Waist Shaping for the Options KAL (and all sweaters)

At this point in the Options KAL, many of us are in the long stretch of knitting the body pieces. I know I’m there! I’ve juuuust started the neck shaping on the front of my pullover:


And so I thought this would be a great point to touch on why I wrote the waist shaping the way I did – with vertical darts located away from the side seams of the sweater.

Why Waist Shaping?

Particularly if you’re straighter through the waist, like me, you might be tempted to skip waist shaping altogether. When done the traditional way, at the side seams:

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

The garment can wind up looking a little odd. Slightly too snug at the sides of your body, too loose on your back and in the front. But the answer isn’t to skip shaping entirely!

Rather, waist shaping is one of the single most important things you can do to get a fabulous-looking sweater. Whatever your shape. Hand-knit fabric is strong and sturdy, and in most sweaters, if your fabric is rectangular, you’ll look rectangular too. So regardless of your shaping, your sweaters will benefit from a bit of shaping!

A Different Way to Shape

To get better shaping options, I recommend taking advantage of the fact that knitting is sculptural – create a 3-D piece of fabric by working your waist shaping in the center of the piece. It’s worked exactly the same as the traditional way, but in a different spot:

Waist-Shaping-Picture-2(Typical decrease row: Knit to 2 stitches before first marker, ssk, sm, knit to next marker, sm, k2tog, knit to end.)

The Options KAL pattern is written with this kind of waist shaping, and if you squint, you can see the lines in my own sweater:


Here are some close-ups of other sweaters with the waist shaped in this way:

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

For very little work, you get a garment that’s shaped the way your body is shaped – any volume removed from the sweater is done where you actually get smaller. But there are other advantages!

Other Cool Things about Dart Shaping

In addition to a more flattering fit generally, shaping in this way gives you a lot more choice about how your garments look – because it opens up an important degree of freedom:

The front and back of your sweater can be shaped differently.

You read that right! Your sweater’s front and back shaping don’t need to match, because the shaping is located away from where you’ll have to seam. You get more power to fit your body well:

  • Need extra width for a bust? Work more increases from waist to bust on the front of your sweater than you did on the back.
  • Have a bodaciously awesome backside? More decreases from CO to waist on the back of your sweater than the front.
  • Carry more volume on your front in general? Shape the back, and work your front straight to the armholes.

And you get the power to play around with different shaping to achieve different looks, too. I’ve done several designs now where the waist shaping is located on the back only:

cushing-isle-5 pescadero-final-print-1 foyle-pullover-candidate-finals-1 coracle-pullover-final-1

This lets me work an allover pattern on the front, straight to the armholes. When worked with a fitted sweater (the first and the third, above) you can barely even tell there is no shaping! The bit of negative ease in the bust and the hips, combined with the back shaping, keeps me looking curvy. When worked on a relaxed sweater (the second and fourth, above), you get the wonderful sweatshirt-like fit, without looking like a box. Pretty cool!

I’ve also experimented a bit with working shaping on the front only – check out my tank Fia, worked in Rowan’s Truesilk yarn:

Fia-main Fia_5_medium2

I wanted a tank where the back was worked in an allover lace – with the heavy drape of the silk letting it move beautifully. I didn’t want to shape in lace pattern, though, so I added some vertical darts to the front. That kept this tank trim, while letting the back remain a loose, shimmery fall of lace.

See you next time!

I hope you’re giving this kind of waist shaping a try in the Options KAL sweater, and that you can see how to use it in other sweaters to improve your fit or achieve a certain look, too!

Until next time, happy knitting!

Great sweater fabric

One of my very favorite questions about sweaters is also one that’s very basic, and cuts to the heart of every knitter’s relationship with their swatch:

Will my swatch fabric make a good sweater?

This video helps you answer that question:

Have a great weekend!

This sweater looks great in the picture. It’s not.

Howdy everyone! Jackie here. :)

Today I’d like to share a sweater with you, from way back to winter 2013 / 2014. I worked really hard on it — agonizing over the consistency of my fabric, re-knitting the collar THREE times — determined that it would be a sweater I’d actually wear and love.


It looks good, yeah? This picture is one that I would be pretty psyched to post in my Ravelry projects. It fits beautifully. The yarn is divine. I love the outfit, and I’m wearing a necklace that was a gift from one of my most favorite and oldest knitting friends. It’s a pretty good picture.

But the picture alone would give you the wrong idea.

Because the truth is, it’s not a good sweater. And I think it’s really important to share that with you all.

Ninety-nine percent of the time on this site, we’re showing you examples of beautiful, and beautifully executed, sweaters. (And there are about thirty more in Amy’s studio that you haven’t even seen yet. So. Many. Sweaters.) I think it can be disheartening to look all around you and see (seemingly) everyone knocking out perfect sweaters left and right, wondering if you’re the only one struggling.

If I’ve just described you, I’m here to say that you are definitely not the only one. And further, it’s okay to struggle sometimes! Becoming a sweater knitter is a process, and each sweater we tackle – success or not – makes us better at it, as long as we take it as an opportunity to learn.


So! What did I learn from this sweater that looks good in a picture, but that I never wear?

What you can’t see from the picture is that I was so afraid that my gauge would start to change, or that I would start rowing out, that I knit this fabric so tight it’s like iron. Amy, in her gentle way, kept warning me about this as I knit it. She was that little knitterly voice in your head that tells you the truth about your project, that you ignore: la la la la la it’s going to be fine.

It was not fine.

The problem with very tightly knit fabric is that the sweater doesn’t move with you like it should. This particular sweater sort of feels like I’m wearing a piece of sculpture – it almost stands up on its own. Just like Amy told me it would.


Lesson 1 of this sweater: Tight gauge isn’t a solution for inconsistency or rowing out. Instead, I needed to work on improving my knitting technique. (And I did! You can read about it here.)

Lesson 2 of this sweater: Conduct the Fabric Test on your swatch. What’s the Fabric Test? It’s a 3-step process we came up with last year where you place a swatch — or sweater — on a table to evaluate whether it’s good fabric for a sweater. Amy demonstrates it in Lesson 2 of her new class, and we’ll post a video of it here on the site this month too. (To be fair, when I knit this sweater we hadn’t developed the Fabric Test yet, and this particular sweater was part of the reason we did so.)

Lesson 3 of this sweater: Listen to that little knitterly voice in your head, always. (A thousand-fold if that knitterly voice is actually Amy, as she looks at your project.)

If you’re not sure what that knitterly voice is saying, but it’s whispering vague nothings in your ear, ask for help! Call your LYS and see if they have a drop-in help class, or see if you can schedule 30 minute private lessons with their sweater person on staff.

Do you know what the cool thing is though? The more sweaters you knit, successful or not, the better that little voice gets. The first several sweaters that voice is vague and speaks softly. But then, after several sweaters, that voice becomes more confident, and speaks up more clearly.

So, if you’re still working your way toward consistently good sweaters, keep heart, and keep knitting! It’s okay. Remember: Every excellent knitter had to knit a lot of things to become that excellent knitter they are today.

CustomFit “Mash-Ups”

Well hello, there!

Squam was a glorious oasis of stillness and joy:


(Photo courtesy the amazing Clara Parkes.)
…before coming back home to the gauntlet that is the final week of school when you have elementary-aged children. Things have settled down into “summer vacation” now, and we’re all enjoying a few days of lazy mornings and coffee-until-11am before summer camp starts.

I’m working fast and furious on the next book and a couple of other really exciting projects for fall, which doesn’t make for great blogging!


So I thought I’d take today and write about something that’s been rattling around in my head for awhile:


CustomFit Mash-Ups


Once someone has knit up one of the designs built directly into CustomFit, they often want to use CustomFit to recreate a design they love, but that isn’t built into the site – whether the design is mine, or someone else’s. We call this “mashing up” the original design with CustomFit.

Here are some of our favorites from the past year:

jenn-vika kelly-gakusei lauren-acer mollie-hitch
(Jenn’s Vika, Kelly’s Gakusei, Lauren’s Acer, and Mollie’s Hitch.)
For some of my designs, we’ve released files called recipes to help with this mash-up process. But most of the time, you’ll be on your own. With that in mind, here’s a step-by-step guide, along with a downloadable worksheet, for mashing up a CustomFit pattern with another design.

Step 1: Purchase the original pattern.

You like that sweater enough to want to make it – and you’ll need information from the pattern to do so. Show the designer that you like their work and purchase the original.

Step 2: Identify the CustomFit options for the design’s silhouette.

You’ll be using the Build Your Own Sweater feature to create your core CustomFit pattern, and it’s a good idea to specify as much of the design in CustomFit terms as possible. Using the pattern’s photo, schematic, and actual text in combination, write down the following on your mashup worksheet:

  • Basic Garment Type and Info: Is it a cardigan or a pullover? Sleeved or sleeveless? (You can tell these things simply by looking at the photos.)
  • Sleeve Info: How long are the sleeves, and what shape are they (tapered? straight? belled?)? What stitch pattern trims them, and how much trim is there? (The sleeve length & shape should be easy to tell from the photo and schematic, but you’ll need to look at the pattern itself for the trim info.)
  • Neck Info: What shape is the neckline itself, and how wide and deep is it? What trims it, and how much trim is there? (Again, the pattern schematic and instructions are the best places to find this info.)
  • Length and Cardigan Options: Look at the picture to determine the length, and the pattern to determine what the hem and cardigan plackets (if any) are trimmed with.

You’ll use this information to generate your basic CustomFit pattern.

Step 3: Identify changes you’ll make to the CustomFit pattern, and write them down.

For most sweaters, you’re not done yet! You’ll be making changes to the basic CustomFit pattern to achieve the look of the original design. Usually, these changes involve either adding stitch patterning to one or more pieces, or doing something unusual trim-wise during finishing.

Stitch patterning. If you’re adding either a textured stitch or a lace panel to your CustomFit pattern, you likely don’t have to adjust the stitch count. Simply make a note of which stitches you’ll be marking and what stitch pattern you’ll be working on the marked stitches.

If you’re adding cables, you’ll need to adjust your CustomFit stitch count to account for the cable’s “suckage:” Add one stitch to your CustomFit stitch count for each stitch that gets put on a cable needle during your cable repeat. (For example, if you’re adding a single 2×2 cable to the front of a cardigan, add 2 stitches to your cardigan front. If you’re adding three 2×2 cables to your sweater back, add 6 stitches to your back stitch count.) You’ll then need to remove those extra stitches when you’re done with the cable – usually, this means working some decreases in your bind-off row to eliminate the stitches.

Trims. This is the other big place you’re likely to make changes – be they a shawl collar, a hood, an edging that’s picked up and worked during the finishing stage, etc. Read this portion of your original pattern carefully to determine what you’ll do. Usually the pattern’s instructions will translate well to your CustomFit version.

In both cases, you’ll be writing down the changes to the CustomFit pattern on the second page of your mashup worksheet.

Step 4: Create your CustomFit pattern, put it and your mash-up worksheet together, and start knitting.

As you knit your CustomFit pattern, pay attention to page 2 of your mash-up worksheet (and anything you need from the original pattern, like charts). Make adjustments as you get to them.


Sound complicated? It’s not, really – once you have a specific design you’re working toward. Since I don’t have permission to build any of my book sweaters into CustomFit yet, let’s step through this process with one of my own designs that’s very popular in classes: The Cypress Cardigan.

Cypress-2 Cypress-back-nfb
For each step, I’ll go through the changes – and then you can download a sample, filled-out mash-up worksheet for Cypress here.

Step 1. Cypress is in my first book, Knit to Flatter, on page 31.

Step 2. You can tell from the picture that Cypress is a mid-hip cardigan (though of course you could change this!), with tapered 3/4 sleeves and a narrow scoop neck that begins .5” (1.5 cm) above the armhole shaping. The trims are as follows:

  • Hem: 2” (5 cm) Twisted 1×1 ribbing.
  • Sleeves: 3.5” (9 cm) Twisted 1×1 ribbing.
  • Neck: .75” (2 cm) Twisted 1×1 ribbing.
  • Button Band: 1” (2.5 cm) gap and trim height for Twisted 1×1 ribbing. Sample has 7 or 8 buttons depending on size.

Step 3. The non-standard bits of Cypress are the lace stitch patterning on the back and front. You’ll be making changes to your CustomFit pattern’s back and front to recreate it:

  • Back: The Shell Lace pattern written on page 31, and charted on page 32, is repeated as many times as possible within the neck bind-offs on your back. The lace repeat is a multiple of 11 sts plus 12; find the largest number of repeats below the number of stitches you bind off in the back neck, and place lace markers around those stitches after you complete your ribbing. Switch center-most marked stitches to Shell Lace for Back until neck bind-offs.
  • Fronts: Similarly, the Shell Lace pattern for Front (pages 31/32) are repeated as many times as possible in the number of neck stitches you have on each front. The repeat is a straight 12 stitches this time, plus 2 stitches of Stockinette on the edge for selvedge. Place a lace marker where appropriate and switch the edge stitches to lace and selvedge after the trim, until the neck bind-offs.

When you’re knitting, you’ll need both your CustomFit pattern and the charted or written instructions for the lace handy. (I’ve been told by many many knitters that Knit Companion is a great way to merge your PDFs and keep track of your stitch pattern charts.)

Make sense? You can download an example of the mash-up worksheet for Cypress here, and download a blank mash-up worksheet here. I hope you feel confident in using CustomFit to recreate the sweater you’ve been wanting to make, but not wanting to modify! So let us know:

What sweater do you most want to mash-up?

And if you have already mashed-up a CustomFit sweater with another design, how did it go?

make. wear. love. west: pescadero

I want to help you create practical, beautiful things that you actually love to wear. The crazy happy sweater face grin you get when you complete a sweater you want to wear all the time? Literally one of the best things in the world. Until now, the focus of my efforts has been to help every knitter get a tailored, fitted sweater that gets worn immediately, and often.

There’s good reason for this! A well-fitting tailored garment feels amazing. It’s one of the most basic, classic things you can make with your hands. But it’s not the be-all, end-all of clothing.

It’s time to talk about the raglan.


The name “raglan” comes from the the mid-18th century. When the Lord Raglan lost an arm in the Crimean war, his tailor made a simplified shirt construction to allow him better freedom of movement. This expanded range of movement (vs. a set-in sleeve) made raglans the darling of American sportswear – think baseball jerseys!

Compared to a tailored set-in sleeve, a raglan top has more fabric in the armholes and shoulder, so you can swing a bat or racquet, even when the shirt is made out of a woven fabric. Raglans are sporty and comfortable — you’ve probably got a bunch of them. Personally, I love a good raglan and wear them all the time.

And yet, many knitters have tried to make a raglan they loved, and failed. Why is that?

I think there are a couple of reasons. In my opinion, the first is that the most popular kind of raglan sweater right now is a top-down, seamless construction. This raglan is usually shaped using matched increases every other row until the full bust width is reached. Here’s one I made for myself several years ago:


This way of forming the raglan is really limiting. You can’t adjust the sleeves and body independently, even though bodies vary a lot! That means this style of raglan works really really well for a very specific bust/shoulder/armhole combination, and it doesn’t work at all well for others.

Contrast that with a seamed raglan, where the sleeves and body are knitted separately, allows for different shaping rates on the different pieces. As long as the row counts match, you can change how often you decrease to match your body better. And this works for lots of different shoulder/armhole/bust combinations. Just as importantly, the seams provide added structure when the sweater needs it.

Here’s an example of a raglan of this type that I knit for myself close to 15 years ago. I still wear it regularly:


Honestly, I wear a lot of raglans regularly. So when I was designing my own sweater of the make. wear. love. retreat: west coast collection, and thinking about what I wear on the beach, I knew it had to be a raglan.

Presenting, Pescadero:


Pescadero is a bottom-up, in-pieces raglan with compound shaping.

The raglan shaping changes from armhole up to shoulder – sometimes it’s steeper, sometimes it’s shallower — to better match the body. It’s worked with back waist shaping only, to give it a relaxed, but not boxy, feel. The front has a small, allover lace pattern, and I just love the way it worked out.

It’s the single best sweatshirt-y sweater I’ve ever had, and I’ve knit myself a lot of sweaters.

pescadero-final-print-4 pescadero-final-print-2 pescadero-hanger-1 pescadero-hanger-2

It’s made out of Indigodragonfly Wingenhooven, a lustrous fingering-weight blend of superwash merino, yak, and silk. I worked it up at 7.5 stitches to the inch, and the fabric is beyond amazing. It’s soft, has an incredible soft sheen, and has lovely drape thanks to the silk.

…which brings me to the number two reason that many knitters haven’t been happy with their raglans: The fabric.

Hand-knit fabric just isn’t like store-bought fabric.

It has structure, a mind of its own, and doesn’t conform well to the body. The heavier the yarn, and the more tightly it’s knit (which is necessary for well-wearing sweaters), the less any sweater is going to move with you and be comfortable.

With a properly-fitting set-in construction, this doesn’t matter. The garment anchors itself to your body well and your movement exercises the basic stretch that even hand-knit fabric has. No problems.

But with a raglan sweater, which by design isn’t anchored in the same way, it’s a different story. Heavy, stiff, hand-knit can feel uncomfortable, bunch, and otherwise keep you from the sweater of your dreams.

Working Pescadero in a drapey fingering weight yarn gave me a sweater fabric that breathes and moves with me. It’s a little scrunchy, a little fluid, and moves with me well.

So there you have it. My first raglan design, and a sweater that I love to wear – and that shows the best of what this construction can be. You can purchase it by buy now“>clicking here, or by downloading it in my Ravelry store, for $7.00.


I’ll talk in later posts about how to choose a size and modify a raglan pattern. Until then, happy knitting! I look forward to seeing lots of great sporty sweaters in the future.

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 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 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.


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:


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.


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):


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


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:


…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.


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?

(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:


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


    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:


(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:


(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.


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:


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:
    • 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):
    • 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):
    • 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:
  • 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:
  • 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.)