How to Design and Knit Any Garment to Fit Every Time
Knitting has such a bad reputation in some circles. Images of baggy sweaters too-long in the sleeves have taken more than their rightful share of the limelight for too long!
Let's prove that you don't need to get the ring before you knit for your boyfriend. There's a way to knit so that it fits perfectly every time, whether "it" is a sock, glove, hat, sweater...you name it, you can knit it to size no matter what yarn you are using. Your knitted gifts will be anticipated with excitement, not dread!
There are a few techniques you'll need to set in stone, write on your forehead, tape to your mirror, and all the other things you do to remind yourself to do it right the first time! Ignore these at your peril. Laziness equals disaster.
The first one is finding out what guage you knit to. Guage is how many stitches per inch, how many rows per inch, or how many wraps per inch. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that this depends on the size of your needles as well as the thickness of your yarn and how tightly or loosely you knit.
You choose the needles and yarn that gives you the fabric you want. If you're knitting mittens, maybe you want them stiff and impervious to snow. If you're knitting a shawl or baby blanket, maybe you want it to be light and fluffy. You choose, then knit a swatch, 4"x4" is usually sufficient. Then measure your stitches per inch and rows per inch.
If you'd rather not knit a swatch, try the wraps per inch method. Wraps per inch means take a ruler and carefully wrap yarn around it filling up exactly 1 inch. Wrap so that the sides of the yarn strands are touching each other, but don't force the yarn to fit into an inch by bunching the strands together.
Knowing how many wraps per inch you get and what kind of yarn you're using, you can approximate what size needle to use. Using lace weight yarn, you will get approx. 18 wraps and you'll use needle sizes 00-2. Fingering or baby weight yarn will give you 16 wraps and you'll use needle sizes 1-4. Sport weight yarn at 14 wraps requires using needles 2-6, worsted weight at 12 wraps means needle sizes 4-8, and bulky yarn at 10 wraps means needle sizes 6-10.
This seems to be not very specific, and you're right. Most beginning knitters knit a bit tight, so they should choose a larger needle.
The second technique is taking a few measurements. These of course depend on what you are knitting. For a hat, you need the circumference of the head and the length from the top of the crown to just below the ear. For a sock, you need the length of the big toe from tip to first joint, and the entire length of the foot from tip to back of heel. Also, the circumference of the foot at the instep (around the heel and over the front of the ankle). For a sweater, you need the circumference of the neck, the length from the base of the neck to the shoulder (for set in sleeves) or to the armpit (for raglan sleeves), the length of the arm from shoulder to wrist, the chest measurement, and the length from armpit to whatever length is desired.
It's best at first to knit something for yourself or someone who is close enough to you to try it on at different stages. You will also need to know what kind of fit is desired, and add stitches for ease - more if the recipient wants a loose fit and less if a tighter fit is desired.
The third technique to use for knitting to size takes care of any doubt about your needle size choice. Whatever you are knitting, knit it from the top down. There are patterns out there for this style of knitting, even entire books have been written about this. The advantage is obvious: if it's a hat or a sweater, you'll be able to try it on as you knit, making sure of the size. If you're knitting socks, start at the toe. Should you decide your garment doesn't seem right, you're starting off with very few stitches on your needles, which makes it easy to tear out your knitting and try again.
Once you are a more experienced knitter, you'll know your own style and will instinctively know what needles to use for every yarn. Armed with these three techniques, you can figure out how many stitches to cast on and how to increase or decrease to get the exact shape and size you want every time.
Kathryn Beach has been knitting for over 40 years and was co-owner of the custom hand knitting business Earthweavers for 5 years. You can visit her website at: