Managing a knit shop, I've
become quite intimate with human imperfections,
especially as they are expressed in knitting.
Patterns, flawed as they may be (see last
issue's feature), are still only useful
if we know and understand how to use them.
I've observed several kinds of knit-behaviors
that land knitters in frustrated tangles with
1: Wishful Thinking About Sizing.
Some knitters possess the remarkable ability
to deny reality. While this behavior most
often is seen in knitters seeking the one-ball-of-yarn
= one-scarf equation (no, not even size 19
needles will turn 35 yards of yarn into a
6-foot-long scarf), we do see it in pattern
users as well.
Wishful thinking can come into play with size
selection. Check out some of the patterns
in your knitting stash. Compare the small,
med, large, x-large sizes. What chest sizes
are these garments designed for? Are any of
the knit dimensions the same? When I hear
a knitter say, "Oh, I'll just make the
medium; that's the size I wear" I pull
out the tape measure, sit the knitter down
and explain the following things about knitting
There are no standard
sizes in knitting patterns. A small may
be written to fit a 30" bust, a 36"
bust, a 38" bust.
The word 'bust'
means, not your bra ribcage size,
but the measurement around the chest at
the widest point INCLUDING everything up
front at the nipples.
look at the FINISHED KNIT MEASUREMENTS on
the pattern to select the garment size to
If the knitter
is having a hard time selecting the size
to make, measure a favored sweater of similar
gauge to help the selection process.
Remember that the knit fabric
has a lot of give. You may only need a few
inches of ease to have a comfortable garment.
Maggie Righetti's books "Knitting
in Plain English" and "Sweater
Design in Plain English" cover the
territories of ease, fit, and how the pictured
garment may be flawed far better than I could
in this space -- take a look at what she's
2: Substituting Yarn Only By Gauge
wants to knit the garment but...Yarn A has
been discontinued or...is more expensive than
knitter's car. What to do.
Well, Yarn B gets the gauge
(and is on sale!), so the knitter substitutes.
Two weeks later, knitter returns to shop in
tears. The back of the garment is finished
but is as substantial as tissue paper, and
the cables just do not hold up in the cotton/silk
blend chosen to replace the wool. I sigh as
I help the knitter rip and select a pattern
more appropriate for the fiber content of
Here are a few rules
of thumb for substituting yarn in a pattern.
to find the original yarn -- even the color
card -- to look at the fiber content and
structure of the yarn. If the yarn
store does not carry the actual yarn called
for in the pattern, but carries other yarns
by that name, chances are that the yarn
store has the color card for the yarn in
your pattern. Ask them to see it, if only
to help you in your substitution process.
the best you can to match the fiber content
and structure of the yarn in your substitution,
along with gauge. For example, yarn L, a
single ply, 4.5 st/in 85% wool 15% mohair
yarn, would not be the best choice of substitution
for yarn G, a 100% wool 4-ply yarn. Yarn
C would be better (also plied, and 100%
wool). The plied structure similarity and
the fiber content (L's mohair gives it a
halo that is not necessarily what you want
for the pattern...) make C a better substitution.
the pattern. A cabled sweater needs a balanced,
plied yarn with good memory. That's because
the weight of the densely knit cable patterns
pulls the sweater out of shape a bit, so
wool (with more memory) is most appropriate.
The plied/balanced structure of the yarn
helps the cables stand out more crisply
against the ground pattern. So again with
the L vs G vs C, one would rather work with
yarn C on a cabled sweater. L's gonna
pill and stretch out of shape more quickly
because of its single-ply structure. That
singles yarn thing won't help the cables
'snap' forward in contrast to the ground
can substitute for cotton. Cotton, on the
other hand, does not do as well when substituting
for wool, especially in cabled patterns.
Cotton's weight per yard, denseness as a
fiber, and relative lack of memory make
it prone to drop when knit into heavier
patterns. Hold a cotton yarn next to wool
and twist a strand of each of them. Watch
the wool squish down on itself, while the
cotton just gets hard.
Swatch your substitution
yarn. Make a BIG swatch. Big means 5"
x 5" at least. It takes time, but are
you going to wear a garment that doesn't
fit? Be a realist about your gauge. One
of my customers substituted yarn and convinced
herself that she was getting the pattern
gauge of 6 sts = 1". However, the finished
garment could comfortably swaddle a baby
elephant, because she actually was knitting
4 sts = 1".
Read your pattern
through, especially the sleeve caps and armhole
shaping. How much row-by-row shaping is involved
here? Some shaped sleeve caps have row-by-row
instructions for the entire cap shaping.
Row gauge is more important
than you think. If your swatch indicates a
significant difference in row gauge, find
a different pattern. Your armhole shaping
and sleeve cap may not fit into each other,
or, may not fit you! If you are working with
a drop-sleeve pattern, or a pattern written
'knit to x inches' row gauge is not as important.
Read the pattern through first. It will keep
you out of a tangle.
Knit-Behavior 3: Not
Reading Through Before You Buy
When I hear a knitter say, "I've been
knitting since before you were born. I'll
have no trouble with this pattern" when
purchasing a pattern without reading it, I
wince inwardly. Every time a customer has
made this statement, s/he has been back to
the shop with problems reading the pattern.
Every single time.
These otherwise intelligent people have been
stumped by poor pattern layouts, unclear abbreviations
and instructions, and stitch counts that were
simply wrong. They had made the simple mistake
of not reading through the pattern in the
shop before they dove into the project.
Buried in it were 'skp' or 'raised left purl
increase' or some other technique that stopped
them in their tracks. Reference books like
Knitting: The Ultimate Knitter's Guide
(my personal favorite) provide lots of solutions
for new techniques that knitters stumble into.
The xerox machine provides
great assistance in previewing and making
patterns knitable. Knitting patterns are published
in a fashion convenient to the publisher.
They are not necessarily designed to be knit
from. So when I plan to start a published
project, I photocopy the pattern X number
of times - X being the number of pieces in
the pattern. Therefore, I make 5 copies of
my cardigan pattern. I enlarge and clarify
charts, sometimes the text as well (since
some of my favorite patterns were printed
in 6-point type to fit it onto one page. Yeah,
right, a font size smaller than my gauge.
Great.) I cut and paste each piece of the
pattern onto separate sheets of paper, either
in a notebook or on white 8.5 x 11 that I
then keep in a sheet protector. I lay out
the pattern as I cut and paste, including
stitch patterns on every page, schematics,
everything. I save the original pattern at
Cutting and pasting helps break down a larger
project into smaller bites. Every time I get
through another 'step' in a pattern, or reach
a nice 'stopping point', I know I'm getting
closer to finishing the garment. Plus I can
put the project down for a month or two and
know right where I am when I pick it up again.
Re-laying out the pattern
prevents problems like the one a customer
ran into last week. She's working on a skirt
from a summer issue knit-mag and had accidentally
skipped from one section of the pattern to
another -- which was an entirely different
piece of the garment. Easy thing to do, the
way the pattern was laid out. By keeping each
piece of the garment on separate sheets of
paper, the knitter can better keep track of
where s/he is in the pattern...and stay out