Sweaters take a decent chunk of time to knit, so you want them to turn out perfectly and have it look great on you. A lot of knitters spend time worrying over the small details like using the exact same CO method and the exact same increase method as the pattern sample but miss some of the bigger details. The sad truth is that you can knit a sweater following the pattern instructions to the letter and still have it be a flop if you didn’t make the right choices before casting on. Here are the top five reasons why I see sweaters not get worn and loved.

The Top Five Reasons Why a Sweater Goes Wrong

1. Gauge. If you don’t check your gauge to be sure that you match what the pattern requires, you don’t know what size your sweater is going to be when you’re done. That’s the truth. Skipping a swatch might save a few hours, but it’s not worth it to save a few hours there and then waste many, many hours knitting a sweater that doesn’t fit. Too big, too small, too long. You never really know until you check. Knit a five inch square, wash and block it, and then measure your stitches and rows over a four inch square in a few places and take the average.

2. Yarn Choice. A bad substitution can also ruin a project. Swapping 100% cotton for 100% wool when a design relies on the elasticity to keep its shape can result in a sad, stretched out sweater. And using something with too much bounce when you really need drape can make for an equally disappointing finished project. Thankfully there are a lot more resources out there for making yarn substitutions than there used to be. Look up the recommended yarn on Ravelry and read up on the fibers it contains. Use a book like The Knitter’s Book of Yarn to find out what fibers have similar properties and would make good substitutes. Or if there are projects added for a pattern on Ravelry, take a look at what other yarns have worked well for other knitters.

The Top Five Reasons Why a Sweater Goes Wrong

3. Wrong Size. Picking a size to knit is secretly more complicated than you might think. Different patterns list sizes their own ways, you have to know your own measurements well, and then there’s the tricky subject of ease. A sweater designed for 2-4 inches of negative ease isn’t going to look like the photos on the pattern if you knit it with 2-4 inches of positive ease. Spend the time to really take in all of the fit information the pattern gives you, have a friend help you measure yourself, study the schematic, and then choose a size. Don’t just guess based on what size you knit for a different project. For more information on choosing a size, take a look at this blog post, “What Size Sweater Should I Knit”.

4. Custom Fitting Needed. This is a hard one that I don’t see talked about enough. Handknits have a lot of give to them, so the level of custom fitting that sewing requires isn’t always necessary, but many knitters aren’t close enough to the standard sizes to have their sweater turn out well without some alterations. Take a wide variety of measurements to compare to the schematic, and really get an idea of how a size will fit. You might find that you need to blend together more than one size or adjust the length here and there.

The Top Five Reasons Why a Sweater Goes Wrong

5. Style and Color. This isn’t one that I can give much advice on, but it’s something that I’m sure has happened to us all. Swayed by beautiful pattern photos or the gorgeous color of a yarn in the ball, I’ve knit sweaters that aren’t the best styles for me or are colors that I don’t really wear. Sometimes that can make sweaters that are attractive but almost never get worn because they don’t go with anything, like the sweater above, and sometimes that can make sweaters that are truly unflattering. It can be hard to think of a knitting project like adding new clothes to your wardrobe, but that’s often what is necessary if a sweater is really going to get worn.

This list isn’t just based on mistakes I’ve seen but also mistakes I’ve made! My first two sweaters fell victim to many of the issues on this list, and hopefully this post will help spare some frustration when it comes to knitting sweaters.

13 Comments

    • I have skirts that go with it, but I don’t have any jackets to wear with it that don’t make it look like I’m wearing a suit. The sweater is just a bit too formal and not really my style. It only gets worn once or twice a year when the weather is just right and I also happen to be in the mood for pink and 40s styles.

  • I’ve made so many of these mistakes. But that pink sweater really is gorgeous! It so beautifully suits your skin tone and hair color.

  • Thank you for the info. Gauge is my down fall. I always fail to check it as I knit along. Guess that’s
    why I shy away from more challenging patterns.

  • I love the pink sweater. I can relate to this post. I had to frog one of the first sweaters I made because I didn’t take ease into account and made it too tight. At first I struggled with how much ease a garment should have for me until I measured sweaters I owned and liked.

  • I love your pink sweater! It would be fab with capri pants and a denim jacket to make it look more casual. I have definately made mistakes with knitting and sewing. I try to learn from them :-/

    • Oh, there are tons of potential outfits that could work with the sweater, but they’re just not my style. I’d have to buy a bunch of clothing to really make this sweater work with my wardrobe. That was the point I was trying to make when I mentioned it in the post! A sweater can be cute, but that doesn’t matter if it doesn’t fit in with what a person normally wears. I wasn’t looking for outfit suggestions.

  • Thank you so much, this post is really helpful! I’m still a beginner knitter (just started my first sweater) and this is very good advice. I never thought about checking the material of the yarn used in a pattern but is totally makes sense. Living in Germany and loving all the US pattern designers, I often have to substitute yarn, so from now on I’ll double check the fibre it contains.
    Also: Isn’t it funny how many of these tips apply to sewing, too? And I swear, I made all of them already 😀

  • Even though I’ve been knitting for many years I can see the error or my ways…. sometimes wondering why the sweater didn’t turn out like the picture. I think my main problem is measuring for sweater size.
    Thanks so much for such a great post!!

  • with regards to point 2. – have you ever looked at yarnsub.com, you can search for a yarn and it will tell you what the closest subrtitutes are according to texture, gague and fibre compostition

  • Thank you so much for the tips, I have definitely bookmarked this for later. I’ve always wanted to try and make a sweater, I just need to set aside enough time for it so I will actually finish it. I like that you added #5, such a simple step, but definitely the first one to consider for me.

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