Friday, April 8, 2011

An interview with Lisa Shroyer, author of Knitting Plus

As many of you know, Interweave recently published Knitting Plus by Lisa Shroyer. The book, which is chocked full of great information and advice for fitting ample figures, offers beautiful sweaters designed just for us. The Waltham Cabled Cardigan and the associated knitalong come from that book.

Today I'm going to share some of Lisa's answers to my most pressing questions about the book and plus-size knitting. I started by asking Lisa about Knitting Plus.

"I'm most proud of the book's pragmatic approach," she says. "Like I say in the Introduction, this book is not about fashion, self-confidence, or 'what not to wear.'" Instead, Lisa focuses on providing ample knitters with the fundamentals of construction for drop-shoulder, set-in sleeve, raglan, seamless yoke, and dolman sweaters. For each contruction type, Lisa provides a blank-slate pattern, one that you can make to learn the basics. These sweaters can also serve as the foundation of your own sweater designs; just add the cables, colorwork, or the yarn of your choice. "The book starts with practical knitting information, makes recommendations for fit based on that info, and occasionally offers tips for flattering your shape with design elements," Lisa says.

Flattering sweaters for ample shapes
The Lystra Pullover,
an attractive sweater for
top-heavy women

Because ample women are shaped very differently from one another, I asked Lisa which sweaters would look best on top-heavy, bottom-heavy, and proportional women, using the system outlined in Amy Herzog's Fit to Flatter.

For top-heavy shapes, Lisa suggests, "Look for set-in designs that can accommodate large busts and average shoulders/crossback widths, such as the Cleveland Shell and Lystra Pullover (many more will work as well!)."

The Barton Cardigan,
a wonderful design for
bottom-heavy shapes
Bottom-heavy women should, "Look for A-line shapes that flare to accommodate a larger hip/bottom while still fitting at bust and upper body. Also look for designs where stitch count can easily be tweaked at the hem and then shaped back to the right bust count," Lisa says. The Banstead Pullover, Barton Cardigan, and Seagirt Pullover all flatter bottom-heavy figures.

For proportional shapes, Lisa notes that while ample women can have hip and bust measurements that are relatively the same, they rarely are proportional from the lower to upper body.

Chevoit Henley, a
becoming shape for
proportional figures
For example, "if you have a 50-inch bust circumference and knit a drop-shoulder sweater, the crossback (fabric across the shoulders) will measure at least 25" across! That's not proportional for most women," Lisa says. "Regardless of your shape, you have to know the rules of sweater types and how to work within them. But for women who are neither top-heavy or bottom-heavy, they should look for designs that create feminine lines while not featuring drastic body shaping, such as the Cheviot Henley, Passyunk Pullover, and the Missimer Pullover."

A question of ease

One of my personal fitting conundrums is ease. Like many plus-size women, I dread wearing clothes that are too tight so I end up wearing apparel that is too big. I asked Lisa for her thoughts on ample knitting ease.

The Banstead Pullover
"I say add more ease for plus sizes. Go browse through any popular pattern on Ravelry... the two characteristics I find unappealing on plus-size knitters are 1) the sweater's too tight and 2) the crossback or armholes don’t fit, so the final look is sloppy. Strained buttonbands and stretched fabric over the roundness of the upper arm is another tell-tale signs of too little ease," she says. Lisa suggests two to four inches of minimum ease for an average DK to worsted pullover. "I like four inches or more in cardigans since they're meant to be outer layers."

However, "the Banstead Pullover is designed to be worn with little ease at the bust, but more ease at the hips, for a bust-enhancing look that floats away from the belly and waist. So you need a size with little ease at the bust and  three inches or more at the hem," she explains.

But what if none of the sizes fit you? "You should either customize the body shaping, or choose a size with three inches or more of ease EVERYWHERE in the lower body. In all of this, what we're really talking about is the correct amount of ease at the bust and in the lower body, and in sleeves below the underarm. Ease in the depth of the yoke, the crossback width—too much or too little ease in these places and the sweater just doesn’t fit," Lisa says.

How do we get more ample patterns?

Now for my big question: what can ample knitters do to get more support - meaning patterns and books - from the knitting industry? "I'm not saying this because I wrote a plus-size knitting book—but buy the books publishers do publish. Be vocal about what you like and don't like with the authors, with each other online, and with the publisher. We're in business here. If a certain market shows to be valuable, we will serve that market repeatedly," she says.  "But on a more grass-roots level, support each other. Show photos of yourselves in your knits on Ravelry, on your blog. Knit more garments and represent for us. There is a very strong sentiment in the industry that plus-size women don't knit sweaters. If you want to see more sweater patterns in our sizes and more products that cater to us, we need to eradicate that perception. We're not in an economy where content-producers will risk trying to create a new market; they will seek out existing demand."

Get over your bad sweaters!

I asked Lisa if she had any other advice for ample knitters. "Get over the bad sweaters you've knit. I can count on one hand the number of sweaters I've made for myself that I love and wear frequently. There are many that don't see the light of day. But each one was a lesson, either in knitting itself, or in fit, choosing a size, modifying, or otherwise. Analyze what you don't like about your sweaters and then don't repeat those mistakes. Make new mistakes. And then learn from those," Lisa suggests.

"Knitting is a pursuit," Lisa says. "Keep dreaming of that perfect sweater and keep working toward it. And when you nail down your technique, you can hone your personal style. That's where I am now, 21 years into my knitting journey. Plus-size women often sacrifice style in the pursuit of finding things that fit. I want both for my knits."

Lisa's dream: Starmore meets the American southwest meets urban

I asked Lisa about her greatest knitting goal - and loved her answer: "In my dream world where I have nothing but time, I'd love to curate a collection of breathtaking yet wearable colorwork, including garments for plus-sizes. Fair Isle, slip-stitch, intarsia - mixing my love for colorwork with contemporary shapes and diverse body types. It would be an aspirational, aesthetically driven collection, more about style and beautiful photography than heavy technique. It would be cool. Like Starmore meets the American southwest meets urban. My goal is to elevate colorwork from fabulous knitting to fabulous style. We don’t see that transcendence much. And I've only started to really think about it."

Lisa's gorgeous Bandalier Socks

What's next for Lisa?

Lisa's next book, The Best of Knitscene, will be published this fall, but sadly there isn't a Knitting Plus 2 in the works. "I don't have a main idea for a Knitting Plus 2. What hasn't been done? What's worth doing? My feeling is that, now with the latest wave of plus-size, fit, and design books, we have the basic canon for what we need to know. Now it's an issue of breaking outside the rules we've been taught, or building upon them, and knitting wildly wonderful things for all body-types."

Our action plan

I suspect most of you will agree with me that ample knitters need MUCH more plus-size pattern support from designers, publishers, and yarn companies. If you agree with me, please buy Knitting Plus and other ample knitting books, too.  Let's show the industry in general and Interweave in particular that there is an incredibly underserved market out here, one that is willing and able to buy lots of books and yarn, especially if we can get our hands on beautiful designs that best flatter our figures.

In a country where literally 68 percent of Americans are overweight or obese, isn't it high time the knitting industry met our needs? After all, we are the vast majority - and that pun is intended.


  1. I for one am a supporter and buy the books as they come out..and I love the advice about body types as well.
    The Barton is going to be a pretty.!
    The plus/Ample community does knit. And we want more patterns which flatter.
    I like that statement:"Plus-size women often sacrifice style in the pursuit of finding things that fit."..
    It is time that the Ample community had access to larger styles other than unisex sweaters being offered. I get tired of boxy with rustic /gansey style. The books which have begun to come out are the beginning.
    I would love to see more AMPLES(not merely plus) for download on Interweave in addition to the Central Park Plus Hoodie.The fact that that one Ample download alone is a run-a-way seller clearly shows that the Ample Community Knits!!!! Inclusion.
    Great interview, Julie!

  2. Great post! And interesting interview. It's an excellent point that we should support the knitting industry when they produce the types of books/patterns we want to see. Sometimes the designs look interesting but are so far removed from what people actually wear!

  3. This interview was very timely as I just got Lisa's book and was drooling. It really did spark my own creative whims. Thank you!

  4. Yesterday I walked into one of the big named stores and was so dissapointed at what they had to offer as plus size. Maybe big name is a bit much, but big enough that it is still standing and has been for many many years. Anyway, one very small area and the styles I just walked out. I to use to sew all my own clothes. I'm not nearly as old as my age makes me out to be and I will never dress as it. I'm pulling out my sewing machines and sewing all my own clothes again. I can't even fine a decent spring jacket. I'm mad that I can't find decent clothes to wear. With the help of books and blogs like yours I'll be able to knit sweaters that fit also. Thanks so much. Thanks for all the great information you share.

  5. Thank you, everyone. EXCELLENT point, Teresa, about the Central Park Hoodie. Two other incredibly popular sweaters are the February Lady and Hey Teach - both of which comes in larger sizes and are knitted by lots of larger women. If we had more, we'd make more. That's all there is to it.

    I have also pulled out my sewing machine to make a skirt to match a sweater I'm making. Now that I understand so much more about fitting sweaters, I'm hoping I can extend this knowledge to improve my sewing, too.

  6. Excellent interview with Lisa Shroyer. I'm thrilled someone is writing cohesively about/for plus size knitters. As you point out, we make up more than half the population, but rarely are on the receiving end of chic designs in luxury yarns and fabrics.

    Well done!