Five Tips for Successfully Knitting Your First Sweater

Meet the maker

Ashley Lillis helps knitters make classic sweaters they love to wear from cast on to bind off. She designs simple sweaters, offers free patterns, and creates step-by-step video tutorials that help beginner knitters complete their first sweater.  She taught herself how to knit in college and hasn’t put a her needles down since.  Ashley is a wife and mom of 3 living in the Chicago area.  She enjoys hanging out with her family, cooking, and working out when she doesn’t have knitting needles in hand.

Knitting your very first sweater can be exciting and intimidating all at the same time.  If you’re feeling intimidated or not very confident, here are five tips that will help you overcome your fears and knit your very first sweater!

Tip #1: Understand the Big Picture

Take some time to understand the different types of sweaters you can make and their construction.  When you have a overall understanding of how sweaters are constructed, it can be easier to select and understand a pattern that’s a good fit for you, making it easier to finish it.  The four main types of sweaters are drop shoulder, raglan, yoke, and set-in sleeve.  

Diving into a sweater pattern for the first time can be intimidating.  When you take a step back and have an overall idea of how you’re supposed to knit it, the whole process can seem a little less intimidating and you can break it down step-by-step.  Some people have preference to certain sweater designs and some designs just click with certain people.  

For my very first sweater, I knit a simple raglan sweater with no shaping of the neckline, sleeves, or body.  Raglan sweaters made the most sense to me when I first got started so that was my preference; however, figure out what works for you. If you don’t know where to start, consider starting with a drop shoulder sweater. This is considered by many to be the easiest to start with because of its straight lines and simple construction. 

Pink Wildflowers Cardigan by Ashley Lillis

Tip #2: Keep it Simple

Pick a sweater pattern that is simple, straight forward, and easy to understand.  Steer clear of lots of shaping, difficult details, colorwork, and maybe even buttons.  You might have a Pinterest board or a Ravelry list filled with all of the beautiful sweaters you want to make.  However, start with the simplest one that you feel more confident you can finish and save the more complicated ones for later after you’ve built a stronger foundation of sweater knitting.

You also might want to consider picking a pattern that uses larger needles and thicker yarn for the first time.  Consider trying a sweater that calls for bulky or super bulky weight yarn, even if it’s not your first choice.  Using larger needles and thicker yarn can be easier to manipulate and see and fix mistakes with.  Plus, you’ll make progress faster and it will take less time to complete, which can be helpful for those who like to see results more quickly. 

The Fall Bluff Sweater by Ashley Lillis

Tip #3: Make it Fun

Have fun and learn in the process.  Instead of focusing only on the end result, try to take joy in the process and learning new techniques you’ve never tried before. Take it slow and don’t put a strict deadline for completing the sweater on yourself.  For example, don’t give yourself only a few days to knit a cardigan for your sister’s birthday or a week to make your first pullover that you want to wear to a work party. Unrealistic deadlines will only stress you out more and add more pressure. If this is the very first time you’ve made something like this, make sure you have ample time to complete everything.

Take time to decide if this sweater is for your or for someone else.  Making a sweater for yourself can take the pressure off of it being perfect because you might not care as much about little mistakes if it’s for you. However, some knitters find a lot of joy in making a sweater for someone else and they’re more motivated to finish the sweater if it’s not for them.  I made my first sweater for my sister without a deadline, which really took the pressure off of me to finish quickly and I had so much fun thinking about giving it to her.  Determine what you think will motivate you more to finish.  

Tip #4: Give Yourself Grace

Strive for progress over perfection.  Recognize that your sweater might not be perfect and be okay with it.  For example, you might get to the part where you divide for the body on a raglan pullover and you realize one sleeve is off a stitch.  This might already be the third or fourth attempt for you to get it right right and you’re at your wits end.  Instead of ripping way back again, consider adding an extra raglan stitch when you place your sleeve stitches on waste yarn or cast on an extra stitch at the underarm.  

If you find yourself getting frustrated, try stepping away from the sweater for a few hours or even a few days so you can come back with a fresh perspective.  Sometimes that time away allows you to come back and see something differently than you did before and a part that was once very confusing might make more sense after taking a break.

The Sprinside Lace Cardigan by Ashley Lillis

Tip #5: Ask for Help

There’s no shame in asking for help if you need some guidance on a few things.  Everyone was a beginner sweater knitter at some point.  Ask a friend or family member who knits to help you out with a part you don’t understand.  Look up YouTube videos for instructions on how to complete a specific technique you’re having a hard time with.  Ask a question in a Facebook group or a Ravelry group.  And don’t shy away from reaching out to the pattern designer directly if something simply doesn’t make sense and you’ve given it a good effort to figure out on your own. Just know that it’s okay to ask for help!

Find Me Waterside Sweater by Ashley Lillis 

Ready to make your first sweater?  

Check out all of Ashley’s Patterns on, find her step-by-step tutorials on her YouTube channel, and see what she’s up to daily on Instagram

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