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Tips For Fit: Challenge Areas in Manly Sweaters

Oct 17, 2008

jazz manOnce again, we foray into the wonderful world of knitting men, and knitting for men. Wednesday, we talked about key areas for a good fit in men's sweaters. Today, I'm going to talk about The Challenge Areas: muscular shoulders, fat rolls on the back, slender chests, long arms, the whole shebang. We have to toss out our prejudices that shaping and darts are only for the feminine amongst us. Good fit is gender-free, my friends. Darts are just increases and decreases; shaping is simply a way to sculpt your garments so they fit you instead of fight you.

(Again, I will use pronouns that assume the knitter is a woman, and the person she is knitting for is a man. I ask the patience and tolerance of my brothers-in-needles as I struggle with the limitations of our glorious grammatical puzzle of a language.)

Six Common Manly Fit Challenges

"Beer bellies": Ah, that lovely brew and all its yummy calories. Here's a few ways to add needed space, whether for big muscles or big bellies: increases at the side seams (think "waist/hip shaping," but here it is for fit rather than for fashion); vents (why not?); a side "gusset" (additional vertical side panel) in a textured stitch that compliments the main design; or short rows. You can even add discreet darts over the belly. And do your favorite beer belly a favor: Loosen up the ribbing at the hem (or leave it out altogether). Work the ribbing on a larger needle, or add extra stitches. Clingy hems make those bellies look bigger. (Have a largish behind? All of the above applies.)

Sweater pulls up so that the front is shorter than the back (or vice versa): Short rows are a good way to add extra length to the shorter piece. However, it can be tough to add short rows to the patterned section of a sweater. One trick I have seen used is to knit the entire shorter piece longer to compensate (so that you actually have two non-matching pieces), and then, when you are sewing the side seams, leave about four inches of vent open at each side. The idea here is that you don't want to try and match these seams when one is longer than the other; leaving them open at the ends avoids that problem. When the sweater is worn, the difference in length will not be so noticeable, as one piece will still pull up more than the other.

Extra muscle or fat in the upper back: Darts. Again: Why not? Or short rows. It's the same idea as adding bust darts (which are nothing but a bit of extra girly flesh, if you think about it) or darts for a generous belly. Another idea: In a plain sweater, you could add two panels of gentle ribbing, one on each side of the back panel, from shoulder seam down over the shoulder blades to the hem. Stretchiness over the "bumps in back" where he needs extra room, plus a bit of style that a guy can live with. Echo the ribbing at cuff and neck, and voila.

Extra long arms:
Avoid Gorilla Syndrome. Always, always, ALWAYS check your row gauge if you are adding extra length to sleeves. Don't just rely on your calculator. Check. Your. Actual. Knitting. (Ask me how I know this. No, wait--don't. It's too embarrassing.)

Front bigger than the back (or vice versa): Consider making a larger size for the front than for the back. Seriously. It's just fabric. It's just stitches. Use more stitches (larger size) where his manly form is larger and fewer stitches (smaller size) where it's smaller. Caveat: Make sure your row counts for both pieces match so the vertical seams match (unless you are doing the vent trick above). Ditto for the stitch counts at the shoulder seams. Use the armhole shaping for only ONE size on both front and back, and make the sleeves to match that size.

Armhole depth: Measure a favorite sweater or shirt and use that as a guide. OK, wait. I said that yesterday and folks thought it wasn't so helpful. All right, how about this: Get the gent to put on a sweater, any sweater. Are the armholes too big or too small? Too low or too high? See if you can experiment with his clothes to find something with a good armhole depth. Or, you can do what I do: Consult our book Ann Budd's Knitter's Handy Book of Sweater Patterns. No, this is not cheating, it's just getting a good benchmark to work with. Look at Ann's schematics for the various sorts of sweaters in that book; notice the armhole depth for a gent the size of your gent. Start there. (Ann's a whiz at sweater math, so I trust her numbers as a really good starting place.)

Oh, wait...SaraB asked where she could find the schematic. Excellent question! The schematic is right there in your pattern--the little grey drawings showing the shapes of the knitted pieces with their measurements in each size.

Now, let's go forth and knit up some really amazing sweaters for all our handsome guys out there.

Want more help knitting for the male of the species?

In her book Men In Knits, Tara Jon Manning has an entire thirty-six pages of tips for fitting and flattering Mr. Handsome. She even has worksheets you can copy and fill out to help you find exactly the right fit. Tara takes you through things like discovering a guy's personal style and determining his body type; she then gives suggestions for which sweater styles are most flattering to each type. The second part of the book has more than 20 classic sweater patterns to choose from! Learn more.


What's on Sandi's needles? Remember that "interesting adjustment issue" with the Camisa? It turns out I have to Rip. OhNOOooo! Just a little ripping, nothing too major, but I have to undo the shoulder Again. Stay tuned. Meanwhile, I am consoling myself with a pair of Nancy Bush socks: Denmark from Knitting on the Road. (Comfort knitting!)

Sandi Wiseheart
is the founding editor of Knitting Daily. You can find her blogging here on Knitting Daily every Thursday. Want more? Visit Sandi's personal blog, wiseheart knits. Or, if you're on Twitter, follow her tweets: alpacasandi.


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Doodledaddy wrote
on Jan 7, 2013 8:44 AM

We men most certainly need knitting hints like this, and for what you have provided thus far is very helpful!  However, it is just a mere drop in the bucket compared to LACK of resources for knits for men!  I, along with many other men, DO NOT WANT JUST A BIT OF STYLE, WE WANT A LOT OF STYLE!  It isn't fair to those of us guys who are man enough to dress in what we like, versus what other people expect us to like, and deprive us of all the varied options that are available to women, that were originally created for men.  (If you doubt this statement, just do a quick web search on the history of men's clothing styles, and you will be SHOCKED at many styles that have been transferred from men's styles to women's.)  I don't want to dress to look like a woman, of course, but I do think that most men who have more sophisticated preferences in style should be offered just as many options as women. Moreover, the majority of men who are braving the frontier of knitting have already pushed beyond such narrow mindedness, anyway.  I KNOW that there are MULTIPLIED THOUSANDS of patterns for men floating around out there, and people in your position, I am sure, have the means to bring more to the "knitting table" for men than what is currently available!  In fact, I have read that, historically, the MAJORITY of knitting that women did was FOR THE MEN in their lives!  This means that, for a seasoned knitter like yourself, you would know that the coffers of the knitting archives are overflowing with wonderfully embellished knit wear for men, and, as the editor of Knitting Daily, can provide them.  My question is this heartfelt plea - PLEASE, WILL YOU?  I do have the desire to create my own patterns, as I learn, but that is not the point of my comment.  The patterns that DO exist for men should be made available en mass to the same extent as patterns for women.    

If I have posted this comment in the wrong place in the forum, please forgive me, as I am new here, but I really wanted to voice the need for more things for men who ENJOY THE FANCY DETAILS, and unique styles!  

KathrynM wrote
on Oct 27, 2008 3:39 AM

Hi Jennifer,

The sweater on the cover is cut like a traditional T-shirt or a kimono or something: the body is a rectangle rather than having armhole shaping, so the sleeve doesn't have a shaped head and the sleeve-seam hits somewhere down on the upper arm (depending on the ease through the body).  It's called a dropped shoulder and is quite common on big, baggy casual sweaters.  What you're talking about (with the curved seam on the point of the shoulder) is called a set-in sleeve, and is used more for close-fitting designs, or when the guy is sufficiently big that you don't want to add more bulk up on his chest/arm/shoulder area.  (Personally, I like a dropped sleeve if he's got a pot belly but is fairly light up top - it draws attention up and puts him back into proportion, but it could make a broad-shouldered guy look like a football player.)

In fact, do you think Sandy could do something on choosing sweater designs for different men's body shapes, like she does with the galleries for us females?

TammyS@2 wrote
on Oct 19, 2008 10:06 PM

Hi Sandi,

I love the column and ideas.

I would like to know if it is possible to see the inside of a book before buying it. We live way out in the country and can't just pop into a knitting store to preview. It seems silly to buy a book with just seeing the cover.


JenniferL@4 wrote
on Oct 18, 2008 12:36 PM

I've noticed that you answer questions from time to time and I've found one I think is worth asking:

Background: knitter since March of this year.  Knit 6 raglan sweaters (two baby bottom up, one baby top down cardi, 2 pre-teen boy top down and i'm working on a top down cardi for me) so far, and I'm getting the hang of it.  

My husband has actually a.s.k.e.d for a sweater, and he thinks, as do I, that one done in sections and then seamed together would look better than a raglan on him.  Did you catch that?  He *wants* me to make one!!

So my question follows here:

In the book that is recommended at the foot of the e-mail for gent's sweaters (Men in Knits) I saw something that pushed me over the edge to finally ask someone: on the cover there is a handsome aran/cable type sweater done in pieces (not one piece like a raglan) and the arm holes (seams? schyes?) hang practically to his elbows!  Is there a reason in some sweaters the seams aren't positioned at his shoulders?  I was taught (a long time ago) that seams were to hang just at the edge of your shoulders or it was considered 'too big' and looked loose and floppy.  (And I do think that sweater looks loose and floppy, but I'm nothing, if not opinionated.) Now, since I'm going to take the love and time (and $$ - haven't told him that part yet) to make a sweater, shouldn't it fit better than that?

I think that sweater is a gorgeous sweater and that maybe he would like it, but I don't want to dive in as a new knitter and try to adjust everything in a pattern stitch to fix that.  Now, I know the easy answer is to just go find a pattern I like better, but I'm stubborn.  And he's going to be picky.  I can tell already and I haven't even said that I would make one yet.  What if he picks one with loosey-goosey arms and I can't figure how to 'fix' it? Ok, you don't have to answer that, that's silly for me to ask.


Is there a certain type of pattern (like Aran) that the shoulders drop like that?

Is there a reason?  Do fisherman need extra room for flinging nets?

Is it something new in fashion I'm missing (I do miss a lot now-a-days)?

Why why why would you make a sweater that doesn't fit right from the beginning?

And another thought (while i'm having myself a little rant) do cabled sweaters always make someone look heavier?  What would be a good directions to steer his cable loving, chocolate eating self so he'll actually wear it?

I don't know, you just seemed to be on the topic of men, and I thought I'd ask.


CherylM wrote
on Oct 18, 2008 10:47 AM

The Men in Knits looks a wonderful book, but before I rush out & buy it could you let us know what sizes the patterns go up to before they need altering.


on Oct 18, 2008 9:25 AM

I made the Luvtroja Mans (checkerboard intarsia hoodie) Interweave Knits summer 2007 for my son.  He's 6'2" and big.  I'd measured him many times and the peices and my guage but in sewing up the side seams and trying it on realized it would fit fine but he couldn't comfortably move, and if he couldn't move he wouldn't wear it and all that knitting and a beautiful sweater would be a waste.  So I added underarm gussets--3"wide, 6" long diamond shaped inserts--like in the ganseys, working fisherman's sweaters of old.  Can't tell they are there but the sweater fits him perfectly again only he can move now.  We are both happy.  I plan to make it for his grandfather next, with gussets

YanickE wrote
on Oct 17, 2008 4:06 PM

Sandi, I have been knitting on and off for many, many years but have not made any garment for men. I really enjoyed your ideas and took mental notes in case I decide to make something for one of my two sons. I am sure that our brothers -in -needles appreciated your consideration. Thank you.


Kristen wrote
on Oct 17, 2008 2:31 PM

I recently joined Knitting Daily, especially after watching episode 1611.  I am very interested in the Lace Petal hat shown on this program.  I've tried to find it on the suggested website, and it isn't available.  I have also noticed that several other people are interested in the pattern, too.  I would appreciate you following up on this and making the pattern available.  Thanks so much!


AnnaM wrote
on Oct 17, 2008 2:02 PM

Sandi, thank you for these posts on fitting men!  I  tried short rows over a tummy bulge a few years ago, and they worked really well!

These are the only posts I have saved for months, so thank you very much!

I am sorry to see less "Sandi" in the posts, but I know you have had big changes, and are very busy. But know there are a lot of us out here who love your work!