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? 


  1. I'm about to embark on a bit of knitting that requires an FBA so yours is a very timely post

    I have also downloaded a series of tutorials entitled Fit to Flatter by Amy Herzog which you can see here, which I'm hoping will help.

    I'm a mathematician by training, so at least that bit doesn't scare me.

    1. I have read that series but totally forgot about it. Gonna go see it again to find out if I forgot cuz it didn't work for me (maybe I'd read it elsewhere already) or if I'm really just losing track of all the great resources :-)

  2. Oh, and I agree that spending 4 hours figuring is worth it. 'A stitch in time, saves nine' seems like a rather appropriate phrase

  3. I was in the middle of posting a comment and hit something and lost it all! I so admire your patience to work all this out ahead of time. I always want to get started and sometimes don't even do a swatch. To be honest, sometimes I need to knit it because I can't see what is happening by reading the pattern. I guess it helps that I don't make that many highly fitted objects. (I'm sort of a baggy sweater sort.) I, too am a loose knitter, and have found that I need to start with needles one size smaller for just about any project. Thanks for all the attention to detail. I have a totally different shape from you, but can benefit from the exercise.

    1. I hate when that happens! I totally understand what you're saying. In fact, I had the experience today of ripping out a bunch of rows because I incorrectly interpreted the instructions. But I think a gauge swatch matters nonetheless. Your baggy sweater can be "boyfriend" with a swatch or (potentially) "mammoth" without :-)

  4. yes, I read it to the very end. ;) I haven't yet knitted anything sufficiently fitted that I needed to do a FBA, but I am very interested in your discussion of how to achieve it. I will have to look into the Craftsy class on short rows. Thanks for that recommendation.

    Lois K

  5. OMG. I have found my gauge swatches to be utterly useless to this point. I think it was random luck that my first sweater fit. So, thank you for pulling this all together. I was wondering about that Craftsy class on fitting.

  6. I read it all. I found it really interesting, partly because your dilemma is similar to the one I had when choosing the size for my Miette. In the end, because it's my first cardigan and I didn't want to make things too complicated for my first try I decided to make a straight size small, but my bust is a smidge smaller than yours (36-37" bra depending), so I'm still within the bounds of comfortable ease with that size. This post is really useful for my future knitting endeavours though, so thanks for taking the time to put... erm... not pen to paper... key to screen?

    1. :-) I totally understand why you aren't screwing with the pattern on your first sweater, and one with a bit of lacework to boot. I think you'll be fine. You may just want to make it a bit longer, but top down knitting lets you decide that at the end...

  7. I have had the same experience! I looked at my gauge swatch at the end of knitting Francis revisited and my gauge had loosened dramatically!
    This is a great post and I'll read it several times to make sure I get it all locked away in brain-town. :)
    I spend hours doing calculations too! Better safe than sorry right? Though sadly I still need more knowledge to get every single factor figured out! :) Ease preferences, how the type of yarn acts, how to place shaping....I'll get there.
    Thanks for the post :)

    1. Isn't it wild. The experts say that a gauge swatch is only that - a gauge - but you have to start somewhere. At least, if you knit and block a wide swatch, you have a sense of where you start to loosen your tension and what that might mean on a blocked garment.

  8. Knitting software - Garment Designer, -- sewing patterns with hand and machine knitting calculations, make your gauge swatch, design your garment (or match your pattern schematics) and just knit.

    If your sweater fits great at 5 stitches per inch, and you want to use a chunkier yarn, GD will instantly recalculate the garment at 8 stitches per inch. I've used it 20 years and I use it in my job as a technical designer for custom apparel manufacturer when I have to double-check my math (and Garment Designer calculates horizontal and vertical darts and sloping shoulders). Highly recommend, you can download a demo on the website. NAYY...
    Gail, Machine Knitter

    1. Ooh, this sounds very useful. I'm going to have to download that demo...

  9. No thoughts other than commiseration - one of the things that I find so attractive about knitting is that I can make things fit me just so - except I haven't quite mastered the just so part yet. And yes - gauge swatches lie, the !@##@$$%#$ things. Granted the larger the gauge swatch the better, but even with my 6" square swatches I've frogged more than my fair share.

    1. I know - theoretically it all works, but in practice, well - every experience is its own thing...

  10. Well, this is why you end up with beautifully fitted garments, and I often have to find a recipient for mine! I have to admit I rarely do a swatch, but then again, I pay some attention in pattern choice, which can often obviate the need for swatching, right?

    1. Thank you Frances. I think you are an advanced enough knitter that you likely intuit what you have to do based on your experience of patterns, yarn, needles etc. In 20 years, maybe I won't need a swatch either :-)