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... but will it fit?


At the first blush of the romance, your heart races and your mind blossoms with the possibilities of what might be.

During the honeymoon, you settle into complacency; while you remember the heady rush you first felt at the initial encounter, for the time being you're content to plod along, unthinking, and not particularly caring what the future might hold.

And in the twilight of the relationship, you stare into the mirror and realize: it's just not right. It has to end now.

And as you tear the sweater off your body and hurl it into the corner, uttering unrepeatable oaths, you vow: the next time I knit something, I swear it's going to fit.

Knitting mistakes happen, both on small and grand scales. Minor mistakes are dropped stitches and miscrossed cables, and can be easily fixed or ignored, depending on your personal level of obsessive-compulsiveness. Major mistakes are errors in judgment, like choosing the wrong yarn, picking the wrong style for your body, or knitting the wrong size. They're a little harder to ignore.

Nobody's perfect, and even experienced knitters who claim to know better can still knit up a garment that looks better on the blocking board than the body. But with a little bit of thinking in advance, you can avoid disappointment by developing realistic expectations of your next major knitting project, and planning a garment that fits the way you expect it to fit. Some of that thinking involves choosing the right yarn for the right project, particularly if you're not using the same yarn recommended by the pattern. Some of the realistic expectations come from understanding the type of fabric you'll be creating, which you'll hopefully learn from a gauge swatch, and from understanding how different clothing styles look and fit. And of course, some of that planning involves picking the right pattern size for your body.

This article deals specifically with learning how to pick the best pattern size before you pick up the needles. Of course, getting a perfect fit doesn't end there; patterns can't be written for a continuous spectrum of sizes, so designers and publishers typically choose a specific finished bust measurement, then increment or decrement that measurement by a fixed amount to create other pattern sizes. Because patterns can't be sized to fit the infinite number of body shapes and sizes that exist, it's normal to have to make some tweaks to somebody else's pattern to get the optimum fit for yourself. Those tweaks, though, will have to wait for a future issue; before you get that that point, you need to pick the right starting size first.

Picking your style

Part of developing realistic expectations about a garment is understanding what styles look best on you. This article isn't meant to provide fashion or style advice. There are lots of other places to find that kind of information: books, magazines, websites, and television shows. And just because you're knitting your clothing doesn't mean you should restrict yourself to knitting books when looking for style advice. If a V-neck t-shirt looks good on you, then you'd probably look good in a V-neck sweater too. If purchased tops with turtlenecks or funnel necks make your chest look far too big, the problem won't be fixed by knitting a turtleneck or funnel neck instead.

In other words, the style logic that applies to store-bought clothes applies to clothes you make yourself. If you fall in love with a sweater with horizontal stripes or empire waist detailing, remind yourself about how you think you look when you're wearing horizontal lines that visually divide your body into strips before you commit to the knitting.

If you're planning to knit a garment with styling that doesn't resemble anything that's already in your wardrobe, consider doing a little shopping. Try to locate a garment that has similar design lines to the one in the pattern, so that you can try it on and get an idea about how it might look on your body.

Assuming that you're not a candidate for a clothing makeover show, you can survey your own wardrobe and do a little shopping to figure out what hand-knit designs would look best on your body, or at least the designs that you think will look best and make you feel good.

Starting with your existing wardrobe, pull out the tops that make you feel attractive and confident. Now, the majority of the clothing you wear probably isn't hand knit, and is made of far thinner fabric than hand-knit material, so don't rely on your everyday clothes to provide an accurate gauge of the amount of ease (space) you want to incorporate in your knitting. However, you can examine these clothes to identify some common style themes: do you find a lot of crew necks, scoop necks, V-necks, turtlenecks? Are the sleeves set-in sleeves, three-quarter length sleeves, raglan sleeves? Do the hems of tops and jackets hit you at the waist, high hip, or mid-thigh? If you can spot some common style themes, then you can train yourself to look for them when perusing knitting patterns.

Moving on to the sweater and cardigan-like garments in your wardrobe -- the ones that you've knit, or could have been hand knit by you, and are made at knitting gauges similar to what you'd knit --pick your favourites and try to evaluate why they're your favourites. Where do the hems hit your body: high hip, waist, mid-thigh? Are the necks high and fitted, or lower and looser? Is there a lot of space at the underarm to allow you to wear loose t-shirts underneath, or do they fit too closely for that? If you plan to knit something that differs significantly from the common elements you detect in your existing wardrobe, it sometimes helps to go shopping and try on garments that resemble what you're planning to make before you decide to go ahead.

The camera never lies

When you do peruse knitting patterns, try to train yourself to look at the clothes, not the model or the setting. Knitting publications that have bigger production budgets spend more on photography, stylists, and models. This can add up to distracting accessories and unintentionally misleading poses.

Is what you see what you get?

Magazine and book photography stylists have tricks to make garments fit differently than they really do in real life, or to hide flaws in the garment's design. They may not use these tricks, but it's good to be aware of them.

Often, professional models (read: non-typical body types) are used to display the clothing -- thinking probably borrowed from other parts of the publishing industry. This means the clothes won't hang the same way on the model as they will on the typical body. The sample garment might appear to be much looser-fitting than it really is since the model is so much smaller than average. Or the stylist might make hidden adjustments [often with clothespins at the back of a garment] to make the garment behave closer to the way it was intended or to make a more appealing photograph.

Even if the garment fits the model as the designer intended, without alteration, the pose itself can alter the look of the garment. The more natural the model's pose in the photograph, the more you can rely on the photograph to provide information about the fit of a garment. Be wary of poses where the model is:

  • sitting (this disguises the actual length of the garment);
  • standing, sitting, or lying down with both her arms raised above shoulder height (this makes the body and sleeves appear shorter);
  • stretching or scrunching the garment fabric (this distorts the garment shape); or
  • nonexistent (for example, a photograph of a sweater lying flat with no reference as to size).

If the only photographs available feature one of these distracting poses, it's even more important to examine the pattern schematics or draw your own to analyze before knitting.

For example, a sweater on a seated model can appear longer than it actually is when the model's standing. Consider Rosebud from the Spring 2004 issue of Knitty. The designer thoughtfully included photographs both sitting and standing, so you can get an accurate picture of where the garment hem is intended to fall. Many knitting publications, however, don't have room for multiple views, so what would happen if the editor had decided to pick the sitting shot? You wouldn't be certain how long the garment was meant to be.

Add to that the fact that many sample garments for knitting publications are worked up in "real world" sizes, while the model's body shape is likely far from average. The clothing may have been knit to fit the designer herself, or at least to match one of the pattern sizes; but if the model has one of those typically skinny model figures, the photograph probably won't represent the garment the way the designer intended, or the way it will fit on you. Without information about the model's actual dimensions, and the dimensions of the garment she's wearing, you likely won't be able to use a photograph by itself to accurately predict what the finished product will look like when you're actually wearing it. The photograph gives you some clues, but you'll get more information from the pattern details.

Picking your size

If you've been knitting sweaters and cardigans for a while, you've probably figured out that the typical small-medium-large sizing that's followed in patterns is often inconsistent, not only between different publishers or yarn companies, but also between different patterns published by the same company. Knitters are often frustrated to discover that, while they're roughly a medium when they purchase clothing, that rule doesn't always carry over to knitting patterns; and even if they're a "medium" in patterns published by one yarn company, they're a "large" or a "small" in patterns published by somebody else. Even within a single publication -- especially ones with a number of contributing designers --the "S-M-L" sizing can vary.

Some of that frustration may be due to a lack of standardization of sizes across the industry, but in cases where the publication does adhere to consistent sizing (and unfortunately, this often isn't clear unless the publisher uses a visibly obvious standard, like the Craft Yarn Council of America's (CYCA) sizing standards), it may be caused by confusion between the "finished" sizes and dimensions that are often given alongside the pattern's "S-M-L" sizing.

Remember that when knitting pattern sizes are given as dimensions rather than "S-M-L", those numbers usually represent the measurement around the fullest part of the bust, not clothing size (which can vary from country to country) or bra size.

The typical knitting pattern these days describes the sizes of the garment in terms of "finished" measurements as well as "S-M-L" sizing. Because knitters, as consumers, expect "S-M-L" sizing to be standardized (which is a reasonable expectation), they sometimes think that the "finished" numbers are meant to represent dimensions under the standard as well. That's not quite true.

Consider, for example, Belle Epoque from the last issue of Knitty. The pattern says that it's written for sizes small, medium, large, and extra-large, and gives corresponding finished bust dimensions of 40, 43.5, 48, and 51.5 inches. Now, a knitter with a 33-inch bust who consults the CYCA's standards for women's sizes and identifies herself as a standard "small", might then turn to the pattern and think, This can't be right! The finished small is 40 inches, yet the pictures show it's not loose around the bust; it won't look right on me! when, in fact, the pattern is right.

Why the confusion? It's all about ease.

Ease is the difference in measurements between your body and the garment, or in other words, the extra "space" available. In sewing, ease is typically defined as the sum of wearing ease and design ease, where wearing ease is the minimum amount of ease needed for a comfortable fit, and design ease is anything extra that was added by the designer in order to achieve a certain look. The design ease can thus vary widely from pattern to pattern, whereas the wearing ease is assumed to be (but isn't necessarily) fairly constant. Ease values are usually measured and calculated for the major fitting points on the body, in particular the bust and the hips. For tops, jackets, coats, and sweaters, when we refer to "ease" we usually mean the ease at the fullest part of the bust or the widest point of the chest. Sometimes the ease around the upper arm is considered as well.

Hand-knit designs make use of wearing ease and design ease as well, but unfortunately the distinction between wearing ease and design ease is not widely understood, for example by our hypothetical Belle Epoque knitter. Reading through the pattern, you can see that at the finishing stage, there are two options for wearing the garment: either a ribbon band is fastened on to create an empire waist that cinches in the garment to create a closer fit, or elastic is fastened inside under the bust to gather the fullness at the back. Either way, the hypothetical Belle Epoque knitter probably would have been happy with the extra "space", which was in fact due to the design ease in the pattern. If she chose to wear it without the elastic or belt, however, it would not have the same finished appearance.

To further confound the sizing issue, the amount of wearing ease necessary to achieve a functional, comfortable garment varies depending on the fabric and the type of garment. Consider the two sweaters in this picture:

The turtleneck on the left is a purchased cashmere sweater machine knit at a gauge of about 14 stitches over 1 inch. At its widest point, it measures 33.5 inches around. The turtleneck on the right is a hand-knit sweater in Rowan Magpie at 4.5 stitches over 1 inch that measures 36 inches around at the widest point. That's a difference of 2.5 inches. When worn by a body with a 33-inch bust, this means that the sweater on the left has only 0.5 inches of ease, while the right-hand sweater has 3 inches. Yet, when worn, the sweaters appear to have approximately the same fit and silhouette, and the wearer feels like she has about the same amount of breathing room.

The difference in ease in these two sweaters is due to the thickness of the fabric. The fabric knit at 14 stitches per inch is quite thin and, in this case, has more drape and malleability than the fabric knit at 4.5 stitches per inch. A fabric knit at 4.5 stitches per inch is usually fairly thick --about 1/8 of an inch or more, depending on the type of yarn. Part of that ease in the Rowan Magpie sweater, when worn, is actually taken up by the thickness of the fabric itself. If we assume that the Magpie fabric was about 3/16 inches thick, then in fact the internal measurement of the sweater will be about 35 inches -- an inch of that 36-inch measurement is lost already. (This explains why close-fitting tops knit in mega-gauge yarns make anybody look chunky. The fabric adds width to the wearer!) If the sweater has particularly thick side seams, this will eat up a bit of ease as well. The rest of that extra ease provides the freedom of movement that's already accommodated in the machine-knit sweater because of its more fluid fabric.

Some oft-quoted advice on picking a pattern size is to take a pullover or cardigan out of your wardrobe and measure it to determine its finished chest measurement, then choose a pattern size with a finished measurement that matches this number. So, for example, if you have a 37-inch bust and you have a favorite sweater that measures 44 inches, you'll always pick the pattern size that's closest to a finished measurement of 44 inches. It's also sometimes advised to use some standard guidelines on ease (whether from a design book or other source), and to always make sure that you apply those numbers when choosing a size. In that case, if you read somewhere that the average ease for a "standard" fitting sweater was about 4 inches and you measured 42 inches around the bust, you'd always choose the pattern size closest to 46 inches for a "standard" sweater.

But as we just saw, it's entirely possible that different amounts of ease are necessary to create a "standard" fitting sweater (whatever "standard" means) depending on the chosen yarn. If the pattern size for the Magpie sweater above had been chosen based on the measurements of the machine knit sweater, the result would have been disappointing and rather uncomfortable to wear.

In other words, don't assume that all clothing should have a predetermined ease, like two inches or four inches or six inches for three reasons:


  1. The minimum amount of ease necessary to even have a comfortable fit can vary widely depending on the type of fabric, its thickness, and its drape. As a general rule, the thicker or stiffer the fabric, the more wearing ease is needed for a comfortable fit. The more drape the fabric has, the closer fit it can have and still be comfortable. The sweater on the left is knit from a cotton ribbon yarn, and is therefore rather fluid in terms of gauge--on a hanger, its gauge is about 4.5 stitches per inch; relaxed and lying flat, it's about 4 stitches per inch, but when worn it can reach 3.5 stitches per inch and still not look like it's being unduly stretched out. This particular sweater has negative ease, being one inch smaller than the wearer; however, it does not look tight, and the wearer is not constrained the fabric. If this sweater had been knit from a stiff, thick wool at the same relaxed gauge of 4 stitches per inch and with negative ease, it would have been uncomfortable.
  2. Over the decades, clothing silhouettes have changed, so the fitting advice changed too. A knitting or sewing book published in the 1950s advocated less ease than a book published in the 80s or 90s. But women's clothing during the earlier era tended to hug the figure. Towards the end of the century, clothing became looser, and so did ease recommendations.
  3. Regardless of the era, different styles of clothing call for different amounts of ease in order to maintain the flow and silhouette that the designer intended. They also need different amounts of ease depending on the intended function of the clothing. Not all sweaters and cardigans are are meant to be worn over loose t-shirts or as outerwear. Sweaters and cardigans meant to be worn over something else obviously need more ease than tops meant to be worn over nothing but undergarments.

After all this discussion about the uncertainty about ease, how do you figure out which size you should be knitting?

If you want to measure an existing garment in order to figure out what size garment you should be knitting from a pattern, be sure to choose an existing garment that matches the pattern design as closely as possible in silhouette, drape, and function. Don't use a thickly cabled Aran jacket to figure out the ease you need for a trim vintage-style cardigan, and don't use a raglan sweater to calculate the right size for a summer top.

First of all, don't look at the pattern sizing right away. Look first at the pictures of the garment itself. Keeping in mind the potential pitfalls in relying exclusively on a photograph of a model wearing a sample garment, ask yourself how the designer intended garment to fit. Is it loose fitting or tight fitting, or something in between? Does it lightly skim over the body, or does it hug every curve?

Second, check the pattern description to see what it says about the fit -- the next clue about the designer's intentions.

Third, move on to the actual pattern sizing. If the pattern gives sizes in a standardized S-M-L system, then using that standard you can figure out which size the designer intended you'd wear. If the pattern sizing is given in terms of the wearer's full bust measurement, then you can identify the size meant for you with even more certainty. And if the pattern sizing includes ease recommendations, then you can add your own full bust measurement to the recommended ease amount to determined what the finished garment size should be, and choose the appropriate size.

If you are choosing a size to fit a bra cup measurement that is deeper than a B-cup size, don't be tempted to add extra ease, or choose a larger size, simply to accommodate the bust. If you need extra fabric to cover the bust, chances are what you need is length, not extra width. That extra length is often best added by incorporating short rows, where possible, to the front of the garment. [Editor's note: for a good example of short rows added to a pattern accommodate bust size, see Mariposa in this issue.]

By this point, you will have narrowed your choices down to a single size, or to two possible sizes if you fall in between them. Now is to time to make a few checks to see if you've picked the right size(s):

  • Take a look at the finished dimensions for those sizes you've chosen, and satisfy yourself that they're accurate. In other words, read through the pattern to determine the number of stitches at the widest point of the chest, and multiply it by the stitch gauge for the pattern stitch used at that point to make sure that the dimensions reported in the pattern matches what you've calculated. You never know -- there could be an inadvertent error in the sizing.

  • From the pattern size you've chosen, and given the garment's dimensions and your dimensions at the fullest bust point, you can calculate the amount of ease built into the garment (the difference between the space in the garment and you). With this information and knowledge about the garment style and the type of knitted fabric it's made of, you can look for an existing garment with a similar style, fabric, and ease to try on. If you like the look and the fit, then you've found the right pattern size. If it could stand to be a bit larger or smaller, look to the other pattern sizes. If this seems laborious, compare the hour or two of shopping with the days or weeks you'd spend knitting something that's potentially the wrong size.
  • Don't try to guess the right pattern size based on the length of the sleeves or body; some designers are short, and others are tall, and they might inadvertently bias these lengths to favor their own torso and arm length.
  • For set-in sleeve styles, you can make an even more accurate determination of the correct size by examining the pattern schematics -- not for the bust size, but for the shoulder width. Set-in sleeved garments are usually designed so that the shoulder seam crosses the shoulder point itself or somewhere nearby. This dimension is not significantly affected by changes in design or wearing ease. Measure yourself from shoulder to shoulder (see the CYCA's instructions on "How to Measure") and compare your measurement to the shoulder-to-shoulder measurement in the pattern schematics. Choose the size that has a cross-shoulder measurement not more than one inch longer or shorter than your own. (If the pattern doesn't have schematics, it's a very good idea to sketch them out yourself.) This step doesn't always work for modified drop shoulder sleeves, unless you can tell from the photographs that the shoulder seam should lie at or near the shoulder point, and it doesn't work for set-in sleeve styles that have shoulder detailing like gathers or shirring. It also doesn't work for sleeveless tops, because the shoulder line is often cut in towards the neck to expose more of the shoulder joint. If the garment is meant to be a loose-fitting, outerwear garment, then set-in sleeve shoulders need to be extended a bit more to accommodate the clothing underneath -- look for a shoulder width that's no more than about two inches longer than your own cross-shoulder measurement, unless the shoulders are meant to be a bit exaggerated.

Other styles are a little more forgiving than others if you choose the wrong size. For example, raglan sleeved garments, which do not have a seam running over the shoulder, are quite accommodating of various sizes; the amount of design ease will change, but it will still be a pretty good fit. An extreme example is this slouchy-fitting sweater. It was intended to be extremely loose, with a huge amount of ease; however, it fits quite nicely over a range of sizes. Raglans and drop shoulder styles, in particular, make the tasks of multi-sizing and choosing the correct size easier for both the designer and knitter.

Let's apply these steps to another pattern -- Tempting, from the last issue of Knitty. Let's assume that a hypothetical Tempting wearer has a 39-inch bust measurement, as measured around the fullest part of the chest. What size does she need?

First, we look at the photographs. As with most Knitty patterns, we have the benefit of seeing the top that was actually sized for the person who's modelling it, so we know we don't have to take the photographs with a grain of salt. What we can see, from the pictures, is that the whole garment is ribbed and that it's rather fitted. In fact, we can see that the garment fits around the waist, which suggests that the fabric must be stretched a little bit around the midriff. The fabric is definitely stretched around the bust and below the waist, as we can see that the ribbing is stretched out even more. The conclusion? Tempting is a tight-fitting garment, to the point that it should stretch to fit around the body with no extra fabric bagging anywhere. This suggests that whatever ease is necessary is going to be very small indeed.

Next, we look at the pattern itself. The text description doesn't tell us anything about the fit itself, except to note that there is no need for "added shaping," meaning there must not be any increasing or decreasing to make Tempting fit the body. And in fact, by reviewing the pattern instructions, we can see that the body is simply a tube knit in knit 2, purl 2 ribbing, with no increases or decreases to fit.

The pattern sizing tells us that it fits five sizes: small, medium, large, extra large, and extra extra large, with a finished chest measurement of 32, 36, 40, 44, or 48 inches respectively. Now, if we make assumptions about the sizing -- for example, that size medium has a 36- to 38-inch bust measurement, and size large is 40 to 42 inches (again, using CYCA standard numbers) -- we might be able to deduce that our hypothetical Tempting knitter is between the medium and large sizes. So we need to do some more thinking before picking a size. (If we didn't make this assumption about the meaning of a medium or large size, then based on the other information we've gathered so far we could conclude that we need a rather close fit across the bust, and concluded that something between the 36- and the 40-inch finished sizes would have been appropriate anyway.)

We take a look at the pattern to determine if the reported dimensions of the garment are correct. Tempting doesn't have a schematic, but we can tell by reading the instructions that it's a tube, knit in the round. For the medium size, 180 stitches are cast on and worked in rib, and there will be 180 stitches still when we reach the bust. For the large size, we knit around on 200 stitches.

The gauge information specifies 18 stitches over 4 inches in stockinette, which translates to a medium-sized tube with a 40-inch circumference, or a large-sized tube with a 44.4-inch circumference. Hang on -- we've already figured out this is going to be a close fit with some stretching over the bust, and both of these numbers are larger than our hypothetical knitter's bust measurement. In this case, there's another piece of information to process: we know that we're knitting in ribbing, and we know, from experience, that ribbing pulls in the fabric. So in fact, while the finished dimension of the medium size might be reported as 40 inches, we now know that this measurement was based on a stockinette gauge, not the ribbed gauge. When the top is knit up, it will appear to be a lot smaller than 40 inches. We can safely assume, though, that based on typical ribbing characteristics, it will at least stretch out to match the reported finished dimension of 40 inches, which is certainly enough stretch to accommodate a 39-inch bust.

Now, putting these pieces of information together:

  • this is a tight-fitting top that needs to stretch around the body;
  • it's knit in rib, so it will appear to be smaller than the necessary finished dimensions, but it will stretch to the reported finished dimensions; and
  • we don't want any excess fabric.

These factors suggest that this is a design where one should err on the side of too small, rather than too loose. Of our two potential sizes, the medium is the size to choose. And just in case, we know that the number of stitches we'll be using can probably stretch up to 40 inches, at least.

And let's take Rosebud as another example. Again, our hypothetical Rosebud wearer has a 39" bust. Which size does she need?

Examining the photographs, we see that the bodice of Rosebud fits smoothly over the bust, without appearing too tight -- the fabric over the bust doesn't look particularly stretched, as it did in Tempting. Because the top flares out beneath the empire waist, we won't look at those measurements to try to pick a size; we'll concentrate on the upper part. The sleeve style is set-in, so we know that we can also look at the cross-shoulder measurement later to confirm the size we've picked. The yarn chosen is a wool blend, which seems soft without being too drapey; while it fits the body smoothly and the fabric falls in soft folds in the sitting shot, the flared sleeves look a little stiff.

The pattern description itself doesn't say much about the upper body fit, although there's a clue in the description of Rosebud as recapturing the "feminine" feeling of impending motherhood: "feminine" confirms that to replicate the intended silhouette, we don't want to hide the curves of the bust by draping excess fabric over them.

Moving on to the pattern sizing, we can see that the body sizes were expressed as full bust measurements. Clearly, our Rosebud wearer, with a bust that measures 39 inches over the fullest part, falls in between the two largest sizes. Now, which one?

Looking at the finished measurements, the bust at the fullest point is 39 inches for the second-largest size (exactly our wearer's dimension), and 41.5 inches for the largest size. We can satisfy ourselves that the finished dimensions given are accurate, based on the pattern instructions and the gauge, and we can tell from the sizing that the designer intended to provide a small amount (1 inch) of ease. But for our hypothetical Rosebud wearer, the second-largest size has zero ease, and the largest size has 2.5 inches of ease. That's two and a half times as much space as the designer intended; is that going to be too much?

If you're knitting for yourself, don't succumb to the temptation of choosing the next larger pattern size just to be "safe" without trying to figure out if you really need that extra space first.

If you're knitting for someone else who isn't available for try-ons or consultation, be "safe" if you wish, but try to include some extra insurance to make alterations easier.

At this point, the wearer can go out and try on some sweaters knit to a similar gauge in a wool blend, to decide whether zero ease or 2.5 inches of ease is better for her. We can also look at the cross-shoulder measurements. If our wearer measures 15 inches across the shoulders, it looks like either size will fit; but looking again at the photos, it really does seem like a closer fit is better than a looser fit. The conclusion? The right starting size is probably the second-largest size, with the finished 39 inch measurement; but because this allows for absolutely no ease, some tweaking will be necessary to add the additional space around the bust.

Extra insurance

Now, even if you did choose the best starting pattern size to the best of your ability, and even if you did a little tweaking to the size (which we're saving for later instalments), you may still wind up with a wonky fit or a misjudgment of length, despite your best intentions. In those cases, there are some other precautions you might be able to take to make any post-try-on ripping and fixing a little more bearable.

Knit in the logical fitting order. Some knitters break the monotony of knitting large garment pieces by doing them "out of order", so to speak: knitting the sleeves before tacking the body, or perhaps first knitting the back, then a sleeve, then the front, and another sleeve. Knitting the sleeves, for some, is also a clever way of getting around the obligatory gauge swatch: if the first four inches or so of the first sleeve block to the right gauge, fine; if the sleeve isn't the right size, then it's less painful to rip back and start over.

However, if you're concerned about the fit, don't start with a sleeve. Knit the gauge swatch, and once you've got gauge, knit the body first so that you can block, sew, and try it on first. Then, you can ask yourself questions like:

  • Is the neck flattering and will it fit over your head?
  • If this is a set-in sleeve garment, will the shoulder seam lie in the right place? If it seems like it's too far away from the shoulder, you might want to rip both the front and back down to the armscye decreases, and decrease less. If the shoulder looks like it has flanges that protrude far too much, then rip the front and back to the armscye decreases, and decrease more to make the shoulders narrower.
  • Does the armscye allow enough room for your arm to move around, even when the bulk of a sleeve is added? If not, you may wish to undo the shoulders and lengthen the straight portion of the armscye.
  • If the garment is sleeveless, is the armscye high enough to cover the underarm area you want to cover? If not, you can rip back the shoulders or straps until they're short enough to raise the armscye to the level you want.
  • Do you need to rip the front to add short row bust shaping?

For this try-on, you really don't have to seam and finish the body pieces the way you would for the finished garment. Once blocked to the right dimensions, you can simply baste the front and back together at the sides and shoulders with a running stitch and a smooth, contrasting yarn. The seams won't lie flat the way they would using mattress stitch or grafting techniques, but you'll get a good idea of the fit.

If possible, knit in the direction that makes it easiest to make adjustments. You may wish to consider knitting from the top down rather than the bottom up to gain two distinct advantages: first, if the garment is knit in the round, then you can pull it over your head periodically to check the fit and catch problems while they're still easy to solve; and secondly, knitting from the top obviates the problem of knitting sleeves and bodies to the right length.

This tip applies most obviously to yoked or raglan designs, because turning the neck-to-underarm shaping upside down (working increases instead of decreases) is easily done; working from the bottom up, yoke or raglan decreases are evenly spaced and worked at regular intervals, and therefore when working from the top down, increases are worked instead of decreases, and are still evenly spaced and worked at regular intervals. It's not quite as easy, but still possible, to apply this reasoning to garments with set-in sleeves or drop shoulders, although they're usually knit flat.

Start blocking early. If you're knitting a garment in pieces, block the first piece as soon as it's finished. This is the first step towards doing that first basting and try-on, mentioned above, and it also gives you a good idea if the fabric is working into the type of fabric you want: if your knitting seemed stiff coming off the needles, did blocking help loosen it up? Is your gauge true?

Starting the blocking early also helps catch gross errors in gauge judgment before you've gone too far. Sometimes, you can't get an accurate picture of the final knitted fabric from a small gauge swatch, and the real fabric might "grow" a lot more than expected. Better to catch it after knitting the back of a sweater, than after knitting the back, front, and two sleeves.

Don't anchor your yarn tails so securely that they can't be picked out again--particularly if you're working with a wool blend.

Perhaps you won't discover a fitting problem until you or the intended recipient has worn the garment once or twice. Or perhaps you might just want to recycle the yarn into something else. Either way, you'll curse yourself for fixing the yarn tails so securely that you can't find them or pick them out of the seams.

Wool-blend yarns are usually "grabby" enough that the yarn tails will stay anchored with an inch or two of weaving in and out of the selvedges. And unless the yarn ends show through to the right side of the garment, or are particularly tickly inside, you can also leave a short tail after anchoring the yarn--you don't have to trim it down to the surface of the fabric. With these yarns, you seldom need to tie knots or pierce the yarn with your sewing-up needle to ensure that the seams won't undo themselves, because the yarn tails will likely felt a bit to the fabric after a few washes (although tying knots is a great time-saving device). If you pierce the yarn or work in the yarn tail so it's completely hidden, you'll find it more difficult to unpick the seams at a later date.

With non-wool yarns, such as smooth synthetics, cottons, ribbons, and even alpaca, you might have to fix the yarn tails down a little more forcefully. Some of theseyarns simply don't want to hold a knot, or require very long tails to be woven in. In those cases, you may have to pierce the selvedge yarn or the yarn tail with your needle while sewing up in order to ensure that the yarn tail will stay put. If that's the case, try to fix your yarn tails consistently, and use the same fastening technique for all of them. This might eliminate some guesswork later when you're trying to unpick all those ends.

And in the same vein, if your garment yarn is particularly bumpy or loopy, donÍt use it to seam your garment unless you really have no choice. Find a smooth, matching yarn with similar fibre qualities and use that as your seaming yarn: not only does it make sewing up easier, it makes ripping the seam out easier, too.


Any books, magazines, or even television shows on clothing style and dressing to flatter your body, whether specifically directed to knitting or not.

Newton, Deborah, Designing Knitwear (Taunton, 1992).
Righetti, Maggie, Sweater Design in Plain English (St Martin's Griffin, 1990).



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She also needs to supply a new headshot in place of that avatar.