A few years ago, I had the great honor to spend a day with Rowan designer Martin Storey, and Kristenlynne, the author of the amazing Knitionary blog. Martin was not only a delightful person, but he loved to talk about his design process and Kristen and I drank in all the details about how he became inspired to design patterns. We also had a lovely time showing him the highlights of San Francisco.
Martin wanted to know what Kristen and I, longtime Rowan fans, were looking for in patterns. I explained that what I really wanted to see was for Rowan to continue to produce knitting designs with great colorwork and cables but alter the garment shapes so that they would flatter a curvier figure like mine. I had never really articulated this vision before quite so clearly, and it created a real AHA moment for me. The problem, I explained, is that many of the knitters who are able to execute advanced knitting designs in color work have achieved this through years of knitting trial and error. Going along with these years of experience, for some of us, are additional pounds and shifts of figure which makes us more sensitive to the importance of garment shaping.
In the photo above, you can see what I mean. I am wearing a sweater I knitted based on a pattern photo. The shapeless sweater looks great on the six foot, hundred pound model in the Rowan magazine but on shorter, curvier me, it looks like a potato sack!
Back in the 1990s, when I strode around a classroom all day long as a teacher and danced six hours a week in a dance troupe, I weighted about 106 pounds. But I was still only five foot seven. Sometimes, then, I could throw on a shapeless sweater with fancy cables or colorwork and pull it off. But not always!
Honey, it’s not the 1990s anymore and I weigh quite a bit more! My stick figure days are gone and my height has not increased. Yet I still love clothing with fabulous colorwork. It makes me sad to think that I can’t wear a lot of the intricate designs knitting companies produce these days because they are intended for a small segment of the population, namely women with model bodies.
I understand that it is a real challenge to add waist and bust shaping to intricate stranded and cable designs, because when the fabric goes in and out, it will throw off the pattern. So over the years I have mostly knitting simple, single-color garments that I knew would flatter my figure, but I longed for more. Until I started watching the Fruity Knitting Podcast.
The podcast host, Andrea, is much slimmer than I, but she shares my love of fitted garments. She is a skilled knitter and has been experimenting with how to subtly alter stranded garments. For example, she added waist shaping to her gorgeous version of Alice Starmore’s Henry VIII, above. She has also slimmed down some of Marie Wallin’s designs so they are more figure flattering. Seeing how fearless Andrea was in tampering with complex fair isle patterns inspired me, and resulted in my Lily.
I have a curvier body than Andrea’s and so I have to add and subtract a lot of stitches in the waist and bust area to make garments work. This is a huge challenge, but bolstered by my success with Lily, I have decided to persevere. I really like the pattern of Greenwood, by Galina Carroll, and I have decided to alter that huge, tent-like design to fit my figure.
It feels a bit like a Herculean task to cut down this huge tunic to a flattering shape, but I figure nothing ventured, nothing gained! My first step is to use Lily as a model, since it is knitted in the same yarn. Basically, I will take the stranded chart from Greenwood and superimpose it on the garment structure I used for my Lily. By subtracting a bunch of stitches from hips to waist and then adding them in again, I will inevitably throw the pattern off a bit at the join between back and front pieces. But I would rather have a little jog in the pattern and wear a cardigan that looks great on ME than keep the pattern perfect and look like I weigh an extra 30 pounds.
It has taken me about six weeks, but I have completed the back piece of Greenwood. In case anyone else ever decides to tackle a project like this, I thought I would share some of my approach. I have a notebook in which I track my stitch gauge, desired garment measurements, and where I have plotted out the whole of the design. Then, in order to add the body shaping I want into the shapeless pattern, I photocopied the stranded chart, enlarged, and cut and pasted every repeat of the pattern onto posterboard so that every stitch of the entire back piece was captured. That being done, I hand drew the shaping lines onto the pattern:
I am only showing a little corner of my posterboard here, as this is a copyrighted pattern and I did not want to violate that. I hope this is enough to give a sense of what I am doing. I have plotted the design for the two fronts, mounted on posterboard, with every repeat of each whole front piece laid out, facing each other. This way I can see how the front pieces relate to each other in terms of symmetry and also ensure that the front chart sections I am using match the back chart sections I am using so there is no unnecessary overlap. I will add in an extra edge stitch if necessary to the side of each front for seaming to ensure that a black line on the back flows into a white line on the front once the sides are seamed. If that doesn’t work, I will troubleshoot it as I go along.
This is a wordy blog post, which is why I haven’t written it 'til now. Sorry for the break in-between posts, but I was really mulling over how to explain this to you in the hopes that it would be at least quasi-comprehensible? Please ask questions to clarify and I also recommend watching the fruity knitting podcast episodes where Andrea mentions her own unique approach to shaping stranded knits.