Ottobre Faded Stripes/Foxes Shirt

It turns out I was just kidding when I suggested that I wouldn’t sew again until my dissertation was done. I had thought about having Aidan take my sewing machine with him when he left for Cincinnati, but I decided against it at the last minute. And then as soon as he was gone and I had no one around to entertain me, I started sewing in little bits of time while taking a break from work. This is first thing I managed to finish—the Faded Stripes Top from Ottobre Woman 02/2015. The main fabric is a rayon/Spandex jersey from Fabric.com and the bindings are a rayon/Spandex ribbing from Girl Charlee. I rarely find prints that that I’m interested in wearing–I don’t want anything that is too bright, too busy, or too feminine. So even though this fox print is verging on hipster nonsense, I liked it enough to spring for a yard’s worth. I think this shirt is now the coolest piece of clothing I own. (Although, to be fair, I am extremely thin on clothing at the moment, so the bar isn’t very high.)

Ottobre Faded Stripes Top

I started subscribing to Ottobre Woman last summer and have three issues, but this is the first Ottobre project I’ve actually made. The two things people always note as a word of caution about Ottobre patterns is that 1) they come with the crazy, color-coded pull-out sheets that you have trace your pattern pieces from and 2) the instructions are on the spare side. I didn’t find either of these things a problem, but this is also a really simple pattern with only 3 pattern pieces plus bindings. I mean, you could easily figure out how to put this shirt together just by looking at the line drawing.

Ottobre Faded Stripes Top

My one quibble with the instructions has to do with the binding around the sleeves and neckline. The instructions tell you that for binding fabric with 40-50% stretch, you should cut the binding strips at 70% of the length of the opening you are binding. Now, when I read that, I thought it seemed way too short for binding. But my ribbing has ~60% stretch, so I followed the instructions anyway and sewed the first strip of binding to the first sleeve and it was, indeed, way too short—the entire sleeve opening was gathered. I went back and recut binding strips at 85% of the length of the opening (Ottobre’s recommended length for binding fabrics with 20-30% stretch) and that worked much better. But it also makes me think that if you had a fabric with significantly less stretch, you’d probably want to cut the bindings just a tiny bit smaller than the opening. Anyway. Lesson learned.

Ottobre Faded Stripes Top

My high bust measurement puts me in a size 46 on the Ottobre chart, but since the style of this shirt is more relaxed through the shoulders, I just traced a straight 48 to give me a bit more room at the bust to start with. I did a 1” FBA, and rotated most of the dart to the hem to give me a bit more room at the hips. I eased the rest of the dart into the side seam at the bust level. I’m relatively happy with the fit, although I did have an issue with the back neckline drooping and collapsing on itself. I remember seeing a tip from Debbie at Stitches and Seams for dealing with drooping knit necklines by running some elastic thread through the stitching line at the back of the neck to tighten it up. It took me about 5 minutes to do, and it worked out perfectly. When the shirt is laid flat, you can see some rippling at the back of the neck from where the elastic is, but it lays flat when I wear it.

Ottobre Faded Stripes Top

And finally, not to belabor a post about a very simple t-shirt, but I did end up using a twin needle to top-stitch the binding and sew the hem. It’s the first time I pulled out the twin needle since I swore them off a few months ago, and it wasn’t so painful this time, primarily because I saw this post from Pandora Sews Plus Size Clothes. I was already doing most of what she recommended, but she had one tip in particular about threading a twin needle where she explained that you aren’t supposed to hook the thread going into the right needle over the bar in front of the needle. This one little trick—not catching the second thread through the bar above the needle—made a huge difference and resolved almost all of the problems I was having with thread tension and skipped stitches. So, I have tentatively invited the twin needle back into my life, although I still maintain that people tend to oversell its virtues and ease of use. The twin needling around the binding worked out much better than the twin needling at the hem—it’s almost like the twin needle responded better to sewing through a more substantial thickness of fabric? I’m going to see how it wears, but I might actually end up redoing the hem using a narrower twin needle. We’ll see. At the very least, I’m glad to have stumbled across the first tip that has made a serious difference for using a twin needle on my current machine.

Sweater Knitting: Bust Dart and Waist Shaping Placement

I had a request for images that show more clearly where I actually place darts in my sweaters. My sweater knitting posts get a fair bit of attention, so I’ve been meaning to write a couple of posts explaining my process for altering sweaters to fit and for calculating bust darts and waist shaping. Since those posts will probably be a bit more involved, they are on my list of post-dissertation projects. However, creating images that show the dart placement I use only took about 15 minutes with a free photo editor, so here they are. Please excuse the shaky lines–my digital drawing skills haven’t progressed much since my days of playing around with MS Paint as a kid. All of the images are of my Blank Canvas sweater, although the lines I’ve drawn in reflect the dart location I generally use on fitted sweaters.

Vertical Bust Darts/Front Waist Shaping

Vertical Bust Dart and Waist Shaping Placement

This line of shaping is just where I do a series of decreases and increases to add shape for my waist and bust. I use the bust dart and waist shaping placement recommended by Amy Herzog in her book Fit to Flatter, so I do my shaping about a quarter of the way in on the front. In other words, if I was working the front of the sweater over 100 stitches, I would knit 25 stitches, place a marker for the increase/decrease line, knit 50 stitches, place a market for the second increase/decrease line, and then knit the remaining 25 stitches. Because there is more than a 2″ difference between my full bust and my high bust measurement, I work a series of decreases after the bust apex in order to get to the appropriate stitch count for my shoulders and neckline.

Horizontal Bust Dart

Horizontal Bust Dart Placement

In addition to the vertical bust darts and waist shaping, I add a horizontal bust dart, which is basically a series of short rows that add length to the front to accommodate the depth of a larger bust. (I’ve written more about horizontal bust darts and how they work in this post.) I typically do ~3″ worth of short rows and insert the short rows an inch below my bust apex, or the highest/fullest part of my bust. My bust apex is about 3″ below the point where my armscye begins, so I work the short rows ~4″ below the armscye. When I work the short row wraps, I make sure that they don’t go past the vertical shaping lines I indicated in the first image.

Back Waist Shaping

Back Waist Sweater Shaping

For back waist shaping, I again follow Amy Herzog’s recommendation for shaping placement, which is ~1/3 of the way in on either side of the sweater. So for a sweater back worked over 100 stitches, I would knit 33 stitches, place a marker for the shaping line, knit 34 stitches, place a second marker for the shaping line, and then knit the remaining 33 stitches. The two longer lines in the picture indicate these primary shaping lines which are worked about of a third of the way in on either side of the sweater.

The two smaller lines indicate an additional set of waist darts that I started using because the typical pair of decreases weren’t sufficient. I have a serious back curve and to do all of the shaping I would need to do in a single set of darts would mean decreasing so frequently that the fabric would start to bias and distort. So I work decreases on the primary shaping lines (the longer lines) every 4 rows and incorporate any additional decreases I need beyond that into the two smaller darts. I place the smaller darts halfway between the primary shaping lines and the edge of the sweater.

So that’s the low-down on where I’m placing the darts and waist shaping in my fitted sweaters. I hope this is relatively clear and helpful. Feel free to leave any questions you might have in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them!

Beach Robes

I’ve been sewing for small people! I made up some beach robes for our nephew and our godson–both boys are 3, and I’m sure they’ll both be eager to do a lot of swimming this summer.

Beach Robes via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

I’m not sure what possessed me to take on this project, other than that these are pretty cute and they seem useful. In my experience, little kids will play in the water until they are shivering and their lips are blue, but that doesn’t mean you can get them to sit still wrapped up in a towel long enough to really warm up. Plus, a lot of parents have made these and like them so that seems like a good sign. After planning out this project and gathering all of my supplies, I actually started to get kind of intimidated by the idea of sewing these robes. I was a little nervous about sewing terrycloth and even more nervous about all of the bias binding these robes require. For whatever reason, I was also imagining that it would take me weeks of work to get these done. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that they were not difficult and that they come together a lot more quickly than I had anticipated.

Beach Robe via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

This is the Beach Robe pattern from MADE, which is a PDF pattern. It comes in three different sizes that seem like they’ll fit most kids in the infant-to-kindergartener crowd and has several different design options: short or long sleeves, lined or unlined hood, and full or partial ties. The robe itself is just a handful of pattern pieces that are very simple to sew together, and then the whole shebang is bound in bias tape for a punchy little contrast finish. The purple robe is the Large (4T+) size and is cut from two 30×54” towels from Kohl’s (they were called BIG towels—I think it’s a store brand?). The red robe is the Medium (18mos-3T) size and is cut from two 30×54” quick dry towels from Target. For each robe, I used 3 packages of pre-made bias tape to bind the edges of both robes and used 1/2 yard of fabric from the nursery print section of JoAnn’s for the hood linings.

Beach Robe Hood Close Up via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

Like I said–these are pretty simple to sew and the pattern has very clear instructions. But here are a couple of additional tips for tackling this project:

  • If you use two towels lay them both out at once and map out the layout for all your pattern pieces before you start cutting. This will reduce the likelihood that you A) screw up the nap from one towel to the next and B) forget to cut out the hood piece and find yourself having to piece the hood together from scraps. Not that I have firsthand experience, or anything…
  • Use a heavyweight needle. I used a 110/18 needle, which I worried would be overkill, but it made it easy to power through the bulky seams.
  • Also use a longer stitch length. I set my stitch length to 3mm.

Beach Robe via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

  • Unless you are a Level 4 Bias Binding Wizard, consider attaching the binding in two steps, as outlined in this tutorial. The pattern tells you to just sandwich the fabric edge between the binding folds and sew it on in one pass, but a lot of people who have made this commented on the difficulty of getting the binding evenly attached using this method. Attaching it in two steps requires a second pass through the sewing machine, but it’s a trade off for the various heartaches and anxieties  and messiness that can result from trying to cut a corner. Given that each one of these robes required about 8 yards of binding, I say go with the method that’s more of a sure bet.
  • Accept that the ends of the ties are going to look a little f’d. That’s a tight corner to get your binding around. Remember that it is for a small child to wear to the pool/beach and that no one really cares. (I’m mostly consoling myself with this tip.)

Beach robe hood close up via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

  • Attach the sleeves flat. Dana included an update about using this method in this blog post. As drafted, the sleeves fit into the armscye nicely if you set them in as described in the pattern. However, they are tiny child’s armholes that can be a bit of a struggle to sew around depending on the size of your sewing machine’s free arm.
  • Consider top-stitching the seam allowances to one side after you finish them. You might not be able to top-stitch the sleeve seams if you do the long-sleeved version, but it’s worth doing where you can. It helps to manage the bulk of the seams. Plus, if you don’t have a serger to finish the seams, it adds another level of anti-fray protection on top of zigzagging the seam allowances and helps give the inside a clean finish.

My finished seams (zigzagged and top-stitched). Looking pretty clean inside!

I had a lot of fun sewing these. My stitching is far from perfect but these turned out so cute, I don’t care. When Aidan asked our godson how he felt about his robe, he shrugged his shoulders and said, “It looks all right.” I’m counting that as a win.

Beach Robes via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

 

Chevron Camisole: A Birgitte Basic Tee Pattern Hack

Awhile ago, I ordered a small piece of fabric intending to make underwear but the seller contacted me after I placed the order to say they were actually out of stock. She asked me if I wanted to substitute something else, so I impulsively picked another jersey print, which I started to regret after it had been shipped because it didn’t really seem like me. But once I got the fabric, I actually liked it—just not for underwear. It’s a cotton/rayon/spandex blend that is very stretchy and drapey. Out of curiosity (and probably a bit of mid-day procrastination and general weirdness), I draped it around my body and started toying with the idea of turning it into a tank top for layering under cardigans.

Proof of my weirdness.

 The fabric was a half yard cut from Girl Charlee—they sell what are basically remnants that they promise are somewhere between 1/2 and 3/4 a yard for ~$3. This particular piece was closer to 2/3 of a yard, which was not quite long enough for an actual tank top but more than enough for a camisole. Rather than seek out an actual camisole pattern, I decided to hack the Birgitte Tee pattern since I already knew from making my gray long-sleeved tee that I liked the fit through the body. For the back, I just traced the back Brigitte pattern piece and drew a straight line right across the back from armhole to armhole. For the front, I used a French curve to extend the lines of the armhole and neckline until the intersected at a slight, curved point. There was no real science to modifying the front. I just played around with the lines until I had a shape that pleased me. I also added 3/8” to the front neckline because I didn’t want the neckline to be too low and since there would’t be a neckband to add any height to the pattern.

Camisole pattern hack via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

The actual sewing was quick and easy. I’m not a fast sewist by any means and only use a standard machine (I don’t have a serger) and this took me about an hour and a half to sew up. I sewed up the side seams, attached the elastic to the top, and then turned the bottom up 1” and hemmed with a stretch twin needle. To apply the elastic, I followed the basic construction method outlined by Zoe in her free vest/singlet/camisole pattern, by attaching the elastic around the back and sides first and then attaching it to the front, with extra length for the straps. (The pattern itself doesn’t come in my size or I would have saved myself a bit of trouble and used it, but the instructions were still really useful.) However, I prefer to attach my fold-over elastic in two steps (as outlined here) rather than one step like Zoe does. It might mean a bit more time at the machine, but I feel like it gives me more control over the stretch and positioning of the elastic.

In her instructions, Zoe recommends gently stretching as you sew, but I wanted to be a bit more precise to make sure I was stretching the elastic evenly. So I measured the back and the sides and cut my elastic 10% shorter than the back measurement. I used a few pins to equally distribute the elastic around the back and sides and to give me a guideline for stretching the elastic as I sewed. After that, I tried the camisole on and threw a tape measure over my shoulder to get a sense of how long the straps would need to be. The tape measure told me I’d need 15” straps, and I added an inch of discretionary length, so I calculated each strap as 16” long. I then measured across the front of the camisole, and again subtracted 10% from this measurement to get the correct length of elastic needed across the front. I added this measurement to the 32” needed for the straps to figure out the total amount needed for the front and straps combined. I pinned the elastic to the front so that I had 16” of excess elastic hanging off of each side for the straps and then stretched the remaining elastic in the middle evenly across the front. I then pinned the straps to the back to double check the fit, and tacked them in place with a satin stitch so they are very secure. In the end, I used about 2.25 yards of 5/8″ fold-over elastic to make this camisole.

The resulting fit is just what I wanted. The body is fitted but comfortable, and the elastic keeps the back and neckline snug against my body without binding. Since I will only wear this under a cardigan, I didn’t bother trying to match the pattern at the side seams. The pattern would have been a major pain to match, and I didn’t have enough fabric to attempt it. However, I did make sure to balance/center the print at both the front and the back—obviously, I learned something from watching The Great British Sewing Bee.

I wasn’t going to post a picture of myself in this without a cardigan over it, largely because it would reveal so much of my shimmering vampire skin. But then I remembered that I’m a body-positive feminist teacher/researcher writing a dissertation that’s essentially about power and body shaming. So here you go—my non-academic exercise in body positivity and proof that I managed a good fit, all wrapped in one!

By the way, have you seen this interview with Dixie from Dixie DIY? Her answer to the last question about the way feminism influences her approach to sewing is brilliant, and made me proud to be a crafty feminist. If you haven’t checked the interview out yet, you should. And feel free to share your favorite body positive/feminist crafting resources in the comments!

Jalie 2568: Sewing Underwear

Today’s riveting topic: underwear! The six pairs of underwear you see below are the result of the past two weekend’s sewing efforts. Last weekend, I managed to cut out and construct several pairs and this weekend I spent my sewing time applying elastic like it was my job. I still have two more pairs constructed, but they’ll have to wait until I get some thread to match the blue elastic I’m planning to use.

Jalie 2568 via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

I absolutely hate shopping for clothes as it is a series of never-ending frustrations at not being able to find clothes that fit me well, that match my style, and that are not made from the worst possible materials. This was my impetus to seriously take up garment sewing—there suddenly came a moment when it seemed easier to me to just make my clothes than to try to find things I liked in stores. While I had been toying with the idea of sewing my own clothes for awhile, it was trying to shop for underwear last year that proved frustrating enough to push me over the edge. There came a moment when I realized that, as a fat woman, my options for buying underwear in an actual brick-and-mortar store were 1) to get the super-thin kind that hit around your ribcage and only come in white or 2) to pay $5-$14 a pair from Lane Bryant, which at the time was featuring a line of underwear that all had spectacularly irritating things like “sassy” written on the butt.

By then, I had already been following the blog So, Zo… and had read her numerous posts about how easy it was to sew underwear, and I figured, it can’t be any fracking harder to make them than it is to try to buy ones that aren’t the very essence of terrible. So I dusted off my sewing machine, dug up a handful of old t-shirts, and dove in. There ultimately came a moment where my old, crappy machine couldn’t manage sewing through two layers of elastic and a layer of fabric, which put my underwear production on hold for a few months. But before that point, I repurposed a lot of t-shirts as I played around with the pattern, tried out some different construction methods, and experimented with elastic in different ways. With this most recent batch of underwear, I’ve finally adjusted the pattern and sewing procedure to yield exactly the fit and finish I want. And that makes this my first tried and true (or TNT) sewing pattern—an important milestone for a sewing noob!

The pattern I’ve been using is Jalie 2568, which has options for either a bikini or hipster style with two different rises, as well as a pattern for stretch-lace boy shorts and a camisole. I picked this pattern primarily because it came in my size, but it also had really positive reviews. I’m really pleased with this pattern—it comes together quickly and it fits me perfectly right out of the envelope. It’s designed for fabrics with some Lycra content and says that your fabric should have 70% 4-way stretch, but I’ve almost always used fabric that has significantly less stretch—for any fabric with less than 50% stretch, I just cut out the next size up. Every pair shown here is the low-rise hipster style. I construct the underwear entirely on a regular sewing machine, using a narrow zig-zag stitch for the seams and a 3-step zig-zag stitch to attach the elastic. While I’ve made the pattern straight from the envelope, following the pattern instructions exactly, with good results, I have made two key changes to the way that I construct my underwear.

1. Using Fold-Over Elastic.

I’ve been using fold-over elastic (or FOE) to finish my underwear because I like the way that it looks, and I like the way that it encloses the raw edge. It’s also relatively inexpensive and easy to find. Most recently, I ordered a bunch of 5/8” FOE from an Etsy store called Elastic By the Yard. They sell elastic in a ton of different colors with lots of options for getting different yardage amounts–I got a couple of different 5 and 10 yard spools, which are really convenient, and the price ends up being under $.50/yard. A lot of sellers refer to FOE as “baby headband elastic,” which I find obnoxious, but obviously not so much as to prevent me from buying it.

As is, the Jalie pattern recommends using 1” stretch lace around the waist of the underwear, which means that some of the finished height of the rise comes from the height of the elastic. Because FOE doesn’t add any height, I’ve lengthened the waist on my pattern pieces by about 3/4”. The pattern also recommends simply hemming the legs of the hipster style rather than attaching elastic. I did this with most of my early pairs and while it’s comfortable, I can attest that if you wear pants with any kind of stretch content, you will seriously benefit from having elastic around the legs to keep things . . . properly anchored. I use the same elastic at the legs that I use at the waist and apply it using a 2-step method similar to that described in this tutorial from A Very Purple Person. While I cut the waist elastic to be 10-15% smaller than the waist measurement of the pattern pieces, I only cut the elastic for the legs a bit smaller (somewhere between .5” and 1” smaller) than the leg opening. I will say that, once attached, the FOE feels stiffer than the elastic you’re probably used to seeing on RTW underwear, but it feels really comfortable while wearing.

2. Changing the pattern to have a separate, sandwiched gusset.

The Jalie pattern includes 3 pieces—a front, a back, and then a lining piece that you sew together with the bottom part of the front. This means that the (and I apologize in advance for having to use this terrible word) crotch is part of the front pattern piece. You can see the original pattern pieces for the front and the lining, which are both cut on the fold, in the photo below. This method works perfectly well, but it does leave one edge of the lining exposed and the longer front pattern piece makes it tricky to eke a pair of underwear out of a small piece of fabric.

While reading underwear-sewing tutorials, I saw several people using patterns with an entirely separate crotch gusset piece that, when sewn together with the lining, completely encloses the front and back seams. I decided to alter the Jalie pattern to use this construction method—it was really simple and took about 60 seconds to complete. I simply laid the original lining piece over the bottom of the front piece and drew a line across the top of the lining piece—this line becomes the new seam line for the front piece. I then added a 1/4” seam allowance to the bottom of the new seam line on the front piece and the top of the former lining piece.

Jalie 2468 Alterations via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

The photo below shows my altered pattern pieces. What was just a lining piece is now the pattern piece for the crotch gusset and lining. When I am cutting out my fabric, I now cut out a front (with the altered pattern piece), a back, and two of the lining/gusset pieces and then construct them as shown in Very Purple Person’s underwear sewing tutorial. This method gives a really satisfying, clean finish to the inside of the underwear. The altered pattern pieces have also made it possible for me to get two pairs of underwear out of 1/2 yard of fabric.

So there you have it—a really long post about making underwear. Underwear seems to be to sewists what dishcloths are to knitters—lots of people swear by their me-mades and lots of other people can’t imagine why you’d bother making something so basic that will see so much use and abuse. I’m firmly in the camp of swearing by my me-mades and have set myself a goal of replacing all of my RTW underwear by the end of the year. So onto the next pair!

Knitting Sweaters: Do You Need Horizontal Bust Darts?

There are two primary forms of shaping that people talk about when they talk about bust shaping in knitting—vertical bust darts (or VBDs) and horizontal bust darts (or HBDs). Vertical bust darts are essentially a set of increases that add additional width to the bust beyond the shaping written into the pattern to allow room for a bust that is proportionally larger  than the upper bust. Horiztonal bust darts, on the other hand, are essentially a set of short rows that add extra length just at the bust. HBDs aren’t typically written into sweater patterns because patterns assume that the natural stretch of the knitted fabric will be sufficient to cover the bust. There are lots of tutorials and information online and in knitting books about how to add HBDs (I’ve included some resources at the bottom of this post as well), but today I’m going to try to give some visuals to help you assess whether or not you need to add HBDs to your sweaters.

Me and My HBDs

I decided to try incorporating HBDs into my sweaters when I was working on my fit experiment sweater. When I was taking measurements for that sweater, I decided to compare the length of my back and my front by tying a piece of waste yarn around the point where I like my sweaters to typically fall and then measuring the length from the top of my shoulder to the yarn both at my back and my front. Thanks to those measurements, I discovered that my front is 5” longer than my back—that’s a pretty significant difference. Some people recommend adding enough short rows to compensate for the difference between your front and back measurements, but I decided to assume that my knitted fabric would comfortably stretch to cover a couple of inches of length and only added 3” of HBDs. This worked so well that I’ve continued to add the same amount of length via HBDs in every fitted sweater I’ve made myself since. At this point, I honestly can’t see myself knitting a sweater without HBDs unless it was meant to be worn open or oversized.

Do you need more length or just more width?

Amy Herzog argues in this post on her blog that many people think that they need HBDs to keep their sweaters from riding up in the front could resolve their ride-up problems by adding VBDs instead. The logic is that when knitted fabric has to stretch horizontally, it shrinks vertically, so that if a sweater has to stretch several inches across the bust, you’ll lose length at the front of the sweater and experience ride-up. Amy contends that using VBDs to add extra width to the front of the sweater will reduce the amount of stretching the sweater has to do across the bust and, thus, reduce the loss of length as a result of stretching. I think this makes good sense, and I think that if you are in the habit of knitting sweaters with 3-4” of negative ease and are having your sweaters ride up at the front, then you would probably benefit from adding VBDs to your sweaters before you try HBDs.

And there’s good reason to forgo HBDs if you don’t really need them. You have to be really careful with the way you work your short rows to keep them as invisible as possible, and sometimes they will still create a visible line in your knitted fabric. They can be difficult to work over certain stitch patterns or disrupt striping. And, of course, HBDs are another form of shaping that you have to figure out how to incorporate into your sweater, often with no guidance from the pattern itself. But the bottom line is that extra width isn’t going to solve everyone’s bust shaping issues—it certainly wouldn’t have solved mine. Amy suggests women with more than 2″ of difference between their back and front length measurements might need HBDs. I would agree, and I thought I would share some pictures that could help you make even more sense of your measurements.

A Case Study: The Old Navy Cardigan

Old Navy Cardigan via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

For my money, one of the best indications of whether or not you could benefit from HBDs is by studying the way clothes tend to fit you. This sweater is a good example of the way that clothes tend to fit me. This is a cardigan I got at Old Navy a few years ago. From the front, it hits me mid-hip, which is were I typically like my tops to fall. And worn this way, it looks like it’s just a basic, V-neck cardigan. However, this cardigan is actually meant to be worn long through the torso and slightly loose. In my experience, the average length for the body of woman’s sweater from the hem to the underarm is around 14-16” long. This Old Navy Cardigan measures 18” from hem to underarm.

I consistently have problems with RTW tops being too short for me, which made me think that I just had a really long torso. But I don’t have an unusually long torso so much as I’m busty and need some extra length at the front. You can see proof of this when you look at how this sweater fits me from the side and from the back.

Old Navy Cardigan side view via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com Old Navy Cardigan back via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

What you can see in these two shots is that while the sweater hits me at my mid-hip with a relatively smooth front, I’ve literally got piles of excess fabric hanging around the back of the sweater. And if I pull the hem of the sweater down so that the back lays smooth, I end up with an unintended and seriously undesired hi-low hem effect. Lovely!

 Old navy cardigan side view via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

This sweater fits me with about 1” of positive ease at the bust, so none of the way that this sweater fits is due to stretching at the bust. And in tops that do fit with too much negative ease at the bust, my experience has been that when they ride up, they actually ride up over the bust and bunch up a bit at the armpits as the top shifts to try to provide extra fabric for the bust. This cardigan doesn’t actually ride up—I can wear it all day like this, with the excess fabric piled up at the back, and not have to constantly adjust the front down. The big issue with the way that this cardigan fits me is that it is unbalanced, which means that the hem doesn’t fall evenly around my body. And while I could knit all of my sweaters to be 18” long before the armpit to make sure they’re an appropriate length in the front, the excess fabric at the back would become even more of an issue since hand-knit fabric tends to be thicker and more dense that RTW knits.

The Comparison: Two hand-knit cardigans with HBDs

When I add my standard 3” of HBDs to my hand-knit sweaters, those sweaters end up measuring 3” longer at the center front of the sweater than at the back or the side seams. So on my last two cardigans, I knit the body of the sweater to be 15″ long before the armhole shaping but added 3″ of bust darts to make the center front 18″ long. If you look at this flat shot of my recent Squared Cardigan, you can see the way that the front dips down longer than the back of the cardigan.

Squared cardigan flat via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

However, if you look at pictures of my recent Audrey in Unst cardigan (which has the same exact shaping as my Squared Cardigan), you can see that I’m not plagued with piles of excess fabric at the back of the sweater and that the hem of the sweater is balanced—it falls parallel to the floor all around my body. This cardigan already has plenty of width at the bust—I’m wearing it with about 1/2”-1” of positive ease at the bust—so my HBDs aren’t compensating for stretch across the bust. They’re just providing the bit of extra length I need at the front of a sweater.

Audrey profile view via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

So even though they take a bit of extra effort and can sometimes create a visible dart line, I think HBDs are totally worth the costs, especially since I’ve yet to produce a sweater that truly fits me well without them. If you’re wondering if you might benefit from HBDs, I say study your closet and pay close attention to how your clothes feel. And keep in mind that the short-row shaping method used in HBDs can be applied to other areas of the body (back, belly, butt, etc.) where you might need a bit more coverage. When you can finally wear something without having to tug it into place all day, the world is a brighter place!

HBD Reading List and other Resources:

Ranger

Behold my latest knitting triumph: I made Aidan a sweater!

I’ve knit Aidan a lot of stuff, but so far it’s been mostly socks and hats. I wanted to try knitting him a sweater, so I asked if he would be interested in one and gave him a handful of patterns to choose from. He picked Jared Flood’s Ranger pattern and decided he wanted it in a forest green similar to a color I’d used previously on a sweater for our godson. I ended up going with Valley Yarns Northampton in Dark Green Heather. (If you haven’t used Northampton before, it’s comparable in quality to Cascade 220, but more economical.) I started the sweater last May, finished it in August, and then let it sit around for awhile before I finally blocked it and sewed on some buttons. I mean, there wasn’t much incentive to finish it since it was too warm for him to wear it anyway. When it finally got cold, he wore it out once when we went to the movies and it was clear that it was way too big—the sleeves were a few inches too long and the whole thing just looked kind of droopy and sad.

Getting a sweater to fit another person (and more specifically, a person who is old enough to have lost all of their baby teeth) is it’s own kind of challenge, especially since when something goes awry, you really only have your eyes and your measuring tape to help you figure out what’s wrong. You don’t get to feel how the sweater fits—you can’t use feel and your sense of fit to differentiate what parts fit okay and what parts are a real problem. And that is a bit tricky.

I suspected that my row gauge was off, making both the sleeves and the yoke way too long post-blocking (although somehow the body of the sweater blocked out to the schematic measurements). I tried to get a more accurate sense of what my blocked row gauge was by measuring the sweater itself, but every part of the sweater I measured had a significantly different row gauge. And I’m not a novice measurer—I know what I’m doing. It was incredibly frustrating, and even though I had originally determined that it was mostly the yoke that was a problem, I somehow managed to convince myself during this measuring debacle that I was going to need to reknit the entire sweater. And so it sat with my knitting stuff for four months, taunting me, until I had knit through my stashed yarn and told myself that I needed to finish Aidan’s sweater before I could get anything new.

(Side drama: Just as I had resolved to fix this sweater, it was involved in a freak exploding-garlic-sauce situation that resulted in a quarter-sized grease stain on the back. This is the kind of thing that happens when you 1) leave a project just laying around for four months and 2) store your knitting stuff pretty close to the kitchen. The silver lining is that I now know how to treat a grease stain on wool: Mark the stain with a stitch marker. Put a small amount of dish soap directly on the stain, gently spread the soap around the affected area, and then soak the affected area in warm water without agitating, replacing the water as many times as needed until the water is clear of any soap bubbles. I let it soak for about 5-10 minutes each time before dumping out the water and refilling the bowl. Let the area dry over night and repeat the process if the stain is still at all visible.)

While I was prepared to rip the whole sweater apart, I had the good sense to try it on Aidan one last time and realized/remembered that the the body of the sweater before the raglan shaping was perfectly fine and the sleeves were also fine, except for being too long. So I saved myself a lot of trouble and just ripped back to the point where the sleeves joined the body of the sweater. I ripped both of the sleeves back about an inch to get rid of some of the excess length. The pattern, as written, contains two places where Jared Flood included short rows to allow extra length for broad shoulders and backs—one right before and one right after you join the sleeves to the body. However, when Aidan wore the sweater for the first time, I noticed that in addition to being too long in general, it was also dipping down in the back, giving him a weird droopy drawers situation. So when I ripped back, I ripped out all of the short row shaping since it didn’t seem like Aidan needed it. I reworked the yoke shaping to get rid of about 10 rows and omitted all of the short rows, so that I removed about 1.5” of length from the front of the sweater and about 3-4” of length from the back.

The resulting fit is much improved. There’s no more droopiness and instead of feeling like a grandpa, Aidan says he feels like the “kid” in the pattern photos. My only regret is letting it sit around for so long before I went ahead and fixed it. Oh well. It’s still cold enough for him to wear it for a bit this season. And I’m pleased enough with the result that I would knit him another sweater in a heartbeat. I hope he enjoys wearing it!

Story of a Sweater: How I Started Knitting Sweaters That Fit

I started trying to knit sweaters almost as soon as I learned to knit. I say “try” because my attempts rarely yielded something wearable. I struggled to get a sweater to fit well and struggled to choose patterns that suited my style. Over the course of about seven years, I knit thirteen sweaters for myself. Of these sweaters, five were either unraveled or donated before they were even worn. Another five got worn two or three times before they were donated. One pullover was way too big when I finished it and sat in a drawer for at least a year before I happened to gain some weight. Of this first crop of sweaters, only two were worn frequently from the beginning, and only one of these still sees regular wear. Of course, this only accounts for sweaters I finished–I can’t begin to count the number of sweaters I started and abandoned  before they were done.

The cream of the 13 sweater crop–my Girl Friday cardigan.

You’d think that would be enough to get me to give up on sweater knitting. And I did, indeed, get seriously discouraged about sweater knitting for a couple of years. In 2010, right in the middle of my period of sweater disillusionment, Amy Herzog started her original Fit to Flatter series. I read and studied her tutorials thoroughly, and there are a handful of important sweater knitting lessons I took away from the series:

  1. I could and should become less dependent on a pattern as written and instead actively work to make the pattern suit me
  2. There are more shaping methods available than simply increasing and decreasing at the sides of a garment
  3. The shaping at the front and the back of the garment doesn’t need to be same, and probably shouldn’t be
  4. I would be better off choosing a sweater size based on my high-bust measurement and modifying the rest of the sweater to fit
  5. I should pay close attention to the stylistic features that I most like in clothing and work to reproduce them in my knitting

The famous Gisela Ramirez F*ck Flattering shirt, which is sold out at the moment.

I find the concept of dressing to flatter problematic for a number of reason, not the least of which is the fact that rules about what “flatters” and what women “should” or rather “should not” wear are frequently used to police and shame fat bodies. I appreciate that Amy, both on her blog and in her book, says that she’s not interested in giving women a set of rules for getting dressed in a What Not to Wear fashion, but that she is rather trying to give women a language for articulating what they do or do not like in a particular garment. She also encourages women to appreciate their bodies as they are and to not see fit issues as a result of bodily flaws. These are important ideas when it comes to talking about clothes. Unfortunately, it seems that any discussion of what is “flattering” has a tendency to be taken up by some in ways that fixate on shoulds or should-nots, and people can get too caught up fretting about their bodies and trying to heed recommendations even when they clash with personal preferences.

Extracted from the language of “flattering,” my last take-away point—that I should be mindful of what I like and what makes me feel good—has been really important for me. I’ve realized, for instance, that the list of stylistic features that I like includes deep necklines, sleeves that aren’t flared in any way, clean lines, a close fit, and a more limited color palette that reflects the colors I actually like wearing. While there might be areas of overlap, this list isn’t based on other people’s recommendations about what will flatter my body, but rather reflects what makes me feel comfortable and confident. Generating this list of my preferred style features changed the way that I looked at sweater patterns–it helped me winnow down what patterns would make sense in my life and helped me envision possible pattern modifications.

The palette of colors I like to wear

In addition to the Fit to Flatter series, I started doing some research on vertical and horizontal bust darts. I learned a lot in my research, but I also started to feel overwhelmed. I wasn’t exactly sure how to manage multiple modifications, and I couldn’t visualize how to incorporate different kinds of shaping into a pattern. Ultimately, I decided that I needed to stop researching and start trying to actually experiment with some of the principles I’d been learning about. What I wanted was to knit something along the lines of a sloper in sewing—a basic pattern, fitted to my measurements, that could function as a guide for future sweaters.

I chose a very simple pullover pattern that I could work with–specifically, the Perfect Sweater pattern by Mandy Moore and Ann Shayne. There are a lot of basic, blank slate sweater patterns available, but I picked the Perfect Sweater pattern because it makes use of my preferred sweater construction method—that is, a seamed sweater with set-in sleeves. I’ve experimented with lots of different sweater construction methods, and I’ve consistently had a better fit with set-in sleeves. And while a lot of people like it, I find knitting an adult-sized sweater in one piece incredibly tedious. I decided to use some yarn that I’d had sitting around for awhile because it was a color that I didn’t really care for. The benefit of using yarn that I didn’t particularly like was that I didn’t have to be anxious about investing prized materials into a project that was largely experimental.

From there, I made what I think of as a body map. I took a bunch of measurements: high bust, full bust, waist, high hip, bicep, sweater length, length from underarm to waist, length from underarm to fullest part of the bust, and crossback. I measured sweaters I liked for sleeve length, different neckline depths, and armhole depth. Finally, I measured the length from the top of my shoulder to my high hip, both for my back and my front. The difference between these last measurements helped me determine how much length to add to the front of the sweater using horizontal bust darts. I marked all of the measurements that I took on a very rough diagram of my body to keep as a reference. From this point, I wrote out a modified version of the Perfect Sweater pattern, adding bust and waist shaping where I thought it needed to be added.

My final version of the Perfect Sweater.

My final version of the Perfect Sweater.

And then I started knitting. Based on my first modified version of the pattern, I knit up the front and back of the sweater. I then basted the two pieces together and tried them on. With this fitting, I was able to pinpoint changes that I needed to make—for example, I was able to see that I had knit the sweater with too much ease and had placed the bust shaping too low. I updated the pattern with my changes, unraveled the pieces I had knit, and reknit the front and back of the sweater. At the second fitting, everything looked great. I knit the first sleeve twice as well, which helped me figure out once and for all how much ease I like in a sleeve. Even though it was a lot of work, at the end, I had a sweater that fit better than anything I had knit before and a basic fitting map that I could continue to tweak.

The specific fitting details and modifications are listed here on Ravelry.

The specific fitting details and modifications are listed here on Ravelry.

As I’ve continued knitting sweaters, I’ve continued tweaking. I’ve changed the placement of my horizontal bust darts, changed the way I work my waist shaping a bit, and slightly adjusted the amounts of ease I like at different parts of the sweater. It sounds like a lot, but having worked though the first fitted sweater makes it all more manageable. And knowing that my sweater template will produce a reasonably-fitting sweater means that I can gradually tweak my approach as I work through different projects with very little risk. Now that I’m several sweaters in, I have four pieces of advice for people looking to knit a sweater that fits well. First, keep your calculator close and don’t be intimidated by the math. Second, keep a notebook with you as you knit and document all of your shaping mods—it will become an invaluable resource. Third, don’t get fixated on a perfect fit. Good is good enough. Better will come with time. And finally, at some point, you just have to dive in and figure it out. Sometimes, knitters want to wait to tackle a sweater until they can be assured that it will turn out perfectly. But when it comes to craft, there is no substitute for trying to work through problems with your own hands.

One of my most recent sweaters–The Granville hoodie

This is just a quick gloss of my process to improve the fit of my sweaters, but I am eager to talk about these topics more. So what part of the sweater knitting and fitting process do you want to hear more about? In your experience, what is the key to getting a good sweater fit?