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10 Tips to Improve Your Sweaters

Mar 22, 2010

Three sweaters from The Handy Book of Sweater Patterns by Ann Budd
Those of you who read Knitting Daily regularly know that I love a good tip. I've got several books that are filled with tips, but the one that I go to most when knitting sweaters is Ann Budd's Handy Book of Sweater Patterns. This book is a study in sweater construction, offering a multitude of sizes, styles, and design ideas. I was using the "Handy Book" while working on my Slanting Gretel Tee (I needed some help with the raglan shaping because I want a tighter fit around the neck), and I noticed how many tips Ann provides throughout the book—it's a real wealth of information for us!

You know I won't keep these great ideas to myself, so here you go!

1. When you're picking up stitches for neck or front edgings, pick up and knit one stitch for each bound-off stitch along horizontal edges, and about two stitches for every three rows, or three stitches for every four rows, along vertical or slanted edges. After working a few rows of the edging, evaluate how it looks. If the edging flares and ripples, you have too many stitches; if the body puckers and bubbles, you have too few stitches. Don't be afraid to rip out edging and try again. Even experienced designers may make two or three attempts before getting the look they want.

2. To compensate for the gauge tightening during isolated stranded colorwork patterns (such as the yoke of a sweater in which the lower body and sleeves are worked in a single color), work the colorwork patterns on needles a size larger than those used to achieve gauge in a solid color.

3. When you're working a texture or color pattern, note the row of the pattern you're on when it's time to shape the armholes on the back. Then you can be sure to make the front match by starting the armhole shaping on the same row of the pattern. 

4. If you use novelty or mohair yarn, sew the seams with a smooth yarn of similar weight and color. If you use a heavy or bulky yarn, use just one or two of the plies for seaming.

5. Make a photocopy of the pattern you plan to use and circle or highlight the numbers that apply to your size and gauge before you begin knitting. That way, you will avoid accidentally following the wrong instructions.

6. When you're working the yoke on raglan or yoke sweaters, push the sleeves to the inside of the sweater to keep them from getting tangled with the yarn and to make the knitting more manageable.

7. Use plastic hair-roller pins (the kind that come with old-fashioned brush rollers) to pin pieces of knitting together in preparation for seaming. Roller pins are longer and thicker than straight pins, and much less sharp.

8. Cardigans knitted at a large gauge of 3 stitches/inch may not need buttonholes. Most buttons will fit through the individual stitches without straining them.

9. Sew a couple of yards of extra yarn into the side seams of a sweater to have yarn for darning holes later.

10. Knit with yarn you really like!

I like that last one the best, and I'd expand it to say "Knit with needles that you really like, too!" There's nothing like the feeling of soft yarn sliding through your hands onto smooth needles. My favorite wooden needles are "like buttah," and when I get into my knitting rhythm, they're an extension of my hands.

What's your favorite tip? Leave it for us in the comments, and if The Handy Book of Sweater Patterns isn't on your bookshelf, run out and get it ASAP!


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Knitter's Handy Book Of Sweater Patterns Basic Designs in Multiple Sizes and Gauges

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This book was created for knitters who want standard sweater patterns in a variety of sizes and gauges, as well as those who want a template from which to develop their own design ideas.


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MargaretJ@17 wrote
on Apr 9, 2010 7:39 AM

Evey P queried about tips for blocking.  I have not been able to find a wooden blocking board like my mother has, so I've improvised.  I went to my local Home Depot/Lowe's equivalent, and purchased a package of 6 styrofoam sheets (fairly inexpensive) - they are about 15" wide, 48" long and 1/2" deep.  I pin my damp pieces onto them and lie them on a bed that is not being used.  In a day or two (depending on temperature, humidity, etc, I have wonderfully blocked garments and I can put the styfoam sheets in a closet or under the bed until next time.  They don't hold water and seem to work well for drying.  If i need something wider than 15", I just lie 2 or 3 syrofoam sheets side by side and keep pinning - I've blocked large baby blankets and shawls this way, and it seems to work.

Good luck and happy knitting!

cathymoore wrote
on Mar 30, 2010 10:18 AM

WOW! I don't think I've ever learned so much from just one forum. You knitters rock! I taught myself to make my first cardigan by just picking up a pattern and bumbling through it. I can't wait to get this book for even more tips. I too did Knit For Kids sweaters. After about 25 of them I had greatly increased skill & confidence. Plus it is a SUPER organization.

amcconnell wrote
on Mar 28, 2010 1:12 AM

A knitting tip in general: less stress, more fun! If you're getting the look you want, you're doing it right. So many people focus on the tiniest bits and details, and doing them all "right," but with something like knitting there are fifteen different ways to do just about everyhing. Each one will have merits and shortcomings, and if it's not working for you, try something different. However, if the only problem you see is that it's a different way of doing something, I say let it be.

DeborahT wrote
on Mar 26, 2010 10:06 AM

I use little girls' hair clips (the ones that look like jaws with needle teeth) to hold sweater pieces together - they hold the pieces securely and don't come out the way pins do.

ameyers wrote
on Mar 26, 2010 6:12 AM

My favorite tip re: 10 Tips to Improve Your Sweaters is No. 7.

EllenF@3 wrote
on Mar 24, 2010 12:28 PM

1. Butterfly hair clips are great for holding seams together for trying on or while you are sewing the seam.

If you work the fronts simultaneously they will match.

Work the back first, where minor adjustments and learning curve issues will be less noticeable.

McKennaO wrote
on Mar 23, 2010 7:43 AM

Thank you for an excellent post, Kathleen.

Am I the only person on the planet who actually bastes pieces together? To me, there is nothing like the ease of sewing with good, supple basting holding the pieces together. I keep - and reuse - a skein of fine mercerized cotton and a blunt plastic needle for this. I also use the mercerized cotton to hold stitches for small circumference circles, for example the fingers on gloves.

MarciaG wrote
on Mar 23, 2010 3:54 AM

Place your patterns into a plastic "sleeve".  Then you can mark where you are up to with a water based marker.  When you have finished simply use a moist tissue to clean away the marks and you're ready to go again.  Keeps your pattern clean for next time.  Also to get a nice edge to your knitting - slip the first stitch knitwise through the back of the loop and purl the last stitch.  This gives you a nice chain edge.  Very satisfactory for both picking up stitches and sewing up.

Jenifer M-K wrote
on Mar 22, 2010 5:15 PM

When I pick up stitches around the neck of a sweater, I go with what "feels" right for even coverage,  which is invariably more stitches than the intructions call for. Then I allow the stitches to relax or spread out on the cable of a circular needle, and see how they fit and lie. On my first row after the pick-up, I reduce by the number of stitches necessary either to meet the instructions or make a proper fit. I've never had to rip out, using this method. It also keeps me from having those weird gaps you sometimes get from trying to fit stitches in around a neckline's shaping.

Jenifer M-K

LoriGinMN wrote
on Mar 22, 2010 4:55 PM

Here's something I've learned for knitting with DPNs that helps with the "laddering" problem between needles.  When you have both knit and purl stitches in the same row, such as ribbing, arrange the stitches on the needles so that you begin each needle with a PURL stitch.  I'm not sure why this helps prevent those unsightly ladders, but it works for me.  BTW, I really like knitting with DPNs and I realize this is kind of weird.  It's probably why I've knit tons of hats and mittens.

Thanks for all the wonderful knitting tips.

lillibet wrote
on Mar 22, 2010 3:38 PM

Loved all the sweater tips, will definately use #6  to stop tangling with the sleeves.                                                                                                                                          Thanks for a great website and greetings to you all from Australia.

EveyP wrote
on Mar 22, 2010 3:23 PM

Oh, i forgot this one .... ALWAYS use a row counter.  That way your fronts and backs are always the same length, making sewing together much easier.  Keep track of the row number where you make increases/decreases, again so they match.

Knit sleeves at same time when you can.

Anybody have any tips for blocking?

EveyP wrote
on Mar 22, 2010 3:12 PM

When beginning to knit in the round, i insert an old fashioned bobby pin every few stitches. They weigh down the knitting so that it doesn't twist. If it does begin to twist, it will be immediately evident by the bouncing up of the pins. People used to think i was a bit crazy with this one until they saw that there was method to my madness!

Thanks for the tip about sewing extra yarn into the seams for mending later. What a great idea!

on Mar 22, 2010 2:52 PM

Whenever I know that I am going to be away from my knitting for a while I put it on circular needles.  This way the stitches on the needle are not stretched and there is no line where I stopped or began knitting again.  I also knit both sleeves at the same time (when they are knit separately) then all increases and decreases occur in the same place.

AZKnitter wrote
on Mar 22, 2010 2:00 PM

Wonderful tips!  Thank you for sharing :)

OlgaH wrote
on Mar 22, 2010 1:59 PM

I love knitting lace because the patterns are more challenging and help me stay interested in finishing my project (I get bored easily).  My favorite needles to knit with are circular ones that I've had for many years and bought at the Super Yarn Mart (long out of business).  They are 100% nylon and have no join whatsoever.  They are smooth and very lightweight yet not slippery.  They have perfectly tapered points and are perfect for very fine laceweight yarn as well as chunky yarns.  I don't believe anyone makes them anymore (so sad), so I sometimes find them on ebay as a vintage item.  Recently, I bought an assortment of these nylon needles on ebay.  I don't care for the sets of needles where "some assembly" is required.

If you can find a pair of the old nylon circulars, they are worth their weight in gold.  

I sure do miss that Super Yarn Mart!!

OlgaH wrote
on Mar 22, 2010 1:40 PM

I have found that regular boby pins (with smooth rounded tips) work great as markers.  I found that a boby pin of a light color works well when working with a dark yarn and works best for sport or worsted yarn.  Currently, I am making a cape in a navy blue yarn and keep the bobby pin on the working yarn.  It just slides down the yarn as I work and is ready to use when I need it.  I've been moving it up to the "wrap" when I do short rows.  That way, I can see exactly where the wrap is when I come back to work it togeter with the stitch on the needle.  I even use the bobby pin to lift the "wrap" onto the needle when I knit the two together.  Also, bobby pins are fairly inexpensive if you buy them at the dollar stor.

GretchenM wrote
on Mar 22, 2010 12:58 PM

I knit at my desk in front of my computer. I have lots of cats and keeping my working yarn on the desk keeps it safe from feline antics.  My office chair is also a good knitting chair.

When I choose a pattern to knit I scan it and save it as a PDF file. I knit from the screen and can enlarge the print to make it easier to read. This is especially good for reading charts. They are always too small for me to read from the magazine or even a printed pattern.

Barbara@257 wrote
on Mar 22, 2010 12:51 PM

I love all the suggestions and am printing out this page to reference as needed.  Thank you.

Karolyn6 wrote
on Mar 22, 2010 12:44 PM

I really dislike knitting sleeves - talk about boring!!!  So, I knit them first, both at the same time, on the same set of needles.  This makes the increases and length exactly the same AND they can serve as your gauge swatch.  Sleeves are very forgiving in terms of size, so you can readjust a few times while making them and then be ready with the correct gauge for the body of the sweater.  Also, I get the long, skinny picks from my hair dresser.  She uses them while giving permanents and doesn't mind giving up a few - of course, she's a knitter also, so she understands!!

Karolyn in Sacramento where the azaleas are in bloom!

suzlh wrote
on Mar 22, 2010 10:45 AM

Whenever I get to a section of knitting where I am starting a new procedure, I first run a "lifeline" through the last row I have just knitted.  I do this by running a length of smooth, silky embroidery thread of a contrasting color through the stitches on the needles with a blunt darning needle.  If the new section does not work out as expected, I have a known good row to rip back to.  This takes the fear out of ripping back because it is so easy to reload the lifeline row of stitches.  Also it insures that each stitch is oriented properly when reloading and I know exactly where I am for restarting the pattern.  It is easy to pull the slippery embroidery threads out later.  Lifelines are well-named because they have saved my projects from doom many times!

BonnieB@14 wrote
on Mar 22, 2010 10:40 AM

My favorite tip your finishing work at your best time of day. If you are more alert in the morning, that is when you should focus on finishing. When you are tired or not able to focus on the work it will show, and after all the time spent on the knitting, you want your garment to look its best.

MariaEdZed wrote
on Mar 22, 2010 10:22 AM

My best tip is to keep your photocopied pattern in a pocket-style sheet protector. The paper doesn't become creased and tattered. It's clear on both sides, so you can easily turn it over when you get to page 2, or if it's a lace pattern, you have the next chart right there, waiting for you. You can make notes on the protector in wipe-off markers. Sticky notes will stick to it. When you have finished working on the pattern, you can then store it in a 3-ring binder for future reference.

JodiW wrote
on Mar 22, 2010 10:17 AM

I always wanted to knit sweaters but gave up because I could never get them to fit right no matter how careful I was with gauge. As a result, I came to HATE gauge and knitted only scarfs and afghans for too many years. Then I discovered Knitting from the Top by Barbara Walker and later, Sweater Workshop by Jacqueline Fee. Those two book revolutionized my knitting. I now love to knit sweaters and never have to follow patterns; I design my own often as I go. I don't have to worry about gauge because, like TammyT, I try on as I knit (which is also why I knit socks from the toe up). I also rarely do any seaming which I also hate because I knit sweaters in the round - even cardigans. (Thanks Meg Swanson for removing my fear of steeking).  

Here is my tip: When trying a new sweater design, knit one first for Guideposts Knit for Kids project. No worry about fit, they will find a kid to wear it. (Remember older children need sweaters too.) I knit 6 sweaters for them before I felt confident enough to knit a sweater for a family member. I still knit for them; its a great cause. I was even at an event once where they were giving the sweaters out to needy children and got to see the delight on their faces!

LillianM@2 wrote
on Mar 22, 2010 10:08 AM

Shaping Armholes on sweaters/vests.  Often times a pattern will call for binding off stitches on multiple rows.  To avoid a "jagged" edge, I always slip the first stitch on a 2nd or 3rd row of bind off then work the next stitch and THEN bind off that first stitch.  It makes for a much "smoother" curve.  It also makes it easier to sew in sleeves.

JudithE@5 wrote
on Mar 22, 2010 10:01 AM

When sewing together my knitted garments or projects, I use wooden toothpicks, because they don't slip out.  Judy

madhatton wrote
on Mar 22, 2010 9:37 AM

I use Addi turbo lace needles for all my knitting .. the tips are not super , douper sharp,  and give more control for going faster into the softer yarns that tend to seperate.. I put my photocopied patterns ( make 2 copies , one stays home in my "lock box" ) into plastic sleeves or zip bags.. no mess from it's journys . Save  receipts cause some bad guy / knitter ? broke into my car and stole my knitting !! The insurance co hadn't a clue  as to value . and i had no proof ..

i keep  larger scrap of yarn from when i start winding the balls (you gotta make center pull balls they rock ) } cause that last piece might be what is needed to  sew it together . i give a yarn label plus piece or two of yarn along with the knitted they understand it's care .

GerdaP wrote
on Mar 22, 2010 9:12 AM

I like to decrease at least one stitch in from the edge so that the finish is smooth, also if you are decreasing more than one stitch if you purl 2 tog from the purl side at the end of the row then continue your decreases on the right side you will not get any bumps along the edge, this is an EZ tip that I have always used.

I love my Ann Budd book, so does my dog Rocky, he ate the whole cover!

ellielk wrote
on Mar 22, 2010 8:59 AM

With regard to tip # 7, I've also used old-fashioned bobby pins or safety pins to hold my pieces together before sewing.  Safety pins seem (seam? - sorry, couldn't resist) to work best for setting in sleeves.

yarncrazy102 wrote
on Mar 22, 2010 8:44 AM

I have  "Ann Budd's Handy Book of Sweater Patterns" and, although I found it a bit difficult to work with at first, I love it.  As a knitter with many different sized family and friends to knit sweaters for, I find it perfect for getting a custom size.  I love the ability to add my own design to the sweater too.  I highly recommend it.

on Mar 22, 2010 8:24 AM

I like Pony Rosewood circular needles.  They really are "like buttah"

I'm constantly knitting so I "need"  needles that "talk" or rather don't talk to me.

ConnieB@19 wrote
on Mar 22, 2010 7:32 AM

I Love this book. I designed my first sweater from it. It one of the best sweater I have. The patterns are a really good foundation for any sweater and easy to modify it you want to change the look.

I highly recommend this book.

IrmaS@2 wrote
on Mar 22, 2010 7:29 AM

Because I like to recycle yarn, I use a simple crochet slip stitch instead of the mattress stitch to put my garments together.  It's easy to do and easy to rip.  The garment has a very finished look and when you're ready to create a new design, it comes apart with a pull of the thread.  

Fairy-nuff wrote
on Mar 22, 2010 7:15 AM

When knitting sleeves try knitting them both on one needle. Then you know they are going to be the same length.

TammyT wrote
on Mar 22, 2010 7:13 AM

My daughter saw the title of this blog post and she said, "I have a good tip: Finish knitting them!"  LOL  Yes, that is my worst problem with sweaters- not getting bored halfway through and leaving them languishing in the UFO pile.  Another tip that has been revolutionary for me is this:  If you are a shapely lady, knit a sweater TOP DOWN.  I had no idea what size I needed and had trouble modifying bottom-up sweaters to fit my 12 inch difference between bust and waist measurements.  If you do top down, you can try it on as you go and get it PERFECT.  Then when you do a bottom up sweater, you can use the top down one as a template to help with the sizing and shaping.  Also, I don't know about everyone else, but I tend to overestimate my size.  Even for a larger lady, wearing a sweater that hangs like a sack is NOT attractive.  A little negative ease is your friend.