No-Pattern Jumper (Part 1) – Setting Up

This first tutorial is all about setup. It is very wordy, and is all in preparation for casting on. That will follow in the next tutorial. 

Yarn weights and needle sizes – and how much yarn to buy

My sample jumper is make from DK-weight wool, knit on 4mm needles. I used 80cm needles for this. But – and this is a big but – you don’t have to use the same. This ‘recipe’ is all about learning to understand how to construct a jumper such as this, and this means you can adapt it for other yarn weights. However, I would suggest that you use DK the first time you try it out as your numbers will be similar to what I’ve done, and it might be easier to spot and fix if anything goes wrong.

In making this jumper there are a number of things you can customise, so the first step is think about what you’d like each of them to be like in the finished jumper. They are:

  • the width of the body – how tight or loose do you want it to be?
  • the length and tightness of the sleeves – how far down do you want them to go, and how tight do you want them to be?
  • the tightness and depth of the cuffs on the sleeves – do you like long cuffs or short ones? Tight or loose?
  • the tightness and depth of the hem at the bottom – how long do you want it to be? How tight?
  • The neck – where you do want the neck to end? At your throat, or further away? Do you want it to come up your neck a bit or be lower down at the back?

It is important to think about this first because the answers might make a difference when it comes to how much yarn you need – a baggier jumper will take more yarn than a tight one, as will a longer one. Working out how much yarn you need is quite tricky, and there are several ways you can go about it:

1. Look at freely available patterns for jumpers in the weight you’re going to knit in. For example, search for DK-weight free patterns on Ravelry and see how much yarn these patterns recommend for your approximate size.

2. Do you have another jumper made from DK yarn? Weigh it! That should give you an idea of how much yarn you might need.

3. Buy enough yarn to get you going, but from a shop/brand where you can easily order more in case you run out. 

In my case, each stripe took just under one 50g ball of yarn, and I used 6.5 50g balls of the yellow yarn. That’s 17 balls of yarn in total. But if I had made the jumper all in one colour then I would have probably used less, because the leftovers from the stripes would have added up to at least one ball. 

Fabric qualities

The next thing to think about is what kind of fabric you’d like to create: a tight fabric or a loose one? This is where you start to knit – but don’t get too excited, this is all about swatching to find out what works for you. 

If you’re not sure what difference needle sizes make to the fabric you create then do some sample swatches. Cast on 20 stitches in the needle size suggested on the ball band of your yarn, and knit 20 rows in this. Cast off. Then do the same, but with a needle size down, or even two, and a needle size up, or even two. Your fabric should be tighter the smaller the needle, and looser the bigger the needle. Which fabric do you like the most? Which would you like your jumper to have? Pick that needle size! You can now unravel your swatches, and use the yarn for the next swatch we’ll be doing – or for your actual jumper. If you don’t unravel your swatch then you might need to get an extra ball of yarn.

In my case, I used 4mm needles with my DK yarn because it gives me a kind of in-between fabric – not too tight, not too loose. 

Get measuring

Now it is time to measure – yourself, and a jumper that you like. You can use the attached document to note down your measurements. Here is a document to help you with that.

1. Measure at the widest point of your body.
2. Measure across your chest, under the arms.
3. Measure across your hips where you want your jumper to end.
4. Measure the length of your arms, from your armpit down to where you want your sleeve to end.
5. Measure your wrist (where you want to your sleeve to end), your elbow, and across your upper arm at your underarm.
6. Find the bony dip of your sternum underneath your neck. Where do you want the neck of your jumper to sit in relation to that? Lower? Higher? Just there? Make a note of that. I usually aim for the top of my sternum, or the top of my clavicles.
7. Measure from that point (the neck point) down to where you’d like your jumper to end (the bottom of the hem. In my case that it the point where my legs fold in, so that when I sit down the jumper touches my thighs.
8. Measure from your underarms down to the bottom of the jumper, where you’d like your jumper to end.

A jumper that you like
Do you have a jumper that fits the way you like? It doesn’t matter whether it is handmade or machine-made, or what it is made from – this is about the measurements. Lay it flat, and measure:

1. Across the hem*
2. Across the chest, under the arms*
3. The length of the sleeves, from the underarms to the bottom of the hem
4. From the centre of the neck down to the bottom of the jumper (at the front of the jumper)
5. From the top of the neck at the front to the top of the neck at the back – when you lay it flat you should be able to see that.
6. The width of the sleeves at the wrist, elbow and underarm.*

You can note your measurements on the same sheet as your body measurements – but be sure to note them down in the same way as your body measurements. That is, make sure you double those measurements where you only measure across one side, such as the chest. When you measure your body you’ll measure round it, but you measure your jumper flat – so double that number. You should only need to double the * bits. 

In my case, my chest measurement is 40.5 inches, and my flat jumper measurement is 21 inches – this gives me 42 inches as the number to write down. 

Do you like every feature of this jumper, or only some? For example, do you like how the body fits but the sleeves are too big or small, or too short or long? Make a note of this, and note down how you would like this to be different. Is the jumper the right length? Is the neck right? Basically, think about this jumper and your ideal jumper – how would you like the one you’re going to knit to be different from this jumper? Bear in mind that different fabrics behave differently – a thick sweatshirt, for example, will behave differently than a thin merino jumper. But, fundamentally, this exercise is about working out the length of your jumper and sleeves, and how much ease you like in your garments.

Ease is to do with how tightly you want your clothes to fit. Do you want the fabric to stretch? Do you want there to be extra fabric? When you wear the jumper you have measured, does the fabric stretch at all, or does it just kind of sit there naturally, or are there any loose bits?

In my case, I made the jumper with about 1.5 inches ease in the body because I want to wear it over other layers – I don’t want it to be too tight. There is slightly less ease in the sleeves – they are bigger than my arms (so the fabric isn’t stretched), but not 1.5 inches – that feels like too much spare fabric to me.

How do your measurements compare – your body vs. the jumper you have measured? What measurements would you like your finished jumper to have? Make a note of that also – perhaps as a third column on your sheet (I’d use a different colour so I wouldn’t confuse myself!).


Now that you know what measurements you’re aiming for it’s time to start swatching. Because the jumper will be knit in the round it is important that you also swatch in the round – our tension often changes when we knit flat. Because there is no pattern to follow it is really, really important that you swatch properly – I can’t emphasize this enough. Without a big enough swatch you won’t know what your tension is, and this means you won’t know how many stitches you’ll need to make a jumper that fits your measurements. You can unravel this swatch again when you cast on for your jumper.

An important side note: these jumper instructions rely on you knitting to a reliable tension – that is, knitting in such a way that you can be pretty sure that your tension is the same every time you pick up your knitting. If you are not confident that this is the case for you, then I would suggest you make three swatches, on three different days, and measure each of them. Then work out the average of those numbers, and use this as your baseline.

To swatch for this jumper, cast on 50 stitches on the needles that you intend to use for your jumper. Join to knit in the round, and knit until your swatch measures 5 inches. Cast off. You will likely find the ‘magic loop’ technique very handy here (and also when it comes to knitting the sleeves, and when you get down to the neck).

Then make a second swatch for the hem, cuffs and neck: cast on 48 stitches, but this time knit 2, purl 2 all the way across, and all the way up your swatch. This will tell you what your ribbed fabric will look like, and how it measures compared to your knit fabric. 

The key measurement for our purpose is the gauge across your swatch – how many stitches per inch (or cm, whichever measurement you’re more comfortable in). It is usually more accurate if you measure a bigger portion – 4 inches or 10cm – and then divide your stitch number to give you the magic number – your gauge. The second measurement to take is to see how many rows it takes you to knit 4 inches or 10cm – and what your ‘rows per inch’ or ‘rows per cm’ number is. This is less important for this jumper – the only point where you really need it is at the neck, but at that point you’ll have knitted so much of your jumper that you can just measure that instead.

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