Sweater Season: Work Rows, Not Lengths

[Sloane's Warren pullover, from our upcoming Deep Winter 2021 Collection]

Okay, we admit it: we're both die-hard sweater knitters, and we think pretty much any time of the year is sweater season. But, both of us have a penchant for starting new projects in this after-holiday time, as a moment to reflect and start to focus on something a little longer-term after our frenzied needles knit gifts for friends and relatives. It's still deep enough in the winter that there's plenty of time to wear the FO, and we're able to imbue it with hopes, dreams, and plans for the year ahead. As we've been working on sweaters for our upcoming Deep Winter collection, we've been thinking about some of our favorite sweater knitting tips and tricks from now, well, a lot of years and a lot of sweaters. We'll be sharing them with you over the next few weeks, in the hopes that some of them may help your first sweater projects of 2021, whether they're your first sweaters or your hundredth. See the full series here. Looking for an H+W sweater to start your year off right? Find the full set here.

"Work-to" Lengths, and Other Unnecessary Mysteries

So far, in our journey to better sweaters, we've talked about some slightly complicated-sounding things (like how to read a schematic), and some theoretical concepts (like how ease works), so it seems like time I shared one of the absolute easiest things you can do to improve your sweater knitting. It requires a calculator, something to write with, and some means of keeping track of your progress, and I promise: you can do it.

When we talked about how to read a schematic, we talked briefly about one of the fundamental equations of knitting: the length of a knitted piece equals the number of rows divided by the number of rows per inch. So, when we look at our schematic, or we look at the section of the pattern that says "continue as established until piece measures approximately X" [xx cm] from CO edge," we can use that math to figure out exactly how many rows we should be knitting to work that distance. 

Why does this help? A few reasons:

  • We don't always match pattern gauge. Row gauge is usually the more difficult to match, and we may match stitch gauge but be off by a bit on row gauge. This is fine, if we know how to adjust for it.
  • Row gauge is particularly susceptible to change after blocking. You cannot reliably measure an unblocked piece of knitting and use that as a proxy for the blocked object. 
  • Lots of (especially older) patterns have instructions for part of the sweater written in rows and part of the sweater written in a series of "work-to" lengths. Tragically, this often involves things like the armholes of set-in sleeve sweaters. If you're working with unblocked lengths of knitting and row-based instructions assuming a pattern gauge you may or may not have met, the odds that your sleeve will fit into your armhole are less than optimal.

How do we do it? Simple. Make a real, meaningfully predictive swatch and block it. Measure your row gauge in rows per inch. Then, take your pattern, and everywhere where the pattern lists a work-to length, multiply that length times the number of rows per inch at your blocked row gauge. Make a note of the number of rows you'll need to work, and use a row counter (a physical one, an app on a smartphone, or a tally mark on your pattern) to keep track of where you are. (Note here that for things like the portion of a body piece or sleeve below the armhole, you'll need to differentiate between rows of hem and rows of the main pattern.) Et voilà: your finished piece, after blocking, will be exactly the length you planned, with no more surprises. This method works top down, bottom up, sideways, seamed, seamless, modular, inside out, or what have you, and it produces better sweaters, every time.

We've got a whole bunch of our favorite sweater-knitting insights to share over the next few weeks, but we'd love to hear yours! Drop us a line at info@hudsonandwestco.com or in the comments below with your favorite sweater-knitting tip.

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