11 Reasons Your Hand Knit Sweater Doesn’t Fit

Filed in Industry Insight by on September 3, 2013 4 Comments

It has happened to all of us! It has happened to me, and it has happened to Kellie. You find the perfect match of sweater pattern and yarn and have beautiful dreams of wearing the finished garment. You work lovingly on the project for many hours over the course of days, weeks, possibly longer. You finally finish, slip it on, AND IT DOESN’T FIT!!!

Reasons Your Sweater Doesn't Fit

Too big or too small, what went wrong?!?! I was careful. There are no obvious mistakes. And still it doesn’t fit. There are a variety of reasons a hand knit sweater doesn’t fit. Some of them will be old news, but a few of them might surprise you. Any one can be a big enough issue to cause a problem, but combine several and your chance for success becomes rather slim.Fabric Frustrations

The main problem knitters experience when knitting ill-fitting sweaters is that the fabric is wrong. What I mean by this is the fabric that the designer got is not the same as the fabric you created. Ultimately this can be the cause for a large range of fit issues. This is a somewhat unique problem for knitters and crocheters since we create fabric and the piece of the garment at the same time. (Weavers, for example, create fabric, then cut the pieces to make it into a garment.) There are several contributing factors to this problem:

  • Gauge is wrong. This one isn’t new but still important. If the gauge (both stitch and row gauge) don’t match what is called for, there is little chance it will fit. Even if the gauge is right in the swatch, was it right while making the garment? Was it only right after you blocked the swatch in a particularly way? Did you block the sweater in the EXACT same manner? Is that even possible?
  • Stitch gauge is right, but row gauge is just a little off. This is a variant of the bullet point above, but important. If you work for a specified number of inches in a pattern but your row gauge is different, when it is blocked, it will likely behave differently by adding too much or not enough length.
  • The fiber content is different. This isn’t always a problem, but it can be a contributing factor. A design in linen will not behave the same in wool and vice versa, even if the gauge matches. As a result the fabric drapes differently and the ultimate result is a garment piece that is the wrong size.
Image via Flickr by anomalous4

Measurements Matter

Obviously, if a sweater doesn’t fit there is something wrong in the measurements.  The question is, which measurements are the problem? There are all sorts of measurements that are needed when making a sweater but most folks only pay attention to a few of them.

  • Let’s start with you. While working in a yarn shop I discovered the most common reason a sweater doesn’t fit is because the knitter doesn’t actually know their own measurements. Not the size they used to be, or want to be, or think they are because of some garments they have purchased, but their actual measurements.
  • Picking a size isn’t guess-work. Start by looking at the measurement schematic to see how your measurements compare to the finished pieces. Just because you are a medium in ready-to-wear doesn’t mean the same holds true with a pattern. If it doesn’t have a schematic, you should just probably skip it — that is often a huge warning sign.
  • Fitting the bust isn’t nearly as important as fitting the shoulders. Although almost all sweater patterns focus on bust measurements, well-fitting shoulders can make or break a sweater. This is extra important if you are petite or curvy.
  • Ease (too often) is a huge deal. Ease is the difference between your actual measurements and the dimensions of the finished piece. Historically we put too much ease into hand knitted garments, and that ease gets compounded by the weight of the hand knitted fabric. Too much ease is often the culprit of unwanted length.

Style Counts

The style of the sweater can also be a major factor in why a sweater fits, or doesn’t fit. Style considerations are some of the hardest to factor in, but with the advent of Ravelry, it is becoming less of an issue. Popular designs are shown on a wide range of body types, giving you a view to which work and which don’t.

  • Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Or more specifically, just because your size is available, it doesn’t mean that it should really be made it that size. Often designers are required to provide a range of sizes even if it is not appropriate for that size. Even when all the numbers are “right” it still looks “wrong” because it is not designed for your size, it was just graded in your size.
  • It doesn’t actually fit ANYBODY. This was a huge revelation for several of my designer friends, myself included. Unless we are custom designing for an individual, we are designing against a set of “standard” measurements of a set of imaginary people. The garment isn’t designed to fit anyone perfectly, just a large group of people reasonably well. A well-fitting garment almost always will need to be customized to some extent.
Image via Flickr by Sasha Y. Kimel

It’s Just Wrong

This is the last thing we consider, but often is still the case. Most of the time we have an instinct that there is a problem, but choose to ignore it. Instincts are there for a reason; don’t just discount them.

  • The pattern is wrong!  It is much less likely when the pattern has been professionally published (meaning it has been reviewed by a professional tech editor), but it still can happen. It is always appropriate to check for errata before starting a pattern (once again, Ravelry is great here). And don’t hesitate to contact the publisher (not the designer – unless they are the publisher) if you believe there is an error because things just are not adding up.
  • You made an error. Not the glaring, rip-down-to-fix-it sort of error, but the subtle kind of error. Like planning on making the size that is the second set of numbers in the ( ) but instead working off the third set (ask me how I know this one)! Or even better yet, knitting a bit of both sizes.

Now do you have an idea why your last hand knit sweater doesn’t fit your body? Which one of these are you guilty of? Do know of one that I missed? Stories, questions and thoughts are all welcome in the comments below!

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