Where I write about knitting, crocheting and lace, and, on occasion general comments on other topics

Part 2: Freeing Yourself from a Pattern – Step 1, Take Good Measurements

Written by: Lindy

March 25, 2010

In my last post, I outlined how to use EZ’s Percentage System to design a sweater. Today, I will spend some time answering a question from Amanda, who asked, “What do you do when the pattern does not have instructions for YOUR size?”

This is very frustrating for those of us who are either smaller or larger than the range of sizes given by the pattern designer. I have never fully understood why some designer’s only develop their patterns for “Small, Medium, & Large”, though the trend seems to be to at least go up to “Extra Large” in current knitting publications. But, if your measurements do not correspond to the designer’s definition of “medium”, you may still find yourself with a sweater that is not well-fitting.

Isn’t that the goal for all of us? To knit a well-fitting garment? So, once again, the answer is to use the pattern as a general guideline and develop your own sweater according to your own measurements. Your measurements are your starting point.

There are two ways to take your measurements:
#1: Take measurements from a sweater that fits you the way you like/love.
Lay the sweater out flat on a table or other flat surface and take the following measurements:

The Chest Measurement [CM] – this is the widest point of the sweater, usually right below the underarm. Measure from side seam to side seam. Remember that since you are measuring with the garment laying flat, that the actual chest measurement is twice this amount. (Important if you will be knitting in the round).

Shoulder Width[ShW] – this is the measurement across the shoulders from the seams or the point where the arm meets the body. This measurement is important for a proper fitting sweater.

The Neck Measurment [NM] – measure this for both the front and the back and note if the garment has shaping that creates depth – due to a difference in the front neckline from the back.

Armhole Depth [AD] – measure from the top of the sleeve at the shoulder seam down to the underarm.

Sleeve Length [SL] – measure from the top of the sleeve at the shoulder seam to the beginning of the sleeve.

Wrist Measurement [WM] – measure the width of the wrist at the bottom of the sleeve.

Sleeve Width [SW] – measure the widest part of the sleeve.

Side Seam Length [SSL] – measure from the bottom of the sweater to the point where the sleeve meets the body at the underarm.

Back Length [BL] – at the center of the back – measure from the center of the back neck edge to the bottom of the sweater.

Front Length [FL] – at the center of the front (or front edge if a cardigan) – measure from the front neck edge to the bottom of the sweater.

Other measurements that you may want –
width of sleeve at the elbow
width at waist (if sweater tapers in at the waist)

I am including a diagram that you can use to record these measurements – click here: Measurements Diagram.

#2 – Take your measurements using your body.
Note – this is best accomplished with the help of a good friend. Measurements to be taken are the same as above, only taken directly from your body. You will need to figure in “ease” when calculating your pattern changes.

Now a few words about “Ease”. Ease is an extra amount of fabric that provides a garment with movement and shaping. When you take your measurements from your sweater – they will include the ease of that sweater. When you take actual body measurements, you will need to add in an appropriate amount of ease.

Close fitting garments have less ease and in some cases have negative ease, while loose fitting garments may have a significant amount of ease. Generally, the guidelines are that a classic fit has 7-10% ease, a close-fit will have a negative 7-10% ease and a very loose fit may have up to 20% ease.

So, now you have all the measurements you need. Take a look at the pattern you are wanting to use – hopefully, there is a diagram in the pattern that gives the finished measurements for each size. If not, you may want to use my diagram to write them down. Make note of the differences between your measurements and those in the pattern.

Also, make note of any textured stitch patterns or colorwork patterns used in the pattern. You need to know what the base number of stitches is for the pattern repeats. This is usually something like: “7 stitches over 9 rows” or “7 stitches, plus 1 over 9 rows”. Write this down – you will need it later.

That’s enough for today. Next post: Step 2 – Analyze the pattern.

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Part 1: Freeing Yourself from a Written Pattern or How to Use the Yarn of Your Choice

Written by: Lindy

March 19, 2010

In my last post, I discussed the issues related to trying to substitute one yarn for another and suggested at the end of my post that if you want to use a yarn of a different weight & gauge than what the pattern calls for – you can design your own custom sweater using the pattern as a guide.
Today, I will focus on the first of two approaches for doing just that. WARNING – you must be prepared to take measurements, do a proper gauge swatch and get out your calculator. Yes, we will be doing some math…

Approach #1 – Use EZ’s Percentage System.

Elizabeth Zimmerman published her “unvented” percentage system for designing sweaters in the Knitting Workshop and gave us many examples of how to use it in her other books. EZ was always someone who dealt with knitting in a pragmatic fashion and basically cut through all the fluff and gave clear explanations of basic concepts. I encourage you to read all of her books – but if you want the complete explanation of her percentage system — Knitting Workshop is the source.

I am describing EZ’s Percentage System for two basic sweater designs – the yoke sweater and the Raglan sleeve sweater. Both are knitted in the round. You need to take some basic body measurements:

Width around the chest (Chest Measurement) [CM] The Chest Measurement is the “Key Measurement” (100%) and the starting point.
Body length to Underarm (Underarm Measurement)
Sleeve length to Underarm (Sleeve Length)
You must know your stitch gauge or Stitches per Inch [SPI]

The math follows:
CM X SPI = # stitches needed for the body of the sweater.

For a Yoke Sweater the basic percentages of the above are:
Body = 100%
Wrist = 20%
Upper Arm = 33%
Underarm = 8%
Circumference of Shoulders = 133%
Neck = 40%

For a Raglan-Sleeve Style Sweater the basic percentages are:
Body = 100%
Wrist = 20%
Upper Arm = 33%
Neck = 40%

To calculate – multiply the total number of body stitches by the percentage.

I think you get the idea. If you want to try using EZ’s percentage system, I recommend you either borrow EZ’s Knitting Workshop from your library or a friend or purchase it.

Here’s a link that will take you to Amazon.com: Knitting Workshop

I have also created an Excel Spreadsheet that will make the calculations for you. You can download it here: EPS_Calculator Spreadsheet.

Next post, I will outline another approach to sweater design.

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Yarn Substitution

Written by: Lindy

March 13, 2010

Substituting yarn

The question comes up every so often at the knitting meet-up and in the Ravelry forums. It takes the form of “Can I use this yarn instead of that yarn?” and any of a number of variations. And the answer is almost always: “It depends.”

Oh, we want this answer to be a simple “Yes”. But it seldom is. Usually the knitter has a valid reason for wanting to use a different yarn than what was used in the printed pattern: Lack of availability, wanting/needing a different colorway, dislike of the particular yarn, etc. If the knitter happens to select a yarn of similar weight and make-up, the substitution will probably go reasonably well – providing, of course, that the knitter can achieve the stated pattern gauge with the chosen yarn. This is the happiest of all occurrences – the yarn you want to use works out well with the pattern and you can just relax and knit happily on your project.

The subject of matching gauge could constitute the contents of an entire article, if not a book. For the sake of brevity, I will simply state that gauge is essential and that any knitter who wishes to produce a well-fitting garment needs to pay attention to gauge – IF she is following a pattern that contains the concept of “fit” as part of the design. (Gauge is less important with scarves & shawls).

Lindy’s Advice #1: When substituting yarns, it is best to select a yarn that is of the same weight and has the same characteristics as the original yarn. But do a gauge swatch to make certain you do not need to make adjustments so that the garment fits correctly.

Perhaps the most frustrating of experiences with yarn substitution is the situation where you have selected a yarn of similar weight and characteristics – but try as you may, you cannot achieve the stated gauge. The advice is usually to go up a needle size or two if your gauge has more stitches and to go down needle sizes if your gauge has fewer stitches. If this works, then wonderful! Proceed with the project. But if, in spite of the change in needle sizes, you still cannot get the stated gauge – well, this can be a significant problem. Being off a half a stitch doesn’t seem like much, but when multiplied over a large number of stitches (say 100 or more), it becomes quite significant and the result is a garment that doesn’t fit properly. You have two options in this situation: 1) try a different yarn (yep, try another one) ; or 2) get out your calculator and start calculating the adjustments needed to ensure a proper fit.

Note: If math makes you anxious and you would never consider recalculating the number of stitches you need to make the garment using your yarn and your gauge – then skip this next part.

Here are the basic calculations you’ll need to make the appropriate adjustments:

Pattern Gauge states “20 stitches and 20 rows = 4 inches” (5 stitches/inch and 5 rows/inch)

To adjust pattern width (i.e. your stitch gauge is different):
Your stitch gauge is 22 stitches = 4 inches. Which is 5.5 stitches per inch

Pattern instructions state that the back of the garment measures 25 inches at the bottom and says to cast on 125 stitches. To adjust for your gauge, you would need to cast on 25 X 5.5 = 137.5 stitches – you will need to round down to 137 stitches so that you have an odd number of stitches, since the pattern has an odd number.
You will need to make similar calculations for width measurements throughout your pattern – it is best if you go through and do this before you starting knitting.

Adjusting pattern length may or may not require some math. If the pattern has instructions that use length (inches) rather than rows, it really isn’t necessary to calculate the number of rows required with your gauge, because you can simply knit to the desired number of inches.

However, if the pattern contains instructions such as “knit 40 rows then begin shaping” – you may want to calculate the adjustments needed, as follows:

Your row gauge is 30 rows = 4 inches – which is 7.5 rows per inch

Pattern row gauge is 20 rows = 4 inches (5 rows per inch)
To calculate the number of rows you need to knit to be equal to the 40 rows called for in the pattern :
40 rows ÷ 5 rows/inch = 8 inches
8 inches X 7.5 rows/inch = 60 rows – so instead of knitting 40 rows then begin shaping, you would knit 60 rows.

A shortcut in these calculations would be to go through and calculate the number of inches that need to be knit using the row gauge of the pattern and then just knitting to the calculated length.

This can be a daunting bit of calculation – but it will result in a better fitting garment with your desired choice of yarn and is thus, worth the effort.

So far, I have discussed what considerations are needed when substituting a yarn of similar weight and characteristics with another. Now about substituting an entirely different weight of yarn…

I have attempted this several times and have not been happy with the result each time. Hence, Lindy’s Advice #2: No matter how much you love the yarn you want to substitute and the pattern, if the yarn is not the same weight and/or does not have the same characteristics as the yarn used in the pattern – DO NOT use that yarn with that pattern.

I know, I know – you really want to use this yarn, but it’s like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. I feel your pain, I really do. But don’t do it, you won’t be happy with the result.

I think every knitter has tried using bulky yarn for a worsted weight pattern or visa versa. The results have probably been disappointing and the garment was either too big or too small. It certainly was for me.

I know of many knitters who have attempted to double-strand worsted weight or sport weight yarn to substitute for bulky weight. It can be done with some success, but once again – you have to do a gauge swatch and make the necessary adjustments for differences between your gauge and the pattern gauge. You just can’t get away from the math…

But wait! There is a way to substitute yarn so that it doesn’t drive you crazy: “Free yourself from the pattern”.

Huh? What do I mean by that? Well, as a knitter you will eventually reach a point in your knitting experience when you begin to understand the basics of garment design and construction. Granted there are literally hundreds of thousands of written sweater patterns available. But any sweater has a front, a back, two sleeves and a neck. If you understand how to construct the basic parts and match them to your desired body measurements – you really don’t need a specific written pattern.

Let’s start with that pattern you want to knit with a different weight of yarn. What are the characteristics of the garment? How are the sleeves shaped? How is the front shaped and how is the back shaped? What do you like about this pattern?

Does the pattern use a textured stitch patterning or does it have a particular colorwork patterning? Are there charts for the stitch pattern(s) or the colorwork pattern(s)? You can use these to make your own customized sweater with your chosen yarn.

How? Well, it will require some thinking, some planning, some math (sorry!) and a very good set of body measurements. Armed with the knowledge of sweater design – you can go from carefully following a written pattern to using the pattern as an inspiration for your own custom designed sweater.

I will outline how to do this in my next post. Off to find my sweater design references…

Master Knitter Level I – Swatches #7, #8, & #9 – Decreases

Written by: Lindy

March 8, 2010

Swatches 7 through 9 are demonstrations of various decrease techniques.

Swatch 7 - SSK & K2Tog

Swatch #7

Swatch 7 demonstrates “Blended Decreases” using SSK (Slip, Slip, Knit) on the right edge and K2Tog (Knit 2 Together) on the left edge.

SSK is a left-slanting decrease and is made by slipping 1 stitch as if to knit, then slipping a second stitch as if to knit, then inserting the left needle into these two stitches and knitting them together.

K2Tog is a right-slanting decrease. K2Tog decreases are the basic decrease every knitter learns. You simply insert the right needle into two stitches on the left needle and knit them together.

I have had difficulty finding a reference that actually defines “Blended Decreases”. Through my research it appears that “Blended Decreases” are decreases that slant or slope in the direction of the desired shaping. In this swatch the left-slanting decrease on the right edge and the right-slanting decrease on the left edge slope in toward the center of the swatch.

Swatch 8 - SKP & KSP

Swatch #8

Swatch 8 demonstrates SKP (Slip, Knit, Pass Slipped Stitch Over) and KSP (Knit, Slip, Pass stitch over) decreases.

SKP decreases are also sometimes written as S1, K1 PSSO in patterns. This is a left-slanting decrease and is done on the right edge of the swatch. Any decrease that requires you to pass a stitch over another one results in a somewhat uneven stitch due to the stretching that occurs when you pass the stitch over.

The KSP decrease was a new method for me. It is a right-slanting decrease that mirrors the SKP decrease and was knit on the left edge of this swatch. KSP is done by knitting a stitch, then slipping the stitch back on the left needle and passing the stitch over the next stitch with the right needle, then slipping the stitch back from the left needle to the right needle.

Swatch 9 - K2Tog & SSK

Swatch #9

Swatch 9 uses the K2Tog and SSK decreases but is different from Swatch 7 in that the K2Tog is done on the right edge and the SSK is done on the left edge.

TKGA refers to this swatch as “Full Fashioned”. I have not found a specific definition for the term “Full Fashioned” in my references. However, two of my sources refer to full fashioned decreases as decreases that are done with 2 or more stitches on the edge, making the decreases more visible and part of the intended design of the knitted fabric. In this swatch, the K2Tog decrease on the right edge slants to the right and stands out against the slope of the fabric. Likewise the SSK decrease on the left edge slants to the left and stands out against the slope of the fabric on that side. These decreases are more visible than those in Swatch 7.

Master Knitter Level I – Swatches #4, #5, & #6 – Increases

Written by: Lindy

March 4, 2010

Swatches 4 through 6 in the Master Knitter Level I program are all about increases. Specifically, each swatch demonstrates a particular type of increase. The increases are done on each side, with three stitches before the right edge increase and three stitches after the left edge increase.

Bar Increases

Swatch 4 - Bar Increase

Swatch 4 demonstrates the Bar Increase. This is probably the increase most knitters first learned to make when knitting. It often written as “KFB” in patterns — which means “Knit in the front and back loops”. When you knit into the front loop of a knit stitch and then knit in the back loop of the same knit stitch, the resulting increase has a purl bump where the second stitch was made. It is clearly visible as you can see in this picture.

I learned a few things working on this swatch. Since I am now much more aware of my tension, I found that the purl bumps looked much better if I made certain I kept the tension even with both stitches. It’s much the same issue as when I had trouble getting even tension in ribbing.

Also, through my research, I learned that you should never make your increases on the very edge of your knitting — you should have at least one stitch on the edge before doing the increase. This makes it much easier and neater to do seams. This is something to pay attention to when you are knitting pieces that will be sewn together — I know I will practice this in my future knitting projects.

Swatch 5 - Knitted Make 1 Increases

Swatch 5 - Make 1 Increases

Swatch 5 demonstrates Make 1 increases. On the right edge, I knit an M1R increase — which means “Make 1 Right” — this is a right-slanting increase. It is made by inserting the left needle from the back and lifting the horizontal strand between stitches onto the left needle and knitting into the front of this strand.

On the left edge, the increase is an M1L — which means “Make 1 Left” — a left-slanting increase. It is made by inserting the left needle from the front and lifting the horizontal strand between stitches onto the left needle and knitting into the back of this strand.

M1 increases are tighter and there is no purl bump on the front of the knitting.

Swatch 6 - Lifted Increases

Swatch #6 - Lifted Increases

Swatch 6 demonstrates the Lifted or Raised Increase. This is the most invisible of increases — and was an increase I had never used before, so the entire swatch was a learning experience.

Again, I knit a right-slanting increase on the right edge. This increase is done by lifting the stitch below the stitch on the left needle and knitting it.

The left-slanting increase on the left edge of the swatch gave me the most difficulty. I had to search out several different pictures of it in my references before I figured it out. The left-slanting lifted increase is done by lifting the stitch below the stitch just knitted on the right needle and then knitting it.

The best pictures and explanations I found of this increase, as well as the others, were in an online article at Knitty.com, entitled “Techniques with “Theresa – Increases”.

So, these three swatches improved my technique when knitting increases and I learned a method of increasing that I had never used before. Check out the article on Knitty.com if you want to explore these methods.

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