Since the stars have aligned to allow me to attend Rhinebeck this year (for the Indie Untangled trunk show, check it out!), and since this was also the year within which I completed my first ever handknit garment, I’ve decided that the coveted Rhinebeck Sweater needs to happen. I thought it might be educational to detail my thought process and first-real-sweater experience as I go, and since timing will be especially tight, it should make for entertaining blogging! (Will she or won’t she?!?!!? You can read about my pattern decision-making process here.Today, we’re going to talk about ease and choosing a size.
I’m going to just get right to the point: swatching (in pattern!) with the needles and yarn you plan to use and blocking that swatch to measure gauge is the only way to reliably choose an appropriate pattern size to knit. Sure, you can wing it, but I can’t handle that kind of cavalier attitude around large amounts of potentially wasted time. If I’m making a garment from scratch, by hand I want the damn thing to fit, and fit well, when it’s (finally) done. This ‘knit a swatch, measure gauge’ song has been sung by many others before, see some excellent tutorial posts by TinCanKnits here and Amy Herzog here.
What I want to focus on today, is how do you know what to do with the gauge information derived from your swatch? What size do you actually cast on? The tricky bit is, all patterns approach sizing a little differently. Some tell you a letter size (like S, M, L, etc) and then give measurements in a schematic. Some tell you a finished size that the piece will measure right at the beginning. Other tell you a bust size in inches, that incorporates a certain amount of ease already, either positive (finished size is larger than the body size, for a roomy fit) or negative (finished size is smaller than the body size, for a snug/stretched fit). Read your pattern carefully to determine what information is available. In the pattern I’m knitting, Chocolate Stout, the sizes are given as a ‘typical’ bust size that already incorporates five whole inches of positive ease. That means if you choose to knit the 32″ size, it will actually measure about 37″ at the bust when finished.
Only when armed with knowledge of gauge (pattern gauge was 5 sts/inch and 6 rows/inch, my gauge was 5.25 sts/inch and 6 rows/inch) and detailed size information copied down from the pattern schematic, can I determine what size I want to knit. It also helps to have a sense of what is flattering on your own body. For instance, I’m a larger and curvier person, and very oversized / baggy sweaters tend to look sloppy on me while they might look chic and comfortable on a thinner, straighter body. Therefore, if I just went ahead and knit the 46″ size based on my bust measurement, I might be unhappy with the oversized fit when I was finished. And here lies the dilemma, which size to knit?
The math above should illustrate why it’s important to know your actual gauge when knitting a sweater. As written at the pattern gauge, the ribbing portion of the 44″ size would measure 47.8″ around the hips. In my gauge, the same piece of fabric would be two inches smaller, measuring only 45.5″. With my 47 – 50″ hips, I might not want quite that much negative ease there. But the 46″ size has 249 stitches in the ribbing section, which would measure 47.4″ at my gauge, so I’ll start there after all. I’m thinking of decreasing the 2″ for the waist shaping and then just proceeding with a smaller size around the bust area, rather than increasing back out again, to keep it a little more fitted around the shoulders. These are the kinds of decisions that I’ll have to make as I see the sweater develop.
How do you decide what size to knit? Are you methodical about it or do you just give something a try? How much ease do you like in your garments?