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Help! My Sweater is Too Short!

Jul 23, 2010

Do you have a sweater that you continually tug on to make it just a little bit longer? Or do you stretch it and steam it over and over again to try to get a little more length?

I knew I couldn't be the only one who has knitted an entire sweater, seamed it, wore it a few times, and then decided it was a bit too short!

I've knitted a too-short sweater and actually fixed it! It can be done. You have to cut the sweater near the hem, though, so it's a face-your-fears sort of fix.

Lisa Kartus, the author of one of my favorite knitting resource books—Knit Fix—has written some step-by-step directions for lengthening a sweater after the fact. I thought you might want to add this technique to your bag of tricks...just in case you ever need it.

Changing Length from the Cast-On Edge

PROBLEM: The piece is too short or too long at the cast-on edge.

FIX: Lengthen or shorten it by removing the cast-on and knitting in the opposite direction. If you want to shorten or lengthen a sweater that was knitted from the bottom up, take out your scissors and skinny circular needle. It's impossible to unravel from a cast-on edge. You must remove any hemstitch patterns, whether they be ribbing or garter or what have you, because stitches knitted in opposite directions won't line up; they'll be shifted a half-stitch to one side.

You'll need scissors, a coil-less pin, and a needle three or four sizes smaller than the needles you used in your project. Here's what you do:

1. Decide where you want the new hem/cuff to begin and mark it with a coil-less pin. (If your sweater is seamed, take out the side seams.)

Ready? Take a deep breath.

2. Clip one stitch about two rows above the length you've marked. Turn your work around so that you're holding it hem side up.

Figure 1     

Figure 2

3. Pull the cut yarn end through the nearest stitch, the one just above it. Before pulling the yarn end through the same stitch again, secure the stitch onto the small needle (Figure 1).

4. Remove the yarn end from this stitch and repeat across the row or round. If you snipped in the middle of the row, free all the stitches in one direction. Then free the remaining stitches in the opposite direction and secure using the other end of the circular needle. You'll know you're done when you're holding a needle full of stitches (right legs forward) and the hem comes off in your hand (Figure 2).

        At this point you may want to close your eyes for a moment and recover. Me, I hear myself shouting, "Yes, it worked!"

Move the stitches onto the regular needle, join new yarn, and knit to the correct length. If there is no hemstitch pattern, insert one to disguise the change in direction.

When not to try a clip fix:
on modular knits, including entrelac and mitered squares.

Be careful with unraveling any nubby yarn, bucle, mohair, etc. It can be done by required teasing the fibers apart with great patience.

Bind off loosely.

You can also use this fix to redo hems or cuffs that are too tight or too loose.

If you have to use this technique, it's fail safe, just like all of the other fixes in Knit Fix. If you don't have a copy, what are you waiting for?


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jsfdlljsdf wrote
on Nov 5, 2013 9:05 PM

this post was made the same day one direction was created and step 4 says free all stitches in ................ one direction

sirdjan wrote
on Feb 16, 2013 12:40 PM

I've just unravelled my sweater since it was too long. The problem is that the hem is worked in ribbing 3X2 and I can't avoid knitting it since on both sides of the sweater there are some stitches knitted following this ribbing and going up the armpits. I'm not sure my explanation is clear! no way to rearrange these stitches on the sides? I can't "ignore" them :(

patsylou wrote
on Nov 10, 2011 9:04 AM

Soclearlyexplained it appears doable!  Thanks.

ShelleyOB wrote
on Dec 6, 2010 6:55 PM

I just successfully used the technique in this article to add a decorative color to the bottoms of my sweater and sleeves.  Also used the suggestion in the comments to cast off in a more professional way, and I must say I am pleased with the results.  Thank you to all!

on Jul 30, 2010 9:00 AM

@wbuchanan - Bind-off in Kitchener Rib.  It gives a nice strechable edge with a professional-looking finish.  The technique is outlined on page 46 of The Big Book of Knitting by Katharina Buss - one of my favorites.

wbuchanan wrote
on Jul 24, 2010 6:08 AM

I would like to know what people use for the binding off when they lengthen their sweater. I have tried 3 or 4 different binding offs and they all come out to loose and almost wavy at the bottom edge. Please suggest a website or a name for a good binding off edge that I could try. I have made an aran sweater but it was just a bit too short - so I lengthened it but didn't save my hem as someone suggested. I may just go back and re-knit my ribbing and add it on with the Kitchener stitch but that will take longer than just finishing off what I have now which is a finished sweater  ribbing and all with only that last row to be bound/cast off. Thanks

Susan@143 wrote
on Jul 23, 2010 11:38 AM

I don't even have to cut the bottom of a ribbed hem.  I just pick up two strands that cross and sometimes it is barely noticeable that the knit is going down.

TeresaH@26 wrote
on Jul 23, 2010 11:25 AM

I want this technique on a video. Any suggestions?

Kuaikuai wrote
on Jul 23, 2010 8:48 AM

I just clip the first stitch, and then unravel the yarn to release the remaining stitches. As this unraveled yarn gets unwieldy when long, I clip it off from time to time, and put that yarn aside for seaming.

Which brings me to the second point. When I seam a sweater, I make sure to leave at least 1.5" on the seaming yarn when I weave it in. It can be very frustrating to unseam a sweater when you have to hunt around for the seams!

Of course all this heartache can be avoided if you use a provisional cast on. After you seam the sweater, wear it around the house for awhile. Then knit the border in the round, if length seems right, or add more length before the border if it seems to short. If you want to go back and modify length, you can just take out the cast-off edge.

SusanP wrote
on Jul 23, 2010 8:02 AM

If I have a ribbed (or other decorative hem) I clip a couple of rows above the hem, put a circ in the sweater stitches as you described, then knit up from the hem and graft the hem to the sweater. It takes a little bit more time, but there won't be any change in direction to worry about., especially if you have a decorative stitch pattern in the body of the sweater that might not look quite right if the direction is reversed. Be careful to start knitting from the hem at a point where the last row you knit is the next to the last row before the sweater pattern, then graft the row between. If this is too complex, change the hem so that it is longer or add a different stitch pattern for the region above the hem.

If I want to shorten a sweater, I use the same method except I clip above the hem the amount I want to shorten, so if I want to shorten by 2 inches, I clip 2 inches above the hem, secure the sweater stitches on a circ, then, from the hem portion, I unravel the extra rows leaving one row above the hem and graft the two together. Just be careful that if there is a decorative stitch pattern, it won't be seriously affected by removing the extra rows.


EllenS@2 wrote
on Jul 23, 2010 8:01 AM

I've used this technique to shorten a sleeves on a sweater. It works great. But to lengthen, I don't understand the comment about adding a hemstitch to disguise the change in direction. To add another few inches of stockinette to my sweater (for example), won't the change in direction be visible on the finished sweater?

on Jul 23, 2010 8:00 AM

Picking out the seam and then snipping the yarn and putting the loose stitching onto needles also works to shorten too long sleeves.

My Mom had shorter arms and I was able to shorten the sleeves on several of her bought sweaters.  I just snipped the yarn at a higher spot on the sleeve and used the unraveled cuff to redo the cuff.

She always appreciated not having the cuffs hang down so far.


ChristieC wrote
on Jul 23, 2010 8:00 AM

There's really no need to move the picked up stitches to the correct size needle. Make sure that you than knit with the original size needle. That's the one that determines the size of the stitch.