Sweater Knitting Tip: How to Choose Your Size
Joji Locatelli has an amazing knack for designing sweaters that knitters love to knit and to wear. It’s no surprise that her Grace Notes Pullover flew to the top of Hot Right Now on Ravelry when MDK Field Guide No. 22: Grace launched. It’s a star, right out of the gate.
To our delight, lots of knitters want to make one, and several have written to us for help choosing which size to make.
Need a visual? Here is Grace Notes, in all its twisty, ribby, cable-y graciousness:
The yarn is Atlas, MDK’s own light-worsted weight Rambouillet, shown here in Pebble . . .
and here in Skyline.
Knitters in search of sizing help, rejoice! Here I am, with a quick, neat hack to help you choose the right size. And the best part: you don’t have to measure your actual self. You’re knitting a sweater, so you’re measuring another sweater. Makes sense, right?
How to Choose Your Size Using the Kay MethodTM
—A sweater or top that you already own and that has the fit you’d like to replicate. It can be a handknit or a storebought. This garment is your template. The closer it is to the basic shape of the sweater you’d like to knit, the better.
—The schematic drawing from the pattern for the sweater you’d like to knit. Here’s the schematic for the Grace Notes Pullover.
- Lay the template garment on a flat surface.
- Measure the width of the garment at the bottom of the underarm. Multiply by 2 to get the circumference measurement.
- Consult the schematic drawing and choose the size that is closest to this measurement.
Here’s a sweater I love to wear because it has the perfect amount of ease for me, the Shakerag Top by Amy Christoffers, from MDK Field Guide No. 6: Transparency.
Here’s my Shakerag Top.
From underarm to underarm, it measures 25 inches (63.5 cm) across; the circumference is 50 inches (127 cm).
Looking at the finished measurements on the schematic for the Grace Notes Pullover, that puts me smack at the midpoint between the third and fourth size.
I have a minute to think about it before I cast on, but now I’m in the ballpark. Well done, me!
While You’re At It
You can also measure the length of the body and sleeves on your template garment. Write them down on the pattern, and you can use them to adjust the length of the body and sleeves as you knit the Grace Notes Pullover. Tip: For both body and sleeves, measure the length from the bottom of the armhole on the template garment.
This method works like a charm. It avoids fumbling around to measure one’s actual body (never being quite sure you’re measuring accurately) and then trying to calculate how much ease to factor in.
Where’s the Catch?
There are a couple of caveats.
Gauge. This method only works if you knit to the gauge specified in the pattern. It is incumbent upon the responsible knitter to swatch, or take the consequences.
If your swatch gauge is a bit off, you can decide whether to keep trying to get gauge, or knit a different size to adjust for the discrepancy. This requires a bit of savoir-faire and derring-do, but I derring-do it all the time. For best results and least anxiety, though, it’s best to make sure you’re knitting to gauge.
Shaping. If there is much body shaping—darts, waist shaping—on either the template garment or the sweater you want to knit, this method is probably not precise enough. You’re probably better off measuring your body and going with the ease recommended by the pattern.
But for Grace Notes, if you have a boxy top you like to use as a template, you’re golden.
Let me know how it works for you! Our Knitalong for Joji’s Field Guide designs will launch on October 10! See Ann’s letter here for details.
This is really helpful. Fit Fear is the only reason I haven’t yet knit a sweater. I did start the lovely Old Friend for one of my daughters, but being an oversize pullover, fit shouldn’t be a problem. I do want to knit other sweaters though, so shall bookmark this post. Thank you!
“I derring-do it all the time.”
I will be using that line as soon as an opportunity presents itself. Thank you!
Why Kay Methode TM? it’s so simple that you have protect it.
This is very helpful, Kay. AND it remoids me I have that Shakerag pattern, with the wool to get it (finally) started.
That’s my preferred method, too, Kay: Measure something I already like . . . with a bit of derring-do thrown in for extra good measure.
Your method makes measuring so easy. One other caveat, however, is that the knitter may not want the same measurement in all sweaters. For example, you might want a fine gauge pullover to fit close to the body whereas a chunky cardigan would warrant a looser fit (speaking from experience). Thus using that particular pullover as a measurement for the new cardigan may result in the cardi being too small.
I have been knitting for many years, sweaters for the last 10 years. I have NEVER, in all these years, bothered doing a swatch (gasp). In general, as long as I use #4 knitting needles for fingering yarn, #6 for DK and #8 for worsted, I’m good. Using little doses of derring-do, common sense, a wing and a prayer and it usually works out. Somehow, the pandemic convinced to quit with the perfectionism and just enjoy things, including knitting 🙂
I continue to swatch but do like the common sense, deering-do approach when I am between sizes. Usually it works out and I adjust as I go. I am now finding that part of a hand knitted sweater is the fact that it is made by hand and therefore has imperfections which make it special.
This was helpful – a tried and true method. One problem though. I never seem to be able to get the gauge exactly and my check size always seems to fall somewhere in the middle of two sizes. So I have trouble figuring out if I can just knit up a size when my gauge is more stitches per inch than called for in the pattern. Any thoughts on this conundrum?
Here’s what I do: apply my swatch gauge to the desired circumference and pick the size that has that many stitches at the bust. Use vertical measurements for sleeves and body as given in nominal size.
I appreciate this post very much because it takes away some of the anxiety of choosing the correct sweater size to make. I also agree that letting go of some of the perfectionism is very freeing and makes knitting more enjoyable. God knows we need less anxiety!
Our Lady of the Needles, Elizabeth Zimmermann, in many of her books, urged knitters to use this method, too. An idea + a favorite sweater’s measurements as template + some wool & needles + a swatch = sweater. I’ve used it for many sweaters & cardigans. It works – every.single.time.
What is so hard about knowing one’s actual measurements? Grab a friend if you don’t feel like you can accurately collect the measurements you need by yourself, and get on with it! I am pretty tired of hearing THAT be the sticking point for sweater knitters. It’s a lame excure folks, and it deprives you of the incredible freedom to create your most successful and satisfying knitwear. Know yourself, knit well for yourself.
I get the impression that Kay’s method isn’t specifically in order to *avoid* measuring your body so much as to easily *enable* you to know the measurements for the kind of fit you are looking for. I mean, I know my bust, waist, and hip measurements, but depending on the style of sweater, the weight of the yarn, etc, I still find it very helpful to use a similar style/weight of sweater as a measurement tool for my new project. So knowing my measurements does not guarantee I know what size I want a particular sweater to wind up, without giving it some real reflection using an already existing sweater whose fit I like.
As Kay says, however, this works best if you choose a template sweater that is of a quite similar shape to the one you want to make.
I too use this method, and I will also add that it’s important to consider the type of fabric you will be creating and whether it is in the same ballpark as your template sweater. If not, you might find that your new sweater doesn’t fit the same way your template sweater fits even with the exact same dimensions, due to the way different yarns drape, weigh down a sweater, etc. And no, in my experience, these things cannot be fully predicted by swatching. A 4” square swatch just isn’t going to behave the same as an entire sweater, weight-wise.
What Jenna said! I teach knitting and I use the “favorite sweater” technique for sizing. But I also insist on taking body measurements. Once a knitter knows his or her “sweet spot” on fit, they can have success with any pattern using any yarn.
Kay has a tendency to joke, but I honestly can’t tell if the (TM) is classic MDK tongue & cheek, or an actual attempt at branding.
Hard to tell the difference out there in craft-land these days :/
As a near-twenty-year reader of Kay’s writing, I am extremely confident this is a joke. Calling her personal approach to things “the Kay Method” is part of The Kay Idiom. I have always understood it to be a self-deprecating joke, as well: you’re meant to laugh at the utter cheek. An ironic performance of chutzpah (in its original sense of astonishing effrontery, not the latter-day softened meaning of “pluck”).
I am not up on the latest machinations of the wider craft world, so I don’t know what behavior has left such cynicism in its wake that this small joke failed to land with two separate commenters. But I am sorry to hear about it, if only obliquely.
As you’ve landed between two sizes, Kay, which are you choosing?
I do plan to try this using my other Joji sweater, I See Spring…
I’m curious too about which size you chose.
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