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Knitting is a combination of skill, determination, and adaptability. Whether you’re looking for a suitable substitute yarn, trying to modify a pattern, or fixing a mistake, Margaret Radcliffe offers proven advice that will help you solve all of your knitting quandaries. With this definitive guide, you’ll not only learn how to adjust armholes and shape collars, but why certain techniques work best in different situations. Radcliffe gives you the confidence and inspiration that will help you become a better, happier, and more confident knitter.
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First Choices:Pattern, Yarn, and Needles
The very first decisions you make before you even start knitting will determine whether your project has every possibility of success, or is doomed to failure. Choosing the pattern, the yarn to go with it, the size you'll make, and the size needle you'll use are the most important issues you'll confront, so let's start by discussing those.
In this chapter, we'll cover how to recognize a well-written pattern, how to determine the size and desired fit for each project, what difference fiber content makes, how to take control of your gauge, and dozens of other small but important choices.
What Makes a Well-Written Pattern?
We all know the frustration of picking out the pattern for a fabulous garment, finding just the right yarn, and then discovering that the instructions don't make sense. Sometimes it's a matter of misinterpretation on our part, but sometimes the pattern really doesn't make sense. Possibly it's been edited and some crucial piece of basic information is missing; sometimes it's a matter of terminology, where the designer calls a technique by a name we've never heard of; sometimes there are inconsistencies or errors. On your end as the knitter, you don't really care why there's a problem — you just want to know what to do to fix it.
When I worked in computer programming, we relied on "redundancy checks." In my programs, I'd make sure that any data fit the limitations we expected at the time it was entered, and then again just before doing anything with that information, to make sure it hadn't inadvertently been changed. "Redundancy check" really just means double-checking to make sure things appear to be internally consistent, to prevent future problems from cropping up. A good knitting pattern will present the information you need in more than one way so that it's possible for you to check to make sure that things are indeed going right or so that you can detect it when they've gone awry.
Some examples of redundancy checks possible in knitting patterns are listed below. Note that many of these are very rarely incorporated into published patterns. If you see them, you should bless the author, editor, and publisher for helping you out by providing more detail than usual!
* Photos or drawings of the finished garment are shown with enough clarity and detail so you can see how it's shaped, assembled, and finished. Beware of garments photographed on models where their arms or a large accessory obscure key details or distort the fit!
* Gauge is given in rows as well as stitches. This helps you to evaluate whether the fabric you're knitting really matches the designer's specifications.
* Fabric quality. The instructions include a gauge specification, but they also describe the quality of the fabric desired: for example, "a gauge of 5 stitches and 7 rows per inch, to produce a firm, resilient fabric" or "a gauge of 16 stitches and 22 rows per 4 inches, to produce a soft, stretchy fabric."
The yarn specifications include the name of the yarn originally used by the designer, the yarn weight (sport, worsted, etc.), the fiber content of the yarn, how many yards are in each ball or skein, how much each ball or skein weighs, and how much yarn is required to make the garment (giving length and weight — not just the number of skeins of the original yarn).
* Pattern format. Pattern stitches are expressed in two ways: they are written out row by row, and they are charted. Some charts for pattern stitches, notably those with major changes in the number of stitches from row to row, are so confusing when charted that they are omitted because they add nothing to the understanding of the pattern.
* Schematics. The instructions tell you how many inches long to make a section, but they also include a schematic diagram (a simple drawing of the main garment sections with finished measurements). The measurements should include things like shoulder width and neck depth, not just overall length and circumference. I'll discuss schematics in more detail later on.
* Diagrams. If the construction techniques are unconventional (for example, cuff to cuff, or some sections are knit up while others are knit down), there are diagrams showing the order and direction of construction.
* Stitch counts. The instructions tell you not only how many times to increase or decrease but also how many total stitches you should end up with.
* Row orientation. When the instruction says to work in pattern for a certain length or a certain number of repeats, it also states what row of the pattern you should (ideally) end with. This is really only essential if the next step in the project relies on your working a particular row of the pattern stitch.
* Technique illustrations. The instructions not only describe how to perform an unfamiliar technique, such as a multistep decrease or increase, but they also include an illustration showing how it should look when it's completed.
Giving you both pieces of information, for example what to do, plus an idea of what the outcome should look or feel like, makes it possible for you to use your own judgment to determine whether you're following the directions correctly. It has another advantage: because errors do creep into knitting patterns (in spite of the best efforts of designers and editors), the additional information can help you determine when there is an error and exactly what the error consists of, so that you can correct it in your knitting and keep on working.
Not all knitting patterns will include all of these features, because there may not be space, or because they may not be appropriate to the project. For example, it's not really necessary to provide a schematic of a scarf that's a basic rectangle; providing just the length and width measurements is sufficient. It's not practical to provide a schematic for a garment knit in a spiral — it's three-dimensional, so a two-dimensional diagram showing the shape of the knitted strip that makes up the spiral isn't really going to be helpful. A schematic for the completed spiral garment would, however, be helpful in ensuring it's the correct size when assembled and during blocking.
So, when you look at a knitting pattern, look for the helpful information I've listed above, because it's a sign that the thoughtful designer had your needs in mind while writing the instructions. Many of these aids will be missing — use your common sense to determine whether they're really necessary or practical for the project you're contemplating.
Choosing the Right Size
The easiest way to determine which size will fit you the best is to compare the measurements of a similar garment that you already own and like the fit of with the measurements of the one you're contemplating. Obviously, you'll need to compare the chest measurements, but to ensure a really good fit through the shoulders, you need to compare the width between the armholes, the armhole depth, and the width and depth of the neck opening (both back and front). It's easy to adjust the width of the body; it's a lot harder to adjust the shoulder area of a fitted sweater, because with neck, shoulder, and armhole shaping all happening in close proximity to each other, things get complicated!
What Ease Does for Your Garments
It's important to understand the concept of ease. Simply stated, ease is that little bit of extra space in a garment that makes it comfortable to wear. Without ease, all garments would be skintight. In some cases, this is desirable.
Consider, for example, a leotard. Leotards are designed so that they are actually smaller than the body and stretch to fit it very closely, so that a dancer's every stance and movement can be seen clearly. This is an example of negative ease, where the garment is smaller than the body measurements. Sometimes, you may want to construct a handknit garment with negative ease — imagine a body-hugging tank top made in K3, P3 ribbing. On the right body, it would be stunning. With sweaters, in most cases you'll want some ease added to your body-circumference measurements and to the armhole depth to allow for comfort in motion, space for whatever you'll wear under the sweater, and for the thickness of the knitted fabric.
If you have a similar knitted garment that you already like the fit of, compare its measurements with your measurements to discover how much ease is comfortable for you. If you don't have a similar garment, or you have one but you don't like the fit, you'll need to adjust for ease. Some of this is common sense — if the garment you have is too big in some areas, pinch a fold of the fabric until it's the size you'd like it to be, and then deduct the width or the length of what you pinched from the garment's measurement to get the desired measurement including ease. If you don't have a garment for comparison, dress in whatever you plan to wear under the sweater and get a friend to measure you (see How to Take Body Measurements). The measurements will be more accurate if someone else takes them than if you do it yourself. Don't pull the tape measure tight around the circumference of your body; instead, hold it loosely around the clothing you're wearing. Compare these measurements with your actual body measurement without clothing and you'll get an idea of how much ease is required for you to be comfortable.
One variation you'll have to address is personal preference. Some people like their garments loose, while others prefer them more fitted. You may not have even considered your own personal preference. If not, this is the time to do so. Put on a sweater or other garment you like, pinch a fold of it at the side to see just how much ease there is, as shown in illustration above. If you're knitting for someone else, you may want to observe how they like their clothing to fit, or ask them to provide a well-fitting garment to help establish the correct size.
Allowing additional ease for the thickness of the knitted fabric can be a puzzle when you haven't yet knit the fabric, but you can also use a common-sense estimate. A thin sweater (made from sport-weight yarn) will need less ease than a thick sweater (made from bulky yarn). A stretchy sweater will need less ease than one knit firmly.
Deborah Newton's book Designing Knitwear has excellent discussions of measurements, fit, and ease, and the Craft Yarn Council has published sizing standards for handknit garment designs (see the appendix for the website address). These are their ease recommendations, given for the circumference of the sweater.
* Very close-fitting: Actual chest/bust measurement or less
* Close-fitting: 1 to 2 inches
* Standard-fitting: 2 to 4 inches
* Loose-fitting: 4 to 6 inches
* Oversized: 6 inches or more
If the fabric will be thin and stretchy or you prefer a closer fit, head for the lower end of these ranges. If you prefer a looser fit or the fabric will be thick, lean toward the higher end.
How to Take Body Measurements
Body measurements should be taken over undergarments. When making a coat or bulky sweater to be worn over additional layers of clothing, you may also want to measure over representative clothing and compare these larger measurements to the finished measurements of the size you plan to make, to ensure that the garment will fit comfortably when layered.
1. Waist circumference (narrowest point)
2. Chest/bust circumference (widest point)
3. Hip circumference (widest point)
4. Upper arm circumference (widest point)
5. Wrist circumference
Points from Which Other Measurements Are Taken
6. High shoulder point (where the shoulder meets the neck)
7. Low shoulder point (where the shoulder meets the top of your arm. This is the point farthest away from your neck that doesn't move when you raise and lower your arm.)
8. Back neck bone
Shoulder and Neck Area
9. Full shoulder width (between the two low shoulder points)
10. Individual shoulder width (parallel to the floor from the high shoulder point to a point directly above the low shoulder point)
11. Neck width (parallel to the floor, between the two high shoulder points). This is more easily calculated by subtracting the two individual shoulder widths from the full shoulder width, rather than actually attempting to measure neck width.
12. Shoulder depth (perpendicular to the floor, from the low shoulder point to a point even with the high shoulder point). This may be easier to calculate than to measure, by measuring waist to low shoulder and waist to high shoulder, and then subtracting to find the difference between the two.
13. Armhole depth (from the low shoulder point to the underarm)
14. Arm length (low shoulder point to wrist, with arm slightly bent)
15. Back-waist length (perpendicular to the floor from waist to back neck bone). This is only necessary if there will be waist shaping.
16. Low shoulder-to-bust length (perpendicular to the floor, from widest bust/chest measurement to low shoulder point).
17. Bust-to-waist length (perpendicular to the floor from waist to widest bust/chest measurement). This is only necessary if there will be waist shaping.
18. Waist-to-hip length (perpendicular to the floor, from widest hip measurement to waist). This is only necessary if there will be waist shaping.
There are also a few specialized measurements you may want to make if you intend to add bust darts. These are discussed in Measuring for Bust Darts.
What If the Pattern Doesn't Match Your Measurements?
When we purchase clothes off the rack, to get a good fit we have to buy the size that fits our largest measurement, and then take in or shorten the other areas to make them smaller. When knitting a sweater, we have the option of making sections larger or smaller. If instructions for a given size will make a garment that fits in some areas but not in others, the best bet is to choose the one that fits best through the shoulder, armhole, and neck area. This is the most complicated area to adjust because any changes to shoulders and armholes affect the shaping of the sleeves, and vice versa. It's easier to make the body, which is usually straight, larger or smaller to fit your bust, waist, and hips properly. See chapter 4 for detailed discussions of how to adjust almost any part of your sweater.
Verifying Measurements versus Pattern Instructions
Once you've completed the comparison between your desired size and the pattern size, and selected the size you think you should make, do a quick check to see that the measurements given in the pattern are consistent with the instructions.
Checking the width or circumference. Read through the pattern to find the number of stitches for the body of a pullover just below the underarms, and then divide that by the number of stitches per inch and see if it matches the schematic. The best way to determine the circumference of a cardigan (assuming the back and fronts are shaped the same) is to find the width of the back just below the underarms and multiply it by two. Test the width at the shoulders, the neck opening, and the sleeve at the cuff and the underarm the same way. Remember that the individual shoulder width (from the armhole to the neck) on the schematic probably does not include the width of any neck or armhole borders, so check the width of the borders and allow for them. If the garment is shaped from waist to bust, check the waist measurement as well.
Checking the length isn't necessary unless there is shaping to taper the sleeves or the body, or there are diagonal sections like a crossover front or the yoke on a raglan-sleeved or circular sweater.
If you do need to verify the length, read the instructions to find out how many decreases or increases there are and how often they are done. Multiply to find out the total rows over which the shaping takes place, then divide by the number of rows per inch in the gauge to get the actual length. This may be off by a few rows if there are plain rows before and after the first and last shaping row, but it will still be close.
For example, if the sleeve instructions say to increase at both edges every 4th row 22 times and the row gauge is 7 rows per inch, multiply 4 rows by 22 increases to get 88, then divide by 7 rows per inch, and you'll find that the sleeve shaping will be about 12.6 inches. Add the length of any ribbing and the length that is worked straight between the top of the shaping and the underarm to get the total length from cuff to underarm.
Excerpted from "The Knowledgeable Knitter"
Copyright © 2014 Margaret Radcliffe.
Excerpted by permission of Storey Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Knowledge Is Power,
Chapter One: First Choices: Pattern, Yarn, and Needles,
Chapter Two: Second Thoughts: Planning the Project,
Chapter Three: Third Time Lucky: Modifying Your Pattern,
Chapter Four: Forethought: Shaping and Fitting,
Chapter Five: Work in Progress,
Chapter Six: Evaluation and Adjustments,
Chapter Seven: Putting It All Together,
Chapter Eight: Borders, Bindings, and Embellishments,
Glossary of Techniques & Terms,
Other Storey Books by Margaret Radcliffe,
Share Your Experience!,