How to Design Your Own Sweater


Instead of just showing you the cardigan I’ve designed and knit for our daughter, I thought it might be more interesting to tell you how I did it.

There are many approaches to designing things, of course. This is merely my simple, practical way for designing a sweater knit from the bottom-up in pieces sewn together later. I’ve developed this method over the years and have tried to summarize it in 10 (hopefully easy to follow) steps. So, here we go.

How to Design Your Own Sweater in 10 Steps:

1 – Decide what you’re going to make
For whom would you like to knit a sweater: For yourself? A loved one?
What type of sweater would you like to make: A pullover? A cardigan? A summer top?

2 – Take measurements and draw a diagram
Find a garment with approximately the fit you’re looking for and measure:

  • Chest width
  • Length
  • Armhole
  • Neck width and depth
  • Width at shoulders
  • Sleeve length
  • Sleeve circumference at wrist
  • Any other things you think may be useful

The chest/shoulder/armhole part is the most important. The rest is easy to adapt. Draw a diagram incorporating these measurements. It doesn’t need to be to scale, it’s just for your own reference. This is mine:

3 – Think about what you want and draw another diagram
Things to consider are:

  • Silhouette: straight, A-line, waist-shaping, tapered etc
  • Body length: cropped, hip-length, tunic
  • Sleeve length and shape
  • Neckline: V-neck, round neck, boat neck, turtle neck, shawl collar etc
  • Details: buttons, pockets, stitch pattern, ribbing or no ribbing…

Add any relevant measurements to your new diagram.

Tip: If you have never designed anything before, keep it simple. If you have a little experience, you could set yourself a challenge. I used a very simple armhole and sleeve cap:

And gave myself the challenge of adding a cable, flowing from the ribbing at the bottom and into the neckband.

Another challenge I set myself was matching the ribbing of front and back so that the seam would be near invisible.

4 – Choose your yarn and work out approximately how much you’ll need
If you’re an experienced knitter you’ll probably have some idea. It also helps to look at other people’s projects from the same yarn on Ravelry. Find a few similar garments in a similar size and check how much they took. Then add some extra for swatches and to be on the safe side.

Note: I did it the other way around: Fell in love with the yarn first and bought a generous quantity. Far too generous as it turns out. Never mind – it only means that I have enough left for a hat and a scarf.

5 – Swatch
a – First swatch to decide what needle size you’re going to use: how open, drapey or dense do you prefer your knitted fabric for this project? Knit generous swatches – aim for at least 12 x 12 cm/5 x 5”. Wash your swatches and leave them to dry flat, or block and/or press them, just like you intend to treat your finished sweater.
b – Then knit more swatches. This time in different stitch patterns and ribbings you might want to use. Again wash/block/press them.

6 – Decision time
Decide what needle size(s) and pattern stitch(es) you’re going to use, how wide your ribbings and button bands (if any) will be, exactly what your neckline is going to look like, where any pockets will be placed etc. Add details to your diagram if you think that will be helpful.

7 – Start knitting the back
Using your swatches, calculate how many stitches you need to cast on. Do you need to increase or decrease for, say, an A-line or waist shaping? Write down everything you do and keep your notes together. It isn’t necessary to work everything out beforehand. You can think about the armhole, neck and shoulders while knitting.

8 – Do the maths for the front(s)
If you’re designing a cardigan with button bands, make sure they overlap. Work any buttonholes in the second front. Think deep about your neckline, and work out how to get what you want.

9 – Work out the sleeves
How long? How many rows to armhole? How many stitches do you start with? How many do you need at the armhole? Spread the increases out over the length.

10 – Work out and knit the final details
Now all you need to do is wash, block and/or press your pieces and seam everything together. Add button bands (if not incorporated), patch pockets, neckband etc.

There, all done!

Starting from a deep green, finely knit, shop-bought V-neck pullover, I arrived at a fawn, chunky, hand-knit cardigan with a round neck and cables along the fronts.

It does not fit over our daughter’s already impressive bump, but will keep her back and shoulders warm.

With quite a few weeks to go, how much more will that belly grow?

Well, I hope this all makes sense. Do you sometimes design your own sweaters, too? Is your method very different from mine? If you’ve never designed anything yet, why not give it a try? Your sweater may not turn out perfect or exactly how you envisioned it, but it will be uniquely yours.

6 thoughts on “How to Design Your Own Sweater”

  1. Darn, darn, darn – had almost finished my note but accidentally hit something and the comment was deleted!

    Your daughter is adorable with her cute baby bump. The sweater looks great. She will have great love for this sweater for many, many years. Your instructions were easy to follow. I think that I have made a sweater on my own, but it was years ago – I took a basic sweater building class. It was probably a child’s pullover, but I would have to go back through my projects on ravelry. I have probably taken 2 or 3 other sweater classes – off the top of my head, I can think of 2 of them and neither was very successful. 2010 – One was an 8 hour crash class – it was called the Tailored Sweater Method by Tuulia Salmela, but it was taught by her friend – it all made sense, but I had to have another student help me, because after plugging all the numbers into the pattern (which generated the number of stitches etc), in a few sections, my numbers came up as negative numbers which didn’t make sense. With the help of another student, I did get the sweater made and still wear it today, but I can see that in a couple of areas things should have been done differently. It was a top down tee. The other class 2008 I remember was a waste of time – the instructor tried to put 18 weeks into 6 weeks and she wasn’t that good at instructing – it was the Nihon Vogue we started with a sleeve – if I had continued accordingly with the data that I came up with, the sleeve would have continued up over my shoulder and onto my neck – that sleeve is in the drawer with the remainder of the yarn for the project. I knew that there was a 3rd attempt – this was the last attempt and since then I have just followed a pattern – I did a Custom Fit by Amy Herzog. This time I won’t blame the pattern that was generated – it was the yarn which was Euroflax Linen – my stitch gauge changed from the swatch to the sweater and the sweater grew even while knitting it. I was able to wear it for a couple of times, but it has continued to stretch so that has been waiting several years to be frogged and made into something (but not a sweater). Linen and I don’t get along – I can knit with a linen blend, sometimes – one brand wouldn’t work for me and another one did.

    • Oh, Kathie. Your anecdotes make me giggle (negative numbers? sleeve growing up to neck?), but at the same time I’m sorry that the classes didn’t give better results. There is nothing wrong with just following patterns. You can always give them your own touch by choosing different colours, adding a stripe here and there, making the body or sleeves longer or shorter, that kind of thing. I also prefer linen blends to pure linen, but maybe will give pure linen another try.

  2. What a lovely sweater! And from now on, every time your daughter wears it, she’ll remember that you made it for her while she was pregnant. What a sweet thing.

    I’ve never designed my own sweater, but figure I will one day. I am always pretty confident that I can “make it work,” in nearly all of the handcrafts I do. (Note that that doesn’t mean that I actually CAN do it, or that I’ve never had failures. It just means I always think I can.) Your instructions are very clear and make it seem very doable! Thank you for sharing your method.

    • As the experienced knitter you are, I’m sure you can do it. And don’t we all have failures. I’m glad to hear that my instructions are clear. Thank you for your lovely comment.

  3. I suppose I designed my first sweater when I was in my teens, although I didn’t think of it as design then. I envisioned a sweater that I wanted and figured out how to do it.

    I rarely follow patterns exactly, I always end up changing at least some details without thinking about it. But I am not at all as organized as you are!

    • It was the same with me – I didn’t think of it as designing either. It was just something I did, but what else is designing but envisioning something and making it? It’s always good to hear from you and have a little virtual chat about something peaceful like knitting.

Comments are closed.