The secret to a truly great-fitting sweater

The secret to a truly great-fitting sweater

Hopefully those of you participating in the #fringeandfriendsknitalong are knitting away at whatever pace suits your lifestyle and heart rate. Remember we’re not knitting to any particular schedule, but we will be continuing to post content here at what is likely a faster clip than most of us knit — that way the information is here when you need it, whether that’s next Thursday or next year. Last week we talked about the body and next week we’ll talk about the sleeves, but meanwhile let’s talk about row gauge! That under-discussed topic.

In knitting and measuring swatches (in the event that even happens), people tend to focus on stitch gauge. Of course, stitch gauge is what will determine the width of your fabric — or more specifically for our purposes, the circumference of your sweater. And when we talk about fit, we tend to talk about circumference (our own and our sweater’s). But row gauge determines the length of your fabric; your row gauge is most likely different from pattern gauge; and to be adept at accounting for differences in row gauge is to have a much better chance of your sweater fitting the way you want it to.


Say for a minute you’re knitting a scarf with a stitch-pattern repeat, such as Shackleton (a good Amanda alternative). If your row gauge is shorter (more rows squeezed into each inch) than the pattern gauge, your scarf will be shorter. No big deal, right? Unless you are really, really particular about how long your scarves are. To make up for your more compact row gauge, you could simply knit an extra repeat of the stitch pattern. The same is more or less true for something like the body of Amanda. Since it has no waist shaping, the body is just a big rectangle, same as a scarf. So if your row gauge is different from the pattern gauge (or you simply want your sweater to be longer or shorter than desired), you can simply knit to your desired length, and it really doesn’t matter that it took you a different number of rows to get there.

But where there is shaping involved — as in the sleeve increases and the yoke decreases — a pattern will almost always be written according to rows, not inches. For the sleeve increases, you’ll be told to work an increase row, then repeat that a set number of times, a set number of rows apart. (E.g., “repeat the increase row every 8th row 11 more times.”) If your rows are bigger, it will take you fewer of them to reach the total sleeve length, which means you may need to work your increases closer together in order to fit them all in.

For the yoke decreases, if your row gauge is bigger and you work the prescribed number of rows (alternating decreases along the way), your yoke will be longer than the pattern measurement. Your underarms will hang lower, in other words, and the sleeves you attach to that lower underarm will hang that much longer as a result. Conversely, let’s look at my Amanda in progress. My row gauge is much tighter than the pattern gauge, and Amanda has a pretty shallow yoke to begin with. Because my overall gauge is tighter (more stitches and rows per inch) I’m using the Large numbers knowing my sweater will come out a little smaller than the Medium. Knitted at pattern gauge, the sweater has an armhole depth of just 6.5 inches. If I don’t make changes based on my smaller row gauge, I won’t even be able to get my arms into those armholes. So I’ll need to space out my decrease rows, working them at a slower pace over more rows, in order to wind up with enough yoke depth. (That’s also why I’m knitting with a cable needle on this, because swatching both with and without one showed that my row gauge was even more compact when I knitted without a cable needle. I want all the row depth I can get in this situation, so cable needle it is!)

So it’s super critical to be mindful of discrepancies in row gauge and what implications that might have — as well as knowing how to account for them. If you’re not familiar with how to calculate increases and decreases for yourself, there’s a basic formula in my top-down sweater tutorial. The process is the same whether you’re increasing or decreasing, knitting from the top or the bottom. It’s simple, and it’s one of the most important skills a knitter can have.


But what about the whole issue of row gauge that changes with blocking? Some swatches will be obviously shorter or longer after blocking, but it’s hard to pinpoint how much your sweater might shrink or grow in length. Blocking a swatch is different than blocking an entire sweater, plus some fibers grow tremendously with gravity as you’re wearing the garment. (You’ve no doubt experienced this phenomenon at some point in your life.) Lots of people will advise you to knit a very large swatch and to hang it on a hanger to try to get a better sense of how it might grow. This is less of a concern with wool than with bamboo and some other fibers. Regardless, say your swatch is different in length after blocking. Well, if you want your sleeves to be 18 inches long, for instance, you don’t actually want to knit to 18 inches — you want to knit to whatever length will become 18 inches when blocked. Below is Kate Gagnon Osborn again with a simple but meticulous way to solve for that. Take it away, Kate!

. . . . .

To make sure your sweater body and sleeves come out the correct length, you want to knit to your blocked length, which may differ from your unblocked length. How does this work exactly? First, determine the number of inches your knitting should be, as written in the pattern. For the Amanda sweater back in my size, I am to knit 14.5″ total length, and my personal row gauge — after blocking — is 7 rows per inch.

Calculation A: Ribbing

Multiply your row gauge by the length of ribbing specified in the pattern, in this case 2.75″:

2.75″ ribbing x 7 rows per inch = 19.25, or 19 rows of ribbing.

Calculation B: Body

First, subtract the length of the ribbing from the total length of the body:

14.5″ total length – 2.75″ ribbing = 11.75″ of the body (cable) pattern to be worked.

Now multiply your row gauge by this length. Again, I’m getting 7 rows to the inch:

11.75″ body x 7 rows per inch = 82.25, or 82 rows of body.

Instead of measuring my unblocked sweater back, I will count my rows to determine the correct length. Once I knit the 19 rows of ribbing and 82 rows of the body, I know I will have the correct length back after blocking. If the pattern tells you to end after working a WS or RS row, or end the cable pattern (or lace or colorwork) pattern on a certain row number, you may adjust your final number of rows by a few as needed, and your overall length won’t vary too greatly. Just make sure to match this row number on the front pieces as well.

. . . . .

Thanks, Kate! And here’s a bonus tip for making that easier to keep track of. Remember my Hot Tip about marking your increases/decreases to save having to count? Some people will pin a marker every 10th row when knitting, period, so they can easily tally up their rows. That comes in super handy in a scenario like Kate describes above.

Of course, if you matched row gauge, you have nothing to worry about!


PREVIOUSLY in #fringeandfriendsknitalong: WIP of the Week, week 1

WIP of the Week winner, week 1

WIP of the Week, week 1 — #fringeandfriendsknitalong

So like I said earlier, it has been immensely fun to see all of the sweaters getting started for the #fringeandfriendsknitalong, and just like with that whole Rhinebeck sweater idea, I totally underestimated how hard it would be to pick a favorite project! But it’s time to announce the winner of this week’s prize, which is a $150 gift certificate to none other than Fringe Supply Co.*

There were so many great contenders — please keep ’em coming! — but when I closed my eyes and asked myself which one stood out in this whole warm-up phase, it was @dxlcarson’s side-by-side sleeves photo. In describing this challenge on the knitalong page, I said, “What I’ll be looking for is beautiful/funny/interesting/informative pics …” and I would put this one under the informative header. Linda is knitting Amanda (which is not a requirement!) and had embarked on a second sleeve-swatch, changing both her cast-on and needle size, and I just loved seeing them together and how different they are. Plus it looks amazing in this camel colored Madelinetosh. Can’t wait to see the rest of the sweater.

Linda, I’ll be in touch re collecting your prize!

Have a great weekend, everyone — happy knitting! And keep those WIP shots coming. Next week’s prize is another doozy.


*Full disclosure: the winner of this week’s prize happens to be a Fringe Supply Co customer, but everyone participating in this knitalong is a Fringe reader and just about everyone is also a customer (thank you!), so there’s really no way around that. The remaining prizes are coming from other entities and I will have no idea whether or not the winner is a patron of the contributing business.

This just in: A perfect fisherman pullover

This just in: A perfect fisherman pullover

I had a whole different post in mind for today, but then this Patons Honeycomb Aran pullover passed before my eyes and there was the deafening mental sound of screeching brakes, and visions of that scene in The Paper where someone actually pushes the big button to stop the presses. Despite its name, this classic fisherman-style pullover doesn’t have any actual honeycomb stitch on it. But it’s a combination of moss-filled diamonds, single braids and a panel of Celtic braided cables that gives a similar effect to honeycomb. Knitted from the bottom up, with raglan sleeves, it’s pretty much the perfect pullover alternative to the Amanda cardigan this #fringeandfriendsknitalong is centered on. And it is written for sizes ranging from a 28″ to 62″ bust. And. AND. It’s a free download. So if you’ve been wanting to join the knitalong but wished for a pullover or couldn’t get ahold of the book (oops, we cleaned out Amazon) or Amanda’s sizes don’t work for you — or all of the above — ta da!

Thank you, Allyson, for inadvertently bringing it to my attention. (And hearty congratulations on your nuptials!)

Since we’re back on the subject, I want to remind you that the first WIP of the Week prize will be awarded sometime tomorrow. (That’s Friday, y’all.) If you have posted a pic of your knitalong work-in-progress anywhere on the web this week (a Ravelry page, Instagram, your blog, any publicly viewable internet location) — hashtagged #fringeandfriendsknitalong, of course — leave a comment below or on Monday’s post with a link to said photo. (All you have to do is copy the URL and paste it into the comment box — WordPress will automatically turn it into a link.) I’ll pick my favorite and announce the winner tomorrow right here on the blog. This week’s prize will be coming from a little business I hope you’re all familiar with, Fringe Supply Co. — a bit of a shopping spree. So get those pics up and pointed to, post haste!

There are further details on that and every other facet of the knitalong at


PREVIOUSLY in #fringeandfriendsknitalong: Team Seam vs. Team Seamless

Team Seam vs. Team Seamless

Team Seam vs. Team Seamless

It’s here at last! The official first day of Fall (sweet Fall!) and knitalong cast-on day! FIRST: I’ve posted a page where you can find everything you need to know about the Amanda knitalong (aka #fringeandfriendsknitalong). There’s a link in the right rail of the page if you’re looking at this on a standard (non-mobile) browser, but I also made the URL easy to remember:

Note that there is some new information there: specifically additional errata plus PRIZES and how to win them. So be sure to click over and check that out. For a chance to win, throughout this week leave comments on this post linking to your knitalong photos wherever they may be. I’ll announce my first WIP of the Week pick on Friday.

Special thanks to Anna Dianich for the photo of her gorgeous back piece above!

. . . . .

Now, let’s get to casting on! Several of our panelists are starting with sleeves, but I’m going to keep the blog posts for this series in pattern order, so today we’re talking about casting on for the body — and specifically revisiting who is knitting it in three pieces vs one, and what other pattern tweaks people are making. Here we go:


Kate Gagnon Osborn: I am, forever and always, TEAM SEAM! While I have knitted/designed seamless sweaters and find them to be useful, especially in colorwork patterning (MeltwaterIsadoraAdelaide, etc), seams in a garment provide structure and create a longer-lasting item. Many of the sweaters I design incorporate seams in some way: Erin, a heavily cabled cardigan in Savannah, uses seams at the sides and armholes to support the weight of the cables; Fable’s seams provide structure to balance the drape of the Terra; and Fargo has seamed set-in sleeves for structure and fit, just to name a few.

Another benefit to knitting a sweater in pieces and then seaming is that you can use your sleeve as a secondary gauge swatch. I will always knit and then block one sleeve first before diving into the body, just to be sure my calculations and measurements were correct. And, finally, since much of my knitting is done on-the-go — while in the car as we run errands on the weekends, sitting at the playground after work/daycare, at my desk as I wait for images to upload/files to process — smaller pieces are much easier to manage. And there is something very, very satisfying about seaming pieces and pulling the working yarn up and watching the pieces come together beautifully!

Anna Dianich: I am Team Seam because I wanted to go out of my comfort zone and I know I will have great support here with the expert panel. Also, as Kate mentioned, the seams will give this heavily cabled sweater some structure.

Rebekka Seale: I am staying on Team Seam! Mostly because it rhymes. (Jk.) I just really want to knit this as written. I haven’t knitted an adult-sized cabled cardigan before, so I feel like my best bet is to follow the pattern exactly this time, so I can know what mods I want to do next time.


Meg Strong: I switched teams! I had originally stated that I would be knitting the pattern as written.

What I have learned about myself via knitting is apparently I do not like to repeat the same process twice within a given project. The first cardigan I ever started, I was so excited, I worked the back, one of the fronts, skipped ahead in the directions and worked one of the sleeves, and then, I was done. The excitement was gone. But I still had the other front and sleeve to do! Same thing occurred when I knit my first pair of gloves. Can you guess what happened when I decided to embark on a pair of socks? Pair?? Over the years, I learned that you could actually cast on and work two pieces at the same time. Genius! So I would work the right and left fronts of a cardigan at the same time. Learned the magic-loop circular method so socks could be worked at the same time.

After studying the Amanda pattern, I decided to cast on for the left front, back and right front and work them seamlessly. There is no waist shaping in the pattern so nothing to modify there. However, I will work the sleeves flat (two at a time!) and seam them. The strength and support that a seam provides is not something I am willing to give up on my sleeves!

Jaime Jennings: I have to choose?! I mean, I don’t love seaming, but I’ll do it. I definitely prefer seamless sweaters. I love the quickness of knitting a sweater seamlessly — I can just get in my groove and cruise over all the stitches at once. I also love to try on as I go. I will usually look at a pattern and try to determine why it’s seamed and if I should keep it that way or try to work it seamlessly. As you can see, I’m not afraid to change things up in a pattern :) For this sweater, I’m going to go Team Seamless. I’m using a very hardy wool that doesn’t necessarily need the extra stability.


Amy Christoffers: Well, I’ve been flip-flopping. Seamed sweaters hold up better over time and through lots of washing and wearing. They are often faster to knit because the pieces are more manageable and more portable. Also there is a bonus: It is far less painful to rip and correct errors for pieced sweaters then seamless sweaters. And in this case there is the urge to be lazy and not think too hard about pattern conversion.

Seamless sweaters are satisfying because they mold to the wearer, and bottom-up-raglans knit seamleslys are beautiful. If I’m going to knit a seamless sweater, this is my favorite way to do it. There is something satisfying about knowing that the fronts and back are all going to match because they were worked at the same time, although with no waist shaping that’s not really an issue for this sweater. Despite what I said about laziness, pattern conversion is pretty simple and there is something satisfying about getting the whole body of a sweater done to the underarm all at once.

Karen Templer: I’m also waffling. I’m tempted to knit it seamlessly for the same reason as Meg: I’d like to be done when I get to the underarms rather than having two more trips to make through those same rows. But my sweater will be very lightweight, and while I can’t stand a drapey sweater, I also don’t like one that sticks to your shirt and doesn’t hang. So that side seam will give some ballast as well as structure and longevity. I think I’ve decided to knit it as three pieces but all at the same time, on one long needle. Is that crazy? That way it is one trip and I’m done; I know I finished all three pieces on the same row, etc. The downsides are: 1) managing three balls of yarn at once, and losing that portability factor of pieces, and 2) my gauge is very different from the pattern gauge. I’ll be casting on the large knowing it will come out a little bit smaller than the medium. So the smart thing would be to knit one front piece first and make sure my sizing is as projected by my calculations. If I dive into all three and my calculations are off, it will be a lot more wasted knitting.

(i.e. garter-stitch selvedge for the side seams)

Kate Gagnon Osborn: I’m doing them all in stockinette. Since the pattern isn’t openwork and I’m not using a very slippery or drapey yarn, I don’t need the added structure of the garter edges, and since I’ll be blocking all pieces before seaming them, I’m not too worried about the edges curling.

Amy Christoffers: Stockinette selvedges all the way — especially for the button bands. Stockinette selvedges look especially nice on the wrong side, which is reason enough, but I think they’re easier to sew as well.

Anna Dianich: I honestly didn’t even think about not doing them as written.

Meg Strong: Although I’m Team Seamless, I still have the button-band selvedges, which I am working as written.

Jaime Jennings: I will work the button-band selvedge stitches as written.

Rebekka Seale: As written, for the same reason stated above :)

(i.e. dropping the “seam-allowance” stitches or incorporating them in some way)

Amy Christoffers: You could work the honeycomb over the side seam, dropping all the edge stitches, and that would look nice on the body but might be awkward on the sleeves with the increasing. So I think that working a faux seam in stockinette stitch makes more sense.

So to convert the sleeve to the round I would drop 1 stitch from the cast on. To convert the body stitches to working seamlessly I would cast on: the front number (minus 1 side edge stitch) + the back number (leave the edge stitch at each end but work it as a stockinette ‘seam’ stitch) + the front number (minus 1 side edge stitch).

Meg Strong: I’m leaving out the side selvedge stitches — so only modification was to reduce my cast on, for all three pieces, by a total of those 4 stitches.

Jaime Jennings: I am going to leave in one selvedge stitch on each side and work it in reverse-stockinette stitch. I love a good faux-seam. I’ll do this as well for the sleeves.


And now, dear readers, how about you? I’d love to hear your answers to the same questions. Please leave ’em below! And don’t forget to point me to whatever photos you post on the web this week!


PREVIOUSLY in #fringeandfriendsknitalong: Jaime shows us her math
[For all the posts in this series, click here. For the knitalong overview, click here]

Jaime shows us her math

In the Meet the Panel post, Jaime mentioned she’s deliberately knitting Amanda at a different gauge than written. Today for the #fringeandfriendsknitalong, she shows us how she plans to make that work.  This is the kind of stuff I totally nerded out on when I was first learning to knit, finding it so liberating and inspiring, so thank you Jaime!


Jaime shows us her math


I knit a lot of sweaters. I love knitting sweaters and I love wearing sweaters. I don’t always follow instructions very well though, which leads me to the predicament I’m in now where I’m re-working this pattern to work with my gauge. There are a couple of reasons that I might choose to do this. There have been times in the past where I just couldn’t get gauge (I’m a loose knitter so sometimes, no matter how small a needle I go down to, I just can’t get gauge with a yarn.) This was the case with a Quince Sparrow sweater I made this spring. The 100% linen just kept growing and I couldn’t make the fabric tight enough no matter how small I went down (this also probably has something to do with the fact that I always knit on slick, metal Addis). In the case of my Amanda sweater, I was able to get gauge with my Heirloom Romney, but the fabric of my swatch felt too dense so I chose to go up a needle size to get the fabric I want. Now I have to re-work some numbers to make sure my sweater will still fit.

If I was making a bigger size of the Amanda, I would most likely just knit a size smaller than my actual size and do the math to make sure it will work, but in this case, I’m already knitting the smallest size — the 33″ bust — so I’m going to have to work with a smaller stitch count to make my gauge work in my desired fabric. I knit two swatches, one for each of the sections where gauge is given in the pattern, so a honeycomb and a diamond. [See Kate's swatch tutorial.] Here is my gauge:

16 sts = 3 1/2″ in honeycomb stitch
13 sts = 3″ in diamond cable

It’s math time!!

Looking at the back panel of the sweater for my size 33, there are a total of 102 stitches on the needle and the finished back should measure 16.5″. There are two panels of honeycomb that are 24 sts each on either side, plus the two diamonds, each 13 sts, as well as a 6-stitch center braid. There are also a total of 20 sts framing the diamonds. In order to keep the sweater looking as intended, I’m going to keep the diamonds themselves and center braid as is. This means I have the side panels of honeycomb to play with (must be in multiple of 4) as well as the 20 extra reverse-stockinette stitches.

My gauge: 2 diamonds at 6″ + center braid at 2.25″ = 8.25″

If I just have 16 sts on either side for my honeycomb, I will have 3.5″ per side. 3.5 + 3.5 + 8.25 = 15.25″. I’m almost there for my 16.5″ total with 20 other stitches to account for. This is where I just get creative and hope for the best. I’m going to take out one stitch on either side of the slipped stitches on the back which takes out a total of 8 sts from the 20. I went ahead and swatched this pattern in my diamond swatch and my total for this is 3.75″. So for the back I have:

2 side honeycombs at 3.5″ each (16 sts each) = 7″
2 diamonds with framing sts at 3.75″ (19 sts each) = 7.5″
Braid at 2.25″ (6 sts)
Total = 16.75″

My stitch count for this is 76 stitches + 1 selvedge stitch at each end (so 2 total) = 78 sts.

This will work! I’m happy with this extra 1/4″ as my bust is actually 34″ so I will just have a bit less negative ease, which will be fine. I’m going to use this same formula to figure out my sleeves and front panels to match the back. Since they all use the same basic charts, this part is easy.

One more thing: I didn’t address the row gauge at all. Since my yarn does not grow very much I’m going to just measure as I go and knit to the length I want to wear it. There’s going to be a lot of trying on as I knit this.

There are still unknowns: Will I still like the look of the sweater with so many fewer honeycombs? How will I do the raglan decreases? These questions I will answer as I go, so there may be frogging — we’ll see. I am confident, though, in my math. If you’re swatching properly and doing math, it won’t lie. I will have a sweater that is about 33.5″ in the bust in a fabric that I like that isn’t too dense, and this makes me happy! I am super laid back about knitting sweaters — if it doesn’t work out, I’ll just pull back and start again. It’s just knitting and it’s fun! My back-up plan if this is a fail: just knit the sweater as written in the correct gauge. I’m sure I will still wear it even if it makes me sweat a bit :)

. . . . .

Thanks again, Jaime!

Happy knitting, measuring, calculating and whatever else you may be doing this weekend, everyone. I’ll be eagerly watching that #fringeandfriendsknitalong hashtag on Instagram and elsewhere. We’ll be back on Monday to cast on, and I’ll have some big PRIZE news for you then, too!


PREVIOUSLY in #fringeandfriendsknitalong: Annotate your charts!

Barn Sweater, “mendfulness” and Taproot 11

Barn Sweater, "mendfulness" and Taproot 11

If you’ve seen this perfect lazy-Saturday sweater design by Carrie Bostick Hoge, the Barn Sweater, and have been wondering where on earth Taproot 11 is, I’m happy to report that it’s now waiting for you at Fringe Supply Co! I got a glance at the sweater and ordered an extra-huge pile of this issue … which then went to California before getting rerouted to Tennessee. My fault. But the important thing is: It’s here now! Of all the Taproot issues so far, this is the one I am most yearning to sit down with for an uninterrupted expanse of time. Among the many great home and skincare potion recipes and knitting and sewing patterns (this time for a Hauschen Doorstop made from old quilts) is an essay on “mendfulness” — such a fantastic word! — by Katrina Rodabaugh (who you may remember from my account of that rather moving “Boro and embroidermending” class I took last spring). It’s a great issue.

I’ve also restocked the bentos, added a smattering of Bookhou large pocket and oblong pouches, and did you get your copy of the new Pom Pom yet?


Cable amazement of the 1960s-80s

Cable amazement of the 1960s-80s

An exceptionally thoughtful blog reader emailed me the other day to say that she had come into possession of a friend’s grandmother’s collection of vintage knitting publications and that there were some Aran sweater (aka fisherman sweater) booklets in there she wondered if I would like. WOULD I?! Yesterday evening, just as the daylight was waning, I pulled them out of my mailbox — 5 booklets (dozens of patterns) ranging from 1963-1987 — and nearly fainted. I’d give just about anything to be able to republish these patterns (despite every stitch being written out; not a chart in the bunch!) but in lieu of that, I thought I’d show you some of my favorite photos. Pardon the quality, but I couldn’t stand to wait for a better lighting situation/location than the parking lot at dusk.

The last photo below just absolutely kills me. Thank you so much, Catherine!

By the way, while all of this was happening, the Swon Brothers were shooting a music video outside my studio, so I was already swooning a little. Damn, those boys can SING.

Cable amazement of the 1960s-80s

I need to get publication rights for this one so we can all knit it for next year’s #fringeandfriendsknitalong, am I right?