When I started knitting I was very eager to knit myself a cardigan. I bought expensive wool, had a pattern I liked and I even knit a gauge swatch. I choose to knit the medium size, as I usually wear a small or medium from a shop.
I knit all the pieces, seamed it together and it was horrible. The sleeves were like tents and the shoulders caps hung inches off my shoulders. I was gutted. Does this sound familiar? Now looking back I know exactly what I did wrong but at the time I was baffled. Now to really illustrate my failed attempt I should really include a photo…but I’m not sure I’m that brave!!
There were a couple of main point where I went wrong. The first was gauge. Now I did knit a gauge swatch that was correct. However when knitting the complete piece my gauge went from 18 to 16 stitches over 4 inches! Now as a novice knitter your gauge is more likely to vary over a large piece and as you relax into your knitting. To take this into consideration for garment knitted in pieces I would suggest starting with a sleeve and rechecking your gauge as you go. Sleeves can be left a little larger if it is just a slight gauge difference or reknit if it looks like it will make a big difference. If you are knitting in once piece from the top down or the bottom up you will need to keep a close eye on your gauge and make adjustments if necessary as you go.
In addition to my gauge was the issue of fit. When you walk into a shop most people know roughly what size will fit. Often you need to compromise, maybe the shoulders are just right but it’s a little tight across the chest, but if you go up a size the chest is right but the shoulders are too wide and baggy. The beauty of hand knitting (that I think is often forgotten) is that it is customizable. It will fit YOU. However this does take a little knowledge on your side.
When I (and any other designer) is designing a garment we have to create it to fit standard dimensions. Generally this entails using standardized tables (probably with some modification from personal experience) to create a range of sizes. If you are created with standard proportions that is great for you but what happens if you are large busted, have narrow shoulders, high waist, short arms? None of these are wrong or right, just different than the average. When you get a pattern and you want it to fit you I would first examine the schematic. Most, but maybe not all, dimensions will be on this. If some key dimensions are not there, calculate them (count rows to get waist height, add shoulders and neck together for total shoulders, etc.).
Now this is the hard part – you need to know your own dimensions. You only need to do this once, draw them on a little stick figure of yourself and put it somewhere you can find them the next time you need them. If you have a friend that will do this with you that is great but if not you can also do it yourself. Get a snug fitting t-shirt that fits well, mark your widest bust point with a pin and measure around yourself at that point. Repeat this for your waist and hips. If the shoulder caps fall exactly where your shoulder curves then this measurement will give you your shoulders (if it is off, measure the difference and make the adjustment). Now you can take off the t-shirt and measure the distance from the shoulder to your fullest bust point, your waist and the widest point of your hips. Take the measurements from the armhole shoulder height as this is lower (you can see how the shoulder will slope towards the neck).
Now put all the measurements on your little drawing and put it somewhere safe.
What’s my size?
Now that you have all of the dimensions you need to know what to do with them! This part is dependent on what type of garment you are making, the yarn gauge and of course personal preference.
Ease is the basis of all your size decisions. For a close fitted garment you will have little to no ease (if your bust measures 36 you knit 36 inch size). A very fitted t-shirt style may even have negative ease (for a 36 inch bust size you may knit a 34 inch chest size). For a heavier outer wear jacket or heavy sweater you will have positive ease (for a 36 inch chest you would knit a 38-42 inch size).
The weight of your knitting yarn and they type of pattern comes into this decision as well. A thick yarn and a very elaborate cable will create a thick fabric, possibly with a little less stretch. This means that you have to add extra inches to the finished size to make sure it will fit.
Finally, personal preference. A good way to see what kind of fit you like is to look in your wardrobe. Find a top in your wardrobe with a similar weight yarn that you like how it fits. Measure the bust size and use this as a guide.
Now armed with this information you have the tools available to help you avoid the complete disaster that was my first sweater! If you relative proportions are non-standard your next step is to customize your garment.
In my next post I’ll give a basic outline on how to do adjustments to suit your shape.