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Depending on yarn weight and needle size, it can take quite a long time to craft a knitted sweater. While knitting may be your favorite past time and the best means of relaxation, it is not a meager investment—of time or resources.

And yet, there are still instances—with even the most practiced knitters—when a garment doesn’t live up to expectations. Whether it’s a sweater that ate one of Alice’s teacakes and grew six sizes larger in the wash or a shape that looked so flattering on the model but so frumpy on our form, there are plenty of things that can go wrong.

Never fear! String Yarns is here to help rescue you from the Land of Mis-Fit Sweaters (get it?) with 4 easy steps.

Step 1 – Pick the Right Yarn! 

So you fell in love with the subtle sheen and soft drape of a worsted weight, 100% bamboo yarn. Who could blame you? Luscious fiber l’amour is what keeps us in stitches! The problem arises when that love fools you into thinking a worsted weight bamboo can do the job of an aran weight wool.

Fibers are as beautifully unique and specifically charactered as people. It’s the old adage of “square peg, round hole.” We can’t force the cool drape of bamboo to behave like the buoyant warmth of wool. Know your fibers. Learn how to substitute smartly. Here’s a quick primer:

Wool has exquisite memory and elasticity. As long as you don’t give it a forceful blocking, it will snap back to shape after a light wash. It’s incredibly warm but also breathable. Alpaca is even warmer than wool with the bonus of offering drape, but there’s less memory, so your finished sweater may grow and relax a bit after wash and wear. Cashmere, our favorite love affair, is incredibly soft, warm, lightweight, and has gorgeous drape. It’s a fantastic yarn for heirloom knits—handle it delicately, care for it properly, and it can last forever.

Cashmere Goat (R) and Wool Sheep (L). They may look alike, but the fibers they produce are slightly different.

Silk, Linen, and Bamboo have natural drape, a smooth, soft hand, and gorgeous breathability. These qualities result from a lack of memory—stitches don’t stick together, but rather open and relax with wear. Linen and Bamboo have a tendency to grow under their own weight, but they breathe like a dream and have a beautiful sheen. Cotton is also inelastic, but is quite strong and durable—a characteristic shared with Linen, but less so with Silk and lesser still with Bamboo.

When blended with one another, all these fibers can lend and borrow desirable qualities for your finished knits. A wool-silk blend, for example, can offer crisp stitch definition (wool) with delicate drape (silk). When substituting a yarn, pay attention to the fiber’s inherent qualities to use it to its best advantage. Look at the fiber content of the recommended yarn in the pattern you want to make and think of how the fiber knits up. Regardless of what you may assume about the fiber, the real key to discovering how a yarn will behave is in our next tip…

Step 2 – Knit a Swatch… and WASH IT!

Do not overlook this point —you MUST knit a swatch! And not a slip of fabric that neatly fits in the palm of your hand, no. When we say swatch, we mean a serious swathe of fabric.

Ball bands ubiquitously advise knitting a swatch measuring 4 inches x 4 inches square, but we don’t abide this recommendation. Unless you’re making a log cabin blanket, you aren’t knitting squares. You’re knitting huge prairies of fabric. You relax into your knitting and take on a rhythm, which affects your knitting.

Our advice is to double down and knit at least an 8x8 swatch. It’s also important to wash and dry your swatch. If you’re going to wash your garment, you have to wash your swatch. Otherwise, you have no idea how the fabric will behave after it gets wet. As we said above, certain fibers grow.

Note that a smaller needle was used for the upper half of the swatch, while a larger needle was used for the lower half. PRO TIP: The length of yarn left over from casting on was knotted 8 times to correspond with and keep track of the US size 8 needle used!

Important Tip: Swatch for the way you will knit. Don’t swatch flat if you’re knitting in the round, and vice versa.

Step 3 – Flatter Your Form

We’re big advocates for wearing whatever you want—for too long women have been fed an unhealthy diet of propaganda about what they can and can’t wear because of their age and weight.

However, we do know that we feel better in certain shapes and fits. There’s no denying that for some women, a form-fitting sweater feels better than an oversized caftan. Amy Herzog is quickly building a personal empire around knitting to your shape. Knowing what looks great on you, and what you’re comfortable wearing, is important to knitting a long-lasting wardrobe. You’re simply more likely to wear it if you feel good in it.

Image by Corporate Fashionista

The Corporate Fashionista has some great visuals and tips for discovering flattering shapes for different body types. We’re each endowed differently, so look over the pattern you want to make to ensure it has the waist/bust shaping that best flatters your body—you can always make shaping alterations if need be (bless you, Amy Herzog, for these fool-proof instructions!). Better yet, if you’re a NYC local, come into String and let Lidia and our other professional staff members help ensure a perfect fit.

Step 4 – Measure a Garment You Already Love

You should always take your measurements— the Craft Yarn Council provides some good instructions, and you can also visit String Yarns and have your measurements taken by us!—but the next best thing is to find a garment in your wardrobe that already fits you like a dream, and measure that.

 Lay your dream garment flat and take some measurements. You don’t have to go crazy—just take those measurements that contribute to what you love about the garment. Do you adore the length of the sleeves or the way the cuffs hug your wrists? The waist shaping? The length at which it hits your hip? These are important measurements. Thoroughly look over the pattern you want to make and take note of the shaping, and whether it has any. If it doesn’t, figure out how difficult it would be to add some shaping—a simple stockinette sweater would be easy to alter, a sweater with shifting cable-and-lace panels, not so much. 

What did you think of our tips for making your dream garment? Do you have a favorite tip to ensure the perfect sweater?

May 23, 2016

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