For many beginner knitters, learning to knit a sweater is an ambition that might seem very far off. But once you’ve mastered some basic and intermediate knitting skills, knitting a simple sweater isn’t that difficult.
And while, sure, you could buy a sweater in less time and at lower cost than knitting your own, you’re bound to keep a handmade sweater for season after season when you know how much effort went into making it.
Read on for inspiration and practical tips for how to knit a sweater.
If you’ve knit a few easy projects before, you should have most of the materials you need to start knitting a pullover sweater. In addition to the essential materials listed below, you’ll need:
- A tapestry needle
- Stitch markers
- Scrap yarn (different from the main yarn)
- A tape measure
Knitting a pullover sweater is a bit different from knitting a cardigan-style sweater that opens at the front, so you won’t need buttons or fastenings.
A Knitting Pattern
A knitting pattern is crucial for any intermediate or advanced knitting project that requires multiple steps. A sweater knitting pattern should include the materials you need and step-by-step directions. Patterns often also include a stylized diagram to follow, particularly when working in different colors or stitch types. Knitting patterns use abbreviated terms and a key to what the abbreviations mean.
Knitting patterns might look daunting to beginners, but if you work your way up from beginner to more complex projects, you should have all the skills you need to follow the pattern. If you find that you don’t, it would be a good idea to backtrack and complete some easier projects before tackling a sweater.
Choose knitting needles to match your yarn. Yarn labels usually note the recommended needle size—if you’re using a thick, chunky yarn, for example, you’ll need thicker needles than you would if you were using a fine yarn. You’ll also need the right needles to suit the gauge of the project (see more on gauge below).
To knit a sweater, you will also need circular needles, which are two straight needle tips connected by a flexible plastic or metal cable, as well as double-pointed straight needles. Circular needles are necessary for knitting “in the round” (such as around collars) and for knitting large pieces of fabric (such as the front and back pieces of sweaters) that wouldn’t fit onto regular knitting needles. For a primer on knitting in the round, check out this Skillshare class by Davina Choy.
A sweater is designed to be worn, so it’s important to select a yarn color and texture you like. Also keep in mind how the yarn feels. Even if you wear a t-shirt underneath, the sweater will touch your skin directly around the collar and cuffs, so choose a yarn that feels comfortable and won’t be scratchy or irritating.
Some people like all-natural yarns, like wool or alpaca, which are comfortable but more expensive and require a bit more care. Synthetic blends such as wool and acrylic are usually cheaper and easier to wash.
In addition to these considerations, take note of what your sweater knitting pattern recommends for yarn. Some sweater patterns are designed for a mid-weight yarn, such as worsted weight, while others are good for bulky or super-bulky knits. If you select the wrong type, your sweater will end up being the wrong size for you.
Don’t Know Where to Start? Right Here.
Knitting 101: Everything You Need to Knit With Confidence
What Stitches to Use
Advanced knitters can knit a sweater in a huge array of decorative stitches. Don’t run before you can walk, though. For the relatively simple sweater project introduced below, you’ll just need to know some of the most straightforward knitting stitches.
You’ll also need to know how to do increases and decreases, which aren’t stitches in themselves but do function in a similar way, as you’ll need to move the needles and yarn differently to create them. If you haven’t yet mastered this process, check out this tutorial for increases and this one for decreases.
The knit stitch is the foundational stitch of knitting, and if you’re reading this article on knitting a sweater, hopefully you already know how to do it! If not, check out a knitting class for complete beginners.
Purl stitch is essentially a backward knit stitch. Instead of pushing the needle through the yarn from the front to the back as you do with the knit stitch, a purl stitch pushes the needle from the back to the front. If you can knit, you won’t have much trouble learning to purl. The combination of knit and purl stitches (one row knit, one row purl) creates what’s called stockinette stitch, which is a stretchy piece of fabric.
Ribbing is used for parts of a piece of fabric that need to be extra stretchy, like cuffs or collars on a sweater. They’re formed by a combination of knit and purl stitches, usually one knit followed by one purl or two knits followed by two purls. If you can knit and purl, you can make rib stitches.
Long-Tail Cast On Stitch
There are a couple different ways of casting on when beginning a knitting project. The long-tail cast on technique is better than the slip-knot cast on technique for knitting a sweater because it creates a stretchier edge.
How to Knit a Raglan Sweater
If you’ve never knit a sweater before, learning how to knit a Raglan sweater is a great place to start. They’re simple, they’re seamless, and you can try them on as you go along. Knitting a Raglan sweater will give you great advanced knitting practice and a piece of clothing you can wear (probably) forever.
Step 1: Gather Your Materials
Make sure you have on hand all the materials noted above.
Step 2: Make a Gauge Swatch
It’s essential to make a gauge swatch before getting started on the sweater. Don’t know what a gauge swatch is or why you need one? Davina Choy provides a comprehensive and easy-to-understand description in her sweater-knitting class. Essentially, knitting a gauge swatch will help you judge whether your personal knitting style (the tension in your hands and stitches!) will produce a piece of fabric of the right size for the project. If it doesn’t, you’ll need to adjust your yarn or your needle size.
Step 3: Measure Yourself and Choose a Size
If you’re knitting the sweater for yourself, you’ll need to know the right measurements. Measure yourself with a tape measure (around the bust and the upper arm) and consult the section in the pattern that relates to choosing your size.
Because patterns include instructions for knitting in different sizes, it’s a good idea at this point to go through the pattern and mark up with a highlighter the instructions that refer to your size. Otherwise, you might misread an instruction later and mess up your sweater.
Step 4: Cast On and Begin Knitting
Cast on the number of stitches stated in the pattern, using the long-tail cast on method. Make sure you’re using the right type of needles for this section of the pattern, whether that’s circular or double-pointed needles.
Continue to follow the pattern, knitting the number of stitches that correspond to your size. Sweaters are knit section by section and joined together at the times stated in the pattern, so you will work your way through knitting the collar, sleeves, front, and back sections of the sweater.
Raglan sweaters are somewhat simpler than other kinds of sweaters as you won’t need to stitch pieces of the fabric together at the end, but you will still be knitting in sections and joining them together through knitting.
Step 5: Block the Sweater for a Perfect Fit
Once you’ve finished knitting the sweater, fill a sink full of warm water and dunk the sweater into it. Leave it there, fully submerged, for about 15 minutes. Soaking the fibers softens them, and once you remove the sweater from the water, you’ll be able to shape the garment to your requirements. Squeeze excess water out of it (not too hard—don’t wring it!), and lay it flat on a surface covered with towels.
The sweater can now be molded into the shapes you want. This is good if you made any mistakes in the knitting process and want to smooth them out and make them less visible. Refer to the measurements in the pattern and see whether your finished sweater corresponds to them. If not, you can stretch the fabric or even push it tighter together to get the fit you want. The sweater will dry in the shape you put it in.
Step 6: Wear Your Sweater with Pride
The final step is to enjoy wearing your handmade creation. Every time someone comments on your amazing sweater, you can tell them with pride that you made it yourself. So much better than something bought off the rack!
Cozy Up This Winter
Once you’ve learned how to knit a sweater like the one detailed here, you can set your sights on more complex sweaters. Knit cables, patterns, decorative stitches, or openings for buttons, or try incorporating multiple colors to add interest to your next sweater project. If there are kids in your life, you can keep each new project manageable by making mini sizes for children. Knitting and craft supplies stores sell all kinds of pullover sweater knitting patterns, so the possibilities truly are endless. Have fun!
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