Alrighty then. This is another post about knitting - I'll do one on sewing soon but this one is close to my heart and I have been thinking about it over the last few days....so stay with me...
I am about to have to choose another major knitting project. I like to have a variety of stuff on the needles. One epic project (the current one is now over two years old!), one for the kids (colourwork cardigan), something for someone else (a cardigan for my SIL which I have been slowly working through), a couple of smaller car type projects (baby hats) and finally something for me that gives-me-immense-joy-to-knit, and is very exciting because I really want it to exist. And the last one is the project that I am trying to pick at the moment.
I've learnt over the years that picking a sweater pattern is an art and a science! There are some lessons that I have learnt that I want to share with you. And the reason I think this is important enough to write a blog post about, is that each of these choices, the pattern, the yarn, the size and making any necessary modifications, can have an effect that will ultimately lead to a OHMYGODIT'SSOPERFECT_I'LLWEARITFOREVER situation or a MASSIVE_BUGGER! If you are going to the trouble of knitting a cardy or a jumper, you really want all that time and yarn to result in the former feeling.
I want you to know before you read on that I now manage to get this right most of the time. I don't want this to be a demoralising post ;-). I generally make things I love - but I do put the time in before I start, to make sure I have all these points covered! I'd love to hear in the comments if you can think of any others.....
So here are my tips for ending up with a garment you love;
1. Only choose a style you wear! Now this seems to be stating the bleeding obvious but I think this is the single biggest mistake I make. I have made it over and over and over again. I love the look of a pattern - I love it on the model - I love how it is styled - I think that it would be interesting to knit. BIG MISTAKE! I love the process of knitting it but then don't wear the garment. Ever. It sits in the cupboard because every time I put it on I don't feel like me.
What you need to do is to think about what you own already - and what you love - and find patterns that fall kinda within this category. Venture outside what you have a little, but think carefully about the garment shapes and weights of garments you wear all the time.
I have included a small selection below that fit into the fail category... There are more - please don't judge me - or do. I don't really mind. I realise it is idiotic - I'm highlighting this as a community service! Please note; I really love all these patterns. They just aren't my style and sit unworn in the cupboard.
2. Get the size right. Again it sounds like I am stating the obvious but this is a bit tricky, especially when you are just starting.
The best way is to find a similar cardigan or jumper in your wardrobe that you like the fit of. Then measure the chest width of the existing garment. Knit the size that is similar to the measurement you get, in the pattern. Don't just measure your chest and go with what the pattern says. People like different amounts of ease (tightness/looseness) and the only way to get this right is to measure something you like that is similar.
Other things that will help - read what the designer says about the pattern and the amount of ease that is needed. This is why the cabled cardigan at the top of this post failed. I ignored what it said and thought that the stated ease was waaaay to much so did the smaller size. And there is not enough ease. I love it so much I wear it all the time still but it niggles me every time I put it on. My brain says "idiot!" (in a friendly bemused way) each time I put it on.....which is no way to feel about something you have spent hours knitting.
Below is another fine example....can you see the problem? Again I wear this one - but never bothered to put the buttons on as I can't really do them up.
3. Swatch! I know, I know; it's boring and you could be knitting. But if you are going to spend hours and hours knitting a sweater then make sure you get the gauge right. Suck it up and do a big swatch. Big! And then wash and dry it. Measure it to the half a stitch in a couple of places. This, really is the key! Try to think of it as part of the exciting "dreaming" stage of sweater knitting. And don't go by the needle size suggested in the pattern. Change the needle until you get the right gauge for the pattern using your yarn of choice.
4. Match your yarn and pattern! What am I talking about.....well, it isn't just getting the gauge right that makes a difference to the wearability of the sweater. Look at the properties (alpaca, wool, silk %) of the suggested yarn of the pattern and find something similar. This will mean the pattern drapes and wears how it is supposed to.
Another classic mistake is to think "oooohhh that yarn is so soft" and then try to make a sweater out of it. A supersoft untwisted yarn is great for a hat or a cowl but it will end up being a super pilly disgusting mess of a jumper that you won't wear.
One tip I have for a flowy drapey cardigan is to use something with some alpaca in it. My all time favourite cardigan is an alpaca silk - 3 years in it hasn't pilled, drapes wonderfully and is wearing super well.
I have included a photo of the Minimalist cardigan below. And the problem with this one was that I chose a yarn that met gauge but I didn't wear because it was just too damn thick to have 3/4 sleeves. It meant I was hot and cold at the same time - all the time. My partner got sick of me complaining about it and made me rip it. Yes - I ripped the whole cardigan out and reused the yarn to make the Forestry above.....which was another fail. Ho Hum.
5. Modify. Goes without saying probably, but change anything you need to to make it work for you. Body length, sleeve length, waist shaping. It's your knitting so make sure you end up with a shape you wear.
6. Advice for beginner garment knitters.
a. Make your first sweater or cardy pattern a seamless top-down one. Don't be scared by top-down. Follow the instructions and if you get stuck then use youtube. It is very hard to judge the right length of sleeves and the body when you are knitting from the bottom. Knitting in this way means that when you finish the knitting all you have to do is weave in the ends. There is no sewing up and you will be able to try it on all through the process which will mean you can be sure it is going to fit. Win!
b. Choose a pattern with a gauge of about 18-20 stitches. Yes there are lots of pretty patterns outside this but this will ensure you get a quick win. And you need quick wins when you are beginning. Knitting a sweater for a year can be demoralising. And knitting should be all about joy!
c. Choose a yarn you love. Don't buy a cheap yarn. Some people think this is counter intuitive; the old I'm-only-a-beginner-so-I-don't-want-to-spend-too-much theory. Knitting is a lot about the process. Feeling and watching a gorgeous yarn between your fingers for hours on end make the process an absolute pleasure. Not so much with a blah yarn.
d. Buy a good needle. For the same reasons as I mentioned in point c. A good needle will have a flexible soft cord and a good smooth join. Please don't buy one of those ugly grey circular needles. They will make you miserable! A lovely Addi Turbo or Knitpicks needle will give you many hours of pleasure. They are worth the price!!
e. Choose a pattern you really love even if you think it might be a little tricky! This will help you with your motivation when times get tough. Use youtube to learn the bits you don't know. Youtube taught me how to knit.
Does anyone else have any suggestions, failures and successes they would like to share? I'd love to hear them....