Measure Twice, Knit Once

The boiled wool sweater is coming along and it’s time for me to clue you all in on the next step in our process.  You remember we did our swatches, measured them for stitch and row gauge, fulled (not felted) them and measured again, right?  It looked like this?IMG_1581

All that is essential information, and you could start casting on right now if you wanted to.  But I’m going to suggest that knowing what size sweater you plan to make is the most important part.  If you’re going on a road trip, you need a map.  And your trip will be better, more trouble free, if your map is highly detailed and accurate, right?  It’s also true for knitting.  Highly detailed and accurate measurements will be the road map for our sweater.

Start with one sweater recipient.  In our case, we’ll use Daniel as a guinea pig.



This is Daniel.  He has graciously agreed to be measured, even thought the sweater is not for him, so you can see how it is done.

First and foremost, you want to know how big around the chest of  your sweater should be.  For both men and women, this number will be the baseline for all the other numbers.



Have your subject raise his arms and find the widest part of the chest (or bust, in the case of a woman.)



Then have them drop their arms and relax.  The chest will be stretched up and down, and therefore smaller when the arms are raised, and you want the measurement to be as wide as it’s going to get.  So, ams down and relaxed, please.



Make sure your measuring tape is parallel with the floor.  If it dips down in the back, or droops on one side, or any other distortion, you will be adding inches you don’t need.



Have your subject breathe normally.  No need to take deep breaths or hold anything in or out.  We’re going to build in the proper ease later.  The measuring tape should be about as tight as a form fitting undershirt.  Don’t pull it until it cuts into the flesh, and don’t let it droop in loose festoons around your subject’s body.  With all that in mind, bring the end of the tape to where it overlaps  and write down what it says.  Easy, peasy, lemon squeezy.  This measurement is going to be what we’re going to call 100%.




Now that we know how wide to make our sweater, we need to know how long to make it.  We want to know two numbers associated with length.  First over all length.  measure this from the nape of the neck to where you want to hem to fall.



Then measure from the underarm to the same hem length.  You don’t want to put the end of your measuring tape  all the way up into your subject’s pit.  Start from where you or your subject believe a comfortable arm hole on a comfortable sweater would begin and go down from there.

Now that you know the general coordinates on your road sweater road map, length and width, you’ll need a couple more details to make the sweater of your dreams.



The cross back measurement goes from sleeve hole to sleeve hole and helps determine how much to decrease at the armholes.  Measure from where a sleeve hole would be to where a sleeve hole would be.  Or…if you can imagine drawing line from the crease between the upper arm and the back straight up to the shoulder on each side, measure between these imaginary lines.



You also want to know how long to make the sleeves.  For this you can take two measurement, though you may not actually need both.  First measure from the middle of the back, out across the lower part of the shoulder, down the gently bent are, around the elbow and on down to the wrist.  If you’ve ever looked at men’s dress shirts, you will have noticed that they are sized with two numbers.  They might have tags that read “15 1/2 – 33”  or “16 – 35.”  The first number is the neck circumference, and the second is this center back to wrist measurement.  It can help make sure that, in comparison with the actual sleeve length, the back is not too big…in which case the shoulders will droop…nor to small…in which case the seams will pull and, possible tear.  Since most boiled wool sweaters are going to be drop shoulder, we may not use this measurement.  Though, if something goes wrong, it can help us figure out if we’ve botched the back or the sleeve.



For our purposes, measuring from the under arm to the wrist is probably a more useful number.  Again, you don’t want to jam the thing up into your subject’s pit.  Just a comfortable in between place where a comfortable sleeve would fall.

And you wrote all that down, right?  Now, go do it all again and write it won again.  In carpentry there is a saying; “Measure twice.  Cut once.”  In carpentry, once you cut the board you can’t put it back together so you should be sure you are being precise before you actually take the saw to anything.  In knitting we can almost always take some thing back and re-work it.  But do we really want to?  Measure twice; knit once.

When you have everything properly measured and correctly recorded.  We’ll begin calculating how many stitches to cast on and how long to knit.  Tune in next time!

Written by mim


2 Comments on “Measure Twice, Knit Once

  1. Hi!
    How can I get in touch with Daniel? He has an uncanny resemblance to my friend Matt.

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