Sunday, September 30, 2012

Lingerie Shop Along: Choosing Your Vendors

I've done a lot of online shopping research. I've purchased from Canada, the UK and America. There are a lot of good vendors out there (even on Ebay, apparently, which I look at occasionally but just can't get into). And I always seem to come back to my "standard 3": Figleaves (UK), Large Cup Lingerie - (heretofore known as LCL) and Bra Stop. Note that I am more than open to expanding the roster, just hasn't happened yet...

These brands cater to mid-cup to large-cup bras and have excellent selection for women of larger cup sizes and smaller band sizes. Figleaves, an extremely large company with an online US outpost, caters to shapes and sizes across the board. But keep in mind, if your breasts are rather petite, you may not be the target market for LCL and Bra Stop.

The Benefits of My Go To Online Shops
  •  Figleaves UK: The stock is vast and the sizes numerous. This vendor is large enough to get frequent restock of popular bras, so if you miss the boat first time out, you may get a second shot at the bra that got away. The shipping charge is not overly onerous and reshipping is free. Packages tend to deliver very quickly to Canada (at least to me in TO). There are regular sales and readily available promotional codes (you can search the net for these and I'll chat more about them in another post). The client service is friendly and professional. You can access an online personal shopper to assist with sizing and selection.
  • LCL: The client service is off the chain. This company makes use of social media to really connect with its clientele which gives it a modern edge. Furthermore, the stock is excellent (if much more curated that Figleaves'). The site is lovely and easy to navigate. It stocks the higher end brands, in general, so if you want to find Miss Mandalay or Freya, this is a good place to start. There are semi-regular sales. Recently, LCL started advertising 4-hr pop up sales on Twitter. But my FAVE feature is the free shipping world wide. You wanna win my heart. This is the way.
  • Bra Stop: This is a site I use less frequently but, when the sales are good, you won't find a better deal anywhere. The product here is often discounted, sometimes deeply so. Which means you should check it often if you don't want your size to sell out. The shipping charge is not hideous, but I wouldn't want to pay more than the 7 pounds to Canada - and only if I were getting a really good deal on the merch. I suggest this site to younger women, often, because it stocks a lot of Curvy Kate and Flirtelle, brands that cater to youthful figures in style, price and support. They do have more high-end brands, but not the best selection. Delivery is prompt and service professional.
 All of these shops stock lounge wear, night wear and adorable swimsuits having actual support.

Some Other Well Known Online Shops
  • Bravissimo (UK): To me, this site is like Figleaves, only more expensive. I visit often but I purchase elsewhere. I sense that this site caters more specifically to buxom women than Figleaves - and includes a clothing line. I'm not at the upper end of the bra size spectrum so I find the sites above to be very adequate. But perhaps if you have difficulty finding stock, this is a good starting off point. Remember though, it's pricier than other online boutiques and I don't think the price is warranted.
  • HerRoom: It's American. I don't love the site design, though it does what it needs to. This site seems, frankly, frumpy. But it caters to C cups and above so there's a wide range.
  • Lauren Silva: Also American. I've actually bought from here once - a long line bra I couldn't find anywhere else. It didn't fit. That bra was deeply discounted and the shipping was very reasonable. 
The thing about American sites is that they tend to sell American brands. American brands do not cater well to proportionately large busted women with narrow frames. Instead, they tend to cater to small women with small breasts or large women with large breasts. As a result, the US industry really is missing out on a significant (and growing) market share. Arguably, that's the subject of another post. As a generalization, I also find American brands to be kind of matronly. Especially above a D cup. (Obviously, this is simply my opinion. I'm not bashing the American bra industry. I'm telling it as I see it.)
  • Butterfly Collection: This is a Canadian vendor, specializing in large cup bras, that's getting a lot of buzz for a lot of good reasons. Shipping is free to US and Canada. The stock is good, though not as extensive as most of the other vendors mentioned here. The blog, which accompanies this site, is a wealth of awesome information and I've frequently linked to it. You should bookmark it, no question. The owner of this online store is an approachable, female entrepreneur (unsurprisingly, she hails from England, land of the good bras). Furthermore, she offers Skype fittings - a pretty novel concept on the bra-shopping scene. She's been doing them for some time too. I would say, if you don't know your size - and you should have the best sense of this possible before starting to shop - that you might want to do a fitting with Claire or her staff. 
In truth, the reason I use the UK sites is because I find the stock to be extensive and the prices to be unbeatable. As you know, I buy a lot of lingerie (relatively speaking) so I have to consider the costs carefully. Butterfly is located in the West of Canada (probably as far from me as England, interestingly) and, even with free shipping, I can generally get better deals ordering from the UK. I tend to buy local or for best prices and, alas, this shop doesn't meet either of those criteria. Having said this, I do recommend this vendor for its excellent philosophy and client service. If you are just coming to terms with the fact that you've been in a very wrong bra size, if you feel nervous being fitted in a shop, if you need a body-positive experience to accompany your purchasing, I can't think of a better place to start.

So, today's exciting task is to check out these sites - or others you may know and love - and on the basis of what your culling exercise has told you, start looking at options in the appropriate size. Note: The appropriate size can be determined in a number of non-scientific ways, a few of which I'll touch on briefly, recognizing that this series isn't about sizing, but about purchasing on the basis of known size:
  • Get a Skype fitting at Butterfly Collection or go to a local shop. I always suggest that, if the shop helps you to find your size, it's good form to buy at least one bra as a result of that fitting. Thereafter, you can always take your new info to the web for better deals.
  • If you used to be in the right size (you know this for a fact, you're not just assuming), and your size has altered slightly from that initial size, use your best understanding to refit. For example: If you've lost a bit of weight, which is leaving your bands extra loose but isn't much impacting the way your boobs sit in the cups, go down a band size but don't forget to go up a cup size at the same time! This is extrapolation based on good information. If you're clueless about bra sizing, this isn't the tactic for you.
  • Wing it. Buy a bunch of sizes online and be prepared to return most of them. Always go a back size smaller than you imagine you'll need unless you're very confident you know what size to choose. Clueless peeps, this isn't a terrible strategy, in the scheme of things, but it's not efficient and you need to have a high tolerance for multiple return cycles.
  • I put no stock in 99.9% of bra fitting calculators, but this one seems fairly accurate based on a few anecdotal tries. It estimated my size accurately, which is something that no other calculator has done in the past.
When you find things you like, bookmark! Put them in the "shopping cart" (you don't have to buy, of course). Don't worry about cost or reality at this point. Just put together your own wishlist. You can be practical in the next step.

 Today's Questions:
  • Have you shopped at any of these online boutiques?
  • Can you tell us about another online site that you have used? Australians, please let us know how you source bras online. I know it's brutally expensive to ship...

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Lingerie Shop Along: An Intro

A lot of people tell me how desperately they want to buy great lingerie, but it's simply too expensive. No question, it's not a negligible cost to buy many of the lovely smalls available from foreign lands, and then to pay for shipping (my personal bugbear). But if you put some money aside and wait for a sale, you can probably make it workable to some extent. My tactic is to store a bunch of items in my favourites or "shopping bag" and wait until I find a good promo code or sale. That's when I pounce!

People are always asking me about my lingerie stash and my shopping methods so I thought I'd suggest a strange kind of undertaking - an online lingerie shop along. What's that?? Well, it's a way that I will assist you, hopefully, in improving your lingerie wardrobe (in terms of fit, function etc.) based on my own (numerous and intense) experiences.  You don't have to participate at any specific time - though, no time like the present, I say. If you choose to participate in some way, I'd so appreciate it if you'd tell us about your experience in comments - or on your own blog. Owning lingerie that fits is empowering because it's foundational.

On a more practical note, my feeling is that it's relatively stress-free to undies shop online - and so much fun so...

Let's Go (Online) Shopping

Provisos (I should probably just have a legal disclaimer at the end):

1. This post is to provide you with information about how to buy lingerie online, from reputable sites, not specifically to satisfy whims (though I love whims), but to meet needs. The method is based solely on my own experience. I recognize that my definition of need, when it comes to lingerie sets, might well be different than yours. That's cool. I think, for what it's worth, bare basics "needs" include perfectly-fitted versions of the following:
  • 2 neutral bras in your skin tone. These should be seam-free or with minimal fabric profile for maximal use
  • 2 black bras - One basic, one sexy
  • Neutral and black undies (I recommend that they match in colour, even if not part of a set, the bras above) that fit perfectly in as many styles as you actually wear. I wear thongs, shorts and high cut vintage style lace undies. I'm not big on "briefs" so I tend to give them a miss.
  • 2 bra / undies sets in patterns, cuts, colours and styles that THRILL you. Trust me ladies. You'll wear them. And everyone will appreciate it.
  • A strapless bra in black or neutral (you may not wear it often, but when you need it, you'll have it)
  • A body suit with built in bra. This will serve you well more often than you imagine when you need a smooth line under fitted knits.
  • A good bra designed for exercising (the kind you actually do). Runners may need something a bit more robust than those who do Pilates...
Yes, this is bare IMO. But it will do and you can build it up. Note that your size may change over time, so this is not a one-time purchase situation. The premise is that you review your lingerie wardrobe every 6 months or so, and restock as necessary to ensure that fit is superior. 

2. Not everyone is comfortable shopping for underwear online. Um, hello, these things have to fit perfectly and there's no way to try them before purchase. However, I think we can agree that I am a fit-aholic. And that I don't have a tiny bust that can get away with anything. I still manage to online bra shop rather successfully on the basis that the sites I use have very good return and reship policies. I'm also willing to return things (on my own dime, admittedly). That costs approximately 8 bucks for a set. So, I'm betting on the fit, but I'm willing to absorb that extra cost as necessary. You can't win if you don't play. Trust me, the money you'll save in the long haul - and the quality of merchandise you'll be able to find - more than makes up for a few disappointing returns and reorders.

3. Costs I've incurred, which I'll refer to in my posts, will include all shipping and taxes but not customs. I am rarely charged customs from the UK (where I generally purchase from). I'm dinged on the customs more often than not when I buy from large companies in the US. It's one of the reasons I don't shop online from the States if I can help it. (Example: The yarn I bought from WEBS was on mega sale and yet I was charged an extra 35 bucks at the border. Given the time I waited (2 weeks to 1 month) and the amount I spent on customs and shipping (vs. what I would have paid in a LYS), I might as well not have bothered. Live and learn.)

Start as You Mean to Go On

Go to your lingerie drawer right now (or when you get home from work :-)) and ditch whatever is a) crappy or b) too big or small. If you love a garment that doesn't fit, put it away in a nice, dry spot where it'll be easy to find when and if your size does change. If you morph 3 cup sizes in a month, then make sure all of those sizes are represented in your current lingerie drawer. Axiom: If it doesn't fit and you don't wear it, it's not a valid part of your current lingerie wardrobe. For example: If the only strapless bra you own is one you've had since you were a tween, it's probably time to say goodbye.

Dare I suggest that it's a total waste of time to feel bad about ditching things you haven't used much or to be hateful of yourself for any reason. I'm a bit tough-love, in case you didn't know that about me. Just ask my mother. Keep in mind that you're taking an important first step to improve. Celebrate with a glass of wine while you work. And give the bad-fit bras (only those in perfect shape, obvs) to your best friend or sister or the person you know whom they'll actually fit. Big time note: If you're embarrassed to give them away (I'm talking bras here, not undies which are not regiftable), by all means chuck them faster! Why on earth would you keep those things around?

So, today's questions:
  • Are you in? (At least in concept?) You can always start the search for great new things even if you don't have the cash to purchase right away.
  • Do you already bra-shop online or is it a radical concept in your opinion?
  • What kind of shape is your "basic" lingerie drawer in? What does basic mean to you?

Friday, September 28, 2012

What Doesn't Kill Us Makes Us Stronger

OK, this month has been pretty low on the health front. Since Sept. 1, I've been down with:
  • A cold / stomach bug combo
  • 5 canker sores (in clusters)
  • A 4-day headache that verged on migraine
  • A chest cough thing. I don't even understand this. I don't get chest coughs.
I'm lying here - miserable - begrudging that I won't be able to go out with friends for dinner. My bones hurt. Or maybe it's my muscles from the coughing (which I did all night). On the plus side, I whined my way into getting Scott to turn on the heat, which he usually won't do before Oct. 1, at the absolute earliest (emphasis his). Yes, I am complaining but it's my blog so I'm allowed . Please continue to the next paragraph for the real post.

Today's theme is pain for gain.

Meet Exhibit A (Chuck Sweater by Andi Satterlund - note that Blogger, once again just did this weird thing and now, refuses to let me link...):

The more I try to use this dress form as a model for my clothes, the more I observe how absolutely it fails to approximate my shape. This sweater actually fits me beautifully in the shoulders. Alas, in this pic, the shoulders on the dress form are forcing the fabric to assume their (wider) form. Furthermore, the cables don't stretch as much on me because the overall circumference of my torso is narrower than that of the dress form. It's really irritating.

Side note: I realize that you no longer have any faith that I'm ever going to model anything again, but I am a dull, greasy-haired, zombie, with skin the colour of gruel. I have a manufactured image to uphold, so this is the best I can do right now.

The final sweater is all that I'd hoped for, despite my numerous cable challenges early on. Here are some final thoughts and bits of info:

  • I used 700 yards of Cascade 220 (a bit over 3 skeins - natch) to make a modified small. Primary modifications were the addition of 6 stitches at the underarm (continuing the entire length of the sweater) and the addition of a vertical cable pattern. Definitely, the extra cable ate up a lot of yarn. I'd estimate 40 yards.
  • I would not make it any bigger in the circumference than I did (you know I was considering that in the last post on this topic). Once I added the sleeves, it all fits very nicely in the chest.
  • I love the colour. Overall, the yarn is entirely adequate (and so affordable), though it's a bit more "wool-like natural feeling" than I prefer. I note with interest that my other Cascade projects were made with the Superwash (the growier, treated version). Both Frances and Mardel have reminded me that treated wool is known for its grow-factor. I really don't love that firm, "natural" hand of regular wool.  FYI, Cascade Superwash still doesn't grow anywhere near as much as the Debbie Bliss stuff, for what it's worth. Mind you, neither does it feel half as good.
So, whatcha think? Would you wear it? Do you like it? Let's talk.

(PS: Theory is I'm going to sew something soon. I was aiming for this weekend, but not convinced I'm going to have the energy.)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Yesterday I gave you some straight up opinions about back fat. Today, I'd like to share some ideas about how you might choose bras, and clothes, to ameliorate the situation. Cuz, IMO, I think we've gotta kick this insecurity in the ass.

But first, a little PSA about one sort of back fat I neglected to address in the last post. This sort is hotly debated in the biz (whatever that is. Lord knows I'm not in the biz so maybe I should stop talking about their hot debates...) This type of fat is actually migrated breast tissue and there are a lot of suspect posts about it out there, though this one is quite good (and it links to a few additional posts).

My personal opinion is that migrated breast tissue is not a myth. I've seen it. It usually happens when a woman (of any breast size) has been wearing the incorrect cup size for a long time. You know those peeps who are in a cup 3 sizes too small? Where the under wire hits the side of the breast, not at the back, but along the actual breast? Or those whose breasts are barely contained by the top of the cups, while the centre gores are a good inch away from the breastbone against which they should lie flat.

Over time, especially if you have the tendency, you may start to see extra fleshiness, often at the side torso, around the band. You may also see flesh migrate along the sternum (though this doesn't produce back fat).

On a positive note, I also believe that, once you start wearing the right bra size, the tissue can revert to its former and natural location. But I don't think the process is necessarily quick. And I suspect, if you're 65 and you've been in the wrong bra for 50 years, you're less likely to see a reversal than a woman of 23, for example. Note: If you're in the former category, by all means aim to beat the odds. You'll look much better as soon as you get your bra size sorted out, even if everything doesn't pop back to its original spot.

OK, onto the kinds of bras that seem to mitigate the issue. Please note that I am not suggesting the bras pictured below, nor do I think they fit the model perfectly. However, I do have experience of each of these brands and I think they're very good. Also note that I've drawn the photos from Figleaves, for convenience (and because I sometimes purchase there), but that other online stores - like Large Cup Lingerie sell much of the same stock with the same efficiency. More to the point, LCL ships for free!
  • Those with wide bands (3 hooks minimum, or at least, wide side under wires that diminish to a 2-hook back).  It stands to reason that the more area over which you support your breasts, the more you can defray the bulge.
Panache Andorra - This brand manufactures some really supportive bands that are deceptively delicate-looking.

  • Those with side-shaping. They tend to have wires that sit higher on the side breast which allows for width in the side band.
Kathryn Bra by Fantasie (this brand caters to the side-support seekers)
  •  Expensive bras. Hear me out. The really high-end lines (which can often be purchased at good prices online or on sale) have access to the best wires and materials. Not only will you look chic, but the material that's making you look chic will also control any back fat issues.
Empreinte Roxanne - I have wanted this bra forevah but I can't find any online vendor that will ship it out of the EU.
  • Mid line or long line bras. Oh, the times they have been tough for the ladies who want these bras but who do not conform to the 34B-38DD size range. Or those who don't like the retro-look. But I sense things are changing. Freya and Cleo (Panache) have put out some great options in the 30 back to G cup range, though I'm not convinced they've hit their stride. I own one Freya long line and it's really a mid line and there's no actual boning on the sides and there's slight padding in the cups. This doesn't a) maximize my support or b) streamline the profile of my chest. However, the young women have taken to these and they're buying them like hot cakes, so I think, at least for those of narrow(ish) frame and large(ish) breasts, it's good times ahead.
Freya Piper Long Line
  • Sexy, one-pieces. No, I don't mean Spanx. I do mean body-suits with built in bras that actually contain support. The torsos of these body-suits should not compress you, but they should skim. I own this one and it's awesome. It is not tight at all but it holds everything in place:
Panache Confetti Thong Body
Remember, it doesn't matter what the band is doing if the cups don't fit, so make sure your entire breast is inserted comfortably within the under wire and that the centre gore of that under wire can lie flat against your breast bone.

In short, you're looking for undergarments made of high-end materials, wide bands, firm support from those bands (i.e. you have to wear the "right size") and properly-sized cups.

On the topic of clothing that enhances the fabulousness of your fabulous undergarments, I warn you against slim gauge 4-way stretch knits if you're looking to hide a bulge. The fabrics and cuts that will work best, IMO, are these:
  • Stable knits (like ponte or two-way stretch jersey). Whether you wear these in a t shirt or a body skimming tunic or dress, be sure you're in the right size. Too big will look less than flattering. Too small will do the same thing.
  • Darker colours in fabrics having solid colours or discreet patterns. I don't mean you have to wear black! But white is gonna give it all up. So use your discretion.
  • Blouses with a small amount of spandex for stretch. Note, these have to fit really well. They need sharp shaping at the waist and adequate width through the breasts and torso. And they must fit like a dream in the shoulders. But they sure do skim nicely when they're done well. If you have large breasts and you don't sew / and custom fit your hand-sewn garments then look up those brands that cater to curvy ladies.
  • Structured wovens. Again, they have to fit. Too tight and you're gonna look like a sausage.
Don't fear any particular type of garment but wear only what flatters. Most people have to chuck 90 per cent of what they try on at a high-street RTW store without leaving the change-room. That's normal. So be prepared to do a lot of discarding to find a few great things. And then enjoy them!

In terms of fabric, I suspect that rayon knits are the hardest to wear, along with silk-blend stretch fabric. If 4 inches of unstretched garment width can stretch to more than 6 inches, it's probably not gonna work. But don't take my word for it, do your own research.

So, I'd love to know if you concur with these findings or if you disagree. Let's continue yesterday's discussion!

BTW, this post really does align quite nicely with the Cake Patterns pre-order happening at Steph's blog, so check out this great new company and pre-order a flattering look!

Monday, September 24, 2012


When I was reading Steph's latest post (talk about moxy), I was reminded of this informative post, wherein I note a similar theme.

That theme is, and I hate this term: back fat. Egad! What is the world coming to when we can't find a more elegant name for such a thing? I'd settle for simply avoiding the topic!

In truth, though, it is a concern for many women. I know this because they email me about it. Or they talk to me about it over a drink. Or we discuss it at length when I'm goading them helping them to find the new bras that will undoubtedly improve their lives. (No, I'm not being bourgeois or glib.) People have the same kind of horrified response to "back fat" as they do to cellulite. Apropos of which, let me tell you a little story:

One day, a long time ago, I learned about a new cellulite product, purported to be revolutionary. Of course, the marketing grabbed me. (I am so at the mercy of good marketing and green potions with "microbeads".) Anyway, I went to the store and came home with this ridiculously expensive product, which was essentially caffeine-laced goo. It was a total pain in the ass to apply (pun intended). Before using it, I needed to exfoliate in the shower, then I had to wait till it soaked in or it would wreck my clothes. It smelled weird. About 3 minutes after I began my "slimming regime", I was reminded that I DON'T FUCKING CARE ABOUT CELLULITE. I have never once observed it on someone else and pitied her. It has never undercut the inherent sexiness of anyone I've ever met. Dammit, I'm half inclined to like my cellulite. I mean, it's hard won. BTW, I have slim legs. I'm known for my slim legs. And I exercise them daily. So if I have cellulite under these circumstances, who the fuck doesn't?

Anyway, I threw that shit in the garbage and started wearing short shorts. The Man's not gonna smother me. The end.

Which leads me, in a very round about way, to my next point:

So-called back fat can be the result of a number of factors, many of them out of your control. Some people just store body fat there. Others don't have fat, so much as they lack tone. It stands to reason that women who have large breasts as a result of weight (vs. those who are genetically predisposed) are more likely to carry flesh around the entire torso, not simply the breasts. The phenomenon seems to be enhanced by fluctuating hormones (pregnancy, peri-menopause). Short waisted women seem especially prone to it. And, one of the things that seems to pull said fat right out of the air, is a firm bra band. (You'll recall from 8 zillion previous posts, firm bra bands are de rigeur as far as I'm concerned.)

Alas - and here's the rub - women with large breasts (all women really, but this is pronounced amongst this subset) need a firm band to provide the support (along with good underwires and cups that fit and secure straps) required when they're carrying around quite a few pounds on the fronts of their chests. I'll go one step further. Depending on your tits and your overall shape, you might actually need a tight band. (Not cut-off-your circulation tight, but a couple of steps removed.)

Unless it is extremely observable - and, trust me, it generally isn't - I'm going to notice (and judge, let's tell it straight) your unsupported boobs 8000 times faster than I'll notice your back fat.

Why? Because I'm apt to see your tits first. Because saggy tits are unsightly and avoidable. And because I recognize that women have flesh on their torsos made somewhat more visible by the compression of specific parts of that torso. By contrast with the part of your back compressed by the bra band, your back below your bra band may have somewhat more profile than you'd like. But it's not wrong and it's not unattractive (unless it's excessive, let me reiterate. And "excessive" is generally the result of a poor fitting bra.)

I did an experiment recently on my mother. The woman's gonna smack me when she reads this but, as she's on the Camino for the next 5 weeks, I'm going to take my life into my hands. My mother is - sorry Ma - a total wuss when it comes to supportive bra bands. Lord, it's thankless shopping with her. I won't get into the details but she really can't get with the "I can feel my bra band and it's ok" philosophy.

When I visited recently we went shopping for new bras. (Despite the fact that she doesn't appreciate my methods, I'm the only one she'll bra shop with. Go figure.) We found a few that fit really nicely - uplifting, nice shape, attractive - but my mother was unconvinced. For starters, the band was so "noticeable", said she. She was also unhappy that we sized up in a cup and sized down in the band on the premise that she didn't like the new letter. It didn't matter that I explained how cup size is volume based and is always linked to band size. Smaller band = smaller volume in the cup, which is why we have to size up in one when we size down in the other.

Anyway, I couldn't stand it anymore. I made her put on her old bra (loose band, stretched to hell), took out a pen and marked the point at which her breasts abutted her torso. Then, I got her to put on the new bra and I marked the spot where her breasts abutted in it. The bra with the band that fit had her breasts up 4 inches higher than the other.

This isn't rocket science people. It's simple engineering. FYI, she bought the new bra.

(BTW, don't you think that was a smart way to prove my point?! Pictures speak louder than words.)

OK, back to back fat. If it comes down to elevating your breasts by 4 inches vs. seeing a bit of differentiation between the part of your torso covered by a bra strap and the part of your torso above and below it, I'll let you decide which you prefer.

Now, I'm not all: back fat exists, deal with it. I do have ideas about how to mitigate its appearance and to improve smoothness under clothing by choosing the most appropriate undergarments. And I don't mean Spanx.

This is the subject of my next post so please stay tuned.

And do let me know about your thoughts on this topic. I sense it brings up a lot of strong feelings so I'd like to know which of you are on my side of the fence (it's no big deal) and which of you shiver at the thought of it.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Getting Somewhere

I may have had a lot of trouble establishing the centre cable panel, but once I figured it out, this sweater really picked up speed:

It isn't blocked yet - nor is it finished - so it looks wonky...
Here it is, as yet without sleeves, modified as follows:
  • Size small with 6 extra stitches (1.3") backwards loop cast on at the base of the armhole
  • An extra vertical cable (those diamond shaped things in the centre of the sweater are the ones of which I write)
Were I to make this again, and I probably will, I will include the following additional modifications:
  • Depending on how this blocks, I might add 2 more stitches at the base of the armhole.
  • I'll knit the ribbing through the back loop to give the kind of tension and profile I achieved on this sweater.
  • I'll add another 5 rows to the ribbing (for extra length and to highlight the rib).
Of course, I'm about to start the sleeves now, which are knit with short rows (a technique I've grown to appreciate rather than to fear), to give sleeve cap shaping.

My interim thoughts are these:
  • The pattern is very nicely constructed, though I would not recommend it for new-to-cable knitters. I had a couple of (simple) cable projects under my belt and I was very stymied for quite some time. BTW, if you are a newish knitter and you need some support in establishing the panels, email me. Lord knows, I've considered them in just about every conceivable way.
  • Other than the cables and the short rows, it is a fairly simple sweater. And with ready guidance, it's probably within the ability of a newish knitter (one who's made a few other sweaters).
  • It's got a very modern shape. No question, it's the sexiest cable knit sweater I have ever seen. The waist shaping is extensive, which is to say, you shave 8 inches between the bust and waist. I LOVE that. But if you are straighter in the waist, I'd suggest modifying those decreases.
  • Most notably, this sweater is very short. Um, how often do you hear me say that? I take a minimum of an inch out of the waist on practically every pattern. I needed an extra vertical cable repeat i.e. 30 rows and I still think my version could be longer. I did get vertical gauge, 6 rows to an inch, so this means I added 5 inches to its length. I think I could add one more inch and that would just take the sweater to my high hip. Important note: I haven't blocked this thing yet so that could really relax the knit and add the extra length I'm looking for. Other note: My gauge swatch didn't really change when I blocked it, but I didn't try to alter it...
  • It's key to keep in mind that my bust most definitely ate up a lot of the sweater's length so, if you're busty, consider that you will likely need to an additional cable repeat.
I'm very pleased that I took the time to figure out the shaping. A medium would most certainly have been too big and the small, not big enough. In truth, I might move more in the direction of the medium (depending on blocking), when next I make this sweater, but only by a few additional stitches.

 About Finished (Post Blocked) Sizing

This is a good place for me to mention that I have struggled repeatedly to attain the right size on hand knit garments because yarn is so unpredictable when you a) knit a large volume of it and b) then proceed to wash it. I have only made one sweater that is too small. The rest have been varying versions of too big. Of the six full sweaters I've made (I'm not counting shrugs), which come from different eras and designers and with very different styles, that's not a great track record. And I always do the math! (This is why I make sweaters twice with the same yarn. It gives me a workable muslin, aka gift for a friend, and then on the second try, I am able to "perfect" the fit on me.)

I also generally make what aligns with the second smallest size (usually a small), although I alter bust and waist shaping as necessary. My challenge has nothing to do with proportion (my math and sense of my size and shape appear to be standing me in good stead on this account), it's about the ease that develops after blocking.

Indeed, my knowledge of yarn is not extensive. These outcomes could be a factor of the types of yarn or brands I've come across to date. For sure, Debbie Bliss yarn (my apparent fave) is the grow-iest yarn in the land. And definitely, Cascade 220 keeps its shape pretty well. But, just on sweaters, I've used six different yarns, of different composition, weight and from different manufacturers, and I've observed the same tendency in all of them.

So, today's questions:
  • What yarns truly do not grow? Which are the worst offenders?
  • Do you have this problem too?
  • Are you making this sweater and, if yes, how's it going?
  • What do you think of my version with its extra cable? Does it change the vibe of the sweater, as far as you're concerned?
  • Oh, and please do check out my recent post wherein I ask for your feedback on the sport-weight sweater I intend to make soon. I'd love to know which sweater you like best!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Gauge The Situation: Yarn 2 and What to Knit With It

Fear not, I haven't abandoned the first sweater (a freebie extra in the Gauge the Situation series). Or the second - aka the original pick - sweater (construction of which hasn't even started yet).

Sidebar: The Chuck sweater is coming along but I struggled valiantly to establish the centre panel cable pattern. Many thanks to Andi, who answered lots of questions and to Frances, who finally chipped through my substantive mental block. While all cables look the same to me (I know, sacrilege), Frances (who's been knitting for years) told me that the wider cables - the ones that meander sideways - are actually more challenging than the impressive-looking vertical twist cables. I will write more about where I'm at with the Chuck in another post, but here's a little eye candy:

Today, as it's gross outside and I'm feeling all blah, it is my prerogative to introduce you to another yarn and some potential patterns to gain your feedback about which project - as part of the Gauge the Situation series - I should make after the worsted ones. What can I say, I'm in the mood to daydream. Of course, it may be deep winter by the time I get to the sweater in the next gauge, but I have to begin my planning!

As we know, we've covered off worsted yarn with the Chuck and Inaugural sweaters. That leaves DK, sport and fingering gauges (in order of decreasing girth).

For kicks, let's look at my sport-weight yarn:

Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino, Midnight Blue
See a theme here? It's blue, but different blue! It bears only a passing resemblance to the shark-colour I'm using to make the Chuck sweater. No question, I'm not going to win points for going crazy with colour. And the omnipresence of Debbie Bliss yarn in my stash may endow my many projects with a certain kind of sameness of hand. But I choose to look at this as a cohesion strategy.

After all, each garment is inherently its own thing.

Here are the sport-weight sweaters I'm considering:

Sallysong's version of the Jen Sweater - I have a sweater like this that I wear constantly...

Siivet Pullover

Saashka's version of the Jewel Cardigan - I don't know if I'll be able to source this pattern. If anyone knows how to find it for less than 90 bucks, pls. advise...

When Sampson Met Lila Pullover

So please, tell me which of these you like best for me and why. Which don't appeal? Have you made any of these garments? Is yes, how did it work out?

Thank you so much for feedback!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Bust-Fit Tutorial (Of Sorts)

I considered entitling this post "My Short Waist Is the Best Thing That Ever Happened to My Big Boobs (When It Comes to Wearing Clothes)" but I sensed it was a bit cumbersome. Mind you, this post isn't exactly a light read.

I don't know what's more questionable: that I'm about to recommend a sewing FBA (of sorts) or that I'm doing any sort of tutorial on fit at all (given my level of experience) - and this without so much as a photo series to accompany it.

Let's start with the requisite proviso: Reader beware. I am not expert on: sewing, fitting, alterations or tutorials. Hell, until recently I hadn't sewn much in 2 months. I am an expert on certain other things in my universe - let's not be all down on me - but you see where I'm coming from. Furthermore, as I learn more about alterations as my skills improve, I reserve the right to advise you all that this was a crude and/or crazy idea.

I'm calling the alteration, for want of a better term (please tell me if there's one that already exists): The Narrow Frame / Deep Bust Adjustment (NFDBA "for short"). In fact, if you can tell me anything about this method - someone else already made it up, you've tried it and it works on you (or doesn't), you think it's stupid etc., I'm happy to hear your feedback. In large measure, I've written this post in the interests of discovering someone else who may know more, different or better. And, natch, I'd love if it were to have some actual merit or to help someone.

Background: You know that S and I have worked on bodice fitting for quite some time (though we have been on a bit of a hiatus due to life responsibilities of late). It sounds trite to say that I have learned a vast amount from S and the experience. Truly, it's changed my perspective on practically everything three-dimensional. Additionally, I have read a number of useful fit resources, amongst them (and just to name a few):
We know, from many a sewing post on this blog, that I have struggled with the standard (FFRP) version of the FBA, generally applied to a darted top. I've struggled with all kinds of FBAs but let's focus primarily on this one. Every time I've given it a go, though I've been quite restrained, I get a baggy garment under the breasts and a weird one over and above them.

I did work out a very useful FBA method on princess seam garments (in which Taran and the Singer book were instrumental).  But what about all those other tops in the world I want to make and wear??

Who's the NFDBA For?
  • A woman with a proportionately large bust on a proportionately narrow, small- to medium-boned frame
  • The size you'd make to fit your full bust should probably not be more than one size larger than that which you'd make to fit your high bust i.e. if you're a 12 in full bust but a 10 in high bust, that's fine. If you're a 12 in full bust but an 8 in high bust, that might be problematic. I can't say with certainty - I've only had the chance to try this on my own body.
  • The bust should be DEEP, not wide, and breasts should not splay excessively to sides (see why below)
  • A short waist is preferable
  • An hourglass shape is also preferable i.e. a waist that indents, though it doesn't need to indent a tremendous amount
As you can see, it's a bit of a niche market - but I'm sure there are enoug of you out there who fit this description.
What Kind of Garment Does this Work On?
  • A bodice with bust darts in a woven.
  • A bodice with bust darts (or without them i.e. T shirt) in a knit 
  • In addition to the above, it's best to work with a pattern that highlights the waist
  • It's easier (as are all things) on a pattern that has no sleeves, but you can do it with sleeves, you just have to note if the shape or size of the armscye changes
  • It's also easier to work this on a knit
This isn't, as far as I can tell, a useful "method" for princess seams or other sorts of bodice shaping.

What Else Do I Need to Know?

You'll start by making your muslin in the size that fits your full bust. Oh, I know - this is HERESY. You're supposed to fit the upper chest and then FBA and make other required alterations. But seriously peeps (and I'm having a blog-writing deja vu!) I'd rather make everything else smaller, if that's what it takes, and get a garment that fits in the end, than do an FBA that ends up wrecking the line of the garment.

Pls. note: I suspect that many of you are feeling queasy right now. I respect that. I, too, feel queasy. But stay the course. I'm going somewhere with this and, really, in the end, it all comes down to whether this will work for you, if other FBAs have not.

I'm positing that, for the small framed-large busted woman, it's actually easier to adjust from the larger size than the smaller. Of course, I could be out of my mind.

OK, What The Hell Is This Adjustment And How Do You Make It Happen?

The adjustment is a way to allow for extra room in the bust  without adding extra width in the bodice. The reason you need a narrow frame, deep breasts and short waist is that the depth of your breasts will be compensated for by the length of the front bodice. If your torso is not narrow, you won't be able to maximize length in the front bodice. If your torso is long, you can still do this (I suppose) but it may be more complicated.

What's the salient construct of the alteration? You shorten the back bodice above the waist and below the bust.

I'll use my latest project as an example: When I constructed muslin 1 (unaltered bodice) in the size that fits my full bust (apparently, 38" when measured recently), I found the following:
  • It fit nicely in the bust BUT
  • The shoulders were a bit too wide
  • I needed a symmetrically wider seam allowance in the side seams (it's slightly to big around the true waist to high hip) - this means I'll need to take about 1/2" symmetrically out of each side seam, pretty easy and the line of the top is retained...
  • This it the thing I noticed most of all - a scant inch of fabric pooled at my lower back!
That fabric is the excess (given my short waist) that's taken up by the profile of my breasts on the front bodice. It's like I get a free pass in the boob area because my waist is short. But there's nothing to uptake that length on the back.

Seems pretty reasonable that I should simply hack out that amount of fabric from the back bodice and go. But, it's not entirely that simple. 

When one removes length on one side of the pattern only, it screws with the alignment of the side seam. Now, there are various ways one can deal with this, I imagine. But since this seems to work for me, I'll suggest that you add back the length just below the armscye. Walking your pattern will tell you how much you need to add (or at least act as a guide); there's a certain amount of intuition in this alteration - which is to say, at this point, I don't know how to explain why I go off-road when I do.

What's walking the pattern? This is simply aligning the edges of the seam allowances (on the paper pattern) of adjoining pattern pieces. For example, your side seams on your actual garment, will need to line up when you sew that seam. Perhaps you take it for granted that this should automatically occur. You did pay for your pattern, after all. However, some patterns are inaccurately drafted. Also remember, once you start to make alterations on a bodice, those alterations are likely to impact the length of one or both side seams, rendering them unequal. 

So, I walk the pattern from the hem, see where it stops at the underarm, note the discrepancy between the lengths of front and back, and add on to the back piece / sometimes take away a bit from the front piece. It's 2 parts engineering, 1 part intuition. Sometimes it doesn't work on the first try.

Big Time Note: Once you start screwing with the armscye, if your garment has sleeves, you're going to have to factor this in and adjust them to fit. Also: For good fit, most sleeves and armscyes already, and independently of other alterations, need to be adjusted - so I see this as part of the process, not an extra alteration. And I promise not to write a tutorial on that!

Other Big Time Note: Before you walk the side seams, always close your dart. Darts impact the length of the side and they're closed in the garment, so you'll need to close them for measuring the pattern length.

Order of Operations Recap:
  • Walk side seams on unaltered pattern to make sure they align (optional). If they don't, alter the pattern so that they do.
  • Make an unaltered muslin in the size that correlates with full bust - as long as it's not more than 1 size larger than your high bust size would be. (You might still try this if these ratios are more extreme, I just don't know what the outcome will be.)
  • Try on the garment and review. You probably need to make a small shoulder adjustment, take in the side seams a bit, and symmetrically i.e. just increase the width of your side seam allowance, and remove pooling from the back waist. If this isn't the case, email me. I really want to talk about it.
  • Reflect the required adjustments on paper (as indicated above). Note that I haven't talked about marking up the muslin and pulling it apart in the interests of altering the paper pattern. That's cuz you might want to wear your existing "muslin" i.e. that top you've been making for a while. This allows you to make an altered new version without deconstructing the original one. According to whom you ask, it's a good plan or a less good plan. I vacillate between the two perspectives. Right now I'm into wearing things for a while till I have a better fitted version. Unless, of course, the muslin is a disaster.
  • Try it on again. If the alterations didn't quite get you there, refine them.
So, I'm putting this out there for your consideration. I would welcome any feedback - positive or negative (but friendly, of course!). Have you ever tried this? Did it work?

Pattern designers and Experienced Pattern Alterers: Are there flaws in this reasoning we should discuss? I mean, does it just work on me - or should it work on others?

Let's talk!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Gauge The Situation: Interpreting Instructions

I had a challenging weekend on the knitting front. Y'all know I'm not an expert on cables. Well, the cables on the Chuck, they are plentiful. Don't misunderstand. They're not plentiful in the scheme of a cable knit sweater you'd find at a village shop in Scotland. But for a veritable knitting novice, well, let's just say I spent a few hours ripping out the same 10 rows. 

To clarify, I think that (designer) Andi's instructions are very good. Lord, by comparison with the slim paragraph provided for the McCardell Convertible, they're the substance of a freakin' PhD thesis. But, like many of you who've commented as much, I am frequently perplexed by the language that is "knitting instruction". 

When first I started to sew, I didn't think anything could ever be more challenging than deciphering a sewing pattern. Now that I knit, I realize that sewing patterns function, as technical documents, on a totally different plane than their knitting counterparts. I'm not suggesting that one is superior than the other. A good knitting pattern is aligned with a good sewing pattern. But knitters are the souls of brevity. I mean, they don't even use full words to explain things most of the time. :-)

Andi's pattern comes with 8 pages of directions and they are very clear. Thing is, I still managed to completely misinterpret something big.*

Today's post is about what you do when you've got a) good (or less good) instructions and b) no fucking idea about what to do next.
  • You email your knitting friends and learn how incredibly knowledgeable and selfless they are. (Note: What are you waiting for? Make some online knitting friends.)
  • You find an LYS (local knitting shop) - even if you live in Iqaluit, find one - and then fall at the feet of a helpful sales assistant (often knit shop SAs are expert knitters and part of the job experience is to help freaked out novices like you). Make sure to buy something if you're not charged for his or her time or, better yet, offer to pay for his or her time (in the form of hourly private lessons you can use 15 minutes at a time when you're flat out stuck). I've learned more from watching an expert fix my "massive, traumatic" problem (in 2 minutes) than any book has ever taught me.
  • Have some books on hand but recognize that reading them when you're beside yourself with stress may not be as helpful as one of the more interactive approaches.
  • Email the pattern designer, if info is available. (Knitting designers are often incredibly generous with their time and, after all, who understands a pattern better than the designer.) It goes without saying, don't ask said designer about how to knit. Use this valuable resource to assist you with more interpretive elements of the pattern.
  • Find someone on Ravelry who's had a similar problem and check out, in the notes, what (s)he did to resolve it. You might even email him or her to ask for help. That's how I met Gail
  •  Be prepared to work very diligently - some might even say "brain-smokingly" - to overcome challenges that perplex you in every way. I don't like problems but, man, I love solving them. I can't tell you how many times, in any given project (and this goes for sewing too, fyi), that I am utterly convinced that all is for nought. I keep notes. I cross-reference documentation. I review photos of the garment in question. I rip back and start again. I yell at my knitting. I drink a lot of wine. Occasionally, I start to cry. But I don't admit defeat easily, if ever. DO NOT GIVE UP. If I can do this, you can too. (See all the bullets above.)
But now I'll turn it over to you. What do you hate about knitting instructions (or love)? What resources do you make use of to help you through the rough patches? Please, share a new one with me! Let's chat...

Update: I don't fucking believe this. Just spent all night knitting and ripping out the same 20 rows yet again. (I think that's 6 times now or 120 freakin' rows.) I really hope I've learned my lesson about how to read a cable pattern at this point. The thing that astounds me is that every single time I've had to unknit, I've figured out something new. Guess I'm really going to appreciate this sweater in the end.

*FYI, what I did wrong was to assume that the cable pattern instructions (a subset of the main instructions and labeled Rows 1 through 6) were aligned with the Front Neckline main instructions (which intermittently refer to the cable pattern instructions). So, on row 4 of the pattern at the neckline, I inserted row 4 of the cable pattern. In fact, I was supposed to insert row 1 of the cable pattern (as this was its first instance in the pattern overall). Seriously, how was I supposed to know this? I think that advanced knitters understand because they've seen it so many times before. 
Oh, and the other thing I did wrong was to mess up the cables in 8000 unique ways till I finally found a groove. Interpretation is a bitch.

Sunday, September 16, 2012


Maybe it's crossed your mind, lately, that my craft output (if not my creative planning) isn't at its usual volume. I, for one, am blaming this on my home renovation. You know, the home reno that was supposed to be done by Labour Day? Well, now we're aiming for Canadian Thanksgiving. Because, natch, everyone ties the wishful completion of renovations to the major holidays.

Since I'm sure this is a topic of major interest to you (cue clearing of throat), here's a little update:
  • My expectations are beaten down so I can scarcely care anymore that we're behind schedule, over budget, unable to see through our windows, living under the shadow of scaffolding, cramped and without a useable back yard. 
  • This is despite the fact that my husband has taken on a second career (though his original one is going through an extremely busy phase) managing the contractor who's managing the trades. Scott is to be commended as the work is being excellently completed, if at the pace of restoration. The truth is, I don't understand how anyone can do any renovations for an affordable price. It takes so much labour, so many resources and SO MUCH TIME. We did go through a phase of trades-absenteeism (boring story), which affected our end-date, but we've more than made up the time and there's still an endless roster of things to complete.
  • It's pretty freakin' gorgeous up there. You know I was not in favour of this reno, since it comes at the expense of the new kitchen I desperately wanted (and arguably need). But I have to say, it's a beautifully balanced addition to the home I love so much.
  • Can't blame trades for everything... When we learned that the original floor would take far too much money to restore, based on its condition - we would have needed to remove all the boards, re-mill and re-lay them to fit and this wouldn't have addressed our sound-insulation concern adequately - we had to choose an alternative. Just call me that really annoying homeowner (a la Property Brothers) who says, at the last minute, I simply MUST have this special floor I just found - the one that needs to come in from Quebec takes an extra two weeks.
  • More to come on the floor but it's engineered wood, specifically reclaimed oak (i.e. barn board in a previous life). Plank lengths are 6 feet and plank width is 7.5 inches. No new trees were harmed in the making of this project and the reclaimed wood is exceedingly beautiful. Furthermore, it'll be laid on a sound insulating underlay (important as this room will act as my husband's music studio). Finally, nothing has been glued onto the existing hardwood so it will still be restorable in the future, should the next owners choose to go that route. Mind you, they'd be stupid to do that cuz the new floor is FINE.
  • In the words of my mother - who, on an impressive side note, is currently walking 500 miles in 6 weeks on the Camino de Santiago - Pay a lot, cry once. Pay a little, cry forever. (I think she's paraphrased the French saying: Bon marché tire agent de bourse. i.e. What is cheap is the most costly.) I'm working this philosophy, apparently, as the engineered wood we've ordered costs about 50 per cent more than your average nice hardwood. Mind you, to find hardwood in the length and width dimensions of this engineered wood, you'd be looking at about 100 bucks a board foot (that's smaller than a square foot, fyi). We're paying much less than that because the beautiful reclaimed oak you'll see sits on a bed of engineered wood. Point is, you won't be able to tell that our new floor isn't hardwood through all of its thicknesses. It will look like a million bucks (which is practically what it would have cost if it were pure hardwood).
  • IMO, the two things you notice first in any home are a) the height of the ceilings / light ratio and b) the quality of the floors. I'm just going to say it - I'm a total floor snob. One of the things I love most about old homes is the beauty of the wooden floors. I don't particularly like skinny planks. I don't like parquet, I don't like hardwood laid along the horizontal grain of the room. Laminate just makes me angry.
  • Having said all this, I'm at the "crying once" moment, for sure. I'm vaguely afraid of my line of credit.
Ah, home ownership. It's rich. For real, like.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Gauge the Situation: Pre-Knit Planning

When you knit, and you have narrow shoulders, and a not large waist, and large breasts, you have some options available to you in obtaining the "perfect size":
  • You can short row bust darts into the sweater.
  • You can alter the finished size of the sweater by knitting different sizes at different points in the project (kind of like grading from one size to another in a sewing pattern). Effectively your sweater becomes a mash up of 2 or more sizes. 
  • You can alter your gauge to gain inches in bust circumference (but it will increase the circumference by the same proportion everywhere else in the garment too). I have a whole theory about this (see below).
  • You can do some combination of all of the above but, man, that's complicated.
Each of these solutions requires math. On the plus side, the math is extremely pragmatic and is limited to division, multiplication, addition and subtraction. If you can understand what you're trying to accomplish conceptually, I'm almost certain you have the math skills to work out the specifics. On the down side, you really do have to understand what you're trying to accomplish conceptually. 
My point is, don't fear the math. If you want to be afraid, I recommend fearing the required three-dimensional thinking skills and the need to understand the properties of your yarn (and your knitting relationship with it). The math is just the grunt mechanism you use to sort those things out. (Did I just diss math?)

You'll recall this series is not about teaching knitting because a) I'm not skilled enough at this point and b) so many people have done it so well in so many ways that are entirely available and free that it's crazy for me to try to add to that pantheon. However, this series is about directing one to the appropriate resources. It is also about guiding the knitter (new or rusty) in creating garments that optimally a) suit and then b) fit her frame. I sense, and this is where you're in luck if you have a shape that resembles mine in some way, my focus will be on creating garments that fit me well . Don't misunderstand, the principles are universal so the theory is that you will benefit regardless of how our bodies differ (if I do a good job, that is).

Apropos of this:

A) Re: Short Rows for shaping - There's awesome info on how to do this via Fit Your Knits and the free Short Rows mini-class, both offered on CraftsyShort rows are a complex topic not only because of the technique(s) you use to make them, but because of the myriad sorts of shaping they produce and their many potential applications. I suggest that you pay and sign up for Fit Your Knits (taught by the talented Stefanie Japel) because it is almost certain to improve your ability to knit sweaters that fit your shape well (whatever shape that is) but also because the application of short rows - as they pertain to bust darts in a sweater - is discussed in some detail. This includes the conceptual work you need to understand and the math that accompanies it.

B) Re: Mashing up sizes: This "technique" is very specific to whatever pattern you choose but, for someone of my shape, a small in shoulders, neck, arms and waist - grading to the medium in bust (starting under the armhole i.e. at the upper chest) - can often do the trick. The thing you need to figure out is where, specifically, to make the increases and how to make them without screwing up the design if, for example, there are things like cables or other stitch patterns to consider. I've learned most about this by discussing potential mash up options with the designers of the sweaters I've knit or by reading the feedback of others on Ravelry / asking my awesome knitting friends for help. 

C) Re: Altering size with gauge: Do read these posts about gauge, in case you want to know the probable impact of knitting out of gauge by accident, or more to the point ON PURPOSE. It's super easy to add 3 or even 6 inches to the circumference of a sweater, even without trying and by following all of the pattern instructions - except for matching the instructed gauge. 

Last night I knit a gauge swatch using 2 different needle sizes (lots of info on this out there) and blocked it (lots of info on this too) to determine that: Yes indeed, I knit loosely. 
Moreover, I finally get why my gauge swatches haven't been so useful, to date. I suspect it's because I start off knitting (relatively) tightly till I find my groove and then things start to relax. This time, I swatched in the suggested needle size US8, seemed to get gauge, then moved on to a US7, in which I also seemed to get gauge, went back to the US8 - and my gauge was a whole stitch per inch looser than the first US8 swatch. It's because I found a rhythm, on that second US8 swatch, that I just hadn't found on the first. 
As it happens, my US7 swatch is still very slightly looser than the proposed pattern horizontal gauge of 4.5 stitches per inch. I'm getting 4.3 stitches to the inch. (Note that vertical gauge is less concerning to me in this pattern because I can add rows to add length as necessary.) What this means, and I did spend a lot of time working this out with math, is that I'm likely going to find a bit more give in my version of this sweater, on a  US7 needle, than the pattern dimensions suggest, but not enough to make the requisite difference in the bust.

For the most part, I'm a size small in the Chuck. In the bust, not quite.

The thing about this pattern is that the bust dimension between each size is 4" - that's not a small span. Add this to my aim for 3" of negative ease and I've got some sorting to do.
The Knitty-Gritty

Let's not delve into the boring mathy details, but if I knit the whole thing in a size small, it's going to be too tight in the bust by 1.25" (and that's after it stretches by 3 inches of negative ease). The extra 1.25" is the difference between a sexy-style, tight sweater and one that's simply too small / pulls in the cables.  Alas, if I knit the small everywhere but the bust, and then the medium in the bust, the finished size (once I've factored in the negative ease) will be 3" larger than I'd like.

To recap - in case you're zoning on the general principles (and who can blame you): 
  •  My gauge swatch told me that I need to size down a needle to get almost, but not quite, the pattern dimensions. 
  • It also told me that my sweater, knit in US7 needles, will still be a bit bigger than the pattern dimensions suggest. 
  • The pattern told me the actual size of each circumference dimension. 
  • My preference (based on my shape, my attitude, and what I know of the design/designer) determined the amount of ease I will aim for and the type of yarn I will choose to encourage that ease to drape optimally on my body. 
Based on these factors, I know that neither size small nor medium, without further alteration of the pattern, will work in the bust.

In case you're curious, it took me about 3 hours to figure all of this out. (And about 2 hours to write this post.)

But don't despair! I sorted it relatively easily by a) carefully reviewing the pattern instructions and then b) emailing the pattern designer to confirm the following:
  • Short rows (A) are not a good idea if I want to retain the symmetry of the cables.
  • Size mash up (B) is probably my best bet - as long as I can achieve the desired size by knitting the medium in the bust. (See above for why I can't.)
  • The alteration of size, very slightly, given my gauge (C) isn't germane. This won't influence sizing enough to warrant either striving for perfect pattern gauge, or avoiding it. Note: I have deliberately avoided going down to a US6 to get pattern gauge (potentially) because that may screw with the kind of ease I can achieve and the nature of the stitch. I have talked about this in more detail here.
Andi did say that she thinks I'll be able to add some stitches onto the small under the armholes (but not as many as I'd need to knit the bust as a size M) so that I can achieve a 38" bust after 3" of negative ease. 
BTW, what's the number of stitches I'll require (according to my math and gauge) to do this?: 6.
Yup. 6 extra stitches, added at the armholes, should give me that 1.25" in bust circumference I'm looking for.
Now only time will tell if I've done my figuring correctly.
I bring you this tome of a post to hit the point home: I suggest you spend 4 hours figuring out the stitch numbers that accord with your actual dimensions so that you don't have to spend 20 hours ripping out stitches or (worse still) so that you don't knit an entire garment that's not quite right for your body.
I wonder if there's anyone still reading at this point. I sure hope so.
Thoughts or feelings?