By Patty Lyons
I went to a knitting show and got my measurements taken. I have my high-chest and my full-chest measurement. I know my measurements, but I don’t know which of these is shown in the schematic? Which measurement should it match and why doesn’t the pattern name both?
Dear Frustrated Knitter,
The schematic is not showing either the high chest or the full chest, but rather the finished garment measurements. Picking the right size for you to knit is dependent on the garment construction, the designer’s intent, and personal preference for ease (ease is the difference between the sweater measurement and the body part it’s going over.)
So let’s break this down.
1) Sweater construction. Different sweater constructions require different amounts of ease. For instance a drop shoulder might have 6–8 inches of positive ease because part of the width of the body is what will drop down over the shoulder (get it?) to be the top of the sleeve. If the sweater is too small, it will be bunchy under the arms. A dolman or modified drop shoulder also needs more ease to fit you correctly. A raglan sleeve might be a slightly more relaxed fit than a set-in sleeve, which can be knit to a variety of eases.
2) Designer intent. Look at the picture. Is it oversized, relaxed, tailored, or slim fit? What does it look like on the model? Is there a pattern note saying what size is pictured and what type of ease? For instance, if a small size is 40-inch finished chest size, a pattern might say “meant to fit chest size 34–36 inches” or it might say “meant to be worn with 4–6 inches of positive ease.”
3) Personal preference. Here’s the biggie! How do YOU want the design to fit you? Measure a top or sweater you like and of a similar fabric thickness, and compare it to the schematic.
Think of it this way—if you were looking at the Crate & Barrel catalog and it showed dimensions of a dining room table, those are the measurements of the table, not the room you are putting the table in. You have to decide if that size table is right for your room. The table designer doesn’t know your room size or how much room you want between the walls and the table!
I have always knit a gauge swatch and gotten stitch gauge, but my sweaters never fit. Somehow the gauge of the swatch is never the same as the gauge in the sweater. I was taught to add a four-stitch garter edge to my 4-inch gauge swatches so they will lie flat and then I can measure between the purl bumps and get my gauge (I divide the exact number of inches by the stitches and rows). Before you ask, yes, I block my swatches and carefully pin them out so that it is a perfect square! I was taught that this would give me a really accurate gauge. My friend took your gauge class (she said it changed her life) and she told me you never added a garter edge, but she couldn’t remember why. Since I find my gauge in the sweater never matches my gauge in the swatch, I’m obviously doing something wrong. Is it the garter edge? It’s not even something I can plan for, sometimes they are too big and sometimes they are too small, this makes NO SENSE!! SAVE ME FROM MY ILL-FITTING SWEATERS!!!
Dear Gauge Victim,
I feel you. So many knitters describe their gauge swatch as the lying liar who lies to you. It’s important that we try to create a realistic section of knitting that will predict what our sweater fabric will do. Sadly, as soon as you add a garter edge to a small swatch you have the perfect storm of lies.
Let’s take a look at what garter does to your swatch. First, garter (knitting every row) gives you a tighter row gauge than stockinette, so it distorts the fabric.
Swatch with garter edge
Second, the stitches next to the garter edge have a different size than the rest of the stitches because of the transition between the knit and the purl. Measuring from purl bump to purl bump will get a gauge that is a lie. Notice when I try to measure the stitch gauge unblocked, the 19 stitches from garter edge to garter edge measures 4 3/4 inches (16 stitches = 4 inches)
Measuring from purl bump to purl bump will get a gauge that is a lie.
Of course when it comes to row gauge, unblocked is rather impossible to measure since the garter edge pulls the fabric in so much, you have to decide where to measure. For the purpose of this demo, I’m not even going to go into the tragedy that will be the row gauge of a garter edge swatch.
Row gauge lies, too.
Next up comes another danger zone—pinning out your blocked swatch. Because of the distortion of the garter edge, knitters “correct” the distortion by pinning out the swatch into a square. Here I now have a perfect 5” x 5” square inside the garter edge.
A perfect square?
Once dry, I remove the blocking pins and the fabric does relax a bit. However, even if I notice how large those knit stitches are next to the garter edge and try to measure 4 inches inside the edge, I’ve still stretched out the swatch during blocking in a way that will not really be reflected in what the real fabric will do in a sweater. Unless you are going to have two attendants walk on either side of you stretching out your sweater, this swatch is still a LIE!!
I have to guess at my gauge and call it 15 1/2 stitches = 4 inches
Something that works for me is making a larger stockinette swatch. That has two benefits: first, I have enough stitches on my needle that I am really knitting the way I knit. We knit differently when working on a bitty swatch than when we are working on our sweater. Also, it allows me to measure until I hit a whole stitch on a whole inch.
Of course unblocked it rolls, but I can still get an unblocked measurement. Here I have a measurement of 20 stitches = 5 inches. The fabric needs to relax with blocking so it can be what it will be.
Let's start over with stockinette.
When I lay out my swatch to block, I do not stretch or pin. After a lovely, relaxing soak, I gently squeeze out the water, lay it flat and let it dry.
Once dry I give it a shake, a stretch (think about what a sweater does when you pull it over your head and wear it) and really let it chill out for a while before I measure it.
Now that I have a larger swatch, I can get out my 8-inch ruler and measure until I get to a whole stitch on a whole inch. When I hit 6 inches I’m at 25 stitches. This means my real, relaxed, knit the way I knit, not distorted, not stretched out, non-LIE gauge is (drum roll please) 16.6 stitches= 4 inches
The truth at last.
So let’s put this all in a “what if” to see how it affects a real pattern. Say I’m working on a pattern that has a gauge of 15 stitches = 4 inches (3.75 cm). There is an 18-inch sweater front (36-inch chest) and a 20-inch sweater front (40=inch chest). I’m going for the 40-inchchest because I’d like something closer to a 39-inch chest, but the 36-inch would be way too small.
Pattern: 75 stitches at the chest. 75 stitches / 3.75 stitches = 20 inches
Based on the garter (lie) swatch, I THINK I will get a 38 ¾-inch chest, which I am happy about. (75 / 3.87 = 19.38 x 2 = 38 ¾ inches)
What I WILL get is a 36-inch chest. Exactly what I didn’t want (75 / 4.16 = 18 x 2 = 36 inches)
So long story short (I know, too late), in order to swatch as a real predictor of your garment: 1) swatch ONLY the stitches that your pattern calls for, 2) knit the way you knit, 3) with what you are going to knit it with 4), When you block your swatch, treat your swatch as you would treat your sweater.
Now go forth and knit sweaters you will love, will wear, and will FIT YOU, and be a gauge victim no more!
You might be way ahead of me here . . . I’ve been dating my new boyfriend for three months (hold for laughs) and he asked me to knit him a sweater. HELP. I have so many thoughts. 1) Is the sweater curse real? I like him and I don’t want to break up. 2) Do I ask him to pay for the yarn, pay me? 3) Does he have any idea how long this will take me? But most of all, I really wanted to say, “you still introduce me to people as your ‘friend,’ but you want me to knit you a sweater??? So, am I right to feel a bit annoyed, and what do I do?
I like him but . . .
Dear I like him but . . .
Oh, if I had a dollar for every such tale of woe from a knitter . . . In answer to your questions 1) I don’t think so (but I can’t be sure) 2) For sure yes to yarn, but the second part gets into a strange area for a boyfriend, 3) No, no he does not.
I had one student who swore by her system of equating the number of weeks it would take her to knit a project, uninterrupted, to the number of years she’d been with her boyfriend. Under a year meant a project that would take her less than a week to knit (hat, mittens etc.), 1 year = 1 week (simple scarf, slipper socks, gloves, etc.), 2 years = 2 weeks, etc. This meant that she wouldn’t get to a sweater (by her estimation at LEAST a four-to-five-week project) until she had been with her guy for four to five YEARS!! Her guide may seem a bit stringent, but I get where she’s coming from.
And if he’s still introducing you as his “friend,” then he can find some other “friend” to knit him a sweater. Ya feel me? Until he introduces you as his girlfriend . . . a hat out of chunky yarn. Done.