Swapping out Shaping

One of the benefits of the interstate move I mentioned is that I now live just a few doors down from my best friend. Obviously this is awesome for about a million every day reasons, but since this is a knitting blog let’s talk about the knitting-related ones. Beth was an occasional knitter for about a year, and she’s certainly kicked things into high gear since we moved.

In fact, she’s now knitting her first sweater!

One of the great things about that is that I’m getting to see, first-hand, in a context where I can pester her with questions, what it’s like to approach sweater knitting as a relative newbie. (Because let’s face it, it’s been a long time since I (or any other designer you’re likely to meet) were in that stage of our sweater-knitting journey.)

I’m fascinated by the fresh slate with which she approaches patterns themselves. I had no understanding of how much context and custom we (pattern writers) assume on the part of the knitter – she’s mentioned several times how vague knitting patterns are. In most cases when a pattern is vague, there’s a reason – different choices exist that you can make entirely based on your own taste, and will probably want to make differently for different sweaters.

So today, I’m starting a series of posts on the options and freedoms you have when you’re knitting any sweater pattern. Things you can do this way, or that way, and still get a great sweater. The first topic is edge shaping.

When shaping on an edge, you have a variety of options that will all produce different looks.

The actual pattern instructions for edge shaping often look something like this:

“Decrease 1 st at each edge every RS row 7 times.”

And as long as you’ve gotten rid of those 14 stitches over the 14 rows specified, you’re pretty much good. So what are your options, and what look will they produce? There are two different parts to how you’ll work your shaping, and they’re independent of each other. So let’s break things down that way.

The first thing to decide is where you’ll work your shaping.

Shaping Placement

Edge shaping should typically be carried out within the 4 or 5 stitches at the edge of the piece, but you can work the shaping wherever you want within that range: Either right at the edge, one stitch in, or more than one stitch in.

shaping-book-2

Shaping at the edge means that the shaping itself is going to be hidden within the finishing you’ll do – whether you’re going to be seaming that edge, or picking up stitches within it.

shaping-1

Shaping one stitch in means that the shaping will be just outside the seam of whatever finishing you’ll do. It will be visible, but fairly unobtrusive.

lauren-mint-sweater-6

Shaping more than one stitch in from the edge means that the shaping itself will become a visual element in the piece. This is sometimes called “fully fashioned shaping”.

Shaping Slant

Wherever your performing the shaping, you can either choose to have it slant with the edge being shaped, or slant against the edge being shaped. All of the images above have shaping that slants with the edge being shaped:

shaping-book-4

Slanting the shaping with the edge, for example using left-leaning decreases on the right edge and right-leaning decreases on the left edge of the armholes of a sweater back, will make the shaping slightly less eye-catching.

shaping-book-3

Slanting the shaping against the edge, for example using right-leaning decreases on the right edge and left-leaning decreases on the left edge of the same armholes, will make the shaping slightly more eye-catching.

Putting them together

Putting them together, you’ve got a range of shaping options from completely unobtrusive (shaped at the edge itself, slanting with the edge being shaped):

shaping-book-1

To fashionably eye-catching (shaped 3 stitches away from the edge, slanting against the edge being shaped):

more-shaping-pics-2

Which should you choose?

Truly, it’s up to you.

I personally prefer a clean look on sleeve caps most of the time, and on necklines when the yarn itself is somewhat busy, and fully fashioned shaping on neck edges when the yarn and design are more plain – as seen in the new CustomFit Basics sweater Firth:

ws-v-neck-print-15

…but really, truly, it’s a matter of taste. What look do you like, given the rest of what’s going on in the sweater?

Catching up: The book (and a chance to win it!)

So in addition to an inter-state move, running my own small business for the first full year, many many teaching trips, and trying to spend as much time with my family as possible…

…I wrote a book in 2014.

shaping-book-5

And I haven’t really had much time to tell you about it yet! Knit Wear Love has an official release date of March 17, so you’ll be hearing and seeing more about it as the month goes on, but I didn’t want to get too much further without at least introducing it – and giving you a chance to win a copy!

Knit Wear Love grew out of the same place that birthed CustomFit:

I want to help you use your knitting skill to make your own favorite clothes.

Wearing garments that are made for us is such an amazing feeling. It’s something we hardly ever get to experience anymore, in this quick-fashion, ready-to-wear world. And it’s an amazing enough feeling that I want to help make the whole shebang as easy as possible for you. The first step is knowing what kind of silhouette you like on your own fabulous self. That’s what Knit to Flatter was all about.

But even once you’ve got the silhouette down, how do you create a sweater that matches your life? That looks good with the clothes you already have? That’s practical for the things you need to do each day?

As a designer, I’ve got dozens of sweaters that fit me well, with flattering silhouette. Why do I wear 4 of them, and leave the rest on the shelf?

Knit Wear Love answers those questions. This book, CustomFit, and Knit to Flatter work together to give you a great set of sweater resources:

  1. Knit to Flatter tells you what kinds of silhouettes you are most likely to love.
  2. Knit Wear Love tells you what kinds of materials and flair you’d like to add to that basic shape.
  3. CustomFit creates a pattern where all the numbers match your gauge and body.

In addition to having patterns (I’ll write more about those later), I wanted Knit Wear Love to be a great reference book for the kinds of changes and alterations you should feel empowered to make to a pattern so that the sweater is uniquely you. So there’s a whole chapter on things like how to swap out stitch patterning, yarn choice, and basic silhouette pieces to create a look that’s very you, rather than one that’s like the model.

Want a sneak peek at some of the samples?


book-sweaters-1
book-sweaters-2
book-sweaters-3
(24 sweaters is a lot of knitting!)

Giveaway time!

I’ve got a series of posts planned that will give you an inside look at the choices behind some of the samples I created for Knit Wear Love, and a few more about technical sweater topics – but I wanted to take few minutes for a quick introduction, first. Knit Wear Love forms the backbone of what I’m thinking, designing, and teaching right now. It informs the way I use and design for CustomFit, it gave rise to some of my most favorite classes, and I’m so tremendously pleased with the way STC’s wonderful team brought the whole thing together.

I hope you like it as much as I do. I’ll have more giveaways as release time gets closer, but since books are such special things, I’d love to kick off this introduction with one too. Knit Wear Love starts off with a question:

What’s your personal style?

So, for a chance to win a signed copy of the book, tell me something about your style. It can be anything: What kinds of colors, materials, fabrics, or shapes do you like to wear? What’s your very favorite piece of clothing? What thing have you made that you wear all the time, or that goes with nothing in your closet?

I’ll take comments until midnight EDT on Thursday, March 12, and choose a winner randomly on Friday morning. I can’t wait to read your comments!

Practical tips on Swatching

I’ve talked before about why we swatch, the importance of fabric, and the things that can sometimes go wrong. I’ve even talked about how to accurately measure your swatch (and provided videos, for CustomFit!).

But I don’t think I’ve spoken practically before about how to keep your swatches from lying to you. Which should definitely be fixed. So:

blog-fodder-dec-8

Practical tips for making your swatches tell the truth about your gauge:

  1. Swatch “normally”. Your swatching goal should be to predict, rather than match, your gauge. So be predictive in your swatching! If your knitting time comes between 8:30 and 10:00pm, while you’re watching Sherlock and having a glass of wine, that’s when your swatching time should come, too.
  2. Make your rows long enough so that you ‘knit normally’. Many of us have different knitting motions when we’re faced with 75 or 100 stitches on the needle, vs. 20. Cast on enough stitches that you’re knitting the way you’ll knit a garment. I always cast on 42 stitches, because I am a big ol’ dork, but you can use whatever number you want. Just make sure it’s over 35, okay?
  3. Swatch for long enough to ‘get into your groove’. None of us get into our regular knitting motion within the first inch or two, so you should knit your swatch until it’s tall enough to give you good data. You’ll need at least 5” / 12.5 cm, and I recommend between 6 – 8” (15 – 20.5 cm).
  4. Don’t “block” your swatch. Wash it. It doesn’t matter what gauge you can pin your swatch to. What matters is the gauge your swatch has when it’s been washed and laid flat to dry, because that’s how you’re going to treat your sweater. So don’t pin your swatch. Wash it, and lay it flat to dry. Really dry.
  5. Measure the “good data” parts of your swatch. You went to so much trouble to get into your knitting motion thoroughly and truthfully – don’t pull your gauge sample from the bad part of your swatch. Measure your stitch gauge and row gauge closer to the top of your swatch than the bottom (though not all the way to the edge), and you’ll be sampling from data that’s more likely to match the way you knit your sweater.

  6. swatches-batch-2-17 first-swatch-batch-2 first-swatch-batch-3 first-swatch-batch-1

    So there you have it: Five simple ways to make your swatches tell the truth. Let me know how they work for you – and share your own tips in the comments, if you have them.

    What am I swatching right now? Something for a project I’m pretty freaking excited about

    example-swatch-1-marked-up

    Stay warm, and happy knitting!

Sweater Week: Featherweight Fabric!

It’s the final day of Sweater Week (to go back to the beginning, click here), and today I want to talk about fabric – specifically, fabric as it relates to the CustomFit Featherweight cardigan.

Since CustomFit builds your Featherweight specifically to suit your gauge, you can make your CustomFit Featherweight in any yarn, and any gauge, that you like. Which is fantastic! But it begs the question – what would you like? How will your chosen yarn translate into an entire garment?

This post is about a few different directions you might take, and how the fabric could behave in each.

Speaking personally, the thing I loved most about the original Featherweight is the whisper-light character of the fabric. To create something so wispy with my needles was an enticing and unusual idea, when the pattern was first released in 2009. I grew up in Maine, knitting with thick, scratchy (I’ll admit it) wool because the outside wanted to kill me and wool kept that from happening.

Featherweight, on the other hand, was part of this growing awareness (for me) of sweaters being more than… well, more than just weather protection, I guess. Sweaters as garments, that I wanted to wear. Which sometimes meant something a little more lightweight, a little less heavy.

I’m keeping to the spirit of the original with my own version, while giving a nod to my intense love of drape. Quince and Co.’s Tern fits the bill perfectly: A fingering-weight blend of wool and silk, it will give me a whispery fabric that hangs well and has fluidity and a bit of shine.

Since I’m a wool-silk blend kind of girl, when I went diving in my stash bucket, I came up with a few different yarns that would make a very similar garment:

swatch-fabric-3

(From gray swatch, clockwise: Tern, Blue Moon Fiber Arts Luscious Silk, Sweet Georgia Merino Silk Fine, and Mrs. Crosby Loves to Play, Hat Box.)

A fairly thin wool silk blend is (in my opinion) a great option if you’d like to keep your own Featherweight close to the original. The fabric will be fine, the silk adds glorious drape to the mix, and your sweater will feel light-as-air.

An alpaca blend would be my next suggestion for drape-seekers: Alpaca-based yarns and blends will be warmer than the yarns mentioned above, and might produce a sweater that’s a little less “Featherweight”, but the fabric will still have good drape and motion. Hannah is using Quince and Co.’s Owl, which I think is a glorious option. Her CustomFit Featherweight will be warm, snuggly, and still hang beautifully.

I went poking in my stash bin again, and found a few different alpacas that I think would be nice:

swatch-fabric-4

(From purple swatch, clockwise: Blue Sky Alpacas Royal, Shibui Baby Alpaca held together with Staccato, and Rowan Lima.)

Or maybe you’d like a Featherweight that’s a bit more, shall we say, “instant gratification”? If a fingering-weight garment isn’t your thing right now, there are plenty of larger-gauge yarns that can produce a nice light fabric.

swatch-fabric-1

Two that I want to mention in particular are Blue Sky Alpacas Brushed Suri, which produces a gorgeously floaty fabric in a bulky gauge. You can see from the picture how light and airy this is – despite being 3 stitches to the inch! The other swatch pictured, in Brooklyn Tweed Shelter, would make another larger-gauged but lofty alternative. Since Shelter is woolen spun, it produces a warmer, thicker sweater that is still very lightweight for its gauge. (Please note that since it’s low-twist as well, the yarn tends to be more delicate.)

Finally CustomFit opens up options for making Featherweight in an entirely different sort of fabric, too. Here are a few less-traditional yarns I’d love to see the sweater in:

swatch-fabric-2

The dark green yarn is Shibui Knits Linen, a chainette-construction linen that’s futuristic and crunchy. You can see from the swatch how wonderfully the fabric moves, and I think it’d make a lovely Featherweight.

Moving around clockwise, the next in line is Harrisville Designs’ Silk and Wool, a nubby, rustic-looking but lightweight tweedy yarn. I love this yarn, and have used it for a couple of sweaters. The fabric is light and has nice motion without being fluid; I think it would make a really interesting spring Featherweight. (Next year’s Cardipalooza, perhaps?)

Finally, I think Blue Sky Alpacas Techno would make a really interesting version of Featherweight. Techno is a bulky yarn, but its construction – super-light alpaca fibers blown into a fine netting, almost like a luscious yarn sausage – make for an incredibly light and warm fabric. There’s so much air in Techno that it doesn’t produce a drapey fabric, but I think it would make a really great variation on the original.

Not sure what kind of Featherweight your yarn will turn into? Here are a few things you can do to test the waters before creating your own Featherweight pattern.

  1. Swatch. I know, this hasn’t been the most fun thing in the world, in the past. But remember: You can’t get the numbers wrong. So make a nice big swatch, enjoy knitting with this yarn, and then wash the swatch as you would wash the sweater. Let it dry thoroughly without pinning.
  2. Play. Play around with the fabric. Move it around, stretch and squeeze and poke and prod it. Try to imagine a bunch of it all together.
  3. Consider another swatch if you’re unsure of the fabric. Go up or down a needle size, and see how things change.

And then share here in the comments or in in the Ravelry group! What are you using, and how does your fabric feel?

The ins & outs of necklines

Teaching is absolutely one of my most favoritest things on the planet, but a long teaching weekend definitely requires some adjusting on the other end! Routines have been disrupted, the inbox gets unspeakable, and everything feels just a little bit on the crazy side for a few days once I’m back home.

(The nice news on that front is that while I have some local events, I’m not truly traveling again until my own retreat. Over a month of “regular life”! It feels unspeakably luxurious.)

Today, I wanted to get back into a more regular routine and share a little bit about one of the questions I get most often in my classes:

How does one work a (fill in the blank) neckline?

Though it may not seem like it:


alta-cowl turtleneck tucci-collar shawl-collar

The answer is actually pretty simple! When it comes to removing those neckline stitches, there are relatively few actual neck shapes:

  • Vee necklines are the simplest, and remove the neck stitches evenly over the entire length of the neckline. Typical depths range between 1” (2.5 cm) above and 2” (5 cm) below armhole shaping.
  • Round necklines remove the neck stitches in three distinct areas: A BO section in the center, then two different rates of decrease. Typical depths range from around 3 – 3.5” (7.5 – 9 cm) for a crew neck and anywhere over 5” (12.5 cm) for a scoop.
    • All round necklines bind off between 40 – 55% of the neckline stitches.
    • Crew necklines then decrease half of the remaining stitches every row, and the rest every RS row.
    • Scoop necks decrease half of the remaining stitches every RS row, and the rest every 4th or 6th row.
  • Square necklines bind off all stitches at once. Typical depths range between 5 – 8” (12.5 – 21 cm).
  • Boat necklines bind off all but about 1” (2.5 cm) of stitches in the initial neck row, and then decrease at each end of every row or every RS row a few times. I prefer a typical depth of around 2” (5 cm) to ensure the boat neck ends just under my collarbone.

So if there are only four basic neck shapes, and many more things we think of as ‘necklines’, what gives? The answer lies in what you do with the neckline when you work the edging.

  • Round necklines form the basis for tons of different neckline shapes.
    • Turtlenecks are built off of crew necklines, and are between 7 – 9” (18 – 23 cm) in height. Thornes is a great example:
      thornes-final-2
    • Cowl necks are built off of scoop necklines, and are typically worked for 8 – 12” (20.5 – 30.5 cm) or more, depending on how luscious you want that cowl. The Trimmings cowl is 12” (30.5 cm):
      trimmings-cowl
    • Wide collars are also built off of crew necklines, whether on a cardigan or a pullover. Simply pick up stitches and then work for as long as desired. The collar on Tucci is around 8” (20.5 cm):
      tucci-second-pass-8
    • Finally, hoods are also built off of crew necklines. The simplest way to knit a hood is to pick up around the neck opening, knit until you clear your own head, then split your stitches between two needles and join them with a 3-needle bind-off. I worked a bit more shaping, but followed that basic procedure, for the hood on Dorica:
      Dorica-2
  • Vee necklines are the underlying shape for those shawl collars we love so much. A full description of the procedure is beyond this post (and will be coming soon!), but in short, the shawl part of the collar is shaped with short rows, to make the center back neckline twice as deep as the front edges of the neckline:
    shawl-collar
  • Finally, boat necklines are a great option if you want a slightly unusual twist on a more classic neckline, whether it’s a turtleneck, wide collar, or something else. These necklines were all worked like a variation above, but off of a boat neck shape instead of the usual:
    wintry-mix courant-turtle Holloway-1_medium2

And there you have it! Most of the necklines you’d like to make, demystified. I hope you’ve enjoyed this little spin around neckline design-land, and that it helps you both with the patterns you’re modifying by hand, and with the patterns you’re creating using CustomFit.

And on the CustomFit note – in conjunction with our next KAL announcement, we’ve got some SUPER exciting developments to share with you. So check back this weekend – and until then, happy knitting!

(Photo credits for this post: Knit to Flatterphotos courtesy Karen Pearson; Cornsilk, Trimmings, and Wintry Mix photos courtesy splityarn; Thornes, Courant, Alta, and Tucci courtesy Jonathan Herzog and/or me.)

Sweater Tech Talk: Hips and Fit

Thanks for your enthusiastic response to the Summer Sweater KAL, here and on Ravelry! I’m crazy excited to get started on my tank, but first I need to finish this:

summer-sweater-kal-1

Luckily, the schedule at Squam seems to build in a lot of down time, so I’ll have some nice quiet hours this weekend to work on the stripes when I’m not teaching.

But before I head off for the weekend, I wanted to talk a little bit about a question I get a lot, in classes and email. Many of you might know that I recommend a smidge of negative ease in the hips. When I say so, in class, I frequently get this in response:


I’m nervous about having any negative ease in my hips. Won’t that just look too tight, or be uncomfortable?

The answer is: No, at least not in the amount that I recommend. Let’s take a closer look.

What is negative ease?

Ease refers to the difference (if any) between what your body measures and what a garment measures, somewhere on your body. The overall ease of a sweater doesn’t exist, because well-fitting sweaters fit you one way in your shoulders, another in your bust, a different way in your waist, etc.

How much do you recommend?

For an average-length sweater (i.e., one that doesn’t go below the curve of your bum), I recommend an ease range of -3” to +2”. That means the sweater will measure somewhere in between 3” smaller than your hips, and 2” larger than your hips.

What does that look like?

Let’s start with the negative end of the range. Truly, a little bit of negative ease is a really attractive look. It doesn’t look too tight, it isn’t uncomfortable to wear, it just looks like it fits:


aislinn-second-pass-5 courant-final-6 acorn-trail-3 shore-ledges-fave-1

All of these garments have between 3” of negative ease, and zero ease, in the hips. This negative ease represents far less than 10% stretch for most people, which is literally nothing when you’re talking about a hand knit fabric. And yet, this amount of negative ease is functional: It helps keep the garment in place on your hips, letting you move your arms and torso without the sweater slipping all around on your body.

Some sweaters want to look more relaxed than this, of course. If you’d like a roomier look, I’d suggest between 0” ease in the hips and just 2” of positive ease in the hips. Here’s what that looks like:


cushing-isle-3 ff-triangled-5 amy-custom-fit-1-2 nantasket-final-9

Why shouldn’t I make a sweater even roomier than that?

If you go beyond 2” of positive ease in the hips of an average-length sweater, it will float, UFO-like, outside your body. This is a fairly strong visual cue that your sweater doesn’t fit, and most people react poorly to it when they see the sweater on them. (And note: All of this goes out the window for long sweaters that go down to or past the bottom of your bum. You need positive ease in those sweaters, to ensure the garment doesn’t cup underneath your bum!)

Whatever look you prefer, to ensure that the sweater looks like it fits you well, I definitely recommend a -2” to +2” range. I hope these pictures have helped make things a little more visually clear – and that your knitting is going well and you’re excited about summer. See you on the flip side of Squam!

Waist Shaping (yes, you need some)

Waist shaping is one of the single most important things you can do to get a fabulous-looking sweater. Whatever your shape.

Done the traditional way, decreases and increases are worked at the side edges of your body pieces, creating a garment with hourglass-shaped sides:

Waist-Shaping-Picture-1

(Typical decrease row: Knit 1, ssk, knit to last 3 stitches, k2tog, knit 1.)

This kind of sweater looks great on a table, and kind of works if you have a curvy-shaped waist (that is, you look hourglassy from the front). But for many of us, this kind of waist shaping is problematic: It removes fabric from a place where we don’t get smaller. (I’m quite straight in the waist, for example:)

ff-heat-2

But that doesn’t mean that we should skip the waist shaping! In fact, the opposite is true. Hand-knit fabric is thicker and more substantial than what we’re used to in the store, while at the same time it’s typically less dense for the size of the yarn. (After all, you’re generally not willing to knit as tightly as a machine can.) So while store-bought knits might move and float around you in a wonderfully figure-enhancing way, your hand-knits typically will not. In fact, your body takes on the shape of that sweater, not the other way around.

So if you don’t want to look like a box, you need waist shaping. The solution?

Take advantage of the fact that knitting is sculptural, and create a 3-d piece of fabric by working your waist shaping in the center of the piece. This kind of waist shaping is no harder to work – you’re working the same kinds of shaping, just in different locations:

Waist-Shaping-Picture-2

(Typical decrease row: Knit to 2 stitches before first marker, ssk, slip marker, knit to next marker, slip marker, k2tog, knit to end.)

Voila! Shaping that removes fabric where you get smaller, resulting in a gorgeous and flattering fit. (Bonus: Since the decreases used slant inward towards those markers, the stitches in the center stay nice and straight, and you get lovely subtle hourglass lines on the sides. Very nice!)

Shaping this way comes with another big advantage, too:

Since the shaping is away from the side seams, the front and back of your sweater don’t need to match.

Need extra width for a bust? No problem! More increases on the front of your sweater than on the back. Have a bodaciously awesome backside? No problem! More decreases on the back of your sweater than the front. Carry more weight in your front? Shape the back, and leave the front straight to the armholes!

In fact, you could make your stitch counts at the hip, waist, and bust totally different on the front and the back, with no result other than a fabulous sweater.

harrogate-final-8 tucci-second-pass-10 courant-final-6 aislinn-second-pass-9

To give this method of waist shaping a try, you have a couple of different options:

  • If your pattern already has waist shaping written near the side seams, you can work it at the same rate as specified in the pattern, but in a different place:
    • On the back, place two markers each 1/3 of the way in from the sides (1/3 of the stitches in between the markers).
    • On the front, place two markers each 1/4 of the way in from the sides (1/2 of the stitches in between the markers).
    • Each time a shaping row is specified in your pattern, work it as written – except work the shaping at the markers, as above.
  • If your pattern is written with no waist shaping at all, the first thing to do is decide how many stitches you’d like to remove. You’ll work half as many decrease rows as you have stitches to remove.
    • Calculate the number of rows you have for shaping by taking the sweater length to your waist, removing the height of any trim, and multiplying by your row gauge.
    • Divide the total number of rows by the number of shaping rows. This is how often you’ll work your shaping.
  • Once you know your rate of shaping, place markers and shape as directed above.

Of course, CustomFit always uses this method of waist shaping, exactly the way you need it. So if you’re working from a CustomFit pattern, you don’t need to worry about any of this.

Regardless of what pattern you’re using for your next sweater, though, I hope you’ll give this method of shaping a shot! It’s super simple, and makes a world of difference.

Why swatches (sometimes) lie.

Amy here: One of the most wonderful things about working with Jackie over this past year has been my increasing awareness of her own knitting journey. (As in, it turns out it’s not a typical experience to have your grandmothers and aunts give you proper mattress stitch instruction from an early age. Go figure.)

I think this narrative of improving our craft, and striving to make things that we adore and that are worthy of us, is a narrative worth exploring from every angle. So we’ve decided that it makes a lot of sense to have Jackie sometimes write posts here at the AHD blog. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do. 

Hi everyone!  Jackie here.  :)

A couple of weeks ago I had the great fortune of having an expert assess my knitting technique, and then suggest some technique changes that have resulted in my speed increasing by about 3-fold.

This post isn’t about telling you about how to knit faster.

That is something better taught in person, by someone who is an expert (which I am not).  This post is about the surprising result of improving my technique:

I make better fabric now.

2013-11-06 12.26.31

What does better fabric mean?  It means:

  • my stitches are even and uniform in size
  • the fabric is a consistent gauge throughout
  • the fabric doesn’t “grow” after blocking (this is different from “blooming”)

This last one is the surprising, and really important one.  I had no idea that my fabric was growing during blocking because I wasn’t forming my stitches well.  And considering how many people I’ve heard talk about their fabric / swatches / sweaters mysteriously growing on the blocking board, even when using elastic woolen yarns and getting gauge… I think I’m probably not the only one out there.  That’s why I want to share this with you all.

I set out to learn how to knit faster.  The very general gist of efficient knitting is that your motions are reduced to the smallest amount necessary to actually make the stitch.

There are a million ways that knitters tension the yarn and move the yarn to form the next stitch, but a factor that is constant for all knitters is how we position the stitches on the left-hand needle.  It turns out to be much, much faster if you shove all those stitches right up to the tip of the left-hand needle so they’re ripe and ready to be worked.  Almost jumping off the needle even.

stitch-queue

That sort of blew my mind.  For the past 10 years I had been relying on this bit of advice I had read on the internets way back when I was a brand-new knitter trying to figure out how this knitting thing worked (paraphrasing):

New knitters – don’t feel like you need to knit on the tips of the needles!  Feel free to spread those stitches out over the LH needles, and work your stitches up to an inch or so away from the tips.”

spaced-out

Yes, it’s true that you can work your stitches that far away from the tips, and not technically distort the size of the stitch you’re making (around the needle).  But you might distort the bar between the stitches, which will be loose and floppy.

stretched-bar

Worse yet, this loose distortion may or may not appear in your gauge swatch.  There’s not enough weight in a swatch to really pull at those loose bars… but at sweater scale, everything that can pull loose generally does pull loose.  If not immediately, then over time.

I suspect this is the reason that for years and years I could always get stitch gauge, and never get row gauge.

I suspect it’s also the reason that so many of my sweaters (mysteriously) grew (exponentially) after blocking.

(Want to know why my Afterlight isn’t finished?  I knit the fronts and backs twice(!), appeared to get gauge with washed swatches, and then the pieces grew by 8″ after blocking.  Both times.

It was maddening.)

This is certainly not the only reason that I’ve gotten fabric that behaved differently than I expected.  (Like, having any basic idea about the weight and inelasticity of alpaca would have made blocking this sweater much, much easier.)  But it’s the last aspect of my wonky gauge & fabric issues that had heretofore been unexplained.  No blocking technique or yarn choice could have prevented these “mysterious” growing issues.

Turns out, it was actually in how I was knitting.

Have you had “mysterious” gauge / growth issues with sweaters you’ve knit?  What do you think might be causing them?

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.

    blocking-1

    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.

    blocking-2

    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.

    blocking-5

    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:

    blocking-6

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

    blocking-9

  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.

    blocking-11

  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.

    blocking-13

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

    blocking-14

  8. I repeat this for the front.

    blocking-15

    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:

    sapwood

  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.

    blocking-16

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.

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.
  2. swatch-8

  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.

  4. swatch-3

  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?