Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Gauge The Situation: How I Choose A Pattern

I find knitting planning much more fun than sewing planning though, why, I have no concrete idea.

I will say that Ravelry makes everything about knitting fun. I think I've posted about this Slate article before, no? I find it fascinating that a knitting site, of all things, is held up as a pillar of social networking by a non-knitting tech writer. Truthfully, though, Ravelry really is one of the most substantive platforms I have ever had the opportunity to experience.

In case you aren't aware, you can check out my Ravelry page here. I make all of my info open to the public cuz, well, I have a whole blog open to the public, what's so secret about an inventory of my knitting projects??

I favourite garments that appeal for future reference. If I'm really intrigued, I queue them - though, in truth, that doesn't mean they're going to get made particularly quickly, if ever. It seems the items that excite me tremendously in the moment tend to flare out over time.  I also love checking out the favourites of my friends. That's how I discover many garments.

The option to buy a good 80 per cent of the patterns you come across on Ravelry, economically and easily through the site itself, is part of its mass appeal. If you can't get a pattern on this site, it will advise you where you can find it. And that ability to drill-down catalog all of the relevant deets in one lovely spot, well, it's organization porn.

I've bought a lot of books, patterns and magazines since I began knitting. But most of the things I make are individual patterns purchased on Ravelry. Why? Well, why get a book if you can buy the exact thing you're looking for at a fraction of the cost? And, moreover, I LOVE that I can check out the finished projects of other knitters, many of whom model their finished wares.

When I see a lovely sweater on a lovely model with a figure quite different than mine, of course it's aspirational. However, when I see that same sweater, knitted and modeled by regular people, then I can really appreciate how much the model, and expert knitting of the garment, contributes to the actual appeal. A lot of great sweaters look horrible on a lot of great people. It's not the sweater's fault. It's not the body's fault. It's the combo of the two.

The best thing any crafter has going for herself is the ability to know what will work on her frame from the perspective of:
  • proportion (i.e. long sweaters on short people can be challenging, short waisted ones on large-busted women can be a disaster)
  • fit (you don't really want me to hit this over the head again, do you??)
  • style (is this a twee item?, a modern one? a vintage one? etc.)
  • fabric choice (in this case what yarn you use)
When you fit these modules together, every knitter has unique requirements. But being able to see something on another woman, having a similar style and/or shape, may really save you from a lot of wasted time.

So, for the purposes of this exercise, I'll tell you about me:
  • I have a small, short frame, big breasts, a relatively narrow but short waist, proportionate hip-width, a derriere that is neither protuberant nor flat. My proportion is balanced to top-heavy. When I dress "well", you don't notice what isn't balanced. When I veer into questionable terrain, well, sometimes that appearance of balance is strained.
  • Fit falls into two categories: the kind of fit I prefer, and the way I wear clothing to achieve that fit. I like closely fitted, but not too-tight clothes. 3 inches of negative ease in the bodice of a sweater does not concern me, it appeals. But when I mix 3 inches of negative ease with, for example, a multi-button down cardigan, the result can be a sweater that pulls at the chest - a serious pet peeve. I'd rather a top with no buttons, than one with lots of buttons I can't use without seeming as if my clothing doesn't fit. I subscribe to the viewpoint that, if it doesn't work in the shoulders, it doesn't work. So, in order to achieve fit in many of my sweaters, I need to make the shoulders smaller than the pattern instructs while either retaining, or increasing (with short rows) the bust circumference.
  • I have a distinctive, but flexible style. I like things that are classic, but not bland. I like them too look rich (in terms of tone and because they seem expensive). I'm not into ultra-vintage, ultra-modern or ultra-twee looks. I don't want to seem like a character in my clothing. I like garments that have a little something different (interesting pattern, a nice collar, pretty buttons) but that don't stand out overly. I expect my clothes to support me, not to "wear me".
  • Ah, the textile. This is the way that I truly express myself. I love SOFT with just the perfect drape. Drape is one of the most appealing concepts on the planet as far as I'm concerned. Cashmere=yum. Merino is good. Alpaca can be sneezy, but in proportion with other yarns, I like it. I do not wear cotton yarn; I hate anything nubby and textured. I don't tend to like variegated or multi-coloured yarns (not on me, anyway). I'm not keen on synthetics, either, though if they support a natural yarn and add to the drape or wearability, I can get with them. I'm strangely ambivalent about silk. I don't like how it tends to drag.
Already, I know so much about the patterns I'm going to look for in any weight or gauge:
  • It's going to be body-skimming but not tight. Chances are I'll use a "slimmer" yarn, something in a worsted weight or smaller. It has to highlight my shoulders, waist and chest to their best effect.
  • It's going to be made of something like merino, cashmere-blend or alpaca-blend.
  • It's going to have a rich tone, maybe it will be brightly-coloured but it won't be multi-coloured (which tends to highlight areas of volume, fyi).
  • It's going to be proportioned fit a short frame with narrow shoulders. (How will that be clear to me? Well, the pattern model will probably approximate the right shape for the item, but the real-life models will really drive the point home.)
So, armed with this useful info, all I've got to do is review my favourites (which presumes I have a Ravelry account and I use that feature), my books in my personal library and magazines or other resources.

The best thing is, I can find info about more or less anything on Ravelry that I can imagine. All my book patterns, my mag patterns - they'll probably be listed with pics on Ravelry too. (Man, I sense this post this sounds like an advertorial but I swear to you, those people don't know who I am.)  Oh, and if I want to see every detail of that garment (from sizing to yarn gauge to yarn types that work and the amounts of each you'll need for every size) all I need to do is to click on the relevant field.

The purpose of this diatribe isn't to sell you on the site (though the knitters who have constructed its content will certainly do that while you peruse all the details), but to tell you, as a knitter you owe it to yourself to use it fully to gain its benefit.

At this point, I'm simply playing the numbers. I know where I want to go with the prospective project (what hole in my wardrobe it's filling, why it should work). I type in my parameters for a detailed search and I see what pops up.

Knitter, know thyself. That chunky, glamour-fluffy plaid knit is probably not going to work, adorable as it may be in a pic. A rich neutral (ooooh aubergine, slate blue, deep grey) in a slimming cut is the thing you'll reach for everyday. If you can't wear it at least twice a week, put that pattern down. Cuz 150 hours is a lot of time you could spend doing something else.


  1. What a perfectly timed post - I'm currently looking though patterns on ravelry to try and find a sweater pattern to try for my first sweater. This has definitely reinforced some things I was already thinking, and brought up a couple of extra things. Thanks!
    Having said that, I think overall our figures are relatively similar (except my behind is more protruding than your description), do you have any patterns you've come across you might suggest? I'm after a waist or slightly longer (to wear with skirts that sit on my waist, or with dresses that have a waist seam) sweater, preferably with long sleeves, and if it's a cardigan rather than pull over i want the buttons to go all the way down the front (unlike some of the ones i've seen that just have three or four at the top)

    1. Well, for my first sweater (first anything I knit) was this: http://www.ravelry.com/projects/KristinM100/kimono-wrap-cardigan. You can purchase it on Ravelry and it is a very reasonable first project. Very attractive and not "first project" seeming, either. This would work over a voluptuous derriere also.

      However, it's not short or good to wear with lots of skirts, IMO.

      What I'd really suggest is that you do Gail's Miette knit-along (http://gksagenda.blogspot.ca/2012/04/miette2-gauge-and-sizing.html). It's over now but there a bunch of insanely well-planned and TERRIFIC posts that walk you though how to do it, and I'm sure Gail would be happy to provide you with feedback, as required. Just keep in mind (which is why I haven't made this great sweater) that it might be a bit more boobs plus than you are hoping for.

  2. Have I asked you before if you've ever looked at Interweave's Knitting Daily Galleries? They show various Interweave employees trying out one of the sweaters from an Interweave issue and they point out size, style, ease preferences, etc. I think it's quite instructive & useful, but I note that there don't seem to be any additions post-2009. Here's the link, if you're interested:

    1. I think you might have but I should visit again! Thank you...

  3. Wow, girl, you are detail-oriented and analytical! I love it.

    I would marry Ravelry if I could. When I first started using it, I didn't like that there were so many overlapping features (library, favorites, queue, projects...). But now, I love how flexible and customizable it is. I can mark all the eye-candy-that-would-look-terrible-on-me as favorites, but only add a pattern to my library if a) it would work for me, and b) I could buy it online.

    The other thing I love about Rav is being able to see every pattern in a book before I buy it. That beats even the "look inside" feature on Amazon.

    I'm going to do some more thinking about how proportion/fit/style/fabric work for me. Maybe I'll do a response post on my blog.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post!

    1. Oh, you flatter me :-) I'm glad to know you love that site as much as I do. I'm seriously thrilled by it!

  4. You know a lot of that just makes sense beyond knitting. I love blogs for seeing finished patterns on other people. You have to know your own body and recognize what works and which styles are always going to be a stretch. I think a lot of people have a real disconnect with that, particularly when all they have to choose from is RTW.

    1. It's true! Those who only have access to RTW tend not to consider this in the same way that sewists do. Not surprising since they have so many fewer options. But the advice works whether you'r buying or making an item.

  5. I love it when you talk about fabric and fit :).

    "I subscribe to the viewpoint that, if it doesn't work in the shoulders, it doesn't work." I agree. The shirt Martin made for me doesn't quite work at the neck and shoulders. I need a more open design with the collar laying more open, and something isn't quite right with the shoulders. A second muslin is in progress.

    1. Thanks S! I'm starting to revise my perspective about muslins (my theory is a work in progress). Right now, I aim to make a muslin I can wear for a short period of time (largely to determine, from actual wear, what I need to fix). Then, as soon as I have time and info about what to fix, I revise the pattern and make up a new one. If that one's not quite right (though one hopes it's infinitely more wearable than the first wearable muslin), I make another still. This works with items that don't take months to assemble, natch. But a shirt falls into this category very well, IMO.

  6. "If you can't wear it at least twice a week, put that pattern down. Cuz 150 hours is a lot of time you could spend doing something else." Well put!

    Great post, I love Ravelry, too! I wish we had something like that for sewing... Anyway, thanks for the practical info, I'll be referring back next time I make a sweater.

    Oh- have you ever knit one of those sweaters with a half-neck button placket? I've only ever seen vintage patterns, you've inspired me to go looking for modern ones.. :)

    1. I know it cuz I've lived it :-) Wanna guess how many things I've made that just don't get a lot of wear?

      I so wish we had Ravelry for sewing, but I do think the communities function so differently. I just don't see how we could make it happen in a reasonable way.

      On the topic of the sweater, do you mean something like this: http://www.ravelry.com/projects/msmodiste/asymmetrical-cabled-cardi?

  7. I LOVE Ravelry. I use Favourites in exactly the same way. And I love the Pattern Search function where you can set the parameters for what you're looking for. Particularly useful if you have a bag of yarn in a certain weight and want to find a pattern to knit it in.
    I can't remember the last time I bought a knitting magazine and I rarely buy knitting books now. My first resource when pondering a new knitting project is Ravelry and the knitting blogs I follow.

    1. I know - when you have some stash you're looking to eat through it's perfect!