Tips for Using Commercial Sewing Patterns with Sweater Knits

I love it when someone reaches out to me with a question about sweater knits -- either about making them or sewing them. And if I don't have the answer, there are usually a couple people I can ask, who can provide an answer or at least give a suggestion that will lead the asker of the question in a good direction. I feel that I end up learning when someone asks a good question, even if I thought I already knew the answer. The act of composing an answer makes me organize my thoughts. I also think about the process or situation a little more carefully and with a different point of view. I'm inspired to try new things.

The question I get asked most often is, "What's a good sewing pattern to use with sweater knits?" I used to not have an answer, because I didn't use commercial sewing patterns! In the old days, all the sweaters I made were fully fashioned; that is, I used to shape each piece on the knitting machine as I constructed the fabric, analogous to the way a hand knitter makes pieces of a sweater. When I started making sweaters with the cut and sew method, I simply used my own pattern blocks, either freshly drafted or traced from an old t-shirt. I'd start my answer to the question with another question. "Do you have a t-shirt pattern?" I'd ask. "You can use that," I'd say. And you can... mostly....

The first commercial pattern I used for a sweater was indeed a t-shirt pattern, Sewaholic's Renfrew Top, pictured at the top of this post. Why I chose a pattern company that catered to the "pear-shaped woman", when I'm more of a rectangle, I don't know. But it was the #1 pattern of the year on Pattern Review at the time when I was looking for a pattern. And I felt confident that I could easily alter the pattern to fit me, which I did. I also made another change to the pattern. I'll get to that one in a moment. What was important was that when someone asked me for a recommendation, I could recommend from personal experience. My Pinterest board of commercial sewing patterns suitable for sweater knits now has 61 pins. I haven't tried them all.

But here's the thing, and I've hinted at this before on this blog. Sometimes I've straight out said it: sweater knits can vary greatly. One sweater knit is not necessarily just like another. That's why sometimes your neckband can look a little wonky, even though you followed the pattern directions correctly, and last time with a different fabric, it was perfect. This variety in fabric behavior is what makes fabrics forever interesting and fun. And challenging. But readily managed. Please keep reading.

Yes, there are many commercial sewing patterns from the majors and independents that are suitable for sweater knits -- t-shirt patterns, sweatshirt patterns, and more and more patterns written specifically for sweater knits, both pullovers and cardigans. Sometimes, depending on your particular fabric, a few good decisions and tiny tweaks can make your sweater, even nicer. If I had to choose my favorite tweak I make to commercial pullover patterns, it would be the get-your-neckband-to-lie-flat-every-time tweak. It's the same one I made to the Renfrew because of the fabric I was using. It's a matter of going "off pattern" just a little to determine a good length and width for the band for the fabric you're using. Then you can go back to the pattern, following the instructions for neckband installation. Easy.

If you're new to this site or missed that post, I hope you'll find Determining the Length and Width of Rib Bands useful. I've also gathered together a list of five tips specifically for use when commercial sewing pattern and sweater knit fabric meet. These five tips are easy and often not found in the sewing instructions included with your sewing pattern. But they will help you make a better sweater.

Click here to download "Five Tips for Using Commercial Sewing Patterns with Sweater Knits".  Current newsletter subscribers receive access to this tip sheet and more with each issue.  I hope you'll find the Five Tips helpful.


Last update 18May2018


  1. I whole-heartedly agree with the first paragraph of this post! I never really feel like I "know" something until someone asks me about it and I have to explain or teach it.

    I always learn something from your posts. Thanks for being part of my "continuing education" in my profession! =)

    ~ Brooke

    1. Brooke, what a sweet thing to say. :)


I love hearing from you!
{Comments are moderated in order to prevent spam.}