Three tips for fearless first sweaters


Let’s face it – first sweaters can be daunting.


For all that sweaters are fundamentally pretty simple pieces of knitting, skill-wise (some of the best ones are just Stockinette and ribbing!), they tend to make knitters nervous. To help, I’ve collected my top 3 tips for prospective (and nervous) sweater knitters.

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Tip #1: Be honest about what you like to wear.

I think our expectations are the first & most common place we go off the rails in terms of sweaters. We see a perfect picture on Ravelry, or a new magazine, or the latest collection by our favorite designer, and concoct an image in our heads of what life will be life if we make that garment. Completely understandable – and I do this, too! – but.

It’s a basic fact of human life that Happiness = Reality vs. Expectations, and sweaters are no different. Unrealistic expectations will set you up for disappointment, even with a sweater that turns out perfectly. My advice?

Let it go. Even a perfectly-executed sweater, that looks exactly like the picture, and fits exactly like the picture, won’t make us feel the way we feel when we look at the picture. You won’t suddenly look like that person. You won’t suddenly be transported to a field in Iceland where you can frolic, making daisy-chains, for hours on end. You’ll be you, in that garment.

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(Note to self: Knitting a sweater won’t actually cause me to transport here.)
So instead of getting too lost in this picture, think about what you like to wear. Evaluate that picture you love against what’s in your closet. What will you wear with it? Do you like the kind of yarn that’s used?

If you’re answering in the affirmative to these questions, fantastic! You’ve found the sweater for you. If not? Put the picture up on an inspiration board, and move along.

Tip #2: Use yarn you can’t wait to knit.

It’s really tempting to hedge our bets and make our first garments with yarn we don’t love, for fear of “ruining” the favorite and most special bits of our stash. I’d like to encourage you to do otherwise, and choose yarn you’re really excited about.

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Knitting with yarn you can’t wait to fondle has plenty of benefits, and few risks. Most of the benefits stem from the fact that you’ll be super excited to work on your sweater. That excitement will make the stitches go faster, be more enjoyable, and let you lose yourself in your knitting. You’ll wind up with a sweater that’s done faster, that you’re less tempted to nit-pick, that you can’t wait to put on.

The risk most knitters seem to feel is that special yarn might get ruined, somehow, if it’s worked into a first sweater. Don’t buy into this! As long as your yarn can be frogged, you’re not ruining it. Even if you hate the garment and will never wear it (not likely if you follow these tips!), you can always rip it out, re-hank and soak the yarn, and put it in timeout until the trauma passes.

This might sound daunting, but don’t give into that feeling! You’ll have spent those hours knitting yarn you adore, rather than dread, and in most cases ripping/re-hanking doesn’t hurt the yarn at all – so you can knit with it again, and get twice the joy.

Tip #3: Let yourself take it easy.

I think the most important tip I can give nervous sweater knitters is to give yourself permission to take it easy. There are tons of different kinds of sweaters out there, and not all of them require a calculator, thousands of stitches, and 8 different finishing steps. It’s completely possible to get a great wardrobe piece and easy knitting at the same time. Check out garments that:

  • Have a boxier fit. Generally speaking, the more body-conscious the sweater, the more math you might have to tackle, and the higher the risk that you’ll get it wrong. So start with a sweater that’s supposed to have a boxier fit to begin with. This doesn’t mean the sweater has to look boxy! Using a yarn with drapey fibers like silk, alpaca, and linen in the blend can keep even perfectly-rectangular sweaters looking slinky when worn – without complicated math.
  • Are at a larger gauge. Listen, I’m the world’s biggest fan of fingering weight sweaters. Smaller gauges make lovely thin fabric, and are super comfortable. But a fingering-weight sweater has a whole lot more stitches than a worsted-weight sweater! So be honest with yourself about exactly how much knitting you can stomach.
  • Don’t have super intense finishing Exquisite finishing can make a garment, for sure – seams add structure, fussy details help lend a couture feeling to our hand-knits – but a heavy finishing load may be more than you want, and that’s okay. Be honest with yourself about what you’re willing to take on.

Looking for suggestions?

All of these tips may sound great, but may still leave you overwhelmed when you’re looking at Ravelry’s pattern database. Here are 3 suggestions for no-sweat sweaters:


Curlew. Curlew is knit in one piece, sideways from cuff-to-cuff. It features a manageable gauge, a friendly oversized fit, and a drapey, luscious yarn blend. I wore it constantly through the spring after I finished it, and as of this writing I can’t wait for fall weather to wear it again.

Shoreside Tank. I think tanks don’t get enough sweater credit. They’re fantastic, they’re quick, they’re easier to fit through the armholes with no seaming involved. Shoreside is made via CustomFit, which creates patterns specifically to your gauge – and the tank’s A-line shape makes for some of the easiest knitting around.

Small Point. Another one-piece construction, this time from hem-to-hem, Small Point features an easy fit, a light-weight yarn, and some addictive stripes.

Finally, please check out my book You Can Knit That, which features a huge selection of beginner-friendly patterns for super-wearable sweaters.

Are you ready to take the sweater plunge?