The Secrets of Successful Knitting
The Secrets of Successful Knitting is the title of one of the popular workshops that Sarah runs at venues both locally in Victoria, as well as interstate. Even the most experienced knitter can sometimes be disappointed with their final result, and often the answer lies in the application of a simple technique which they may not be aware of (or have simply overlooked !).
3. Flatter your figure (10th Feb 04). We've had a reader request for tips about choosing a knitting pattern & yarn to suit a particular figure type. Can larger women wear knits ? And will the more Rubenesque amongst us look good in bulky yarns ? Have no fear! Whether we're talking about knits or wovens, the same principles apply with regard to how to flatter and fit your figure. It's all about accentuating your best points and disguising what you might consider to be your flaws - creating an optical illusion to draw attention away from the areas that make you feel self conscious, and towards the features of your face and body that you're confident about. We could write a book overflowing with hints and tips in this area, but there are already plenty on the market - books that will help you identify your assets and how to make the most of them. Did you know, for instance, that the large hipped amongst us would do well to avoid ruffles and flounces on the lower edge of long sleeves ? What have sleeves got to do with it ? With your arms down by your sides, any fussiness at the wrist will draw other's eyes straight to the level of your hips. Likewise, avoid having the hem of your jumper/jacket end at your widest point, for the same reason. Tricks like incorporating vertical seams (or just trims) in the body of knitwear can also help to elongate a shorter figure. Are you short waisted or long waisted ? Once you've identified these features, you'll be able to know exactly what lengths of top will better suit your figure - take a look at the very different silhouettes created by just 4 commonly found garment lengths, above left.
Our belief is that ANY body, large or small, narrow or wide, can look great in knitwear. For all sizes, the first rule is to make sure you've got a good fit. A too tight garment will draw attention straight to those areas where there's inadequate fabric, and too loose a garment may actually accentuate a larger figure, rather than disguise it. If you're only comfortable with a looser fit, make sure you choose an innovative design, not just a larger size of a basic sweater shape - see the oversize sweater from the Backstage pattern book for a positive example (currently pictured on our homepage) knitted in Tagliatelli. Or this new design (left) with a Japanese flavour, from the Westcountry pattern book. Notice how, even on the pictured model, it's hard to tell where the garment ends and the body begins? If you're confident enough to opt for a leaner look, aim for a fit that skims your curves, just a few centimetres larger than you, just large enough to hang neatly without bunching up. Also, you'll more often benefit from a fitted sleeve, rather than a drop shoulder garment that may have surplus sleeve fabric bunched up under the arms.
Colour too is important when considered alongside body size and if you're not confident about knowing which colours suit you best, find out now ! There's no need to pay a consultant to analyse your skin, hair and eyes - an honest friend will do the job, assisted by an assortment of coloured scarves or tee shirts and a suitable book on the subject. Whatever your size may be, you want to wear the colour - not have the colour wear you. Fortunately, with an extensive hand-dyed range such as Colinette's, there's plenty of colours to suit everybody.
On the matter of yarn choice, you'll be wanting to select something that knits up into a flattering fabric. Larger figures should be looking for drape and swing - not cling. Even the thickest of Colinette's pure wool yarns, like Point 5, are still effective in large sizes, as they are softly spun and don't tend to stick and cling to one's curvier parts. But if you prefer to opt for something finer, Graffiti has similar texture but knits into a thinner fabric; and the wool/viscose combination of Zanziba also ensures a figure skimming finish. The viscose and cotton tapes, such as Giotto and Enigma have lovely drape, as does the all viscose chenille, Isis - properly fitting garments in these yarns can disguise all manner of unwanted lumps and bumps! Even Fandango can be worn by larger ladies (and men!) though, as a long piled pure cotton chenille, it does sometimes 'stick' to certain fabrics worn beneath it. You can avoid this effect by wearing a suitable undergarment - in much the same way as an underslip prevents a skirt from riding up.
Finally, a few words about stitch patterns. In the same way that we've suggested using vertical trims and seam features in your knits, you can also knit a stitch pattern into the garment that will give a more slimming appearance. Strategically placed cables will draw the eye up and down, as will other vertical patterns. We'll stress again the importance of a good fit - can you imagine how this illusion would be lost by too tight a garment ? The distortion would pull cables or seams into curved and wobbly features - looking more likes snakes than straight ladders. Avoid an all-over garter stitch garment in the bulkier yarns, as the texture of the stitch pattern itself produces a thicker fabric than stocking stitch, as well as having the appearance of horizontal striping, which is best avoided for an already wide figure. Oddly enough, even though reverse stocking stitch is, of course, no different in structure to stocking stitch, it can give the illusion of more bulk, simply because the ridged side is showing. Yet moss stitch works well for larger figures - because it produces an even overall surface, flat and without cling. Avoid tight ribbed edges at the lower edge of your knits - tight edges have the effect of exaggerating the size of everything above them, so if you've already got a protruding tummy or bottom, ribs at the hipline may emphasise it even more.
But perhaps the most valuable piece of advice is to have belief and confidence in yourself, regardless of your shape and size. We have all come across women who fall outside the category of 'average size' yet they look absolutely stunning in whatever they choose to wear. These women don't choose their clothes to hide their bodies, but to enhance their personalities. So, stand tall (even if you are short!) and wear your knits with attitude and flair!
2. What size to knit? (17th Jan 04). Most knitting patterns will offer you a selection of several sizes. The good ones will tell you what bust measurement each size is designed to suit, as well as the actual finished measurement of the knitted garment: typically around the bust, the length (from shoulder or back neck) and the sleeve seam measurement. These FINISHED MEASUREMENTS are the ones you want to look at closely. Garments are not generally made to be the same size as the actual body - we have what is known as 'EASE', added. There are two types of ease - wearing ease (which allows our body to move within the garment) and fashion/design ease. Fashion ease is hugely variable - think back to the 80s when we saw very oversize sweaters, and you could typically have more than 30cm of ease added. Yet, just before that, in the days of the knitted 'skinny rib' pullovers, fashion ease could even be a negative value, giving a very squeezy fit !
Take a look at the two pictures shown here - both from the same pattern book. One has ZERO ease (ie, the garment measures the same as the actual bust size), the other is +40CM of the actual bust size. It's hard to tell just from the photograph that it's an oversize sweater; that's why it's advisable to look at the finished measurements of the garment, when given. If measurements aren't given, then the best thing is to do a few quick calculations yourself. Knowing the stated tension for the pattern, you can calculate the width of the garment based upon the number of stitches that you're required to work. Read through the pattern to find the number of stitches after any borders/ribs have been worked, then calculate the width as follows. Let's assume that, for a size 97cm, the pattern requires you to be working on 77sts at a tension of 14sts to 10cm. The calculation will be 77 ÷ 14 x 10 (number of stitches divided by stitches per 10cm, multiplied by the given width of the tension sample). Watch out for patterns involving fancy stitches as they may not always state stitches per 10cm, but may quote something to the effect of '1 pattern repeat measures 11.5cm'. If, in your pattern details, you read that 16 stitches comprise a pattern repeat, then the calculation would then be 77 ÷ 16 x 11.5.
A hint to the heavy hipped amongst us - if your hips are a great deal larger than your bust measurement, you might want to use this as a basis for choosing your size; if knitting to suit your bust size, you might find (depending on the style of the garment) that the lower edge is tighter than you'd prefer.
Today, in the 2000s, just about anything goes - what's most important is that the design and sizing is something you'll feel comfortable to wear. If you like to hide every bump under flowing knits, then a shorter length, neat fit garment is clearly not for you. As a rough guide, if your pattern has a finished bust measurement of 0 - 7.5cm more than the size it's intended to suit it will be a neat fit; 7.5 - 15cm will skim the body for a relaxed but lean look; and more than 20cm ease will give an oversized look. This is just a basic guide for standard sweaters in yarns of average thickness etc, as outerwear (such as coats) or underwear will require a different approach.
It often helps to compare a new knitting pattern with a similar garment that's already in your wardrobe as a favourite. Always compare like with like - if the pattern is a heavy sweater with a dropped shoulder line, there's little point in measuring your fine cashmere cardi with set in sleeves. By comparing the finished measurements in the knitting pattern with the actual measurements of one of your garments, it can often help you decide which size to knit - and it might not always be the size that you'd have expected.
It's worth taking the time to measure yourself accurately and choose your pattern size with care. Poorly fitting knits - straining at the seams, gaping at the button bands - can be unattractive even on the most sylph like bodies. And for those that don't have a sylph-like body ? Well, you're in good company, as the average Australian woman is now a size 16 (would that be a Target size 16 or an Akira size 16, I wonder ?).
1. Size yourself up (17th Jan 04). What size are you ? Sounds like an easy question at first glance, but when we ask this question at workshops we've been surprised at just how few people come up with a reasonable answer. How many of us, I wonder, are walking around with the delusion that we are still the same size as we were one (or even two) decades ago ? When was the last time we pulled out the tape measure and found out the truth ? Could this be why that stunning size 12 designer knit that you laboured over for months never really fitted well ?
Two of the most common reasons that knitters are disappointed with the sizing of their finished garment are 1. That they knitted to an incorrect tension and 2. They knitted the WRONG SIZE. Many countries - Australia among them, don't have a standardised sizing system -what one maker labels as a size 12, could be a size 16 in another label. Have a look at some of your own clothing and you're quite likely to find variation. So, as far as knitters are concerned, it's much better to know your ACTUAL BODY MEASUREMENTS. Measure accurately (no cheating - pulling the tape a bit tighter doesn't do the home sewer or knitter any favours) over usual underclothing and write down the results in a safe but accessible place. And repeat the exercise at least 6 monthly. For knitters, I suggest the following are the bare minimum that you need to record:
Bust or chest: around the fullest part of the bust
Waist: with the tape measure held comfortably loose (if you have trouble finding your waistline, tie a piece of string around your middle and see where it settles after a few minutes of normal activity).
Hips: at your widest point - for some women this may be as low as the upper thigh.
Shoulder width: shoulder to shoulder, across the high front chest, particularly important for set-in sleeves
Sleeve length: outer arm length, from shoulder to wrist, with elbow slightly bent. Additionally, underarm length (what will be the sleeve seam) is also useful.
Shoulder to hip and shoulder to waist: become familiar with these values so you can calculate whether you need to lengthen or shorten the original pattern, according to the design.
If you have your own favourite 'secret', perhaps you'd like to share it ? We'll publish our favourite ones right here on these pages - just send your tip in an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
And if you have a particular problem with your knitting, perhaps we or our readers can help you out ? So send in your questions too.
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