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Problem: My Husband Is Perfect

Dear Patty,

To many people, my “problem” is going to sound like I’m complaining about the burden of being too rich and too thin. What’s my problem? My husband loves my knitting too much. Specifically, he loves one TERRIBLE sweater I knit for him ages ago. It was the first sweater I ever knit, and it’s full of mistakes. I’ve since knit him many other much better sweaters, but he keeps wearing the terrible one. He’ll put it on when we are going out with friends and I try the “why don’t you wear this one” trick, but it never works. Worst of all, he’s always bragging about how I knit that abomination.

What do I do: spill red wine on it?

Embarrassed Ex-Bad Knitter (Sarah)

Dear Embarrassed,

I know exactly how you feel. I had the same problem. My husband is proud of my knitting, yes, almost too proud. Whenever he would wear one of my knits out, there would be an exchange reminiscent of a David Rakoff story called “The Canadians Among Us.”

Party Guest: I was driving over here when a song from Bachman Turner Overdrive was—

David Rakoff: (cutting them off) They’re Canadian.


Party Guest: That’s a nice swea—

My husband: (cutting them off) Patty knit it.

I knit a monstrosity for my husband many years ago, and like you, I have since knit him many other, nicer sweaters. It was the second sweater I ever knit. It was hideous and he loved it. (Ironically, I am using the before and after pics of the sleeve cap in this very column to demonstrate a row gauge fail.) He wore it once to drop me off to teach at WEBS and I wouldn’t let him come inside.

So, what should you do? That depends on how fixable it is. Is it one element that can be ripped out and re-knit? I was able to do that with the terrible neckband. The first time, I thought picking up stitches was randomly shoving a needle from front to back. I also didn’t know that you weren’t supposed to decrease all the way at the edge.

Horror show neckline:

Re-knit when he wasn’t looking and I could rip out the neckband and redo it, pretending it had something to do with fixing a moth hole, neckline:

Or if it’s an all-over mess (as my husband’s sweater was) you might luck out like me and have moths eat it, or have it “lost” by the dry cleaners. But if he really loves it and it would make him sad, that might make you sad.

Perhaps if you could find the exact yarn, you could go the route of every parent with every dead goldfish. Replace it without his knowledge. Secretly knit an exact, but better version, replace it and bury the original.

If all else fails, perhaps you can tell him that he looks too sexy wearing it, and you’re not comfortable with him wearing it out, so let’s just make it our special “alone time sweater.” I mean how can he say no to that!

Godspeed my fellow embarrassed knitter/appreciated wife.

Look Ma, No Algebra!

Dear Patty, 

Okay, I’ll bite. You mentioned in your gauge column that there was an “easy” math adjustment for not matching row gauge, even for the sleeve cap. I don’t think anything about gauge math is easy, so my question is, prove it.


 Better Not Say Pythagorean Theorem

 Dear Better Not Say,

Not only is my method simpler than the Pythagorean theorem, it’s what I always call in my gauge class “cookie math.” First let’s break it down to three friendly formulas.

If you had 10 cookies on a plate and you had 5 friends coming over, how many cookies would each friend get?

            1. Cookie Total/Friends = Cookie Portion

10 ÷ 5 = 2

If you had 20 stitches in a 4-inch swatch, how many stitches are inside each inch (gauge)?

            1. Stitches (or rows) Total/Inches = Gauge

20 ÷ 4 = 5

If you had 5 friends coming over, and you knew each friend was getting 2 cookies, how many cookies you would need?

            2. Friends x Cookie Portion = Cookie Total

5 x 2 = 10

If you knew your gauge was 5 stitches in an inch and you knew you wanted an 8″ scarf, how many stitches do you need to cast on?

            2. Inches x Gauge = Stitches (or rows) Total

8 x 5 = 40

If you had 10 cookies, and you wanted to give each friend 2 cookies, how many friends could you have over?

            3. Cookies Total/Cookie Portion = Friends

10 ÷ 2 = 5

If you had a pattern that told you how many stitches or rows are in a specified section of knitting (e.g., 38 rows of a sleeve cap), how tall will it be if gauge is 6 rows per inch?         

            3) Stitches or Rows Total/Gauge = Inches

38 ÷ 6 = 6.25″

So if your row gauge is off and you want the sleeve cap to look the same, then that means you want your inches to be the same, but the number of rows worked will be different. (Since your cookie portion is different, your total cookies will be different!)

Four easy steps to success:

1. Count the number of rows in a shaping area.

2. Divide that by the pattern row gauge = inches the pattern used for that shaping zone.

3. Multiply the number of inches by YOUR row gauge = how many rows you have to accomplish the shaping.

4. Start tweaking.

The Problem

This can come in handy for many sweater parts, for instance a sleeve cap. Say the pattern gauge was 6 rows per inch, but you are getting 5.25 rows per inch.

No biggie right?

Wrong: biggie. Remember Seinfeld’s puffy shirt? Well, for the second sweater I ever knit, that’s what I created. It’s hard to tell in the picture, but when he was wearing it, it always looked a bit like a puff sleeve.

If the cap was supposed to be 5.5 inches, you can bet that there are 33 rows in the cap.

5.5 inches x 6 (gauge) = 33 rows

But if I just knit the cap as written, at my different row gauge, the cap would be 6.25 inches, a whopping .75 inch too tall. That’s just enough to make it a puffy sleeve when you try to set it in.

33 rows ÷ 5.25 (gauge) = 6.25 inches 

The Fix

Now that we know what the problem is, let’s look at the easy steps to fix it.

1. Count how many rows are in the cap after the initial bind off at the sides. I counted 33 rows in the cap.

2. 33 rows ÷ 6 rows per inch = 5.5″ for the desired cap height.

3. Multiply the desired cap height by your actual gauge (e.g. 5.5″ x 5.25 rows per inch = 28.87).  This means that if you knit a cap that is 29 rows, it will be the desired height.

4. So I’ll get rid of 4 rows, evenly across the cap. Sometimes when it tells me to decrease every other row, I might do that every row. If every 4th row, do it every 3rd row.  Look at the instructions, and make a plan to achieve the same shaping over 4 fewer rows.

Thanks to the aforementioned moth attack, I took out the sleeves, ripped them back (using the excuse of needing to harvest more yarn) and re-knit the sleeve cap.

Original cap is in front; new, improved cap is in back.

No Pythagorean theorem, just a sophisticated version of fudging. If the cap is the right height, all is right with the world.

Ta-da! *Drops mic*


Patty in Your Pocket

If your row gauge misbehaves, you’re not alone. Here’s how to save this article in your MDK account with one click.

About The Author

Patty Lyons is a nationally recognized knitting teacher and technique expert. In her pursuit of training the mindful knitter, Patty is known for teaching the “why” in addition to the “how.” She specializes in sweater design and sharing her love of the much-maligned subjects of gauge and blocking.

You can find Patty at her website and on Ravelry.

Do you have a problem you’d like Patty to tackle? Write to her at



  • Good way to explain gauge math. But I still find it easier to understand cookie math!

  • What magic are you using to make the edges of the sweater look so beautifully even? Is it a bind off? I thought I was an adequate sweater knitter, but now everything is in question, because that is breathtaking.

    • Yes! I knew about the row gauge thing, but the edges of your sleeve cap #2 are beautiful. How do you do that?

      • Read the comment directly above yours

    • Do you mean on my reknit sleeve cap? It’s not what I’m doing, it’s what I’m NOT doing. In the original cap I didn’t know that you weren’t supposed to decrease at the actual edge (hence the hot mess I knit). The second sleeve cap shows the decrease being one stitch in from the edge. Then when you seam (or pick up stitches like the V neck) you are left with just your lovely shaping stitch.

      • I love it. That makes so much sense!

    • I thought the same thing! All my knitting is now going under the microscope. Lots of unraveling ahead! Patty, please give us a neckline tutorial!

      • Me too!! That neckline is amazing. Mine looks so terrible next to Patty’s. I need a tutorial like no body’s business.

  • I always learn from Patty! Thank you!

  • I have knitted many scarves, shawls, cowls, etc for my adult daughter, but the one she wears EVERY time I see her is the one that started out as an Afghan in a Feather and Fan pattern. I am mortified to see it because it reminds me of my failure to do a simple 4 row sequence. However, she loves the color and the yarn and apparently, me.

    • awwww, this truly made my tear up a bit. i have only a few precious baby items my mom made me, but the one item i keep out (in my closet) is a swatch of garter, stockinette, seed stitch, and some cables she made me the day i asked her to teach me to knit. bless that woman’s heart; she had to knit with acrylic because that’s what i’d bought to learn on and she’d always preferred wool, which i didn’t understand at the time. she passed away a few months later.

      i love when daughters love their mom’s knitting, whatever it is.

      • And this story makes me tear up!

  • Perfect timing as I just got back from NYC where I went to Schoolhouse Yarns (thank you, MDK knitters for the recommendations – Schoolhouse Yarns was wonderful and my daughter’s musical theatre team loved the meal at Becco). I came home with 13 balls of a cashmere merino blend and a pattern with set in sleeves. I swatched last night and will start today after I find a tip that I believe is in Patty’s DVD about what to do at the end of the row when you will be picking up stitches later. It has been a while since I have done a sweater…

  • Love your writing! Love your knitting! I can easily convince myself a knitting project is less than perfect and simply put it away to begin something new! I believe your husband would love the first sweater in any case, just because you made it for him and because of the wonderful colors! You inspire me! Thank you!

  • Brilliant! Thanks so much Patty. I could have figured this out, but so much easier with your explanation.

  • Oh I love the perfect husbands! And the possible solution-“alone time sweater”! My husband also proudly wears my knits. Most times he has the hats on backwards displacing the wonky start of round as he cheerily tells everyone I knit him the best hats.

  • Patty,
    So nice to see you were not born a perfect knitter. This growth always apparent even in my current intermediate stage when I go to fix WIPs that have been in hiding a few years. Dilemma….do I start over or make my knitting clumsy to match what is already done? LOL

    • Perfect Knittter! Haaaaaaa. My “Improve Your Knitting Technique” students always face that same issue. Once you start sizing your stitches and making them perfect and even, I’m afraid you can’t unring that bell.

  • I do have an “almost” perfect husband. “Almost” because he won’t wear hand knit socks because they make his feet too hot. Same with sweaters. And as for the lovely, bunny soft hats. I have knit him over the years, he loves his Chevy gimme stocking cap (I threw away another cheap acrylic cap and this one appeared) The man is simply not knit-worthy. Thank goodness I have a son who loves all my efforts.
    But why I am writing is to tell you of a sweater I knit in 1974. It was Red Heart worsted in grey/black/white to mimic ragg wool. It probably was not perfect and the relationship fell victim to the boyfriend sweater curse, though we are still friendly enough for people who live on opposite sides of the country. He recently wrote and told me how often he still wears that sweater, it keeps him comfortably on the ferry, and he gets many compliments on it-as does his wife, who denies having anything to do with it. Acrylic; impervious to moths, wind, solvent, felting, and time. I am not sure I would want my name associated with that sweater, but the story made me smile.

    • Adorbs!

  • Patty is hilarious and I can’t say how many ways I love the first letter.

  • Wonderful tutorial — thanks so much! Do you remember the pattern for your husband’s sweater?

    • The “Manly Sweater”

  • Please tell me what you mean by sleeve cap. As I see it a cap is what arises vertically directly after a shoulder seam due to the gathering required (at least in sewing – haven’t knit a set-in sleeve yet) which would make anything over half an inch too puffy already let alone 5 or more inches. Or do you mean simply all the fabric that covers the curve of the shoulder where it meets the arm? BTW, my very supportive husband daily wore to work an alpaca hat I knit for him even after it grew, as alpaca does, long enough to cover his eyes. I finally wrested it from him, felted it and turned it into a nice bowl, which saddened him every time he passed it on the shelf.

    • In a set in sleeve for sewing or knitting, the sleeve cap is the bell curve shaped bit of knitting that comes after the sleeve is finished it’s length at the underarm. It must fit into your armscye (the hole made when you seam the front and back of your sweater together). If the cap height is not correct it won’t fit. The picture (see the thing that looks like 1/2 a bell) is the sleeve cap.

  • Thank you for another wonderful post. Awhile back you posted a tip for better looking SSK’s and now I cannot find it!

  • Oh man. This is your idea of a bad sweater? You should see the one I knit for my husband in 2009. Thing 1: I used cotton yarn instead of wool. And cotton stretches. Result: gorilla arms, and it’s halfway down to his knees. Thing 2: Somehow it wound up with a Flashdance neckline. I followed the directions, but…straight up Jennifer Beals. So I ripped it out and tried to fix it, and it looks atrocious. But it’s comfortable, and like most guys, he loves loves loves comfort. He will never get rid of this thing. There may be an element of “and he also loves embarrassing me about this sweater” in there, but I digress. 😉

  • Patty, one of the post asks about the “V” neck after you “fixed” it. Yes, the second one is absolutely beautiful. Please do a tutorial on how to achieve this gorgeous “V” neck.

  • Thank you. You explain things very well.

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