Daydreams and Timelines

Thanks to the wonder of living in the time and place that I do, I am writing this post on a plane to San Francisco. Tomorrow Jackie and I will be doing a whirlwind yarn store tour (yay, CustomFit LYS!)…

…and here, on this plane, I’m daydreaming about my Knit-A-Long sweater. I have a couple of swatches here with me, and I’m trying hard to listen to them about what they want to be. Here’s the current best guess:

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Though my ideas, here, require another swatch – so nothing’s final yet. This is one of my favorite bits of the process of making clothes, this daydreaming. Thinking, and feeling my fabric, and trying on a bunch of stuff from my closet while holding my swatch in my mind.

What do I want to wear? What does this little swatch want to be when it grows up?

I encourage you to give it a try, too. These questions are going to be at the forefront of the Knit-A-Long this week, and they’re your chance to truly understand and predict what your sweater will be, at the end.

We’ll talk fabric, and sketches, and clothes. These estimates might be a little rough due to the travel, but we intend to talk fabric on Tuesday, and translating your fabric into clothing on Friday. (Jackie will be authoring some of the posts here, starting with this Knit-A-Long, which I’m very excited about.)

Over the weekend, we’ll get into the nitty-gritty of pattern choices.

And though it’s absolutely okay if your own timeline doesn’t work out this way, we’ll probably be ready to make our pattern choices and start our sweaters some time next week.

There’s no need to “officially” sign up–this is an open Knit-A-Long–but if you want to join in the discussion, comments here, on the Ravelry thread, or pinning on Pinterest are all great ways to do so. (If you want to pin directly to the Pinterest board, email us with the subject “Pinterest Knit-A-Long” and your Pinterest name, and we’ll invite you!)

I can’t wait to hear about your own swatches and fabric. Happy knitting!

Tearing along

The Knitter’s Review Retreat is a very special kind of event, for the teachers as well as the attendees. It truly carves out a separate space in time, special and honest and deeply personal. It’s a place for exploring big ideas, and reminding myself why I have made this my life’s work.

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It’s restorative and I need it oh-so badly by the time I hit November, hurtling at break-neck speed through the many events and designs and interactions that make up the fall, in the fiber world. (Not to mention the new book and the new site.) The ability to not only spend that precious classroom time with students, but to also engage throughout the weekend, is a gift unlike any other.

Getting pictures of my next design, and sharing a few new sweaters with the group was all the more special.

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And ending with a lovely drive home, filled with thoughts about clothing that truly honors who we are, while finishing one sweater and starting another?

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Perfection in weekend form, really. I feel blessed to have been there, and so incredibly lucky to be chasing my passion. Even at break-neck speed.

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Speaking of chasing that passion, thank you so much for the wonderful outpouring that has made the launch of CustomFit such a success. It’s thrilling beyond words to see the sweaters you’re all creating, and the happiness and pride with which you’re wearing them. I have so much planned and so much I want to share and experience and do with you all!

That doing has been hampered, recently, by the amount of time it takes to keep things running behind the scenes. So Jackie and I are very very pleased to announce that the wonderful Lauren is now working with us to make sure everything is in tip-top shape. Please give her a warm welcome in the comments?

And may you all have a generous, warm, and restorative week, too.

As Seen on TV

This fall has been such a whirlwind, I feel like I haven’t really had time to pull up a chair and chat! Or even respond to the comments and questions that are coming in.

Case in point: The lovely yarn shown here:

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From left to right: Woolen Rabbit Sporty Kashmir, in “Man Cave Blue” (I think). Indigodragonfly Octobaa in “The Brain in Maine Feigns Trading Pain for Skeins”. String Theory Caper Aran in Canyon.

What will they be? Who knows! I’ll be sure to share the process of my own CustomFit sweaters as they happen. I’ve just cast off my first, and can’t wait to seam it together.

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But that will have to wait, because one of the things I haven’t told you about is that come February, you’ll be able to see me on your local PBS affiliate! I’m thrilled to join the cast of Knit and Crochet Now as one of their knitting experts. We’re filming this week, and it’s been a phenomenal experience so far. I’ll be sure to keep you posted!

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I’m also going to be all over the place this fall.

Teaching classes and talking to knitters are some of my very favorite things in this world. There’s nothing like being there when someone puts on a garment that actually fits them, sometimes for the first time in their life. I’d love to meet you and talk sweaters if I’m going to be in your neighborhood! Here’s my schedule through November:

  • This Saturday, October 12, I’ll be at A Gathering of Stitches teaching a 4-hour Knit to Flatter class. I want to say that it’s not necessary to have knit a sweater before, though knowing basic knitting skills (knit, purl, increase, decrease) is definitely helpful.
  • Friday Oct 18 – Sunday Oct 20 I’ll be at The New York Sheep and Wool festival. I’ll write a bigger post on Rhinebeck later, as near and dear as it is to my heart. But in short, I’ll be signing books, giving a quick talk, and there will be lots of fun CustomFit happenings.
  • On Thursday October 24, I’ll be at Cary Memorial Library in Lexington, giving a talk and signing books.
  • On Saturday, October 26, I have a full-day Knit to Flatter class scheduled at Hooked Knitting; as of right now it may be canceled due to low enrollment, so if you’re interested, definitely call!
  • On Monday, October 28, I’ll be at Iron Horse in Natick, teaching an evening Knit to Flatter class.
  • On November 3, I’ll be at Saco River Yarns for a 4-hour Knit to Flatter class. Can’t wait to be in this beautiful space!
  • I’ll be at the Knitters Review Retreat the weekend of November 7. It’s now full, but I am so excited to be joining this very special group again.
  • The weekend of November 23, I’ll be in Texas! WC Mercantile is hosting me for a super-fun weekend of classes. It’s my first time to Texas, and I’m super-psyched.

And that’s enough for one post, don’t you think? I hope to see you in class!

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Finally, I’m excited to be a teacher at Vogue Knitting Live this January. Please, join me for a class or three!

  • On Friday, I’m teaching an all-day Custom Sweater Design class. We’ll talk about how to make garments you love to wear, and along the way we’ll be creating a custom (bottom up, in the round or flat) pattern for your own ideal sweater.
  • On Saturday, I’m teaching an all-day Knit to Flatter class. I never tire of these incredibly special days. Come along and learn how to knit sweaters you love to wear.
  • On Sunday, I’m teaching two 2-hour classes: One on Mindful Modifications (i.e., how to know what modifications you need, and then how to work them. And one on Fantastic Finishing (i.e., the simple things that can so often get between us and sweater nirvana).

All classes are suitable for all skill levels (though of course it’s helpful to have basic knitting technique down), and I can’t wait to see you all in NYC.

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Whew! Let’s hope there aren’t too many more posts like this, eh? The weather here near Detroit (where we’re filming) is crisp, beautiful sweater weather. I hope your needles are happy and that you’re enjoying the weather too, wherever you are.

Blocking your 3D sweater

Thank you all so very much for your wonderful response to my last post. It’s an exciting time, and I’m thrilled to share it with you. I’m going to be posting some tutorials on the “extras” that come along with knitting. (I started with a post on swatching, a little over a week ago.)

Today’s topic: Blocking. And in particular, how to block sweaters with “non-edge” shaping.

All of my patterns are written with waist shaping located in the middle of the piece, and I strongly recommend it as a great way to get an easy, great sweater. Doing so (or adding bust darts) results in a more interesting blocking job, though! Because the sweater that’s produced by these methods is not a flat piece of fabric. It’s a 3D thing.

So here’s how I block my 3D sweaters:

  1. I start with nice, long soak.

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    I use cold water and my favorite wool wash, for at least 15 minutes. Really soaking the fibers results in an amazing fabric. Then, I spin the excess water out in my washing machine’s spin cycle. (I have a front-loader and I use a low speed spin. Your mileage may vary; rolling up in a towel and stepping on the towel to remove moisture works too, but you need to get the sweater to the towel all in one clump to avoid stretching.)

  2. I remove it from the washing machine in a wadded-up ball and dump it unceremoniously on my blocking table.

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    No really, this step is really important. Getting the sweater to my blocking board quickly and all bunched up means that I’m not stretching the still-wet pieces out. Stretching out is bad!

  3. I lay the pieces out roughly in shape, using a light touch.

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    Again, the “light touch” part of this is important. Especially if your fabric is on the drapier side, you don’t want to stretch it out too much because it might not go back into shape.

    More important than the light touch, though, is to leave the sides of the sweater alone (where the waist shaping is). You’re no longer working with a flat surface. If you try to pin the sides (which are straight lines, when worn) into a straight line on the table, you’re likely to destroy the shaping of your sweater.

    Instead, let ‘em roll:

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  4. I pin to the correct hip width on the back.

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  5. I pin the correct hip-to-armhole length, and correct bust width, on the back. These have to be done at the same time, and are the first part of ensuring your sweater is the correct length.

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  6. I pin the correct cross-chest width and armhole depth at the same time. Again, you need to pin these at the same time. The hip-to-armhole length, plus the armhole depth, is the total hem-to-shoulder length of your sweater.

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  7. Now, I’m done with the back! Notice that the sides are left COMPLETELY UNPINNED. This lets the fabric do what it should.

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  8. I repeat this for the front.

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    The only difference with the front is that if the sweater has bust darts, I literally pad the bust with paper towels so that the bust pins can be the right distance apart on the blocking board. (The “right distance”, here, is the same width as the back.) That looks like this:

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  9. The sleeves are even less work. Essentially, I just pin out the bicep and cap dimensions, and make sure the sleeves are the same length.

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Blocking this way isn’t a ton of work, and it’s well worth it. It will produce a sweater

  • with a polished, finished fabric,
  • that’s easy to seam,
  • and that’s shaped the way you’re shaped.

When sweaters are shaped the way you’re shaped, they give your figure a great set of curves without being tight or uncomfortable in any way.

…But that’s another post.

Transitions

I have a new job. Or more to the point, I don’t have an old job anymore.

Though I may not have mentioned it often in this space, I’ve never exactly hidden the fact that I have a day job, either. I’ve been working, these past 15 years, as a researcher (first) and then a research manager (for the past 10 years) in computer security. For more than a decade I’ve published papers, designed prototypes and systems, and come up with creative ways to make systems harder to break into, to make it easier to catch the attacks that do succeed.

I’ve been knitting the whole time, of course, and blogging for much of it.

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A few years ago now, I started designing patterns. And then came the classes, and the bookand all the rest. And so for the past few years, I’ve been juggling my knitting business and my other career, because I loved both too passionately to let either one go.

And now there’s this crazy software thing. And suddenly, juggling both careers was just too much, even for me. So I…

…well, let’s get real. First, I denied. And then I pouted. And then there was probably some wailing and gnashing of teeth. Some investigation of cloning machines. (“No!” my husband pleaded. “With two of you, can you even imagine how many side-businesses there would be around here?!”) And eventually, I made a really, incredibly, frustratingly hard decision.

As of a few weeks ago, I’m no longer a computer security researcher. Now, I’m running my own company. And it’s about the thing I’m most passionate about in this entire world (aside from family):

It’s about helping everyone love the clothes they wear. And changing the way we all perceive ourselves. And lots of other big, hairy, and maybe-not-totally-definable things.

This is the boldest thing I’ve ever done, and it may not work, but in this moment I’m having the time of my life.

I miss what I used to do, but only when I stop to breathe, which is not very often. I’m working with an incredibly incredible team. (Hm, please allow me to take this time to drive-by-introduce Jackie and Andromeda and Carrie and Anna and Marleigh and Kat and of course, Jonathan too. You’ll be hearing much more about them. Andromeda recently wrote up her thoughts on this company we’ve built.)

It’s been hard to write this post, because I haven’t really wanted to let the old stuff go. I’ve had an embarrassment of career riches, too many things that I am passionate about and that I love and that help me throw myself into this life head-first and with wild abandon. But the time has come.

I have a new job. It’s one that I love. And it wouldn’t be possible without you.

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So thanks for being here, with me.

Silly procrastination

Your comments on my “making sweaters easy” post are super exciting to me. I’m so glad to hear your thoughts, keep them coming!

Today, something from the “what it’s really like in Amy’s house” files: When life gets incredibly busy, I tend to want to make progress on lots of big ideas, rather than focus on bringing one to completion. So… I procrastinate.

This is utterly evident when I look at the unfinished sweaters laying around. Right now, there are 4. I’m almost one with a 5th. I’ve swatched for the 6th, and I know what the 7th will be.

*cough*

I love the rhythm of a good mattress stitch, so these are all seamed… but I have to admit that I procrastinate on edgings. Button-bands, collars, etc. Once the main part of the sweater is together and I can try it on…

…well, if life is super busy I’m likely to dive into the next sweater. Witness:

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From the top:

  • My next design. Needs 10 buttons sewn on and the neck edged.
  • The design after that. This has been done for almost a year now. (I know!) Needs button band, neck trim, and buttons sewn on. Naturally, I have the buttons all picked out.
  • The design after that, or maybe later in the fall / early in the winter? Not decided yet. Needs a collar.
  • My own version of Chimera. Needs… you guessed it… buttons. Ahem.

So there’s my secret and silly procrastination. What’s yours?

Swatching: Why You Wanna.

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I know, I know. You don’t wanna swatch. I’ve heard it all before, truly. (I’ve felt it all before! Truly!) But let me take a moment to make a heartfelt plea on behalf of the humble swatch.

There are three things you need to know about swatches.

  1. Swatching is easy. Truly, it is. It takes a small amount of time. (A show, if you’re a tv knitter; a chapter if you read, like I do.) It involves a small number of stitches. It lets you flirt a little with the yarn you’re considering for your project.
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  3. Your swatch is a fabric sample. Swatches are your only chance to see whether you’ll like the fabric you’re making that sweater from!

    And most of us don’t want to spend hours and hours and hours (and hours) knitting an entire sweater, only to find that the yarn / gauge / pattern combo are totally inappropriate. Your swatch is the way to avoid that pain down the road.

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  5. It’s more important to know your own gauge than match someone else’s. This is especially true for CustomFit, but is even true for a standardized knitting pattern.

    If you like the fabric you’re getting, but your gauge is a little off from what’s written, you have options! You can re-work numbers of course, but you can also see whether the stitch counts for one of the other sizes will work for you, at your actual gauge.

    Think about it: As long as your gauge is predictable, you can make the rest work.

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“Okay, okay!” you’re saying. “Uncle! I’m ready to swatch!”

“…but don’t really understand how. Don’t laugh!”

I’m not laughing. Swatching gets such a bad rap, it’s a wonder any of us know how to do it.

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Here’s what I recommend:

  • Knit a large swatch. And by large, I mean 5 – 6” square. Truly. Consider knitting more than one, at different needle sizes, just to get a feel for how the fabric changes.
  • Wash the swatch the way you’ll wash your sweater. However you’ll treat your sweater, treat the swatch. Truly. Then let it dry overnight.
  • Play around with it. Give your swatch(es) a little love. Feel the way the fabric moves, rub it, crinkle it. Shake it, pet it, and make some opinions. If you have multiple swatches, pick the one you like best.
  • Measure your gauge. The smart way, not the standardized way. Knitting patterns give you swatch information by the 4” / 10 cm increments, but that doesn’t mean you need to measure that way!

    I recommend marking out the maximum number of stitches and rows you think give you an accurate gauge measurement, then measuring a WHOLE number of stitches and rows precisely. A ruler can help you estimate a fraction of an inch. Nothing can help you estimate a fraction of a stitch.

    Measuring this way will give you the most accurate gauge estimation you’ve ever had.

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I hope I’ve convinced you to give swatching a try? It’s an integral part of using CustomFit, and fun to boot.

What’s your favorite swatch or swatch story?

Wednesday is the new Monday

Did I say I’d be back on Monday with details on how I modified Triangled? Hah hah, that’s so funny. Obviously, erm, I must have meant today.

(Sorry about that.)

When last we left off, you were leaving wonderful comments that I think I’ve now responded to on my Fashion Friday post. In which I contrasted my Squared cardigan sample with the version I knit for myself:

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I used the recommended yarn, Socks that Rock Heavyweight, in the color “Porcini”. I knit the size 40 (ish) for a relaxed fit.

But as mentioned on Friday, I did make a few modifications:

  • Lengthened sleeves! Cast-ons, etc. were as described in the pattern, but I worked shaping rows every 12 rows instead of every 6 and sleeves were made 17.5” to the cap shaping. (In retrospect, 18.5” would have been just a tad more perfect.)
  • Body was lengthened to 16”, 8” to waist by starting waist decreases 1” later than specified.
  • Bust darts added as per the instructions in the pattern file, since the ones in the sample worked for me.
  • The big change: I gave it a V neckline, starting 1.5” below the armholes. Decreased at the neck every 3 rows 25 times.

And there you have it! My own recipe for a perfect sweater. I hope you find it helpful in your knitting journey, too.

Knitting has been plugging along fairly quickly around here, thanks new a new book obsession. (I just started reading A Game of Thrones–I know, I know. Last person in the universe, right?) It’s a pretty and simple little number, just right for fall:

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Started this weekend, already at the back neck shaping. Which should give you a teensy bit of an inkling about how engaging this book is!

Anticipating Fall

What’s that, you say? It’s 90F where you are? You’re at the beach? You’re still languishing in hot summer nights, ice cubes clinking in your glass, a crisp schedule blown to the winds?

(Unless you’re in the Southern Hemisphere, in which case, you’re thinking “Are you crazy? Bring on the WOOL!”)

Well, most of those are true here too, come to think about it. It’s warm. It’s sunny. The boys and I are chasing each other around, scratching bug bites, stuffing our faces with fresh strawberries, and running outside in the rain. “Bedtime” is more of a loose idea than a strictly-enforced routine here during the summer. And yet…

…and yet…

…my dreams are with fall.

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Is there a better time to be a sweater designer? I don’t think so, and like every year I have a pipeline stuffed full of rich colors, deep textures, fabrics and knits that make you want to curl up in front of a fire with a steaming cuppa.

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(Bijou Basin Bijou Spun Sport.)

Or knits that make you want to slip into your favorite hiking boots, grab your camera, and head off into the woods.

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(Harrisville Highland.)

Knits that make you want to toss them on over your favorite dress and take one last walk along the shore, eat one last dinner in that fabulous place you visit every year. (Even if that place is only in your mind.)

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(Indigodragonfly’s incomparable Merino Silk Sock.)

Fall is the time for sweaters that make you want to pull them on over your favorite jeans,

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dress them up with a scarf and a kick-ass-and-take-names skirt and some fabulous tights,

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wear them snuggling up with your morning coffee, and out walking down a country road under a patchwork of gold and red and orange, and scarfing down hot-from-the-fat cider donuts while you’re choosing your Halloween pumpkins.

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(…I’d better get knitting.)

Sweaters and Software

I had a wonderful time teaching at The Knitting Boutique this past weekend. (Check back at their site in a couple of weeks, they have something super exciting coming up!) It was just the kind of distraction I needed. I love, love, love teaching classes. The connection with students, the conversations we have about things that are so very important, and the energy from it revitalizes and energizes me. (By the way: I still have space open in my classes at Sea Needles in Bethany Beach, DE on August 3. Call the store at 302-539-0574 if you’re interested.)

Back home, things are going okay. I’m slowly putting the pieces of my routine back together (and giving myself permission to fall asleep at 8 with the kids, if I need to). Knitting has been tough, I spent almost a full week without touching the needles for the first time in over 10 years. Still, my sweater-in-progress is inches away from completion and I’m eager to dive into my next idea:

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Instead of photo-heavy knitting content, I’d like to talk a little bit more about CustomFit. The beta testers are getting underway this week, and the first sweater from the software is nearly done being knitted. (Can’t WAIT to show you that one.) We’ve been spending lots of time talking amongst our group of beta testers, and some questions have popped up to the surface. I think, largely, because nothing quite like CustomFit exists, at least for us knitters. Here are some of the ins and outs of CustomFit’s first release, and a bit about where we’re going to take it after September.

The first release of CustomFit:

  • Will produce a new pattern. It takes in your body measurements and a few easy, graphically-based choices, and crafts a new pattern just for you.
  • Will produce patterns shaped for women. CustomFit is based on the past several years of me working with women to achieve the right kinds and amounts of shaping for every body type. Much of that knowledge is “gender-specific” in that CustomFit doesn’t simply blindly take your measurements and use them directly for cast-ons. Instead, it takes your measurements and does the right thing behind the scenes to ensure a sweater that fits, with at least a little bit of shaping.
  • Uses one body, and one swatch, to produce a pattern. Initially, CustomFit assumes the same gauge over the whole of the sweater. If your swatch is in an allover patterned fabric, you can ask CustomFit to ensure that your cast-ons are multiples of your stitch pattern (but since CustomFit can’t possibly know about every stitch pattern in existence, your chart is up to you).

The word “first” is an important one, there. We have a rich and long-term list of at-least-quarterly releases planned. The following features get asked about regularly, and are already on our deployment schedule. In the future, you’ll be able to use CustomFit to:

  • Produce sweaters shaped for men. This is almost certain to come along fairly quickly, because I have a very clear implementation plan and I’m actively, actively interested in bringing it to you quickly. You can help! I really want to talk to men (or people who knit for them) to make sure that every garment CustomFit produces, regardless of overall shape, is a great fit. I hope to hear from you!
  • Combine multiple swatches into one sweater. This will come along fairly quickly, as well. We have a good idea about the behind-the-scenes machinations required, but it will involve some heavy user interaction testing, which always slows things down a bit. :-)
  • Alter an existing design. This is likely to be one of the major additions for 2014. (If I had to guess, I’d say fall.) It’s substantially more complicated, but is one of the ways I hope CustomFit will be a great thing for designers and knitters alike. In the shorter-term, look for some fun pairings between CustomFit and designers that approach this feature.

You may be wondering: Why wait? And it’s a good question. Ultimately, I’m warring with my engineer training. I could wait another year to release CustomFit, and make sure that the first release has all of these fantastic features… …but really, the most important thing about CustomFit is that it produces a sweater pattern that just works, for your body, flawlessly. And I feel strongly, given the response I get in my classes and elsewhere, that a flawless, flattering sweater that you can just knit, without thinking about it, is plenty exciting enough.

Further, since CustomFit works as a web application on a per-pattern basis, there’s no downside to releasing a truly solid, amazing version that will do fairly simple sweaters early, and then adding features regularly. You’re not purchasing software, you don’t need to worry about upgrades, etc. One day, CustomFit will just magically give you more options.

So I’ll urge you to think about this initial CustomFit release in the same way I talk about my students’ first post-class sweater. Make it all about the fit. Make it all about a sweater that works flawlessly for you, and that you pull out of the closet every day. There’s nothing like that feeling. It’s amazing. And then for your next CustomFit sweater, look forward to some shiny new bells and whistles to try out.

I welcome questions, thoughts, and comments. I am so excited about this project. I can’t wait to share the sweaters, as they are finished and worn out in the world, and I really want to know what you’re thinking.