for the DiY knitter is for knitters
who arent satisfied with cookie-cutter
patterns; who are beyond the basics but have
a hard time finding projects that fit their
style or figure; who want less ripping out and
more finishing things. Im here to provide
some of the tips, tricks and tools that Ive
found along my knitting path, from rewriting
garment patterns to knitting artwork. It all
comes down to intent: Does your knitting do
what you want it to?
are as many ways to get a desired result in
knitting as there are ways to cook pasta. My
goals are to empower the knitter to feel comfortable
with where they are and to learn the principles
of producing a knit fabric. I am a spiritual
granddaughter of Elizabeth Zimmermann. I believe
we can make knitting whatever we want it to
we knit EXACTLY to gauge, following a pattern
stitch by stitch, well get a garment as
gorgeous and well-fitting as the one in the
picture. To ensure correct fit, check gauge.
Problem is, a garment designed for a body profile
sharing only one measurement with me (the bust
measurement) wont necessarily fit.
work with body templates. Each designer, or
design group brand name, has its own stock figure
profiles. These dont always include my
zaftig 6' 1" frame. When I knit designer
A's patterns, they always fit me well. A's template
mirrors my own proportions. But B's sleeves
are always too short and C's knits are stylish
but the instructions stop at a 38" bust.
there are style issues. I dont like looking
bigger than I am. Cookie-cutter T-shaped box
tops do not work for me. My bust demands a bra
under the sauciest of patterns, the backs of
which won't always offer bra coverage (see the
Halter pattern I designed with Lily Chin in
her book, The Urban Knitter).
I dont have time to design all my own
knitwear. Some of the patterns out there are
fab just not written to my size or the
sleeves are too short or the neckline too tight
or the back wont cover my bra. I've developed
a technique I call picturing perfect
for modifying existing patterns. You can also
adapt the following technique to design your
need a helpful knitsib, a new tape measure (old
ones can stretch, becoming unreliable), narrow
masking tape, a marker, and a notebook. Youll
be stripping down to your skivvies, so make
sure youre comfy with your knitsib.
help with vertical measurements later, stick
a piece of narrow masking tape, numbered with
the measurement, on the center front of
your torso as you go.
Raise arms, just so the tape measure can wrap
around your torso. Measure your circumference
at the nipple line.
Raise arms. Wrap tape measure around torso.
Lower arms. Snug tape measure up under your
armpits as high as you can. [Note: this horizontal
line is the optimal point for a V-neck neckline
to fall, in cookie-cutter design land.]
Wrap tape measure around torso at bellybutton
or narrowest point on your torso.
The bony ridges of your hip bones, a few inches
below your bellybutton, mark the top of hip.
Use these as guides for measuring around your
hip: The widest part of your hips, including
your butt - where your fingertips are when
your arms hang relaxed at your sides. [Leave
the marker for this measurement on your thigh.]
Wrap and measure arm at point closest to armpit.
shoulder: From one bone at the edge of
the shoulder, where your arm falls, to the
other, across the back of your neck. [Divide
this measurement by 3. The resulting number
is a good starting point for a neck opening
measurement and single shoulder widths.]
Masking tape markers and body landmarks are
your measurement guides.
to waist: Find the u-shaped bone at the
front base of neck, where neck joins body.
Measure from this point to the 3rd masking
tape marker (or bellybutton).
From u-shaped bone at the base of neck to
to top-of-hip: From 3rd marker to 4th
marker. This measurement is useful for determining
if a shaped garment that claims to start at
the top of the hip, pinch in at the waist,
and go back out for the bust has the length
for the shaping to fall in the right place.
My measurement is about 4.5". I end up
adding a half-inch to an inch to a pattern
in this area to get a better fit.
to lower hip: From 3rd to 5th marker.
Useful for checking or changing shaping on
tunic-length patterns. Subtract
the 10th measurement from the 11th for top-of-hip
to lower-hip measurement.
straight with shoulders relaxed, arms hanging
loose, palms facing the body. Measure along
the outside line, the bumpy side of the elbow.
Follow the line the knit fabric will follow.
Full sleeve length: From the bone on
the outer edge of the shoulder to the bump
on the pinky side of the wrist, or your desired
Three-quarter sleeve: From same shoulder
point to 2 or 3 inches past the elbow.
Short sleeve length: From same shoulder
point to your favorite short sleeve length.
Shoulder to elbow: For references
sake I hate sleeves that nestle in
my elbow, and like having this measurement
handy. To the bump of your elbow.
back neck to wrist: From the bump at the
back of the neck where the neck joins the
body, to the bump on the pinky side of the
numbers became the basis for a body profile
on paper. I use this profile to tweak patterns
from books, knitmags and yarn companies.
my numbers, I mapped a profile of myself on
graph paper, treating each square as an inch.
It looked strange. I reminded myself, this is
what designers work from: 2d profiles of the
human figure. Idealized ones at that. I went
to Kinkos and photocopied my body profile
onto transparent acetate.
I plot pattern adjustments, I go to the espresso
hut next door to Kinkos, with graph paper,
the pattern I wanted to tweak, my calculator,
scissors, glue stick, pens and pencils. I label
fresh graph paper with the pattern name and
gauge (stitch AND row). With the calculator,
I go through the pattern line by line. I divide
the number of stitches in each key pattern row
by the gauge, determining actual garment dimensions.
I do this instead of using the pattern's schematics
because I'm always surprised by the differences
between hard gauge measurements and schematic
rounded measurements. Plus schematics don't
always include dimensions for waist shaping
and other details.
count rows, dividing by row gauge to calculate
garment length. Sometimes I need this information
when altering a slope (how many inches of stitches
to decrease or increase over how many inches
of rows). Some patterns say "work as established
until garment measures 6 inches". I count
off graph squares, mark that point, then connect
the dots. I plot the locations of the increases
and decreases. I draw this schematic to the
same scale as my body-profile, run next door
to Kinkos and photocopy the garment schematic
a dozen times.
at the espresso hut, I thank the counter boy
for watching my stuff. With a fresh latte waiting
to be spilled over everything, I place my acetate
body-profile atop the garment schematic. Immediately
I discover a few things that I had not pictured
in my head. Lets say its proportioned
for a me whos about 25 pounds
lighter and 3 inches shorter. How can I make
the garment is allover a bit too small [or large],
for my figure, I try altering the gauge. Calculator
to the rescue! I keep in mind when looking at
a flat schematic that it represents half the
circumference of the garment. Any width changes
to the garment are made over both the front
and back pieces. I look at the pattern's given
gauge. If it's 23 stitches = 4 inches (5.75
stitches/inch) and there are 100 stitches to
cast on, then that piece is 17.39 inches wide.
If I knit to 5.25 sts/inch, the garment piece
becomes 19 inches wide; if I went to a 5 stitch/inch
gauge, the garment piece becomes 20 inches wide.
in mind your row gauge when substituting yarns;
if there is a significant difference in row
gauge, it can affect the length of your garment
pieces and the rate at which you increase
and decrease for each piece of the garment.
Also, when changing garment size by altering
gauge, a yarn can usually stand a half stitch/inch
change without having it alter the garment's
drape or the fabric's appearance. Swatch first.
That way you'll know whether you should change
yarns entirely to get the new gauge. [I'll talk
in more detail about yarn substitution in a
go through the entire pattern, checking all
the measurements with the new gauge and the
old stitch count. I check the row gauge as well,
especially to compare the armhole circumference
[distance from armhole bindoff on garment front
to armhole bindoff on garment back] to the sleeve
cap [the width of the top of the sleeve]. These
measurements should generally be equal, unless
there is special sleeve shaping. Gauge adjustment
can be the easiest way to solve size problems
while maintaining proportions.
paste, draw. When tweaking for style, I use
this technique and all those photocopies
of the pattern schematic. If the pattern is
too narrow, I cut it up, and glue-stick it to
a fresh piece of graph paper, instantly adding
extra fabric. I adjust length a half-inch here,
a half-inch there, periodically dropping my
figure profile over the re-shaped garment to
see how it fits. The more detail I've noted
on the original pattern garment shape, the more
flexibility I have in changing the garment.
Sometimes I add more length in the edging. If
I want more room for boobs, I mark here and
here and voila! I have short rows plugged into
the front. Want a deeper v-neck or something
more modest? Change the neckline on the front.
Ive tweaked the pattern, I need to get
it back into knit-direction form. Another trip
to Kinkos and I take home clean copies
of the new garment profile. I always save the
original schematic I created. More on why at
a later date.
write the new pattern instructions on a clean
photocopy, cast-on edge up. I note the inch-width
of each measurement point and calculate stitch
counts, filling in increase and decrease directions
later. I run the numbers 3 times - checking
the inch-width of a garment piece, multiplying
inches by gauge [number of stitches per inch]
to calculate stitch counts, the number of stitches
to increase or decrease over how many rows.
I check the armhole depth against the width
of the sleeve cap.
love playing with this process. Besides swatching,
I dont have to knit a stitch to have an
accurate sense of how the garment will fit.
Once I have my body profile, it just takes an
hour or so to pick through a pattern line by
line. Compared to days or weeks of knitting
something that doesnt fit
time is valuable and I want to be happy with
you don't use this process for pattern alteration,
you can write your own patterns based on your
body profile. Photocopy your body profile onto
heavy white paper. Photocopy graph paper onto
a sheet of acetate and then draw the garment
on this acetate until you are happy with it.
Photocopy it a bunch of times. Use your swatched
gauge to fill in the knitting instructions on
are as many ways to knit a project as there
are to drive from Phoenix to Buffalo. The goal
is to have as smooth or adventurous a trip as
you want and know what you are in for before
you set out.
Fenlon Thomas just finished her MFA in studio
art in Tufts University & the School of
the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston joint program
(5/2002). While at the SMFA, she developed and
taught Knitting for Artists to assist artists
in developing their conceptual and knitterly
artmaking skills. Her thesis show included the
knit sculpture, Hairshirt, also featured in
the Summer 2002 issue of Interweave Knits article
"Knitting in Contemporary Art". She
had the good luck to work with Lily M. Chin
as the Boston contributor (halter top) to Lilys
book, The Urban Knitter (2002). She now lives,
knits, and makes art in Pittsburgh, PA.
Jessica Fenlon Thomas