How to Pick a Sweater Pattern

Learn to Spot the Tricks Photographers Use to Hide Bad Designs

Making a sweater is a big commitment. It takes quite a bit of yarn and lots of your time. Sweater making is not something to be taken lightly and you really should invest the effort to pick out a good pattern.

My Central Park Hoodie. See notes at the end.

Oh sure, you need to pick out the right yarn too. This post is more about developing a critical eye when deciding if a pattern is worth making but fiber type really matters. So I just want to sneak in a few words about that.

Be very careful about yarn substitutions in sweater making. If the pattern you like calls for a wool yarn, beware of making it in, say, cotton. Cotton grows. It stretches out. It won’t hold its shape like wool. Conversely, if your design calls for cotton and you make it in wool or acrylic, it won’t drape nearly as well as the cotton version in the picture. Save yourself headaches and maybe heartaches and try to find a pattern you like in the fiber you want to work with. You don’t have to use the exact yarn the designer calls for, but do stay in the same fiber type. Check out yarnsub. It has a wonderfully large database that will show you all sorts of close and not-so-close matches for any commercially available yarn.

 Eliminate the Baddies

First, think of this not as a chore but as an excuse to spend several delightful hours on ravelry and with your pattern books and magazines. Finding the right sweater will take some time. Don’t rush. Don’t commit too soon. Enjoy yourself!

While you’re doing all that looking, train your eye to spot the tricks, the fake outs, the distractions, and the flat out lies. Oh yes, people who publish knit and crochet wear lie their butts off. I’m not talking about the habit they have of putting oversize knits on tall, willowy ladies and airbrushing the bejesus out of them. I think we are all hip to that. I’m talking about stuff like this:

  • Beware of any pattern that hides behind jewelry and accessories. That belt? Probably to cover up the fact that the sweater has no waist shaping and fits like a sack. Three necklaces? Three??? They do a great job of distracting you from the neckline, don’t they.

Okay, yes, the example above is a pretty extreme. But even without all the bling (and the shiny distracting background) there are other problems going on here.

  • Don’t trust patterns that are only shown from an angle like this. You can’t tell if the sweater slims the figure or widens it.
  • Always look closely at how the top of a sleeve meets up with the shoulder. Sleeves are tricky. Lots of sleeves don’t fit well. Photographers often put models in unnatural posses to hide that.

How will those sleeves look with your arms down at your sides? There is no way to know. You can’t tell from this picture. (But I’m betting they bunch up in your armpits!)

  • Beware the hair. Long hair hides necklines. The first sweater I ever made has a less than ideal neckline. Its a boat neck, which as it turns out does not flatter me, and in this sweater its stretched out of shape. Fortunately I have long hair and I use it to cover the flaws.

See? You can’t even tell that the neck line it terrible! Lol. Designers will do the same thing. Like with this one:

Here we have both long hair and a chunky necklace. Hmm…they seem to be desperate to cover up the neckline. How bad is it? Maybe not at all. Maybe its just fine, but I’m suspicious. As I said, making a sweater is a big commitment and if a designer won’t show me how it really looks, how all of it looks, I’m not going to take a chance.

  • In fact I take very few chances with sweaters. I let others go before me and test those patterns. I always check a pattern on ravelry; I look at the finished projects tab, and I see just how other crafters’ work turned out. This cardigan looks great, right? I was pretty impressed with it… until I saw how the finished sweaters turned out. Then I understood why it was photographed on a hanger instead of a person.

 Where I go to Find a Goodie

That should help you weed out the baddies. Plus you’ll have lots of snarky fun pointing out all the cruddy neck lines and badly fitting sweaters to your friends! Every time you spot a designer trying to trick you you’ll feel clever.

But if you can’t find anything you like, or you’re just not feeling good about the patterns you’ve picked out, here are some things I do to take the guess work out of choosing a pattern:

Screenshot

  • Set ravelry to sort by “most projects” instead of its default (which is “best match” I think). Go with a sweater that’s been made a few hundred or a few thousand times. If thousands of people have made a pattern, chances are its a goodie.

 

  • Check out the Cascade patterns. They use regular ladies to model their designs. Don’t get me wrong, their models are pretty and shapely, but they ain’t super models. I like that. The photographers almost never try to hide anything. If you download the pattern (most of them are free) you usually get to see the sweater from multiple angles. I know what I’m getting with a Cascade pattern.

(No jewelry, no accessories, worn with a plain pair of jeans and you can see the whole neck. Thank-you Cascade!)

  • Doris Chan is awesome.  I’ll go with that as my final piece of advice. If you’re a crocheter and struggling to find a good pattern, check her out. Fitted crochet wear is tough to do and even tougher to do well. Ms. Chan, in my opinion, does it better than anyone. Period.


So my Central park Hoodie… I LOVE it. I highly recommend that pattern. As of this writing, over 5,000 knitters have made it. The designer said somewhere  that the royalties from this pattern put her kid through college. It has a rating of 4.4 out of 5. It comes in 8 sizes (from 32 to 60 inch busts) and the pattern is easy to follow. If you’ve never made a sweater before, this may be a challenge but its not unthinkable. You could do it.

I made mine with Cascade 220 (worsted) in Sapphire and I think it would look great in most solid color wool yarns. Mine fits snug as it was meant to. If you’d like a looser cardigan, with more ease in the arms, simply make a bigger size. If you want to tweak it a little, you’re in good company. Its so popular people have written up modifications for different cable motifs, for working it in the round, for fastening with a zipper instead of buttons, and so on. Check out the gallery of finished projects, read the notes knitters have made, and maybe you’ll decide this is the pattern you want to try.

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10 thoughts on “How to Pick a Sweater Pattern

  1. Great advice. I remember that first sweater that I jumped right into after a few scarfs.
    No pattern, just an old well loved sweater. I counted rows! I fiddled. I swore. I cried. It took forever and wasn’t the best but I sure learned a lot.

    Like

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