sweater knitting.


Over the years, I have knit many many sweaters*. And I’ve made tons of mistakes: Yarn too dense for a pattern, yarn knit at too dense a gauge, yarn knit at too loose a gauge, wrong pattern for yarn chosen, poor fit, sleeves too tight, sleeves too loose, yoke too shallow, yoke too deep, button band too heavy, button band too tight, collar too tight so it can’t sit properly … the list goes on and on and on. And on. I’ve learned so much from all of these mistakes and it didn’t always mean I ended up with an unwearable garment. Sometimes, the mistakes were insidious enough that they ended up being a “if I ever knit this again” thought. I usually make quite comprehensive notes in Ravelry and of course, that’s the reason I began blogging back in 2009, so I have those thoughts to look back on again when starting another project – particularly if the project is similar to something I’ve made in the past.

The past number of sweaters I’ve knit have fit really well and there’s one reason for this: I have figured out what fits my body and how to make that those modifications happen in my knitting. I calculate and work out the math as I’m knitting to fit my garments now. I don’t do a bunch of math at the beginning. Over time, I have found that I can achieve the results I want with a few simple changes. The caveat? An accurate swatch is really important!

First, bust darts.


Getting a little personal, I’m a 36B with an upper bust of 34″. I’ve been these measurements since I was 15 years old and of course with babies the past four years, I’ve been fluctuating but recently, I re-measured and sure enough! I’m a 36B and 34″ upper bust.

Second, waist shaping.


My waist is currently 32″ around. That measurement is really important and it’s really crucial to be honest with yourself about your waist measurement as I have found that to be the most important factor in whether a sweater looks like it fits you well.

Third, hip room.


I have curvy hips – always have. My widest point on my hips at this time is 41″ and again, that has been a true measurement since I was 15 years old. Even pregnant, it didn’t change.

While there are many other measurements you need to take for a well-fitting sweater, these have proven to be the most important for myself. If the depth yoke fits (I personally knit to 7.5″ of depth) and I add bust darts through the yoke to give a little more shaping for my bust, the fit is always better. To chose the size I want to knit, I chose as closely as possible to 34″ bust as possible. If I am knitting from the top down, adding bust darts means I usually have a few (2-6 stitches) extra stitches in my stitch count for the body and yoke separation [See below photo]. If the cardigan is knit without patterning, I don’t worry about it but take it into consideration when I am calculating for the waist shaping. I don’t add more than about 1-1.5″ for my bust darts on each side so the stitch counts, depending on the gauge, are quite small and easily re-absorbed with some decreases immediately after the armhole shaping, under the arm. No one should be looking that closely at your armpit!

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Because my upper bust measurement is slightly bigger than my waist, I don’t tend to include upper waist shaping.

The key to a sweater looking as if it fits you really well is a little bit of positive ease in the waist. As soon as the sweater is too tight in the waist, it looks as if it’s being pulled into place and appears tight, too small and uncomfortable (even if it’s not!).

At the point that I am separating from the yoke, I figure out how many stitches I need for the waist to have +2-3″ of shaping and either increase or decrease to get to that  number. Usually, it means I have to knit straight until 1″ below the waist because that’s where I need to start increasing for my hips.


Once I reach 1″ below my waist (the measurement from your underarm to waist gives you this number), I start increasing for my hips. I calculate how many  stitches I need for -2″ of ease [See photo below]. Again, this is key. The negative ease at your hips gives you an hourglass shape that is very pleasing and a little bit of snugness at your hips to secure the fit. After I obtain the length from underarm to hip that I want, I knit the lower finishing (rib or garter, etc.) and cast off.

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If the sweater doesn’t have a full front that closes, like the Pommier Vest or the Featherweight Cardigan, I work the waist shaping only in the back with shaping only in the back but I still do the bust darts! I added 3 extra stitches to Pommier in the bust and 6 extra stitches in the Featherweight {ravelry link to Pattern page}. I find the bust doesn’t shift around as much with bust darts because it actually fits the contours of a 3-D body, rather than pulling and slipping back towards the shoulder/arm hinge/armpit area due to no anchor.

These relatively simple modifications that I have worked on every sweater in the past 2 years have proven time and time again to create well-fitting sweaters for me.

*Top left to bottom right: Hyannis Port, Custom Fit Hybrid, Boyfriend, Cosy {me}, Owls, Opposite Pole, Nanook, Seamless Yoke, Tinder

Until next time,

-r. xx

Join the Conversation

  1. Excellent information shared! This will help me out a lot once I get into sweaters. I’m dying to make some; however haven’t had the time. The cardigan I started in October of last year is going super slow, but I don’t think it’s one for much shaping. It’s a big old rectangle, which I thought would be super easy for my first one. Thanks for the tips!

    1. I’m glad it was helpful! There are definitely those sweaters that need shaping and the ones that don’t! Haha

  2. Excellent post Rachel – with fantastic photos showing where you do your increases and decreases! Thank you!

    1. I’m so glad it was helpful, Kat! You’re welcome!

  3. Jennifer Horsley says:

    That’s an impressive body of work, Rachel.👍🏻

    1. Thank you Jennifer!

  4. Awesome post! Thanks for being so thorough.

    1. You’re welcome! I hope it was helpful :)

  5. Looks lovely!

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