Knitting your first big project? Start with our recipe for success!
Are you taking your knitting to the next level and embarking on your first big project? Congratulations!
We’re getting ready for the 2023 Ramona KAL right now — have you signed up yet? Lots of our participating knitters are new to big projects like a sweater. Whether or not you’re joining us for the Ramona KAL, this blog post is for knitters who need a little guidance about how to begin a big project.
If you were in the store with us, we’d be chatting about all the nitty gritty details of your project, walking you through yarn and pattern selection, sizing, and more. For a sweater or other fitted garment, you’re investing a significant amount of time, as well as money, so some advance planning really pays off.
It’s kind of like making a delicious meal with high-quality ingredients. You need a good recipe, ingredients for the dish, and the right tools. The goal is to enjoy the process from start to finish — as you shop and prep, cook and serve, and definitely as you enjoy eating it!
Prepare for your big knitting project like you’d prepare to cook that special meal. Here's your checklist!
Pick the recipe — erm, pattern!
You want a good pattern — a pattern that’s been thoughtfully designed, with clear instructions, and one that’s been test-knitted for and inclusive of all sizes.
Not all patterns are created equally, and we’ve helped some sad and frustrated knitters who were working with not-great patterns.
How do you know if your pattern’s good?
If you’re on Ravelry, find your pattern and click the Projects tab. Browse through some of the photos of other people who’ve made the same thing. What are they saying about their project’s size, fit, or using the pattern?
Read your pattern through — just like a recipe.
Somehow you missed that one weird ingredient that’s essential for the special dish you’re making, and now you have to run out to the store in the middle of cooking. Ugh!
Just like when you’re in the kitchen, you want to be familiar with what you’re about to do, with no unpleasant surprises.
As a new knitter, you’re still building your vocabulary, and reading knitting patterns takes practice.
Get a sense of where the pattern starts (top down, with a sleeve, etc.), and build a mental image of the steps and structure of the pattern. Feel free to make notes on your pattern — “don’t forget to change needle size!” or “???”, if you’ve got questions about any terminology, techniques, or abbreviations. Underline! Use colors or pencil! Make that pattern your own.
Pay particular attention to the first page of your pattern where you’ll find the suggested yarn, needles and notions, recommended gauge, pattern notes, and abbreviations.
The first page also includes critical information about sizes and quantity of yarn you’ll need for each size. Which leads us to…
Measure twice… or three times!
You want your finished garment to fit you in the way you want it to. Which means you need to know your body, and you need to know how you want the garment to fit your body. Measuring your body also helps you determine how much yarn you’ll need!
In the case of a sweater, will it be drapey and oversized like a cozy sweatshirt? Or snug and form-fitting like a sweater from the 1950s?
If it’s for a sweater, something Kristin recommends selecting a garment that fits you how you like — another sweater or a heavyweight garment. Lay it on a flat surface, measure across the front, and double that to find your ideal finished size.
Next, we need to think about how you want the garment to fit you. This is called “ease” and it means deciding whether you want a 1950s va-va-voom fit or that slouchy, oversized fit.
In the Ramona Cardigan it says: “Picking Your Size: Choose a size that is approx. 2-3”/5-8 cm larger than your actual bust measurement.”
Continuing with the Ramona pattern example, if you’re a 42” bust, you’d be closest to 41.75” in the Ramona pattern. If you want about 2” of ease in your finished sweater, you’d bump up one size to a 44”.
Since you’re in charge of making the sweater of your dreams, you can ignore the designer’s recommendation and make a big, cozy oversized Ramona and choose the 46” size instead! Likewise you could make a cute little form-fitting cardigan and knit the size 41.75”. It’s totally up to you!
Love your star ingredient — the yarn!
Find yarn you love.
We can’t stress this enough. You’ll be spending a lot of time with your yarn as you knit your garment, and then you’ll be wearing that gorgeous thing for years to come.
Especially as a novice knitter, you’ll want to choose yarn that’s similar to what your pattern calls for. If it calls for an aran/bulky, look for a yarn that’s thicker than worsted, but thinner than super bulky. If you’re not sure the weight of the yarn from the notes in the pattern, Google the yarn name to find out more about it.
If you’re in love with your yarn but find out it’s really not the right match for the pattern, you could pick a new pattern that would be better suited to the yarn OR find new yarn that’s a better fit for the pattern.
Get the right equipment — choose the best needles for the yarn.
Spoiler alert: the needles your pattern specifies might not be the right ones for you!
Maybe you’re using different yarn, or you’re a tighter or looser knitter — all of that’s just fine! Making a fabric you like might mean using different needles than the pattern suggests.
If you need to purchase needles, we don’t recommend buying all the needles the pattern asks for right at the get-go, since they might not be the best ones for you.
Instead, purchase just the needle that your pattern recommends (on that first page), and get ready to swatch!
(Once you’re sure you’ve got the needles right, go ahead and stock up on the ones you’ll need!)
Swatching is like a taste test for yarn.
A modest swatch is so unassuming — it’s just a small knitted square, right?
YES! And it also gives you essential information for creating a sweater that fits how you want it to.
Without a swatch, it’s kind of like flying blind — you could get lucky and end up with something that fits, or it could look like you knit a sweater for a school bus.
When you swatch, you’re getting to taste test your yarn so you can find the just-right combination of yarn + needles.
Click here for a whole blog post dedicated to the wonders of swatching — and why swatching is sexy!
That’s all a lot to digest, right?
We’ve given you a lot of info in this post, so thanks for sticking with it! We think these tips will help you approach your “big project” with confidence.
And you know how much we love this stuff — we’re always delighted to help. Stop in, or give us a call in the shop!