Avoiding the Sweater Curse: Knits that Fit the Entire Family
What is the sweater curse you ask? The story goes that as soon as you finish a sweater for a significant other…the relationship comes to an end. Why is this? I don’t know! Perhaps it’s the many hours spent on the sweater, and not snuggling on the couch? Perhaps it’s all in the recipient’s reaction (what do you mean it’s itchy?!?!?!). There is even a Wikipedia entry on the topic here. Whatever the reason I feel this curse can be avoided!
As you prepare to face the sweater curse, we wish you the best of luck and we have a few tips and suggestions. The first step is choosing the right size. An ill-fitting sweater is probably not cause for a break up… but lets not take the chance! If you pay close attention to your gauge, choosing the right size, and understanding ease, you can successfully avoid the curse.
3 easy steps to avoiding the sweater curse
Knits for all of your babes, big or little!
At Tin Can Knits we are dedicated to creating sweater patterns you can knit for your tiny bairns, your full-grown darlings, and yourself. 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 to adult 4XL (and, as of 2020, to 6XL). We want our sweater patterns to fit the whole family!
If you are ready to venture into the world of sweater knitting (congratulations!) I suggest that you begin with a baby sweater. This allows you to learn all of the techniques involved in sweater knitting, but requires much less time and yarn. With a baby sweater, you build your confidence and skills so that when you decide to knit one for yourself, your mom, your sibling or… most nerve-rackingly, for your significant other… you will be ready to face the sweater curse with competence and confidence on your side!
Begin at the beginning: the gauge swatch
Now I really don’t care if you knit a gauge swatch… because it’s not a problem for me personally if your sweater doesn’t fit. But you should definitely care! 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… More information on gauge swatches and how to knit them here.
An illustration of gauge importance
Say I were knitting a sweater for my 38” bust, and the goal was to achieve a close fit. My chosen pattern has a size ML with a 39 inch finished chest measurement. This would give me 1” positive ease, so probably quite comfortable. The stockinette gauge in this pattern is 26 sts / 4” which is 6.5 sts per inch. However, perhaps I didn’t swatch carefully, or I didn’t block my swatch, and I ended up with 24 sts / 4”, or 6 sts per inch. It’s only a 1/2 stitch off, how bad could that be right? WRONG!
252 sts (the body stitch count) at the correct gauge (6.5) results in (252 / 6.5 = 38.77”)
At the gauge I actually got (6.0) the sweater would end up much larger (252 / 6 = 42”).
So instead of having about an inch of positive ease, I would ended up with 4” of positive ease at the bust. Major sad face!
Choosing the right size
The best way to knit a sweater that will work for the wearer is to base it upon one that they already like.
Lay their favourite sweater flat and measure:
- Chest / Bust
- Sleeve length (underarm to cuff)
- Body length (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 need be. For most situations, arm and body length are all that you need to adjust.
In Tin Can Knits sweater patterns you will find finished measurements. That means that if you achieve the same gauge as stated in the pattern, your sweater will measure the same as the listed chest measurement. So if you measure a favourite sweater and it’s 39 inches, you want to choose the size with a chest measurement closest to 39 inches.
Adjusting the body and sleeve lengths
To adjust the body length you just need to knit more or fewer rounds. If it’s a bottom up sweater you will do this before you join the body and sleeves for the yoke, and if it is a top down sweater you will do this before you work the ribbing at the hem.
You can adjust sleeve length in much the same way as you would body length. Working from the top down, you will work more (or less) inches before beginning sleeve shaping decreases. Working from the bottom up, you’ll work the sleeve shaping increases to full sleeve stitch count, then simply knit to the total desired length. If you’re working a larger size, you may find it’s necessary to work sleeve increases or decreases more often than stated in the pattern if you’re shortening the sleeves. For example, in a bottom up sweater you might increase every 4th round rather than every 5th round, so you reach the total stitch count sooner.
Important note on yardage: If you adjust the body or sleeve lengths, it means you will require more (or less) yarn in these sections.
Choosing a size for kids
While the method described above will also work for kids, we find it best to size up. For my kids I usually take their chest/belly measurements (whichever one is bigger) and then knit the next size up (or maybe 2!). Knitting is not the fastest endeavour, and kids do not grow in accordance with how much knitting time you’ve got. I also find knitting extra long cuffs and folding them up for a while gives their sweaters and extra few months of wear.
If you’d rather measure the recipient than their favourite sweater you will need to take into account ease. Ease describes how tightly or loosely a garment will fit on the body. It’s the difference, in inches (or cm), between actual body measurements and the finished garment measurement.
If the garment measurement is smaller than your body measurement, it has negative ease.
If the garment measurement is larger than your body measurement, it has positive ease.
Generally, the body measurement is most critical when sizing a sweater. It is the largest point of your torso; whatever that may be, belly, chest, or bust. Tin Can Knits patterns generally include a ‘sizing notes’ section that details the size of the model wearing the sweater in the pictures, and how the sweater sample fits that person.
An example from the Almanac pattern:
“John is wearing Men’s M (42.5″) with 3″ positive ease. Nina is wearing the same sweater with 5.5″ of positive ease.”
We include these details to help you decide how much ease YOU would like to have in your finished sweater. Generally, we don’t tell you how you should wear our designs. Everybody loves to wear their clothes differently, and sweaters are no exception.
Note: Alexa and I don’t wear our sweaters the same way! I usually prefer my sweaters with a bit of negative ease at the bust, so I choose the sweater size a little smaller than my bust measurement. Alexa usually prefers a bit of positive ease so she would choose a size a couple inches bigger than her bust measurement.
So this is why we list finished garment measurements (the size of the sweater itself assuming you knit it to the design gauge), and allow knitters to choose the size to knit based upon the amount of ease that they prefer.
If relaxed ‘slouchy’ sweaters make you feel cozy and trendy, you’ll choose a size with a few inches of positive ease. If a close body-hugging fit makes you feel your best, opt for a chest measurement with zero or negative ease.
A handy example – An Antler cardigan for Emily
Let’s say I was knitting the Antler Cardigan for myself (I’m a little bit bigger and bustier than our lovely model Kim). This is how I would go about choosing my size.
First I would knit a gauge swatch, wash and block it, and measure it. If I was on gauge I would proceed to the next step.
Second I would measure my favourite sweater. The important measurements for me are:
- Bust = 39″ (that’s my actual bust measurement, and I like my sweaters tight)
- Sleeve length (underarm to cuff) = 20″ (I like my sleeves longish)
- 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 plus desired ease. I would choose the 39″ chest – Adult M.
As you can see, the Adult M has a sleeve length of 19″, but for a perfect fit, I will need an extra inch of length before joining the sleeve to the body. Also, the Adult 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. When the pattern states ‘or desired length’, that’s where you want to make your length adjustments.
The Antler Sweater is knit from the bottom up. This means you knit the sleeves first, then you 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 one 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. Just before you join at the yoke you can slip the sleeve tubes on and hold up the body to get a sense of how they fit.
Tutorials to guide you stitch by stitch
You are ready to take the plunge and knit a sweater! To give you a little boost of confidence, try one of our sweater patterns that has a full tutorial to go with it! The Flax, Harvest, Gramps, Antler, and Love Note sweaters all have in-depth tutorials to help you each step of the way.