Knitting your First Sweater: Choosing a Pattern

Knitting a sweater can seem like a really daunting task, especially if it is something you’ve never done. But here’s the thing: following a sweater pattern is no harder than following a sock or mitten pattern sweaters are just bigger. There are a ton of great resources online that will help you knit your first sweater but sifting through  all of these resources can be a challenge. I thought I would create a series on knitting sweaters for this first time because sweaters were something that I put off knitting for a long time simply because I thought it would be really hard and I didn’t know where to begin.

Today I want to focus on picking a pattern because while there are a lot of great resources out there to guide you through the process of improvising a sweater I think most people want someone else to do the math for them. So let’s talk about Ravelry.

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There are a ton of great patterns available on Ravelry but unfortunately the search feature on their website is pretty bad. Whenever I need to find something on a website with a poor search engine I use Google. If I am looking for a top down raglan pattern I will type ‘top down raglan ravelry’ into the search bar and that provides me with a number of options.

Whether you are looking to buy a physical pattern book or you want a digital download Ravelry is a good place to start because you can find information on patterns in both of these formats. But finding a great pattern is not as simple as finding a pretty finished object pictures on Ravelry. There are some things you should pay attention to when choosing a pattern.

Classic Oak Cardigan

A) Will it fit you?

Make sure that this sweater comes in your size. While this information is usually on the Ravelry pattern page it is important to pay attention to what measurements are actually given. If the designer lists the measurements of person intended to wear each size then this is easy but that is not always how sizing information is presented. If the designer lists the final garment measurement you will need to find out how the sweater is supposed to fit in order to determine your size. If the final bust measurement of the garment is 32′ this could be intended to fit someone with a 30′, 32′, or 34′ bust depending on how much ease there is in the pattern.

B) How is the sweater constructed?

Just like with any other knitting project there are numerous ways to knit a sweater. A sweater can be knit in pieces and seamed together or it can be knit in the round all in one piece. Choosing the best way to construct your sweater is all about personal preference. If you hate purling I would not recommend choosing a pattern that is knit flat an seamed together since you will most likely be doing a lot of purling.

Another thing you have to pay attention to is weather the sweater is knit from the bottom up or the top down. I find that I like to knit sweaters from the top down because I feel it gives me a better idea of whether or not the sweater will fit a lot sooner in the process. When you knit a sweater from the bottom up you have to knit the entire body and both sleeves before you get to the yoke, which is when most of the important sizing happens. If you fall in between two sizes and knit your sweater from the bottom up you might not realize you chose the wrong size until you put it all together at the yoke. It’s a pretty big time commitment for a sweater that is not going to fit right.

Myra's Pull-Over

C) Are the instructions easy to follow?

It can be a bit tricky to figure this out without buying the pattern and reading through it but I think Ravelry is a great resource for this. When someone knits a project from a pattern on Ravelry they can create a project page and link it to the pattern. On these project pages the knitter can make notes about their yarn and needle choice and also about the pattern itself. You will often see something along the lines of ‘great beginner pattern’ or ‘the instructions were difficult to follow’ or ‘great pattern but I wouldn’t recommend it for beginners’ written on people’s project pages. These comments can give you an idea of the clarity of the pattern instructions.

Ravelry also has a comments tab for patterns where people can post comments about the pattern. Sometimes these will all be praise but in my experience If a pattern is hard to follow there will be a fair number of questions posted here.

D) Will you like the finished product?

When you are trying to pick pattern you should take a good look at your wardrobe and your favorite sweaters. Most of us have a style that we are most comfortable with. If your entire wardrobe is straight out the LL Bean or Land’s End catalog (like mine) then you probably not going to get much wear out of a flashy Steven West pattern. There is nothing wrong with wanting to change up your style by all means if you want to knit something different go for it. It would just be a shame to pour time and effort into a hand knit sweater that you will never wear because it is outside of your comfort zone.

Knitting your first sweater

Have you knit a sweater before? How did you choose a pattern? Let me know in the comments below!

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