Sizing and the Learning Curve

Here are the take-away points: 

When you try a new pattern to knit a sweater, there are some really key things to pay attention to. 

  • Look at the photograph(s) critically. 
    • If the model’s pose and the drape of the hair cover, hide, or obscure key features of the garment being modelled, it may be a clue about the quality of the design of the piece.  What else the model is wearing matters, too.
  • Look at the sizing. 
    • Read the introductory information about what the sizing means. 
    • Is the size about the body measurement the piece is supposed to fit?  
    • Is the size about the finished measurement of the piece (if knitted to gauge)?
  • There’s a really big difference there.  Never go by the size name, like Small, Medium, and Large.  Those words mean NOTHING.  Go by the numbers and know what the numbers mean.

Now, for my story.  I feel horrible, so embarrassed - I really should have known better. 

A snug sweater
An older lady I know, a wonderful lady, wanted to make a sweater for her grown daughter, who is a medium size.  The daughter chose the pattern.  The pattern is from a fairly new book.  The photos were lovely for the purpose of selling the book, and the patterns ranged from fairly simple to advanced – a good-enough book. 

The lady is an experienced knitter – she’s in her 90s and has knitted since childhood.  But that means that she is used to patterns that were written more than 20 years ago.  In the 1990s, pattern-writing underwent a major transformation in order to meet the needs of a new generation of knitters.  This lady was also recovering from a stroke, and mini-strokes, but she was totally game to learn new things.  It was handy for me to be around to help with her knitting.

So here’s this book, with a very nice pattern.  They bought their wool, and she started knitting.  And since the daughter is a medium size, the lady started knitting the medium size.  It is key to understand that the daughter does not sew or knit.  From my own experience:  when I sewed my own clothes, back in the day, I bought size 12 patterns, but I bought finished clothing in size 8.  There’s a difference in sizing between making it yourself and buying it ready-made.

If you’ve been there and done that, you know what happens, and you will nod wisely in reading the Take-Away Points above.  Here’s what happened: 

I wasn’t part of the project particularly at this point, but I was available if the lady ran into problems with her knitting, which we knew she would because she was recovering from a stroke.  Back in the day, she would have whipped out the sweater in about two weeks.  We worked on it for the better part of a year.

The project was structured nicely, worked from the bottom up, starting with the easy part, the back, with its symmetry and no-shaping.  Then the fronts were a little fiddly, only because they are not symmetrical.  The sleeves were a little more fiddly – they were symmetrical, but they also had increases.  The instructions assumed that, if you could wrap your brain around what came before, you’d be able to handle it.  Once we got to the yoke, to be worked in one piece, joining all the parts together, I took the project home and finished it.

As I sewed the sleeve seams, the sleeves seemed a bit slim.

The gauge had been about right all along, making a fabric with a good drape. 

Then I looked at the sizing.    Oh dear. 

The pattern has S, M, L, and XL, which looks informative, but isn't.  The bust measurement for M was 35 inches.  Turns out that was the finished measurement for the garment, not the body size it was designed to fit.  For a garment to fit the body snugly, this would have been fine.  But this was an aran cardigan, something one would normally wear over other clothing.  To fit the daughter, to wear over other clothes, the finished bust should have been more like 40 inches.  That would have been the XL size. 

Worse than that, however, looking at the schematics, the upper arm measurement was only 12.5 inches for the medium size.  Even for the XL size, it was 13.5 inches.

The grown daughter is about the same size I am.  I make my own garments 40 inches at the bust, with an upper arm of 14 inches, if I plan to wear them over other clothes.

Looking back at the photo for the project, I noticed that the model is wearing the finished sweater over a camisole, like an undershirt.  Oh dear.  She’s not wearing the cardigan, a worsted-weight garment, over another shirt.

Fortunately, the lady knitted to gauge, or even a bit on the loose side.

The daughter tried on the finished cardigan before I blocked it, and, indeed, it was a bit snug.  Blocking relaxed the wool a bit, so not all is lost entirely.  But this is not a good story.

Sometimes, to paraphrase from, the purpose of our lives is to serve as a warning to others. 

If you want your garment to fit, be sure to check the sizing on any new pattern, to make sure you’re making the right size.