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Seeing Different March 28, 2012

One of the most frustrating things for knitters seems to be understanding what size they should pick from a pattern…

In a recent forum post I read, the writer mentioned that even though they’d knit many sweaters, they were still pretty much stumped on how to dechiper the sizing information that patterns give. Expressed was a desire for conventions across the board so it would be less confusing to “translate” what all those numbers mean in terms of ease and how the garment reflects that.

But, according to my inbox and trips around the net, these type of EASE conventions are sort of a *one man’s ceiling is another man’s floor* kind of proposition – which is why all Chic Knits designs are described in terms of Finished Measurements.

A Finished Measurement is the actual tape-measured dimensions of the piece described in terms of length and width or circumference at various points of the garment.

Chic Knits Vonica

From there it’s an easy step to compare those numbers to those on actual garments in one’s closet and pick a reasonable size from the pattern in hand.

Here’s an article I wrote about how find your default size to make (and it’s more fun with another knitting friend!)…

Now this is all well and good but there still might be some spatial confusion going on for a lot of people. The schematics and the data ask you to visualize in a flat way and we all know that our Bodies Are Not Flat.

They’re a combination of planes, curves and cylinders that all add up to some very interesting limbs, torsos, necks & heads all with different concave and convex spins and swirls and clothing has to match.

But most of us have not studied dressmaking and it isn’t obvious what does what.

Some of us, maybe, when we were in high school, might’ve been able to study Sewing; I know we were offered the choice between Sewing, Home Ec, Wood-working or Auto Shop (!). I, because I already had been making clothing (with such random skills they were really shot-in-the-dark crude!) took the Sewing Class.

And that was where I learned the vocabulary and the skills necessary to make a Peter-pan collared, set-in sleeve blouse.

I had a great teacher who broke it all down into why things were shaped the way they were and why they went together the way they did, information I use to this day. But now those sorts of practical skill classes have pretty much disappeared and we’re depending on “virtual” resources more and more.

Today, with so many people being self-taught online, there is less of this type of Hands-On Information being shared and as a result, there are many of us (knitters) who don’t know why a sleeve is, well, a sleeve. :)

So, when I get or read the type of laments about sizing, I encourage people to take a step-back before they try and go forward.

If you don’t understand the basic landscape, just having a blue-print with stats is bound to be a confounding experience.

If you’re knitting something in one piece or from the top down, it can appear to be just a mass of fabric with no definable shape. I get lots of questions about simultaneous neckline and armhole shapings – the concept of many areas or pieces joining together to make a whole is not even considered.

My theory on is that the lack of understanding about construction might be because there has been no training To See the trees from the forest, so to speak.

So, one of the things I always do (besides swatching, yes, indeed) is to Check my knitting at various places in progress, to do a well-being check on the typical sections of a garment.

Here’s a Vonica cardigan I’m knitting for myself (click on pix for bigger pix)…

Chic Knits VonicaChic Knits VonicaChic Knits Vonica

Things I’m checking today by pinning the actual knitting to a mannequin (Don’t have one? Clone One):

Does the shoulder width of the garment match the proper dimension of the body itself? This is a top-down sweater with set-in sleeves and that area is the nexus of its structure.

Does the Back width measurement actually cover the Back? If so, there will be no surpises in where the sleeve joins the bodice at the shoulder (ie. the “bodice” is the fitted part of a garment that extends from the waist to the shoulder — think of a vest that would end at the waist).

Does the neckline fit around the neck and lie smoothly?

Does the Back piece start and stop at the right points? Pinning the shoulder join/seam area to the upper shoulder and then the piece around the armhole shows the real time length fit.

Because this mannequin is actually “stitched” together in strategic points, it’s easy to see at-a-glance how a garment measures up.

But what if you don’t want to use a mannequin?

Easy! Use the same “default” sweater you measured to pick your size as a rough template!

Smooth the default sweater out on a table (or floor) and put your WIP on top of it – and pin…

This gives you the ball park confirmation that you’re ready to proceed with confidence — the knitter’s equivalent of “measure twice and cut once” you see in building…

I have three sweaters that I’ve retired from my closet that are ONLY used as fit base-lines for my body: a cardigan, a pullover and a shell. No tears, no fears. :)

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7 responses to “Seeing Different March 28, 2012”

  1. Karen B. says:

    That is so serendipitous! I was just thinking about my high school sewing class yesterday – right along with that Peter Pan collared, set-in sleeve blouse we were required to make. Jeepers!

  2. Bonne Marie says:


    And for those not in class: the ubiquitous Peter-Pan collar

  3. Jennifer says:

    This is wonderful. I was fortunate enough to get to take sewing, cooking, wood & metal shop. which meant I was exposed to a little bit of everything, but not a lot of anything.

  4. Knitty By Nature says:

    Peter Pan collar. Now I know that name for that style. Thanks!

  5. Halide says:

    Well it’s not the end of the world if I get the size wrong. It’s not the garment that’s the wrong size, it’s the wearer! There’s always another friend or family member who happens to have grown to the right size to fit my sweater :-)

  6. Ruth says:

    I am a fairly accomplished dressmaker and what I see about knitters is that nobody has told them what are the signs when something doesn’t fit (wrinkling in the small of the back as the sweater rides up above a prominent rear, folds above the bust as it rides up because it’s too tight over the bust, draglines from shoulder to bust, drooping around the back armscye, scalloping along the button band, etc, etc.). And the “advice” they get on certain websites from people with no training at all in fitting, is that tighter is flattering. Lots of talk of “negative ease” solving every problem. The information is just not out there for knitters, IMO. In they main the lack the ability to even assess fit.

  7. TSKTSK says:

    I’ve knitted long enough to get the basics down and am now obsessed with FIT as well. In all my self teachings I thought I was so ahead of the game because I SWATCHED! Boy was I wrong. You must also BLOCK… Block the swatch! Now I feel like I might be getting somewhere….

    So, Bonne Marie, when you say you check these fittings as you go…I’m assuming this is to pre-blocked swatch measurements…. Which you know will magically block out to the perfect post-blocked Finished Measurements.

    The way I have this nestled in my wool brain is that the gauge and schematics found in patterns are usually the post-blocked finished garment measurement. But do please correct/clarify my understanding.

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