Wednesday, March 30, 2011

My ugly duckling Waltham

I'm almost finished with the back of the Waltham, thank God. I can't wait to block this baby and move on to the fronts. My KAL pals say the fronts speed by in comparison, which is good news.

While I'm not completely satisfied with my Waltham, I am happy with the shaping which has turned out exactly as I'd planned and envisioned. Take a look at the original schematic and the resulting sweater. How amazing that I could actually do this! Sorry, I'm still in awe of my burgeoning abilities and am therefore modesty deficient at the present time. :-)

What I'm displeased about is the yarn. Berroco Ultra Alpaca, the worsted version, is my perennial favorite, so I figured using the Light, a DK weight, would be great. But I'm not liking it. Maybe if it was knitted at a tighter gauge I'd be happier, but then I wouldn't meet gauge for this sweater. Again, I'm hoping it looks better when it's blocked, but now it looks wrinkled and disheveled and I don't like it. :-(

It doesn't help that I've seen the KAL participants' sweaters in a heftier alpacas and wools. Check out Dottie's beautiful Waltham in Filatura Lanarota Puno, for example. It's lush and thick and squishy and huggable and 100 percent alpaca.

Mary-Kate's Waltham takes the cake though. She's using the ubiquitous Cascade 220. I never dreamed this workhorse yarn would be so perfect for a cabled cardi. I adore the bright blue, too. Don't the cables look gorgeous?

I trudge on, hoping that a good washing and blocking will turn my Waltham into a thing of beauty. I'd love to think I've got an ugly duckling here, but I'm not so sure. I hope I'm not learning yet again that yarn choice makes all the difference. I am less than thrilled with my Ditto and Diamond Yoke cardigans because I didn't use the best yarns. It's a little discouraging to get all the way to the end and know that if you'd just picked another yarn, you'd be satisfied.

Oh well, here's hoping my ugly duckling Waltham somehow blooms into a beautiful swan.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Fraggles knit!

Thanks to Jane, my girlhood friend, for passing along this hilarity about our favorite pasttime. Unfortunately, the video won't play in my blog; you'll have to watch it on YouTube. But if you love or occassionally hate knitting, this one's for YOU.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

How to: Waist Shaping

On the Waltham KAL board, Lisa asks, "Julie, would you share with us how you did the waist shaping? At least for this novice knitter?"

Lisa refers to the Waltham waist shaping I discussed in my previous post, where I modified the sweater sides from a rectangle to a trapezoid designed just for my particular lumpiness.

I started by knowing my target finished measurements, which are shown below. Note that these measurements are made of my body measurement plus ease of two to eight inches. (One of the great mysteries of my life is what plus-size ease should be. When I figure this out, you'll be the first to know.)

Then I figured out stitch counts using the gauge. For my Waltham, the gauge is 6 stitches per inch, so I multiplied each of the measurements by 6 to get the stitch count, and then I added 2 stitches, one for eash side, for the seam.

Then I figured out the length I had to work with. I needed a 17-inch long body with the waistline falling halfway at 8.5-inches. I also figured in the two-inch bottom ribbing and 1 inch height of the waist.

Knowing this, I could figure out the decreases. I calculated that I needed to go from 218 stitches to 164 stitches over 6.5 inches. (I got the 6.5 inches by taking the 8.5 length to the waist and subtracting the 2 inches of ribbing.)

Being incredibly math challenged, I then used Touch and Go Knitting, a great little iPad app do the math. I've sometimes used Sweater Wizard to figure out the math, but Touch and Go lets me figure out a single trapezoid without putting in every single sweater measurement. It's my own personal knitting Swiss Army Knife and I wholeheartedly endorse it for iPad users.

With Touch and Go, I entered my stitch and row gauge and then selected the waist width (27 inches or 164 stitches); the hem width (26 inches or 218 stitches), and the length (6.5 inches or 42 rows). The great little tool displayed the decreases:
  • Decrease 1 stitch each side every other row 15 times
  • Decrease 2 stitches each side every other row 6 times
  • Total stitches decreased: 54 stitches
I then used a similar approach to figure out the increases from the waistline to the bustline. Then I can go back to the pattern to knit the shoulders and neckline as prescribed.

I hope this makes sense. I wish I could explain the math to you, but I just can't. For a girl with a genius IQ, I'm pretty damn dumb, at least in the math department. But at least I can rely on great tools like Touch and Go Knitting. Thank goodness!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Hour-glass shaping on the Waltham

Another Waltham update because I've actually got a hang of the cable pattern now and am cruising right along...

The incredibly talented Kathy Zimmerman designed the Waltham to fit a variety of figures - but not one exactly like mine. This isn't unique to the Waltham. It's true for almost all sweaters which designers create with parallel, rectangular sides.
As I've discussed here so often, and much to my dismay, I am a busty triangle. I can lament, but it won't change anything. As the Bible says, I am what I am. So my sweaters have to have some sort of angular thing going on or they ain't gonna fit.

Therefore, I declared myself Queen of the Mods and redesigned the shape of the Waltham to match mine, as shown in the schematic below.

Now take a look at my knitted piece, photographed today. It looks a bit strange to me considering that all of my friends from the Waltham KAL group have knitted Walthams that are shaped exactly like Kathy designed them: rectangularly.

 At least my knitted piece matches my schematic, but will this thing actually fit??? Only the fit test will tell, so I pinned it to my shirt.

Does it fit? YES! It fits! I hope. At least I think so. It's a good harbinger of a nice sweater at the very least.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The irony of plus-size sleeves

Logic tells you that if you want to enlarge a sweater, you'd make everything bigger, right?

Wrong. Yes, some parts of your body get bigger when you get wider. You'll definitely need more room in the torso, armholes, sleeves, even the back neck. But on a plus-size sweater, especially at larger sizes, your sleeve length may actually get shorter.


That's right. You may have experienced this problem if you've ever worn a man's shirt or sweater. Let's say you bought a 3x (or 10x for that matter) tee shirt. You're thrilled because it covers all your vital bits. But the sleeves go past your elbows and beyond. Why is this?

Drop sleeve shirts and sweaters are comprised of four rectangles: two for the body and two for the sleeves. This is probably the easiest garment to make because it doesn't require any shaping for the sleeves or body, although you often have some shaping for the neckline.

Smaller-sized tees are designed to be between 45- and 55-inches wide from sleeve to sleeve. This is a fixed width, right? Even if you get wider, the length between your elbows does not change. As I got fatter, my arms never got longer; they only got chubbier.

Unfortunately, clothing manufacturers and most knitwear designers think that to upsize a garment, all you have to do is make something exponentially larger.

WRONG. What you end up with when you make a garment exponentially larger is way-too-long sleeves and mishapen, ill-fitting necklines. Again, your arms don't get longer when you get bigger. They stay the same, which means that any exponentially larger garment will not fit you properly.

Therefore, if you want to make a larger drop-sleeve garment, you actually need to make your sleeves shorter. When you expand the width of the sweater, you then need to adjust the length of the sleeves.

So, the next time you're knitting a drop-sleeve or modified drop-sleeve sweater, check your sleeve length. Actually, the next time you're knitting anything, check your sleeve length! I've made more than one sweater with arms that were way too long.

Another caveat: if you make sweaters with Sweater Wizard, you MUST adjust the sleeve lengths. This invaluable software makes makes it easy to knit ample sweaters, but the sleeves are exponentially sized. If you don't watch out, you'll end up making sleeves fit for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Join the new Knitting at Large Ravelry Group!

Four-score and seven minutes ago, this knitter brought forth on this website, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all women deserve to make sweaters that fit.

Many of you have asked me to set up a Ravelry group for Knitting at Large, and now I have. Please come join us. I want to talk about anything related to making sweaters that fit, especially for plus-size knitters, but skinny chicks are welcome, too.

Thanks, as always, for your support, girls!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Lots of advice about sweater length

Thanks to everyone who commented on my previous post about my inability to find the just-right length for my sweaters. I received lots of advice:

Add short rows.

Many people wrote to suggest adding short rows to provide more room for the bust and belly without increasing the length of the sweaters. Amy - THE Amy of Fit to Flatter fame - writes, "You could probably get up to two inches of difference between the back and the front without too much trouble."

The goal is to insert extra fabric to make space for curves without adding overall length to the sweater. Check out Knotions Magazine's tutorial for more info; this illustrative photo comes from the tutorial.

The suggestion is to add an inch at the bustline and an inch at the front hips. This would let me make the sweater  27 inches, for example, in the back and 29 inches in the front.

I am thinking about adding an inch of short rows at the back hips to fix the way my sweaters always pitch upwards in the back. Most of this is because I have hyperlordosis, or a hypercurvature of the spine. It gives me a permanent bustle - lucky me! I'm thinking if I could add an inch in the back hips that it might move the back hem down where it belongs.

Make the sweater significantly wider.

Some folks urge additional ease. As Annie writes, "I think you need/want your sweaters as long as you've been making them. It's the clinginess at the bottom that causes Amy to think 'too long!' if you added maybe 6 more inches to the bottom back width, I believe you'd get the coverage you like and eliminate the clinginess." Jennifer agrees. She says her best-fitting sweater "skims my hips at the widest point and then goes straight down instead of hugging my hips all the way to the end."
Pat instead urges compromise. "I think the real problem starts when a sweater is long enough to start pulling in under our bellys and butts. Yeah, we just have to face the reality that compromise may be the only way to go," she says.

My response: I definitely HATE when a sweater clings under my butt and belly. This occurs especially with ribbed sweaters, so I make all my sweaters without the ribbing using hems instead. Regarding the ease, I'm making my two current sweaters a little bigger - not six inches, more like two or three - so we'll see if that helps. Here is a picture of me in the second sweater I made. I've lost 50 pounds since then, but I made this sweater to be bigger - and I'm afraid it makes me look bigger, at least from the back.

Wear a shorter sweater with a darker or matching shirt underneath.

Amy - again, THE Amy - says, "I'd recommend, with the shirt trick, ensuring that the under-shirt is the same color as your pants or a darker color. That way, the bits poking out won't be so noticeable." Robin Allen agrees.

I know this works. Nothing looks better on me than black slacks and a black shirt with a shorter sweater or a ruana on top. If I was willing to wear all-black, all the time, I'd be all set. The problem is that I'm more of a blue-jeans girl and like color. I did wear my Augusta sweater with jeans and a darker blue shirt underneath and it looked pretty good. Don't have a picture of my butt in this unfortunately, but here I am (without make up) with Kathy Zimmerman. This looks better than the patterned tee I wore previously.

Use side vents
Several knitters suggested using side vents to provide more room in the hips. I particularly like this idea for when I'm sitting down; I'm wider when seated than when standing and often could use a little more room. I've never done this in a sweater, although I appreciate the feature in my ready-to-wear clothing.


Other suggestions

Sue, who also agrees with Amy about the shorter length, makes several good suggestions, including asking a kind and honest friend whether my bifurcated belly is really that unsightly - an excellent point since we all tend to obsess about an errant body part that most people wouldn't even notice. Sue also recommends photographing myself wearing different lengths to find the optimal one and reminds me that I can lengthen a too-short sweater by picking up stitches and knitting downward, something which I've done successfully in the past.

Given all these suggestions, here is my plan:

First, I'm going to finish the Waltham and Early Bird cardigans as planned. Given that they are both highly cabled, I'd have a hard time doing short rows on either. Besides, my main objective with these sweaters is to learn how waist shaping works on my particular lumpiness. The Waltham is turning about to be a couple of inches wider than the sweaters I've made previously, so I'll be able to test whether additional ease would be good thing for me.

After I'm finished with the Waltham and Early Bird, I plan to make a relatively simple sweater that will allow me to try the short rows technique. I'm longing to make a springy or summery sweater; luckily,  I have some pretty pink Classic Elite Solstice in my stash. I'm envisioning a stockinette stitch, scooped neck, elbow-length cardigan that buttons up the front. But if I'm going to do short rows, maybe I should skip the cardigan? Hmmm... need to think about this. Regardless, my main goal will be to experiment with short rows at the bust and both front and back hips.

Now all I need to do is look for a pattern - or make one up myself. Actually, what I really need to do is finish the two complicated, uber-wooly, beautiful cardigans staring at me from my knitting basket! Then I can venture into this new venture.

Thanks again to everyone who shared their experience and advice. I really appreciate it.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Backing up

Just a quick post today to show you the latest on my Waltham. Things are coming along. I've had to reknit a few things when I realized that I'd crossed the cables incorrectly, but that's nothing new. I have to be careful about going on autopilot because that's when I screw up.

One thing you can't see in this swatch is that I'm decreasing from the hips to the waist. I used a cool iPad app called Touch & Go Knitting to calculate the decreases. You just enter your stitch and row gauge and then use an interactive ruler to input your starting width, ending width, and required length. The software automatically calculates the decreases. So easy! I have previously used Sweater Wizard to calculate decreases for an entire sweater, but that software isn't flexible enough to let me make major revisions to waist shaping, for example. Touch & Go is perfect for quick calculations, plus it provides a buttonhole calculator, raglan shaper, sleeve calculator, electronic row counter, and more - all for only $5.99! But you have to have an iPad or iPhone to use the software.

I received several great suggestions about optimal sweater length as discussed in my previous post. I'll summarize and post the solutions in the next day or two.

BTW, thanks so much for reading! I haven't thanked you lately but it means so much to me that so many of you check out my blog. You're the best.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The unhappy reality of sweater lengths

I'm happy with my accomplishments as a knitter. In the past couple of years, I've learned to make sweaters with a multitude of modifications designed specifically for my body. I've spent an ungodly number of hours taking classes, reading books and magazines, teaching, blogging, and mostly just knitting knitting knitting. I've really come a long way, baby, and it really makes me happy.

But I still don't know how long to make my sweaters. I know if I want the sweater to look best from the back, I need to make it stop above the widest part of my hips. This lesson comes straight from Amy Herzog who has patiently given me this advice - over and over again. I look at this picture and I know she's right.

Another example: the backside of my Diamond Yoke Cardigan. It's the shortest sweater I've ever made and it looks the best - from the back anyway. I'm sure Amy would tell me it should be two inches shorter.

The problem is that my optimal length for the back is absolutely the worst length from the front. Like many women, I've got a belly that desperately needs to be covered but mine is even worse that usual. Ten years ago, I had a horrendous hysterectomy. The surgeon cut me vertically from the navel to the pubis and horizontally from hip to hip. The result: I have a horrible bifurcated belly looks like a sideways B - or shockingly, like someone else's butt.

I have no choice. I have to cover this thing. Have to. To do so, I need to make a sweater that's 29-30 inches long. However, to make a sweater that's most becoming to my butt, it need to be 26-27 inches long.

I asked Amy for her advice, and she suggested wearing a longer shirt beneath a shorter sweater. This approach has been mediocre at best, perhaps because I'm wearing the wrong shirt underneath. To me, the extra fabric poking out from the bottom underscores my width and draws the eye directly downward.

Amy also suggested trying one of those scarf-y sweaters that is longer in the front for more coverage. The trouble is, I hate these things. Hate them! Frankly, I don't understand why anyone likes them (but if they work for you, please, wear them in good health and I promise not to talk about you).

The bottom line (pun intended): I don't think there's any sweater length that's right for me. Nothing works. I wish I could end this posting on a happy, hopeful note, but I cannot. Sometimes reality just sucks. This is one of those times.

(Nope, the pugs aren't Moosie... just some of his many cousins.)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Blocking the sleeves

Not talkative today so I'll just show you that I finished the Waltham sleeves last night and blocked them this morning. I cast on for the back, too and did the setup row. More soon...

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Waltham sleeve modifications

Like other intrepid knitters across the country (and maybe even around the world), I'm working away on my Waltham sleeves. It took a little finagling and practice to get them going, but after I got the hang of the ribbing pattern, they morphed quickly into a calorie-free piece of cake.

I got great help from my friend, Teresa who pointed out the obvious that I could not see - or hear, as the case may be. The Waltham ribbing is divided into two patterns: 1/3/1 and 4/2/4. In other words, you knit 1, purl 3, knit 1 and then purl 4, knit 2, purl 4, and so on. DOH! I didn't see this at first. Interestingly, Teresa is a musician. She heard a rhythm in this stitch pattern to which I was completely deaf. After she pointed it out, my knitting simply sang. Thank you, Teresa!

Now on to my modifications. I extended the sleeve cap by 2.5 inches because I'm narrowing my crossback width. I bet that just made your eyes cross. Let me show you instead.

The original pattern calls for a 23.5-inch crossback at the 60-inch size. My crossback is 18 inches - that 5.5-inch difference would make the sweater way too large for me in the shoulders and upper back. Remember that a well-fitting crossback is key to a well-fitting sweater. So I need to make this mod.

My plan is to make the upper body of my sweater 5 inches narrower; I will talk about this more when I start knitting the back. But for now, I need to worry about making the sleeves fit in to the sweater body, so I need to make the sleeve cap longer. Instead of a 2-inch sleeve cap, I'm making mine 4.5 inches long to accommodate the narrower upper back.

What would happen if I didn't extend the sleeve cap? The sleeve just wouldn't fit into the body; I'd literally be missing 2.5 inches on each sleeve.

So, that's the story with my sleeves. Hopefully I'll finish the second one tonight and can give them both a much-needed bath and blocking. Then I'm on to my next worry: weirdo waistshaping for my weirdo body. Details after I noodle this out.

If you have trouble with your Waltham, send me a message. Or visit the Ravelry group. I'd be happy to help or find someone who can.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

New ample knit patterns: Streamside

I almost always love Cecily Glowik Macdonald's fantastic designs, although sometimes I can't wear them (read I am really a turtle if you need a reminder). This morning, Cecily is out with an adorable little top called Streamside that almost anyone could wear. And God bless her, it comes in finished bust sizes up to 57.25 inches.

This classic wonder offers raglan styling, stylish pockets, a scoop neck, and some interesting back waist shaping. Amy Herzog often suggests adding back waist shaping but leaving the front pieces unchanged. This sweater shows why. The Streamside would work well for me and other curvy sisters whose sweaters leave extraneous fabric at our waistlines. Cecily notes that the sample sweater features empire shaping that can easily be moved down to the natural waist or eliminated all together if you don't need it.

I like how Cecily uses a lot of buttons. A pretty look, the extra closures also keep the sweater from gapping and gaping across the bustline.

If I make the Streamside, I'll extend the sleeve length cover my ugly upper arms, but that's a simple mod. And even though they're really cute, I'll lose the pockets because I don't need additional fabric or graphic details at my over-ample hips. I'd be much better off with a plain body.

These days, I'm suffering mightily from spring fever and the Streamside sweater just makes it worse. Heavy winter sweaters be gone! Bring me longer, warmer, sunnier days - and cute little springy Cecily sweaters, too.