit to 1 st before marker, m1, k1, slip marker 2 – this increases 2 sts at the sleeve. Knit across front stitches without increasing to marker 3, slip marker 3. Work k1, m1, knit to 1 st before marker, m1, k1, slip marker 4 – this increases 2 sts at the second sleeve. Knit to end without increasing at back section.

      Hope this helps! An extra 4 sts at the sleeve will give an extra inch of circumference.

      One more option: If you want to increase without adding length, you could work the increases at sleeves faster, working [k1, m1, k1, m1, knit to last 2 sts before marker, m1, k1, m1, k1, SM] in the sleeve sections, which would increase 4 sts in a single round.

  4. April 21, 2020 2:45 am

    I would love to knit Antler in a pullover! Would it be as simple as knitting in the round, without dividing for the cardigan, marking front back etc.?

  5. Pat Murphy permalink
    April 1, 2020 6:12 pm

    I love your books and am knitting 3 of your patterns. Love Note is next on my list. I gave my daughter a honey comb blanket I knit from one of your books. Thank you so much for this tutorial.

  6. February 28, 2020 10:56 am

    I love your measurement chart…I’m Crocheting a girls size 7 to 7 and half hooded sweater..will these measurement be the same if I’m not knitting but crocheting instead??

    • March 2, 2020 1:03 pm

      Hi Patti – I think you would want the same measurements if you want the same amount of ease.

  7. Marti permalink
    January 7, 2020 2:04 pm

    Want to knit an adult flax with beautiful DK yarn. Should I use flax or flax light and what adjustments would you recommend as neither pattern is for DK. Thanks so much.

    • January 9, 2020 2:31 pm

      Hi Marti – Check out our post on knitting garments at a different gauge here, I think you will find it helpful! As for if you should use Flax or Flax light, you are right in between the two for weight of yarn, so it would depend on the gauge you are getting with your DK weight yarn, and what size you are planning to make.

  8. Judy Kehoe permalink
    November 8, 2019 9:45 am

    Hi Emily,mImam aboutmtomknit a size 2 dog star, can you pleasel tell me what size needles I need for thesleeves as well as the body, I see I need 4mm but was wondering what the other sizes are

    • November 12, 2019 12:26 pm

      Hi Judy – all the needle info is on the first page of the pattern, it’s 3.5mm and 4mm needles.

  9. June permalink
    October 25, 2019 2:15 pm

    I love your patterns, and recently knit Gramps as a baby gift. The only adult sweater I’ve knit came out hopelessly large (It was not one of yours). For the Antler sweater (and many others) my chest measurement is exactly in the middle of a medium and a large. I know that you might suggest making the large in that case, but I also often have a problem with sweaters being too wide in the shoulders for me. When I buy clothing I buy a petite/large if it is available. Do you have any suggestions for which size I should choose and how I might modify? Thank you.

    • October 29, 2019 3:11 pm

      Hi June – it sounds like maybe a hybrid is the answer, which will work quite well with the Antler sweater. I would say cast on the large at the body, then after the yoke join there is a decrease, you want to decrease so you have the same number of sts as the medium, then work the yoke according to the instructions for the size medium.

  10. Marie-Eve permalink
    October 15, 2019 7:33 pm

    Could you please clarify this ‘positive ease’ and ‘negative ease’ business with the bust measurement, when choosing a pattern size? I feel the bust measurement is the most important while choosing a size, but this ‘ease’ business fogs it up for me. Help please?

    • October 16, 2019 9:28 am

      Hi Marie-Eve Positive ease is when the garment is larger than your measurement, negative ease is when the garment is smaller than your measurement. So if you have a 48″ chest and you knit a garment with a finished chest measurement of 50″ you have 2″ of positive ease. Does that help?

      • Marie-Eve permalink
        February 22, 2020 12:08 pm

        Hi, I have another question, please. Your example concerns a bottom-up sweater, but my question is about top-down sweaters. I never know how deep to knit before splitting for sleeves to have armholes neither too high nor too low.

        Also, the swatch tells us the total number of rows for 10cmx10cm but this is after blocking. So when we try a top-down sweater as we knit it, how can we calculate the extra length that will appear *after* blocking? (I find this is particularly had to evaluate when knitting mohair for example, or any yarn that expands a lot once blocked.) It is especially important to have armholes in the right place! (Which I have not been successful at.) Any advice?

      • February 24, 2020 1:08 pm

        Hi Marie-Eve – For a top down sweater I recommend giving it a try on once you have split for the sleeves and knit an inch or so on the body. That gives you some idea of where the yoke will fit as far as armhole depth goes, although you are correct, the weight of the sweater can pull it down a bit (a lighter yarn will weigh less a heavier yarn more). If your round gauge is significantly different after blocking I would block the yoke before trying it on. If you want to do it by the number though, if you know your round gauge is 2 rounds less per inch after blocking you need to multiply that by the number of inches in the yoke.

  11. Carol permalink
    July 8, 2019 4:23 am

    Thank you so much for this information.
    As i have begun to spin my own yarn i have knitted my first gauge swatch. It helped soooo much to get tension and needle size.

    • Shirley permalink
      September 17, 2019 6:19 am

      Hi. I don’t have a favourite sweater to measure! What amount of suggested ease are you showing with the Love Note sweater? Am I looking for my bust measurement plus some suggested ease or have you built ease into the bust measurements in your pattern?

      • September 18, 2019 11:08 am

        Hi Shirley – we recommend 4-12″ (Nina is wearing it with 7.5″ positive ease and Aimee is wearing it with 10″ positive ease)

  12. Janice permalink
    March 10, 2019 1:04 am

    Hi, wondering if yur measurements do not fal into the sizes listed on your pattern what to do? also how does one make adjustments for different bust/chest circum, to different arm circum measurements??

    • March 12, 2019 7:04 pm

      Hi Janice – Well, it really depends on whether you want your sweater with a little tighter or looser, I would personally just go with the finished measurement that was closest to the measurement I wanted. For adjusting upper arm measurements or bust measurements it really depends on the pattern. Something simple like the Flax sweater is an easy one to adjust, you work more or fewer raglan increases in the section you want to be bigger or smaller, but something with all over patterning is going to require a bit more math and thinking it through.

  13. Lisa Gatto permalink
    January 11, 2018 4:50 pm

    I wish to thank you very much. I can not even begin to express my gratitude for your time and help with the instructions on measurements for a sweater. I must have looked, I don’t know how many ways that I could think of. I crochet, so for some reason I didn’t think following detail instructions would be so difficult. Again thank you very much. Lisa

  14. Caroline permalink
    November 15, 2017 11:26 pm

    Due to my big tommy I have to choose a 3XL size… But when I knit a bottom up my problem is that the yoke is always too high and my skills are enough to follow a pattern and resize sleeves and body but not modify the yoke in order it fits my body ! hat can I do except stop knit bottom up ?

  15. October 19, 2017 8:34 am

    When I sew clothing, I have to grade between sizes because I’m narrower in the upper chest & shoulders by as much as 2 sizes. As I become a more accomplished knitter, I begin to realize that the reason my handknit sweaters never fit properly around the shoulders is because I needed to figure out how to grade between sizes in the same way I do when sewing a dress. How does one do this? Where woukd such massive decreses occure to knit a bottom- up sweater to fit a L or XL waist & bust down to a M at the upper chest? I suppose they’d have to start at the upper arm before the arms are joined…and I suppose the decreses would just be spaced closer together so you could get down to the smaller size as quickly as possible? But wouldn’t this interfere with the colourwork? Now I’m just thinking out loud. Would love to hear your thoughts. Love your patterns :)

    • October 19, 2017 1:35 pm

      Hi Nita – it would depend on the pattern. In a Raglan it wouldn’t be too hard, you would start your 8 point decreases earlier and work more of them. For a rounded yoke you could make the first decrease round a little more sever.

  16. Vanessa Currie permalink
    May 8, 2017 4:20 am

    Hello, I want to make a Flax toddler size. My yarn has 22x 30 gauge on 4mm needles. I think he’s average size for 2 year old, but it’s a surprise so I don’t want to ask. What size/pattern should I use?

    • May 9, 2017 9:49 am

      Hi Vanessa – we have Flax and Flax Light which are written for 18 and 24 stitch gauges, so you might want to go with Flax light and knit a size or 2 up? Start with a gauge swatch and see if you like the fabric at 24 sts

  17. Christian C. permalink
    November 13, 2016 6:01 pm

    I’m getting ready to knit my first sweater, Flax!
    Problem is, all my measures fit exactly to the M/L and as a guy I want to have – like you say – one or two inches of ease. One size up would be Large (43″ chest vs. 39″ for M/L). I feel like 43 might be a bit too large… My regular T-shirts are 41″ and one of my sweater is 44″ and is really too big. I feel there’s a size missing haha (I know, you already include like 20!!) Lengthwise it’s a easy problem to fix by making fewer rows, but for width it sounds tricky for a beginner. Should I try to come up with numbers between M/L and L? Or would it be better to play with gauge (like making a large with slightly smaller gauge?)
    Or maybe leave some space for the holidays ;)
    Thank you for the nice designs and tutorials! :)

    • November 14, 2016 10:17 am

      Hi Christian – I think you just need an extra raglan increase round or 2. Each increase round gives you 4 body sts and 2 sts on each sleeve. So, if you want to add 2 inches to the body, you will want to add 2 extra raglan increase rounds, which will give you an extra inch on each sleeve.

      • Christian C. permalink
        November 14, 2016 6:46 pm

        Gotcha! Thanks so much for answering and for the patterns :)

  18. Patricia Downie permalink
    August 16, 2016 8:01 am

    I have some nice DK and want to knit the Flax sweater (my first) I AM NOT great at adjusting guage or needles. So…..the sweater calls for worsted and I would like to knit in DK. Can you help me? Thank You so much…..Love your Patterns. I want to knit the 0-6 mo size and 6-12mo size.

    • August 24, 2016 9:51 am

      Hi Patricia – if you are knitting for kids I would just go up a size or 2. It will fit eventually right?

  19. Leslie permalink
    August 4, 2016 4:03 pm

    I’m halfway through Flax sweater and have found the size large I’m knitting is perfect for the top,but size medium would be perfect for my hips. The difference is 18 sets. Should I just start decreasing every second row or so?

    • August 5, 2016 10:19 am

      Hi Leslie- I would start putting in some paired decreases at the underarms. So you would work a ssk, k2, k2tog at each underarm, then knit 4 or 5 rounds, then work the decrease again. Repeat that until you have decreased 16 or 20 sts.


  20. Sara permalink
    April 14, 2016 9:46 pm

    Ahh, finally someone smart enough to figure out how to make a baby size pattern into an adult size. What great directions. However, I’m looking on how to do the pattern from the neck down with no seams. Is that even possible? Sara

  21. James permalink
    October 4, 2015 12:11 pm

    Thanks so much for the in-depth sizing guide; I’m really looking forward to your waist shaping guide as well so I can figure out how to properly size my sweaters. When do you think that will come out?


    • October 8, 2015 4:31 am

      Hi James – Thanks for the prod! I’ll add the waist shaping tutorial to the list for sometime this fall! Warmly, Emily

  22. Janice permalink
    September 29, 2015 10:42 am

    Oh how I love your beautiful patterns and that they can be knit from newborn right up to the largest adult!
    Can I ask about negative ease. Would you go down a size if you are taking say a 2″ negative ease into consideration for your example on the Antler? About to knit Prairie Fire for my daughter with 3/4 sleeves and see that you mention a negative ease. Thank so much!

    • October 1, 2015 11:01 am

      Hi Janice – good question, it really depends on how you like to wear your sweaters. Emily and I often joke about how she likes a tight sweater (a few inches of negative ease) and I prefer 0 ease to an inch of positive ease. So, if you want a more fitted sweater, go with an inch or so of negative ease for Antler.

  23. Susana permalink
    April 17, 2015 11:36 pm

    Hi, where may I get the pattern and a tutorial? Thank you

  24. D. McMahon permalink
    January 30, 2015 11:45 am

    Do you know if Barb Johnson ever knit this as a pullover? That’s how I’d like to make it, too. Just wondering if she had any issues along the way. BTW the tutorial on fit was excellent. Straightforward, uncomplicated, very nice!

  25. January 6, 2014 11:20 am

    When you say measure the chest, do you mean the upper chest (just under the armpits, or full bust (the largest bust measurement)? How do you adjust for a larger bust size either way?

  26. Barb Johnson permalink
    January 6, 2013 9:54 am

    Oh my gosh! I loved this sweater and you patterns and decided to check out your blog and started reading this entry. Then realized, I can knit this as a pullover!!!!! I am so tickled you cannot imagine. I’m not big on sweaters but I need some more pullovers. Love ya!!

    • January 17, 2013 8:13 am

      Hi Barb – Glad you like! You should email us if you knit this as a pullover, because we would love to see how it turns out! Emily


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