Making Tie-Front Sweaters

Update your tired old sweater-knitting patterns with these fashionable tie-front tips!

It's inevitable. Just when you think you've completed your knitting library, fashions change. Suddenly tie-front sweaters are all the rage, and your pattern collection is dated. But don't let the shifting styles discourage you. With just a little planning, you can incorporate the tie-front look into any patterns on your shelf.

First, you'll need a pattern to adapt. A vest pattern is easiest, since it's already open at the front. But vests don't have sleeves, and tie-front sweaters usually do. So unless you already have the perfect open-front sweater pattern, you'll probably end up taking a regular pullover-style sweater and splitting it down the middle.

It's easiest when working in the flat, with the sweater front as a separate rectangle. Just knit up two pieces of the recommended length instead of one, each comprising half the stitches of the original front section.

Working in the round requires a little more preparation. You'll be converting a round pattern to a flat one, so obviously you won't join your last cast-on stitch to your first one. But also keep in mind that the edges of your piece correspond to the front of the sweater, not the sides. As you bind off for the armholes, your flattened, opened tube will split into three sections instead of two: the back, the left front, and the right front. And since you'll be turning the piece instead of working around a continuous tube, you'll be working wrong-side rows. If any decorative patterns are involved, keep the fancy stitching on the right side, converting the plain rows from knit to purl. You may need to translate increases and decreases to their wrong-side equivalents.

That "half the amount of stitches" recommended above is just a guideline. Depending on how much you want to show off the tie point and stretch the rest of the sweater, you might want to make your two front pieces (or single round-turned flat piece) somewhat narrower. You may even want to omit as much as the center third of the original sweater pattern.

You may also need to adjust the stitch count to accommodate a knit/purl or cable pattern. You don't want the front edges of the sweater to interrupt it mid-repeat. Your two front sections should have a stitch count equal to a multiple of the pattern stitch count. (If knitting in the round-turned-flat, your piece should begin before and end after a full pattern repeat.) Round down to make the numbers fit. You could also convert any remainder stitches to a non-curling pattern suitable for edges, such as moss stitch.

So now you have a plan to knit a basic open-fronted sweater. All you need now is the tie. For a simple tie, pick up about an inch of stitches at the desired tie-off point and work an I-cord to the desired length. This is a great method when you want the sweater to tie at the collar or bust. Since the cord will get more wear and tear than the rest of the sweater, you may want to work it on needles one since smaller.

Another way to create the tie is to incorporate it into the shape of the overall garment. That is, instead of attaching a cord later, design cord-like extensions right from the beginning. This gives a nice look to waist or bust tie-offs. For an easy waist tie, cast on about 18" of additional stitches on the inside edge of the front pieces (or at either end of your round-turned-flat piece). Work this number of stitches for as many rows as necessary to complete the width of the tie, then bind off the extra stitches and continue up the front as planned. Or, for a more tapered look, bind off a few stitches at a time over several rows.

A tie-off at the bust line offers even more opportunity for stylish touches. Try working a lace pattern in the chest area instead of boring old stockinette. When worn over a contrasting color shirt and tied snugly, the lace will show up beautifully. For a bold fashion statement, work only the top halves of the front sections, ending them with the bust-level tie-off. This will give the full-length back section a cape-like effect.

These tips are only the beginning. As you get more comfortable with adapting patterns to your personal taste, there's no end to how you might spruce up your sweaters. Have fun!

© High Speed Ventures 2011