Tips & Tricks for Sweaters


Sweaters can be made top down, bottom up, side to side or tee shaped.  One never needs to make the same one twice.  Sweaters are bigger projects that a hat or scarf, but worth the time. Only your imagination dictates which pattern you use, and how you use it.

 Casting on

  • Use a needle two sizes larger that the pattern calls for and cast on loosely. This will insure that the sweater bottom, neck, and cuffs are not too tight and will easily slip over the child’s head.
  • Be generous with the neck allowances, nothing is sadder than a beautiful sweater which will not go over a child’s head.
  • There are many of methods of casting on, use the method you like the best. There isn’t any right or wrong way, they all work.  A cabled cast on is one of the simplest.  This method does not create a very stretchy edge, so it’s VERY important that you use a larger needle.   It is basically a knit stitch which is twisted and placed back on the left needle. See a video on how to do cable cast on.  Read about cable cast on.
  • When casting on to knit in the round, cast on one more stitch than you need and join with a knit two together.
  • Always make your life easier for yourself, and leave at least 4-6 inches whenever you cast on so you can weave in the ends with ease.


  • Use whatever you are comfortable with, or experiment with a couple of different methods.
  • With worsted weight yarn, a size #8 or #9 needle usually works.
  • Don’t forget to provide yourself with a needle that is two sizes larger for the cast on rows
  • For a sweater with four parts (front, back and two sleeves) that are knitted separately some people prefer to use long single point needles.  Some people prefer to use a circular needle.
  • To knit the neck you will need either a 16”circular needle,  a set of double pointed needles, or a long circular needle using the Magic Loop method.
  • If the sleeves are done in the round, a set of double points can be used, or a long circular used in the Magic Loop method.
  • You can learn about the  Magic Loop method by watching this video.


  • Some people prefer a 1×1 rib (meaning 1 knit, 1 purl) or a 2×2 rib (meaning 2 knits and two purls), feel free to use whatever ribbing you prefer. Or use no rib at all and produce a
  • rolled edge with stocking stitch for about an inch.
  • If you use a rolled edge be sure to measure correctly:  measure from the base of natural rolled up edge, do not uncurl it to measure!
  • Most ribs should be a minimum of 2-3 inches long.  You can do longer ribs if you like, or do the whole sweater in rib!
  • If you are new to knitting in the round you might find it easier to work a couple of rows back and forth before you join into a circle. This provides you with a bit more body of work to help avoid a twisted row when you begin the circular work.
  • Many patterns call for a smaller size needle for the ribbibg. This is nice if you have enough needles, but if your stockpile of knitting needles is not extensive, it is perfectly fine to use all one size for the whole sweater.
  • If you do the ribbing with a smaller needle is it REALLY easy to forget to change at the end of the ribbing.  One way to remind yourself is to stick the new (larger) needle into your work at the end of the row, so it dangles there awkwardly until you finish the row.  That should help you remember!


  • The body of the sweater can be stockinette stitch, or any pattern you find or invent. Most of the donated sweaters are knit with stockinette stitch because that is faster to knit for most people. Decoration can be fun, and educational.  It’s a great way to expand your knitting vocabulary with a smaller project (like a hat or scarf or sweater) or to try a new method we are unsure of.  Check out our Decoration section below to see some hints on how to improve your sweaters with some simple decoration ideas.
  •  As a general rule the length of the sweater (from the underarm to the bottom of a
  • Sweater) and the length of the sleeves (from the underarm to the wrist) should be the same.  Cuffs can be a bit longer, and then turned up to allow for growth. The body of the sweater should NEVER be longer than the sleeves.


  • Sleeve snake – As you knit sleeves, there are increases or decreases at intervals,(depending on if you are doing a top-down or a bottom-up pattern) In order to keep track of these events, Sheila offers this clever idea: “I take a 12 inch piece of contrasting waste yarn and weave it into the sleeve each time I do a decrease or an increase.  After I do the increase or decrease I lay the yarn over between one stitch and the next and keep knitting. The end of the contrast yarn will just dangle either on the right or the wrong side of the piece I am knitting.  This allows me to count, more easily, how many rows there are between each event and when it is time to do it again.  You can also see how many you have done as you reach the end.  This works on circular, as well as straight needles, and can be used in places other than a sleeve, I just call it a sleeve snake because I use it most often on sleeves.  It hasn’t been knit into any of the stitches, so it is easy to remove when the garment is finished, just pull it out.”


All sweaters can be ribbed, worked with contrasting stripes or bands of seed stitch, worked with odd rows of purls, lace, cables… ANYTHING you can imagine!!

  • Stripes are very popular both with the knitters and the children.  You can produce stripes in circular knitting without the jog by using this method:  Knit one round in the new color.  When you get to the second round slip the first stitch. Meaning that you should work the last stitch of the first round (with the new color) then slip the first stitch of the next round (the first stitch of the second round with the new color). Work the other rows like normal, working every stitch.  When you sew in the ends you will be able to even up the join exactly by tweaking it a tiny bit. If you are changing colors in your sweater, but will be using the color again soon, carry the old color up the back, and catch it every three or four rows, or sew down the float with an end.  You don’t have to cut the color each time you change.  Carrying the color a little ways will prevent you from having a huge number of ends to sew in at the end.
  • A  pretty way of easing into a new color is to work the first row of the new color as knit one, slip one (as if to purl), and repeat across the row.
  • Many people like to incorporate stripes or patterns into bands throughout the whole sweater. The top-down sweater pattern makes an intriguing effect if the yoke is knit in a contrasting color.

 Sewing needles

  • We suggest knitters have at least two types of needles on hand. One big, blunt one for sewing up, gathering last stitches, etc. and a smaller sharp one for sewing and weaving in ends, and joining invisibly

 Joining yarns

There are NO KNOTS in knitting. Please don’t EVER knot your yarn. Knots are ugly, they fall apart over time, can be uncomfortable to the wearer, and are just plain bad knitting! We are so happy to teach you better methods, PLEASE don’t use knots!!! Here are two methods our knitters like a lot.

  • Overlay the old and new yarns, and work two stitches with both. Remember to knit it as a single stitch as you come to it in the next row.
  • Another method is to split the yarn (both old and new) for about four inches, and overlap half the new and half the old for a couple of stitches (half of each will create a whole to knit with).

 Sewing in

There are NO KNOTS in knitting. Please don’t EVER knot your yarn. Knots are ugly, they fall apart over time, can be uncomfortable to the wearer, and are just plain bad knitting! We are so happy to teach you better methods, PLEASE don’t use knots!!!

  • Always leave about 4 inches minimum for each yarn end you create in your knitting
  • Split the yarn in half and sew in each end by skimming, on the underside of the project where it won’t be seen. Skim by putting your needle through just a few strands of a row of stitches. You can go horizontal, vertical, or diagonal. Better yet do it a couple of different ways!
  • Whether you are weaving in ends or sewing pieces together your sewing should be FLAT.  You should not ever create a bump.
  • Your sewing in should not be noticeable on the right side of the work.

Other Interesting, but not necessarily useful, thing that we can’t help sharing:

  • The length from your elbow to your wrist joint is the length of your foot.

Do you have a tip or a trick that would help us knit sweaters? Please, leave a comment and share with us!!

8 thoughts on “Tips & Tricks for Sweaters

  1. i want to add on a ribbing at the bottom of a baby sweater , do i pick up the same amount of stitches or do i decrease and what is the formula? thank you

    1. That’s a lot of questions, actually! And they all have different answers. How many stitches you add at the bottom of a sweater depends on what size needle you are using (many ribbings use smaller needles so you would need MORE stitches than was in the body). The number is also determined by how you want the ribbing to look – do you want it to hang straight down, or pull in a little? Because there are so many variable there isn’t a “formula” that I can give you. If I was in your situation I would decide what I wanted it to look like (straight or pulled in), decide what size needle I wanted to use (either two sizes smaller or the same as the one used in the body) and then start experimenting. Because you are not working on live stitches it’s easy to relax and not worry about “dropping” stitches. I would pick up, do a few rows and if I was unhappy then rip it out and start again. Especially since it’s a baby jacket it won’t take that long to test to find what you want. I am sorry I can’t give you a cut and dry answer, but this particular “yarn maneuver” is not set in stone! Have fun!!

  2. I have a problem when I knit say a sweater sleeve and I increase or decrease my edges or turns do not have the nice chain stitch I would like so I can do the blanket stitch to sew them together. If I knit at the end of each row as some say to do I get the chain on my left side but not on the right side of the row. On the right side I get the bumps. I’ve tried all kinds of methods nothing works. What am I doing wrong?

    1. I am not sure you are doing anything “wrong” really, but I can give you two pieces of advice to do it BETTER. First, when you work the first stitch of any row do not try to tighten it like crazy, cause that just doesn’t stick. When you start the second stitch give the first one a tweak (not a yank! You aren’t trying to tie up the Queen Mary!) then work the second stitch. When you try to pull the first stitch tight on it’s own it won’t hold, but when you pull it taut when you work the SECOND stitch, that stitches holds the first one in place. This might make your edges a bit neater. The second piece of advice I would suggest is to NOT work the first stitch of every row!! Just slip the first stitch, then work the rest of the row as normal. Do this at the beginning of EVERY row and the edge will be smoother and with little loops that make sewing up your seams MUCH easier. Using BOTH of these tricks together should even out your edges perfectly! I hope this helps.

  3. Hi, I have a pattern for a girls sweater and want to make it in a size six and the pattern only goes to size 4. Would using larger needles work and if so, how much bigger. The pattern calls for size 12 and size 10 ( older sizing as it is an older pattern book). Thank you.


    1. Grace, altering patterns is always do-able, but you have to have patience and common sense. (At least that is what I always need!!) I would study the pattern and see how they do the increases for the smaller sizes and then extrapolate for the larger size. Using just a larger needle might not make enough of a difference to increase the size. I would look at the measurements for a size 6 (maybe from another pattern, or from the child if you have it handy) and work from there. Make sure you write down what you do so you can redo or fix what you try as you make changes. Be confident, you CAN do this, just be sensible and check your work as you go along so you can fix anything that seems wonky immediately. Have fun!!!

  4. I am making a top down sweater for a child. I don’t like the waving ribbing at bottom of body and sleeve. I would like to knit the ribbing separately and attach (not sew) to the bottom of sleeve and garment. Could you please help with this problem and if it can be done

    1. I am not sure what you mean by “waving” ribbing. Sometimes the cast off edge of a ribbing might seem a bit wavy if it is cast off very loosely, but loose is better than tight so I wouldn’t worry about it. After it has been worn and washed the wavy-ness will most likely go away. If you are doing a top down sweater I suppose you could cast off then pick up the stitches and make the ribbing, but I don’t see any purpose to that, it won’t change the way the ribbing looks it will just make the bottom of the sweater before the ribbing more rigid – which I think would be uncomfortable for the child wearing it. Feel free to email me if you don’t think I have answered your question well enough! Dorothea

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