Many knitters prefer top-down sweater patterns because you can try them on as you knit, and they feel more confident fitting a sweater this way. This method has its pitfalls, however, which I wrote about in a previous post. First, it limits you to knitting only sweaters that are written for top-down knitting, or figuring out how to convert the pattern to knit top down. More importantly, it doesn’t always result in a perfect fit, especially if the blocked gauge is significantly different than the in-progress gauge.
Here are a few tips for better fitting sweaters, whether you knit bottom-up or top-down:
- Know your body measurements. A good fit starts with accurate measurements. A good pattern will include a schematic with the key measurements you’ll want to know. If you can, enlist a friend to help you measure yourself.
- Measure what you already own. If you already own a similar garment that you like the fit of, measure it and knit your sweater to those dimensions. This is a great way to gauge measurements like armhole depth and sleeve length, and to decide how much ease you want.
- Block your gauge swatch. By this I mean wash your gauge swatch as you intend to wash the final sweater. Don’t stretch and pin it unless you plan to do that with the final garment every time you wash it. Of course this tip goes for top-down sweaters too. Pay extra attention to your row gauge. Very often you can match the stitch gauge of a pattern but the row gauge will be different; if so, you’ll need to correct for this. (This may require a bit of math; see #5 below.)
- Block as you go. If you are knitting a sweater in pieces, block the back or front before moving on to the next piece. That way you can double-check whether the measurements are correct. If you are knitting top-down, you can put the live stitches on waste yarn and block the sweater to the armhole before going further.
- Count your rows. If you knit primarily top-down sweaters, you probably prefer to avoid doing math. But counting rows can give you a more accurate measure of length than trying to measure on the needles. All you need to do is multiply the desired length by the number of rows per inch in your blocked gauge swatch. Whenever I knit a sweater, especially a design sample, I always calculate the number of rows I need based on my gauge swatch and count rows rather than trying to measure my knitting. If math isn’t your friend, the good news is there are calculators online that will do this bit of math for you, such as this one.
If you’ve only knit sweaters top-down, I hope this encourages you to step out of your comfort zone and try something new with confidence!