Are you ready? It’s time to knit your very first sweater! While knitting your first garment can seem daunting, I promise it’s just one stitch at a time. This tutorial follows our free Flax pattern, available in the app or in PDF format here.
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10 Steps to knit a Flax sweater
- Choosing a size
- Cast on
- Short row shaping (optional)
- Separate body and sleeves
Knitting Flax, Flax DK or Flax Light?
The Flax sweater pattern has gotten an update! It now comes in 3 yarn weights, worsted/aran, DK, and sock/sport! This tutorial includes all of the techniques to knit this sweater in any of these weights.
To get started you will need:
- The pattern: Download a copy of the Flax pattern PDF or get the app here (they’re free!)
- Yarn: Flax uses worsted/aran weight yarn, Flax DK uses DK weight yarn, and Flax Light uses fingering weight yarn, for more information on choosing yarn for a sweater, check out our tutorial here. Choose your favourite!
- Needles: For a top-down pullover you need multiple needles. This is because you are knitting in the round and your sweater changes diameter over the yoke, body, and sleeves. You will need smaller needles for the ribbing and larger needles for the rest, and you will need a few different lengths depending on which size you are knitting. For the sleeves you will need double pointed needles (DPNs) or you can use a long circular and the magic loop method.
If following a multi-size pattern is new to you, check out our tutorial on reading a knitting pattern here.
Which yarn weight is right for you?
The first thing you’ll decide is what yarn to use. Since the pattern is written for three yarn-weight options, you’ll have a wide variety of options! A worsted or aran weight sweater knits up quite a bit more quickly than other yarns but is still very warm and cozy. A sock- or sport-weight garment is lighter and more versatile over the in-between seasons, but it takes many more stitches per square inch – and thus is a slower knit. DK is smack in the middle, both in weight and time. It’s for you to decide what you’re looking to make – what works best for your wardrobe and your climate.
Choosing your size
One of the things knitters find most worrisome about knitting garments is getting the sizing right. This depends on 2 things: choosing a size that’s right for you, and achieving the gauge stated in the pattern. For more information on choosing a sweater size, check out our tutorial here.
Swatching and Gauge
The first step for your sweater is a gauge swatch. I know there will be some of you who skip this step, but don’t. A garment is a lot of work and it’s disappointing to find out you’ve put hours upon hours into a sweater…and it’s not the right size at all. Check out our tutorial on gauge and swatching here, and remember that Flax is knit in the round, so you will want a swatch in the round as well.
Once you’ve got your gauge sorted and you’ve chosen your size, it’s time to cast on!
The Flax sweater is knit from the top down. This means your sweater is knit in the following order:
- Cast on at the collar, using either option 1 or option 2.
- Raglan increases are worked through the yoke
- Optional short rows are worked
- The sweater is separated into body and sleeves
- The body is worked in rounds to the hem
- The sleeves are worked in the round to the cuffs.
- If you have chosen collar option 2 for the collar you will work the collar ribbing last.
At the cast-on there are two options. Option 1 is the most straightforward, just cast on and work the ribbing. For Option 2 you will cast on and immediately start the yoke, coming back to pick up and work the ribbing at the end. This option is recommended for a little more structure at the neckline, especially useful in larger sizes.
The fist thing you need to decide for your sweater is which cast-on option you will use. The Flax sweater ‘hangs’ from that cast on point, so picking up and knitting the ribbing later adds a little structure, but it’s a little more straightforward to just cast on and start your sweater. Either way is just fine, but if you are knitting a larger size you may want to consider option 2 for a little extra structure at the neckline.
A tip for casting on: Remember that your sweater has to go over a head, so make sure your cast on is firm but not too tight to stretch over a noggin.
Option 1: Using smaller circular needles cast on, place BOR marker and join for working in the round.
Establish 1×1 ribbing: (k1, p1) around
Work in ribbing as established (knit the knits and purl the purls) until piece measures 1 (1.5)” from cast-on for Child (Adult) sizes. Change to larger needles.
Option 2 (added structure): Using larger circular needles cast on, place BOR marker and join for working in the round. Knit 1 round.
See this tutorial for details on casting on in the round. BOR is your beginning of round marker. This tells you where your round starts/ends.
What needles go where?!
Patterns tend to use terms like smaller and larger needles, but they don’t always specify the cord length or the specific size.
Size: While you might be using the needles suggested in the pattern, you might have had to adjust your needle size to achieve gauge. So your smaller and larger needles might be unique to you.
Cord length: You’ll want to use the shortest cord to cast on, but when you switch to a longer cord is toally a matter of preference. Some knitteres like to switch to the longer cord as soon as they can, but others prefer to let things get quite squishy before they switch. You also might be working with a long cord for magic loop, in which case you’ll never switch!
Increasing stitches evenly spaced
If you are using the app you can skip over this section, a little technology does the math for ya! Skip to the next section.
Once you’ve finished your ribbing (or knit 1 round) you’ll be working an increase round. This round tells you to increase a certain number of stitches evenly spaced. This may seem like a complicated instruction but follow along and we will do a little math.
What this means is that you have a certain number of stitches and you need to increase a certain number of stitches. So how are we going to do this?
Take the number of stitches you have and divide them by the number of stitches you need to increase:
Example: For the 6-8 yrs size in worsted/aran weight: you have 72 sts and you need to increase 24 sts, 72/24 = 3
So I will knit 3 sts, then make 1 stitch 4 times and I will have 96 sts.
It gets a little more complicated when the numbers don’t work so perfectly.
Example: For the size XS: you have 80 sts, and you need to increase 24 sts, 80/24 = 3.33333. So I will knit 3 sts, then make 1, 24 times, then knit to the end.
A note on m1s: There are lots of ways to increase stitches, and lots of ways to m1. You want to make sure you are using a method that just makes a stitch. If you use an increase like a kfb, it uses a stitch to make a stitch, rather than just making a stitch and your count will be off.
Although this may seem unnecessarily complicated (why don’t we just do the math for you?!) it’s an instruction you will come across often in sweater patterns.
Here you are going to place 4 raglan markers. First you will work the sleeves stitches (with the purled garter panel in the middle), then the front stitches, the other sleeve stitches, and the back stitches.
(these raglan markers indicate the divisions between right sleeve, front, left sleeve, and back sections)
This establishes where the sleeves, front and back are. The sleeves are worked with a garter panel down the middle, while the front and back are worked in stockinette st. Learn more about basic stitch patterns here.
A note on how garter stitch works: When you are working back and forth, garter stitch is created by knitting every row, but in the round garter stitch is created by knitting on 1 round and purling on the next. Stockinette in the round is created by knitting every round. Since you never turn your work, the right side is always facing you, therefore the stitches are created differently.
Working in pattern: keeping the garter panel in tact
The sleeves have a garter panel on them that is maintained throughout the sweater. The garter panel will always be the central number of stitches established in the marker set-up round, no matter what else is happening in the sweater.
Tip for maintaining the garter panel: If you are having trouble remembering where the garter panel goes (or you just want things to be a little more fool proof) you may want to place a marker on either side of the panel. Just remember not to work your raglan increases at these extra markers.
The yoke of the Flax sweater is created by increasing (using a ‘knit front and back’ increase, or a kfb) at 8 points on the sweater, 2 stitches increased on each sleeve and 2 stitches increased on the front and the back. You will be increasing on either side of the 4 raglan markers. One increase comes before the marker and one increase comes after.
Once you have completed the yoke increases it’s time to measure. You will be working rounds ‘even’ in order to achieve the desired yoke depth. What does ‘even’ mean? This means you will be working without increases, keeping the garter panel on the sleeves as set, and knitting all other stitches. You’ll keep going like this until your yoke measures the length specified in the pattern. I like to measure straight down the front of the sweater.
Short row shaping (optional)
If you are feeling adventurous you might want to add short row shaping to your sweater. This will raise the back neck of the sweater relative to the front. It is completely optional so if this is your very first sweater just keep going! Full short row instructions can be found here.
Separate the body and sleeves
Now for the fun part! Once you separate the body and sleeves it will start to look like an actual sweater! You will be placing your sleeve stitches on waste yarn, casting on stitches at the underarm, and joining the front and back into a single tube. Check out our tutorial on placing stitches on waste yarn here.
Once you have completed this round the sleeve stitches are on hold and only the body stitches are on the needles. Is it starting to look like a sweater yet?
Here comes the easy peasy miles of stockinette! Just knit knit knit until your piece measures the desired or specified length. Then you’ll work a little ribbing and it’s time to bind off!
Binding off: You can choose either a regular bind off or a bind off in pattern. For a regular bind off you are working 2 knit stitches, passing the first over the second, knitting another stitch, passing the first over the second etc (bind off tutorial here).
You are now going to place the sleeve stitches back on the needles and pick up and knit stitches from the body of the sweater. You can work the sleeves using double pointed needles (DPNs) or a long circular and the magic loop technique. For larger sizes you can also work most of the sleeve on a 16″ circular needle.
A note on using double pointed needles (DPNs) for the sleeves: The easiest way to distribute your stitches is having the stitches from the BOR to the garter panel on the first needle, the garter panel on the second needle, and the rest of the stitches on the third needle. The beginning of your round is the first stitch on the first needle (the middle of the underarm).
Once you have picked up all of your stitches, you will join again for working in the round. You might have a small hole at the underarm, not to worry, we will stitch that up later.
Next you will work a few inches even, maintaining the garter panel and knitting all other stitches.
If you want to adjust the sleeve length, this is a good place to do it. If you want a longer or shorter sleeve, here is where you should add or subtract inches.
Now you’re going to taper your sleeves by working decrease rounds. If knitting 2 stitches together is new to you, check our our k2tog tutorial here. If an ssk is new to you check out our ssk tutorial here.
Once you’ve worked all of your decreases it’s time to work even, without decreases, until the sleeve is the right length for you. Then it’s just a little ribbing and a bind off. Just like at the body you can work either a regular bind off or a bind off in pattern.
A tip for making 2 sleeves exactly the same: The important thing about knitting sleeves is making 2 the same (sounds obvious right?). So make sure to take notes on the number of rounds you work as you go.
- how many rounds to the first decrease?
- how many rounds after the last decrease but before the ribbing?
- how many rounds in the ribbing?
Option 2 collar
If you worked option 2 at the cast-on work ribbing as follows:
With smaller needles and RS facing, pick up and knit 1 stitch in each cast-on stitch.
Work in 1×1 ribbing. Bind off all sts loosely. The loosely here is key, because the sweater has to stretch to go over a head. If you find your bind off is too tight take it out and try it again with a larger needle, or with a bind off in pattern (it tends to be a little stretchier).
Finishing a sweater can be the most important part. Block your sweater and weave in your ends. There will be a small hole at the underarm, use your tail to sew that up – we have some tips on how to sew up that pesky underarm here.
You have put a lot of work into your first sweater so don’t skip blocking, it’s an important step. Your yarn has been running through your fingers and probably needs a wash at minimum. Blocking will make your stitches even out and lie flat and generally ‘smooth out’ your work. It’s easy to block a sweater out of proportion if you aren’t careful. Make sure you have your measuring tape handy and that your chest measurements and length are as desired.
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