Greetings and a hearty MDK welcome to one of the online knitting community’s brightest stars, Dana Williams-Johnson. While Dana is responsible for a prodigious number of people-sized sweaters for herself and others, she shares the spotlight with two tiny housemates, Cher and Jellybean. Dana’s freehand conversion of colorwork sweater patterns into versions for small dogs looks effortless, and we (ahem, especially Kay) were curious about how she does it. Thank you, Dana, for sharing your process here.
—Kay and Ann
I knit a lot and specifically I love to knit sweaters. But let’s be honest, what attracts the most attention are my dogs in sweaters I’ve knit them. As my sweater skills improve, I’ve found that modifying patterns to fit my dogs is probably the most fun thing to knit.
It started with my Angelina sweater. I knit one for myself, and the entire time I was knitting it, my smallest dog, Jellybean, was using the ball of yarn as her pillow. When I finished knitting my Angelina I thought, I’ve got yarn left over, how do I adapt this sweater to make Jellybean one too? She’s so small that most standard dog patterns weren’t made to fit her. But that spark of curiosity is what led me down the custom dog sweater rabbit hole.
In my opinion, the best sweater style for dogs is a circular yoke sweater. Why a circular yoke? Dogs don’t have shoulders like we do, and the sloping style of a circular yoke seems to be one of the best ways to adapt a human sweater into a dog sweater.
My latest experiment came with my Tecumseh sweater. Tecumseh is knit top down, with a circular yoke and colorwork, so of course both of my dogs were going to have to have one. (See: Tiny and Teeny Tiny Tecumsehs.)
The Tiny-fication of People Sweaters: A Recipe
If you’re thinking of knitting your dog a sweater, here are a few things you need to know before you get started.
- Gauge: I find this to be the easiest part when adapting a pattern. I’ve already got my finished object (my own sweater), so I’ve got gauge and know what needles I’m going to work with.
- Dog’s measurements: You need to know your dog’s neck size, chest width, length from neck to tail and the distance in the front to where you want to end your sweater. (Some people with male dogs like to end their sweaters a bit shorter than you would with female dogs.) I also measure the distance from the neck to where the armholes would start on the dog’s sweater; it will help you know how much room you’ve got to work with if you’re incorporating colorwork or cables.
- Patience: I prefer a top-down sweater style so that I can try it on my dog as I go along, but you’ve got to have patience and sometimes treats to get them to cooperate as you adapt the sweater to their body.
Fittings are easy.
For my Tecumseh sweater I got gauge at 22 inches by 28 inches over 4 inches of stockinette stitch on size 6 needles. I was going to use the exact same yarn for the girls’ sweaters as I did for my own. Cher has just under a 12-inch neck, so if I multiply 22 x 3, I’ll get 66 stitches, or about 12 inches. I decided to cast on 64 inches of ribbing for her the neck to help myself with the math I’d have to do to accommodate the colorwork pattern.
With this sketch and the original sweater pattern, you can transform a people sweater into a dog sweater. (the sleeves will make sense when you get to them!)
For the yoke, I knew I had about 4 inches before I was going to separate for the sleeves at her chest. Cher’s chest measures about 18 inches, so before I got to the sleeves, I needed to increase from 64 neck stitches to 96 stitches to keep a multiple that would work with the colorwork. I decided to gradually place four 8-stitch increase rounds through the colorwork yoke to add the necessary 32 stitches.
For Cher’s sweater, I kept the colorwork and charts identical to the original people sweater. For Jellybean’s smaller sweater, I modified it a bit, making the crosses smaller and omitting a few pieces of the feather to make it fit.
The trickiest part is armhole placement. The back of a dog sweater is typically a bit wider than the chest. Before I put sleeves on waste yarn, once I’ve gotten to the chest width I mark the armholes with removable stitch markers, and then slip the piece over my dog’s head to make sure I like where I’ve placed them.
For Cher’s sweater, I made the back 40 stitches wide (20 stitches on each side of the beginning of round marker). For the sleeves I put 18 stitches on each side on a piece of waste yarn (I prefer a wider sleeve than a super slim one, just for ease of putting a sweater on a dog). I then cast on 6 stitches at each underarm to give her room, and left 20 stitches between the two sleeve holes for the front. The best part of knitting a top-down sweater is that there are multiple opportunities to try it on as you go, as long as your dog is willing to deal with the fittings.
After you’ve determined sleeve placement, it’s smooth sailing with body work. Often, I’ll mimic the shape of the original sweater, or continue the colorwork a bit for the body. Lately I’ve been opting for a curved hem with short rows to accommodate the front and still give coverage for the back. Once I get the front to the length I want (minus any ribbing), I place stitch markers at the front 20 stitches and then work back and forth with short rows to shape the back of the sweaters. It gives a soft curve to the sweater and a little bit of extra style.
Cher shows off the curved back hem.
Jellybean definitely has more sweaters than Cher, since she’s smaller and always cold, but these are so quick and easy to make for a small dog that I can’t resist making them. It’s a fun thing to make that always makes people smile.
If you feel there are not enough pictures of Jellybean and Cher and their sweaters in this post, we recommend this one.