Monday, October 20, 2014

Custom Fit: Kristin's Basic Cowl

Y'all know I've written a bunch of times on Amy Herzog's latest venture - Custom Fit. The theory appeals to me a lot. Till recently, I felt there were too many unanswered questions so I was reluctant to take the plunge. Then it happened that the idea of math became more onerous than the idea of putting my faith in someone else's hands. Interestingly, Tasia just published a rather detailed post on her latest Custom Fit project. And Evie is the original adventurer. (Do read Evie's post to learn more about the mechanics of the system. I'm not going to dwell on that here as I've discussed it a bunch of times in the past...)

I am now the owner of my own Custom Fit recipe (a design of my choosing, based on a variety of Custom Fit templates). It's called Kristin's Basic Cowl and I've even knitted the broken rib border - so I'm well on my way. But nothing's ever that simple, is it?

For starters, I spent an entire evening just choosing my recipe (Note: I'm going to use this term interchangeably with the term "pattern", though in the Custom Fit universe they are different things.) I don't mean that I spent an evening entering in measurements, doing a swatch and designing a sweater. No, I spent another evening doing the first two things. I mean I spent 4 hours trying to figure out how I wanted to mix and match my options. And there aren't that many options!

The thing about buying a pre-designed pattern (the fitting for which you have to do painstakingly for yourself) is that it exists. You like it (in which case you decide to take the plunge) or you don't quite get it (in which case you walk). When you design your own sweater, there are so. many. variables.

I knew I wanted a close-fitting pullover with a cowl neck and 3/4 sleeves. I didn't know what length I wanted, where I wanted the neckline to start or what kind of edging stitch I preferred. And on that topic, the intention has always been to design a cowl neck pullover. The cowl is my spiritual neckline. Alas, it's not one of the Custom Fit template options. So I spent the evening considering whether a scoop neckline (a template) designed at a border height of 6 inches might turn into a cowl. I decided the likelihood was pretty good. Then it occurred to me that I should confirm that with the Custom Fit team and I'm waiting to hear back.

But let's postulate for a moment: Let's assume my cowl concept is sound  How, specifically, does one knit a cowl that is very drapey but not floppy, perhaps with an asymmetrical fall? FWIW, I'd be willing buy an Amy Herzog pre-designed pattern with a cowl neck to learn the technique and to apply it to my Custom Fit sweater (not exactly custom fit, I think you would agree), but she hasn't designed any cowl necks the shape of which appeals to me. Intriguingly, she has worn one (see the yellow sweater in this post).

Then there are, well, mathematical questions to consider when it comes to sort-of designing a cowl: Does one decrease the stitch count as one goes (to prevent a funnel look)? How long does one need to make a cowl drapey? Is 6 inches adequate? (I have yarn considerations to throw into the mix. I've got 1100 yards of yarn and the sweater I've designed is estimated to take more than that.)

In a worst-case scenario, I'll make a regular, 2 inch-edged neckline and call it a day. It's not a deal-breaker when it comes to appreciating this experience. Maybe cowl necks are to be part of Custom Fit 2.0.

Having said all this, after hours of thinking and wishing and planning (it was fun, don't get me wrong), when I saw the specifications of my pattern-to-be (prior to purchase), I was concerned.

Look, I'm a gal who doesn't shy away from the math. Or the work of fitting. But the proposed pattern dimensions were going to give me, among other things, a mere inch of negative ease in the bust, 2 inches of positive ease in the waist and an inch of negative ease in the hips (and this sweater is cut to the real, not high, hip).

By contrast, when I knit normally (aka alter pattern dimensions to suit my desired silhouette), I go for 5 inches of negative ease in the bust, 0 inches of ease in the waist and 0 inches in the hip.

Look, good fit depends on many factors - not least of which is the nature of the yarn you choose to work with (I'm using Quince Chickadee - a springy, all-wool, sport-weight that feels more like DK to me). Brief Sidebar: I'm the first to accept that my desired drapey neckline is likely not going to work optimally with the yarn I've got to use. But the one that Amy sports in that photo (linked above) is totally within the realm of its capabilities.

Measurements are another key factor. But good old-fashioned preference is a meaningful third. If you look at every modeled, Amy Herzog sweater in the land, you will see that they tend towards a generous fit. A well-fitted, generous fit, for sure, but her idea of close-fit is not mine.

What's very cool is that Custom Fit allows you to go rogue. Sure, it tries to dissuade you. It warns you up front. But if you can't get with what's being proposed, you have a chance to mess with the math. It's a bit like altering code.

I decided not to mess with much. If Amy feels that @ 2" of positive ease at the waist will work well with the design (given the yarn, which the algorithm also accounts for - if I'm not mistaken), I can give it a try. I'm totally agnostic about hip measurements, I rarely mess with them. I feel confident about the vertical measurements I provided and how the Custom Fit system will interpret them. In every example of Custom Fit sweaters I've seen, I've been completely impressed by how the system interprets vertical fit. Sure, this "real hip" length may be a bit long for my dimensions, but apparently the system takes proportion into consideration. I'll give it a go.

The thing I couldn't get with was the proposed, actual full bust measurement. 1 inch of negative ease is not adequate. (Note: I really hope I don't live to regret this perspective.)

Why is that?

  • Well, that preference factor comes into play. I wish Amy Herzog designs were a bit more, um, boob-highlighting (for want of a better term). 
  • One also shouldn't discount experience. I've knit dozens of sweaters, using all kinds of yarn and construction methods, designers and styles. Only one has been too small. And that was in the shoulders. With every sweater I've knit, I've refined my full-bust ease requirement. Currently, I hover at about 5 inches of desired negative ease, depending on the cut of the sweater and the drape of the yarn. 
  • Did I mention that one's gauge is apt to loosen over the course of knitting from the the hem of the sweater to the top (where the boobs are). 
  • And, given that yarn can easily be blocked to achieve 3 inches of additional ease, if necessary, I'm much more concerned about fabric laxity over time than I am about over-snugness in the bust.
  • Oh, and one other thing - my measurement set has changed slightly since I created the file in Custom Fit. Yeah, I know it would be prudent to make a new one, but who has 3 hours?? The only way in which it's changed meaningfully (by an inch or more) is when it comes to the big three horizontal measurements. Vertical measurements don't change (unless your body shape evolves tremendously). My shoulder-width hasn't changed. My arm circumference isn't particularly different. (Now I'm toned, rather than soft.) But as I'm the girl who likes to wear things snug, I'm positing that a little bit of extra ease will be a welcome change.

I just reread this post. You'd think I'm trying to justify something insane here. Really, this is all I did: I added another 1.25 inches of negative ease. The bust will fit at 35.75". My full bust measurement is 37.5". It's not crazy.

But I'm such a rule follower. And I paid to have someone do the math for me so, isn't the least I can do to let someone to do the math for me?

Not to mention, how hands off haven't I been in this experience? I'm not a lemming. I want to know why I'm doing what I'm doing. I have opinions. I need agency. Maybe this system isn't designed for me?

Mind you, maybe it is. This is my first experience. I have to get to know it and learn to trust it - or at least to interpret it. I will say that I LOVE the idea of making up some of the Amy Herzog pre-existing patterns in a way that will fit (particularly the cardigans - a tricky style for me, in general, given the distinction between my full bust and waist measurements. I also love the idea of designing a few more recipes from the basic templates. Really, how often do you wear something fancy? How many of your daily-wear sweaters are made in a fabric other than stockinette, for the most part?

And I've been impressed, if not blown away, but many finished Custom Fit projects I've seen.

I'll let you know about how the knitting progresses. About what feedback I get re: the cowl experiment. I may forgo it to save on yarn (or because my idea was flawed). And natch, I'll let you know what I think of the emerging fit.

On the plus side, I know how to alter. I could always just do the math and change this pattern on the fly. :-)


  1. I am so curious to hear how your CustomFit experience goes. I've been mulling the idea of using the system with an existing pattern to get the fit I want (I love Michelle Wang's Wickerwork pullover, but I would also love not to have to do the math to make it fit the way I want). I'm also a big fan of being able to swatch until you get a fabric you like, rather than trying to contort your preferences to pattern gauge, which is almost never something I can achieve in both stitch and row gauge.

    I'm in the throws of holiday knitting (look at me starting early!) so it will be a while before I start the CustomFit process. I'm looking forward to your always excellent and thorough analysis!

  2. This was such a great read, thanks for going into such detail with this.
    I read Tasia's blog post yesterday too. I've heard of the TrueFit system, but haven't been tempted to try it yet. I like math & I like having all the control too. lol So I can't understand paying someone to do this for me.

    What I find is interesting is that they take the yarn into consideration - this is what's hard for me to do.

    Their ease at the bust-waist-hip is indeed kinda funky. But Tasia's sweater came out pretty well although a bit too fitted for my preference. But the length was perfect and the underbust decreases were a nice touch.

    Can't wait to read more about your adventures with this knitting pattern.