How long does it take to knit a sweater

A brief overview of how many hours it takes to finish a knitted sweater (on average)

The time it takes to finish a sweater will depend on four main variables: the size (S, M, L XL), your gauge (the density of your stitches), the complexity of your pattern, and your knitting speed. As a result, it can take as little as 10 hours and as much as 100 hours to finish a sweater.

So, if you want a definite answer to your question, you need to dig a bit deeper.

Step 1: Knitting speed

The probably most important factor here is your knitting speed. I knit at a speed of roughly 60 stitches per minute – that is if it’s just plain stockinette stitch. If it’s a complicated intarsia pattern, my speed can be reduced to 10 stitches per minute or less. The average intermediate knitter will probably knit around 20-30 stitches per minute.

It’s easy to record that. Just start a little swatch, set a time, and knit across for 120 seconds. Then count the stitches and divide by two. That’s your speed per minute. Don’t try to go as fast as possible but knit at your normal pace. You will have to interrupt knitting your sweater occasionally. You might have to turn around, join in a new needle, fix a mistake, etc..

Also, your speed will be much faster with 4-6 mm needles compared to very small needles or super big needles. This might be counter-intuitive but big needles require much bigger movements and will be much harder on your hands requiring more breaks, etc.

Step 2: Stitch count of a sweater

The second bit you’d have to find out is the total stitch count of your sweater. That, however, is a bit of data not readily available. You can either calculate the whole pattern through (not really feasible). Or you could guestimate it via the yardage and the gauge (very unreliable).

For example, I have a simple bottom-up Raglan sweater pattern here on my blog. If I go through the pattern line by line and add the stitches, I’ll end up with roughly 70,000 stitches for a male size M.

As an alternative, it says that you need 1070 meters of yarn for my size. The stitch gauge provided in the pattern is 2.1 st/cm. However, that is centimeters per finished fabric, not yarn on the cone. And this means you are kind of stuck because there’s no clear correlation between the two.

However, on average, a knit stitch needs 3.0 to 3.5 times more yarn than its wide. So, the easiest approach is to simply eyeball it.

  1. If my gauge (or the gauge of the pattern) tells me I can fit 2.1 stitches into each centimeter, so I can easily guess the approximate width of each stitch:
    1 cm ÷ 2.1 st/cm = 0.476 cm wide
  2. Then I multiply that width with the average yarn consumption per stitch
    0.476 cm * 3.5 cm/st = 1.67 cm of yarn per stitch
  3. And then I can simply divide the total yardage (in centimeters) by that number to guestimate the total number of stitches.
    107,000 centimeters ÷ 1.67 cm = 64,000 st
    (if you calculate with 3 cm per stitch the result would be 74.900 st; you can do the exact same calculations with inches & yards the formulas stay the same)

Be aware that this will be an educated guess. The only reliable way to find out how much yarn a stitch takes is to measure it. Start a swatch that is 10 stitches wide. At the beginning of a fresh round, use a pin (or a sharpie if it’s just scrap yarn) and pierce it right through the working yarn at the base of the last stitch.

Then, knit across the full 10 stitches, and mark the end of the very last stitch with another pin. Next, unravel and measure the distance in between. The rest is a simple calculation.

10 st = 17 cm
17 cm ÷ 10 st = 1.7 cm per stitch

Step 3: Work out the hours it takes to finish a sweater

In the example above, I know that I roughly knit at a speed of 60 stitches per minute. My sweater in my size has 70,000 stitches. So simply divide these two numbers and the result will be how long it will take to knit a sweater:

70,000 st ÷ 60 st/min = 1166 min = 19.4 hours

If you knit a bit slower (and there’s no shame there because I am a super fast knitter), then the time will increase. E.g. 70,000 st ÷ 30 st/min = 1166 min = 38.8 hours

From here, you can use the same equation to work things out for basically any other sweater. Here’s a chart with some rough examples to give you a first idea.

Please note that the yardage and gauge can vary greatly even between two sweaters in the same size and the same general yarn weight. I just went to Ravelry and calculated an average of the most popular sweaters for each category.

a chart showing how long it takes to knit a sweater for different sizes and yarn weights

However, that is only the bare knitting speed.

In reality, you will spend time with other tasks as well. You probably need to read through the pattern, knit a swatch, do some basic calculations, weave in ends, block the finished sweaters, etc. You will also probably have to fix a mistake here and there and you might even have to frog portions because things don’t fit.

It’s also important to understand that your knitting speed is typically not constant. It’s typically a bit slower in the first few minutes of a session (until your fingers limbered up), and will start to slow down towards the end of a session because your muscles will show sign of fatigue.

So, in the above example, I would be much safer to calculate with 25 hours. Considering that most people will only find time to knit for around 2 hours per day (on average), this would mean it will take 2 weeks to finish a sweater for an advanced knitter like me. If you only knit at an average speed, that time is quickly increased to a full month of knitting 2 hours every day.

Anyway, that’s how long it takes to knit a sweater. Comment below if you have any questions

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