Just like with human clothing, one size does not fit all. And with dog sweaters, the arbitrary sizing of extra small through extra large does little to determine whether or not that cozy pullover will fit your dog — especially if you’ve got a hard-to-fit breed like a Whippet, Great Dane, or Miniature Dachshund. The good news is you have the power to create a one-of-a-kind dog sweater that’s fit exactly to your dog’s measurements. Even if you can’t sew a stitch, you can create a warm winter outfit for your canine companion, often for far less than you would spend on a commercially made garment or a custom commission.
Getting the measurements
First things first, you’ll need to measure your dog. A soft dressmaker’s measuring tape is best for this, but if you don’t have one, you can use a length of string and a ruler. The measurements you need to create a good-fitting garment are the circumference of the neck where your dog’s collar sits, the circumference of the widest part of his body (usually just behind his front legs), the circumference of his tuck (or the skinniest part of his body, usually just in front of his hind legs) and the length from his collar to the base of his tail. If you’re ambitious and plan on giving your dog’s sweater sleeves, you’ll also need the circumference of his front legs and the distance between his front legs.
If your pup is a squirmy one, it may be best to enlist the help of a friend to handle or distract your pooch while you grab the measurements. Don’t worry if you can’t get exact ones — err on the side of too big rather than too small. A too-small sweater looks bad, but more importantly feels uncomfortable. A sweater that’s slightly too large will give your pooch extra room to move and flex.
Knit and crochet
Confession time: I’m a yarn hoarder. So naturally, my dogs get knit sweaters every year for winter. If you’re crafty with needles or a hook, a wide array of patterns exist — including free ones — to suit your needs. A quick web search can bring up a startling number of results, and you can search the online database at Ravelry.com to further narrow the search results to your parameters — knit, crochet, sleeves, no sleeves, turtleneck, basic stitches, worked flat or in the round. Ravelry allows you to specify all of that.
The most basic sweater is a rectangle, measuring the length from your dog’s collar to tail and half as wide as her circumference at the widest part of her body. Then knit or crochet two extra rectangles: one measuring half of her neck circumference, attached to the top of the body of the sweater, and one half of her body circumference at the widest part, attached midway down the body of the rectangle. Add buttons or hook and eye tape and you’re good to go.
Of course, you can also tailor an available pattern to fit your dog by measuring your stitches per inch and sizing the pattern up or down for your dog’s particular measurements, but that requires a fair bit of math and is a rather complex topic, which we won’t go into here (you can find that information on one of the many knit or crochet help websites available for your use).
A new skein of acrylic yarn, which is machine washable and dryable, doesn’t cost more than $5 new, but if you’re ultra frugal you can unravel a thrift store sweater, bringing the cost of the project down to a dollar or less.
Repurpose an old sweater
If you’ve got an old wool sweater sitting in your closet, send that baby through the washer and dryer on the hottest cycles your machines can handle. I’ll give you a minute to recover in horror — those of you who have accidentally done this to a beloved garment know that the sweater will come out matted and shrunken. When heat and agitation are applied to animal fibers, they compress and mat together. This process is called fulling or felting. In this case, it allows you to cut the sweater without fear of it unravelling. From there, you can cut out the basic rectangle shape of a sweater and sew it up. You don’t even need to be a seamstress — a length of yarn or thread and a basic whip stitch that you might have learned at summer camp long ago will get the job done just fine.
You may not even need to sew if your sweater shrank enough — just pop it on your pooch and head out the door. She’ll even have little sleeves to keep her legs warm on your winter walks. Felted sweaters are super warm and slightly water resistant, and you don’t need to worry about shrinking them in the wash — they’re already shrunken! Because the fibers are matted together, felted sweaters are super resilient, making this an ideal project for active dogs who spend time outdoors where a commercial sweater might get snagged or ripped easily.
This project is free if you have an old wool sweater laying around the house. If not, one can be had at the thrift store for cheap!
You can’t knit, you can’t crochet and you can barely sew a button in place. That’s no reason for your dog to miss out on the winter sweater fun. Grab some polar fleece from the craft store and cut those rectangles to your dog’s measurements, as outlined in the knitting section. Add a strip of no-sew or stick-on hook and eye tape to the tabs and you’re good to go.
Polar fleece doesn’t unravel when cut, is warm enough to keep most dogs cozy and comes in every pattern and color you can imagine. It couldn’t be simpler, and a yard of fleece (an amount suitable enough even for the big guys, like Great Danes) runs anywhere from $4 to $7. Stick on hook and eye tape runs anywhere from $1 to $3, bringing the total cost of this project to $5 to $10. Not bad for a craft project for the un-crafty!
Have you ever made your own dog sweater? Tell us about it in the comments!
About Caitlin Seida: Owned by three cats and two dogs, she never met an animal she didn’t like. A Jill-of-All-Trades, she splits her workday as a writer, humane society advocate and on-call vet tech. What little free time she has goes into pinup modeling, advocating for self-acceptance, knitting and trying to maintain her haunted house (really!).