I'm hosting a cardigan KAL in one of my very favorite groups on Ravelry - My Sister's Knitter - and thought I'd share my process when knitting sweaters for myself. It seems straightforward enough, right? Choose a pattern, choose some yarn, knit a swatch, knit a sweater. Done.
A lot of things go into my decision-making process, including the yarn and pattern, but also my body shape and my existing wardrobe. So let's talk about body shape first - Amy Herzog has an amazing class on Craftsy that gives a great overview of different body shapes and some guidelines for what sweaters might work for each shape. In the end, though, you should wear sweaters that make you feel great about your body and that you'll love regardless of whether they fit into specific guidelines for your shape.
For example, I have a proportionate figure where my bust and hips are both 43" and my waist is 36". I also know that my bust and my rear stick out about the same distance from my body so I don't need to do short rows to make adjustments for a large bust and a small rear or vice versa (short rows help sweaters not ride up in the back or front if you have a bust/rear inequality, or a large tummy). When I choose sweaters I tend toward patterns with set-in sleeves, or the illusion of a set-in sleeve, so that the sleeve cap seam creates a visual reference point for the outer limits of my body. Cardigans are also at the top of my list for wearability since the vertical line down the center of the body visually breaks up the width of my bust and hips.
How do I choose a pattern?
If you're on Ravelry, use the advanced pattern search and filter your search by the attributes you want in your sweater. For example, I would search for cardigan and set-in sleeve and maybe a fabric characteristic that I feel like knitting such as cables or lace or a construction method such as top-down or bottom-up. If you have a yarn in your stash you'd like to use you can also choose that weight of yarn.
If you're not on Ravelry I suggest visiting an LYS and looking through patterns and books as well as getting suggestions from staff.
Photo via Savory Knitting
I chose Pomme de Pin since I absolutely love Amy Christoffers' patterns and already had the pattern in my library (it meshes with one of my resolutions for this year). This pattern also has a lot of projects listed in Ravelry so I can browse how it looks on different body types and with different amounts of ease. Generally, I knit a 42" bust since I like a little negative ease. Pomme de Pin is meant to be worn with 3-ish inches of positive ease which puts me smack dab in the middle of the third size. I'm okay with that amount of ease since the other option is to knit about 4" of negative ease. This cardigan is meant to be a cozy, lightweight piece so 3" of positive ease sounds just about right to me.
What about the yarn?
I'm using yarn from my stash (another resolution) that I purchased from Webs at Stitches West last year specifically for Pomme de Pin; Valley Yarns Northampton Sport in Ocean Heather. Again, you can look at what other knitters used for their sweater on Ravelry, dig through your stash, or visit an LYS for suggestions and help. One thing I do look at when substituting yarn is the content of the yarn. If a pattern calls for a silk blend yarn you're going to want a yarn that has similar drape if you want your finished sweater to look the same. Pomme de Pin calls for Lorna's Laces Shepherd Sport which is a superwash wool yarn - my yarn isn't superwash so my swatch will tell me if it's going to behave correctly. That leads me to the swatch.
Do one. Really. It's going to tell you a lot about whether or not the pattern and yarn will play nicely together. I've knit a large-ish swatch - about 7 inches square - and washed it just as I would my finished garment and then let it dry before measuring it. My swatch (mysteriously disappeared now that I want it to show y'all a picture) was spot on for gauge so I'm going to go ahead and cast on!