Sunday, September 5, 2010

Augusta Lessons Learned 2: Knitting patterns are mere suggestions

Hang out on Ravelry's ample knitting boards and you'll hear the same refrain over and over again. It goes something like this: "I want to make the (fill in the blank sweater) and I wear a (fill in the blank size) but the pattern only goes up to (fill in the blank size) so I hope it will fit." Okay, girls, I'm here to break the news. It won't fit. Why? Because inevitably some skinny chick designed the pattern for her angular frame and she's upsized it based on her best guesses - guesses that have absolutely nothing to do with your particular build.

This is not solely an ample knitter's dilemma. Most women - the vast majority  in fact - struggle with fit. There are exceptions to this rule and Cecily Glowik MacDonald is one. Cecily, a fantastic designer and author of my current-favorite knitting book, New England Knits, creates beautiful, elegantly simple designs that look just wonderful on her tall, thin frame. I uniformly admire everything she designs and would love to knit her patterns.

But now let's get real. Let's assume that Cecily designs sweaters for her own shape. I think that's a good assumption; if I ever become a designer, I'll be creating garments for mine. And let's assume that Cecily starts with her own design and upsizes from there, another good assumption. Fine. Now let's compare our respective asses. A picture paints a thousand words:

Here we are, two women of a certain age, garbed in green cardigans. Could we be more different? Cecily has no butt to speak of especially compared to my over-abundance in the hip department. Is it realistic for me to think that Cecily will or even should design patterns to accommodate my guitar shape? Especially when she barely has any hips of her own?

No, it's not. Instead, I need to be realistic and recognize that if I want something to fit, I need to fix the pattern. It's a difficult task and takes lots of education and practice, including knitting a number of sweaters that might not fit quite right. But if good fit is my goal, then this is what I have to do. Nothing else works.

Let me prove my point since I know of what I speak. Guess who designed my Augusta Cardigan? That's right: Cecily Glowik Macdonald. I took her skinny design - the yarn type, cables, short V-neck, et al - and made it my own.

Compare Cecily's original schematic and my own:

As you can see, I made my cardigan A-line to accommodate my hips. My Augusta doesn't look like an A-line on my frame because I AM A-line! Another alternative would have been to make the entire garment large enough to fit my hips, but then I would have had literally 12 extra inches of fabric pooling around my waist - not good. I made other mods, too, like adding cables to the back and back neck shaping.

So, want to know exactly how I made this pattern fit? I started with graph paper and mapped out the sweater using the Augusta pattern and my exact measurements. This is what Kathy Zimmerman taught me this summer - and it works. I mapped out the entire design, including the sleeves.

Then, because I am severly math challenged, I went to Sweater Wizard and created an A-line cardigan pattern with a V-neck and set-in sleeves. However, instead of accepting Sweater Wizard's measurements verbatim, I changed every single measurement to match my graph-paper blueprint. Every single measurement. (BTW, Sweater Wizard has led me astray in the past; the reason I had to reknit half the Handstrikket was because Sweater Wizard spec'd basketball player arms! Don't get me wrong - Sweater Wizard is a great tool. But if you're making very large sweaters, know that you're going to have to make adjustments to the measurements.)

Then I figured out where the cables should go based on Cecily's original design (shown in green pencil on my sheet). These cables were pretty easy to figure because they are two inches wide and each square on the graph paper represents two inches. The space between the cables is also two inches, again very easy to visualize. I then did some stitch count calculations: the cables take 12 stitches and the plain sections take 8 stitches. I added up all those stitches, added one stitch to each side for a selvage (for the back - only one on each side for the front), and voilĂ - I had a total stitch cast-on number. I then knitted on, following the cable pattern and all the increases and decreases specified in the Sweater Wizard pattern.

Then I prayed. Because knitting something is always a crapshoot, right?

But I'm here to tell you that it worked. It really did. This sweater fits me better than anything else I've ever made.

So, in conclusion: Give up. You're not going to find a pattern that fits without some modifications. Or maybe you will but if you do, know that it is an absolute act of God. Instead, get real. Start by taking ALL your measurements and then comparing them to a pattern's schematic. Just begin there. You'll at least know why what you want to knit will never, ever fit you. Then you can start to learn how you, too, can make sweaters that fit. Don't let this bit of reality scare you back into a life of only knitting shawls, mittens, and hats. Be not afraid! I'll help you and lots of other knitters will, too. The first step to enlightenment is acceptance. Just accept that a published pattern will not fit you and then work from there.

I so strongly believe in these principles that I'm doing it all over again: last night I started another Cecily Glowik Macdonald pattern, the Melrose Peacoat. Stay tuned!


  1. Powerful,powerful post!
    Informative(yet overwhelming), but showing that where there is determination there is yet hope.
    I imagine this insurmountable feat is made possible via a good teacher like KZ, but the average knitter is left baffled and left to consider taking a course in drafting and sweater that order.
    Don't shoot me! LOL I'm just drawing board challenged.t-a

  2. You my friend have endless patience. A) To write this post and B) To make that sweater fit! Me I just pray! My problem is I need someone to do the math part for me. And just let me knit from the pattern. And if I can't do that I don't generally make the pattern! So Kudos to you my friend! I can't wait to see your coat! You should finish it by October 17th and drive to New York and come to Rhinebeck! All the cool knitters (i.e. me because in my head I'm very cool!) will be there! :) haha

  3. I promise to help anyone who wants to try this process. I know how complicated and difficult it is to even get together the knowledge to do such a thing. But I'll help you make a template pattern customized for your particular build and lumpiness. And it will make all the difference in your sweaters. Offer stands!