Guest post by author and crochet designer Dora Ohrenstein, discussing her new book Custom Crocheted Sweaters: Make Garments that Really Fit published by Lark Crafts (January 3, 2012).
I’m so happy to have the chance to talk about my new book, Custom Crocheted Sweaters. When I first became interested in crochet, it seems I took to making crochet garments quite naturally, and ever since, I’ve been trying to help other people make them. I was really thrilled when Lark, my publisher, accepted my idea for this book, which would give people all the tools they need to make sweaters that look and fit really great.
Do you have issues with making sweaters? Are they with fit? Gradually I’ve come to realize that the problems people have with sweaters comes down to several related issues:
- Not knowing your body’s measurements.
- Not understanding how to read the schematic provided in the pattern
- Not knowing how to adjust the pattern
I address all of these issues in depth along with: how to measure yourself, how to read schematics, how to break a pattern down into manageable sections, and how to use math and your calculator to adjust a pattern.
Now as you know, there are several different ways to construct a sweater, and the construction will affect how you deal with alteration. The book has 10 sweaters in all, starting with simpler constructions and moving to more complex; each sweater is a lesson in itself explaining alterations that are specific to that construction.
- Floating Tee is a simple t-shirt shape, using a very open lace pattern. It shows how even simple rectangular shapes can create a lovely garment. They key thing is to have fabric that drapes, and to establish the right measurement for your torso width and length.
- Double Trouble Shell is also a basic rectangle, created by joining square motifs. There is a different motif used on the front and back, and the top can be worn either way. The side panel is made of simple rows of treble crochets worked vertically, and it’s here that all the sizing takes place.
- Shawled Collar Tunic is also made with vertical rows, or side to side. It uses a very simple stitch pattern: (sc, dc) in the same st. This design has a set in armhole. The A-line shape, with some flair towards the bottom of the garment, is created by changing the stitch pattern to (sc, 2dc) towards the bottom of the garment. Very simple, and not hard to do.
- In Vest is a classic and versatile garment with a fitted armhole and v-neck. For this garment, I asked that the neckline and armhole be shown in stitch diagrams for all the sizes. This allows people to understand exactly how size affects the number of pattern repetitions and stitch counts, and makes alterations easier to tackle.
- Fiji Cardi uses a variegated yarn which sometimes gets a bad rap. I think the long stitch patterns in crochet are great vehicles for self-striping yarns. This design also has a set in sleeve. In this section I talk about how you can alter a pattern by changing the gauge, a very useful topic to study.
- With Beau Blazer I wanted to show how shaping can be done even with an angled pattern. The natural diagonal in the pattern is used to shape the armhole, sleeve cap and neckline. For the waist shaping, I went down a hook size for a few rows. The alterations on this design include how to make a bust dart for those who need more room in the front of the garment than the back.
- Eleganza Raglan shows how raglans have a more relaxed fit than set in sleeves. Raglans are easier to alter, since both the armhole and the sleeve cap are a simple diagonal line. Again, a simple stitch pattern is used, with a different stitch to emphasize the open neckline.
- Uptown Sweater is a top down design. I found a stitch pattern that has a wonderful way of hugging the body, it almost acts like ribbing. In this part I discuss how to alter the neckline, to make it closer to the neck or larger, depending on the kind of look you like.
- Shrug Hug is another top down design. I have a somewhat different approach to top down design than what is commonly advocated. Of course you can try it on as you go and see if it fits, but I think there is a better way: know your measurements and plan the sweater accordingly ahead of time.
- Creampuff Cardigan is a circular design, with no seams. Most of the shaping for the body occurs in the rows of half double crochets, but in the yoke, I actually changed the size of the stitch pattern to get the correct decreases.
Designers have to size garments according to an industry standard. This means that someone with a 40 inch bust, for example, is assumed to have a certain size shoulder width, neck width, sleeve width and length, etc. But most people are not standard sizes! If you make a pattern and pick the size based only upon the bust size (which is what people often do), you are likely to end up with a sweater that doesn’t fit. In fact, many women are well-endowed in the bust but may not have “standard” sized shoulders, or arm lengths. I mention this issue in particular because I’ve found it to be a very common one. When you decide to make a sweater, look very carefully at all the measurements given in the schematic. Of course, they won’t mean much to you unless you know what measurements are right for you.
Getting accurate measurements
- Get accurate measurements of your body in all the places that you see measured on a sweater schematic. You can do it by yourself, but it’s easier if you have a friend. You should be wearing undergarments when you do this. The measurements include: bust width, shoulder width, hip width, armhole depth, ideal length from underarm. You also need sleeve width and length measurements. Write all of these down on a schematic.
- Before you compare these to the schematic for a sweater, think about how much ease you need. I am a big fan of little or no ease, but this is definitely a matter of preference. The most ease I would ever add to the bust is 2″ over the whole bust circumference, but often I use no ease, or negative ease. One to two inches of ease can be added at the bust, hips, and upper sleeve, but nowhere else. The shoulder width should definitely NOT have ease — you want the shoulder seam to be right at the shoulder not lower – or it can be a bit narrower than your shoulders.
- If you’re not sure about your own ease preference, I recommend measuring sweaters that you own and that fit you really well. Lay the sweater flat and measure it with a ruler. You may be surprised to learn that your favorite sweaters have little or no ease.
- Once you have all your measurements and have added ease in those areas I mentioned, you can compare it to the schematic. The next step is to know where in the pattern to make these adjustments, and how to make the adjustments based on the pattern.
- Patterns for garments can go on for pages and pages. However, professionally produced patterns are almost always broken down into sections, so you can tell which part of the sweater you are working on, and where the shaping is. In my book, the sections are marked “Hip to Waist” then “Waist to Bust”, then “Armhole.” In top down sweaters, the first section is the yoke, then the body. Whichever direction the pattern progresses, check the pattern carefully to zero in on the section you will have to alter.
- Most alterations can be minor – simply a matter of doing more or fewer decreases, using the pattern as a model. You’ll have to study the simple math equations using gauge to plan your alterations. If you are phobic about math, remember that the calculator does all the work for you!
Before closing, I want to let readers know that I am teaching classes on the same subjects on line at my site, Crochetinsider.com. I’ve taught them before and was amazed how people responded: several have started designing their own sweaters and they fit perfectly! It’s the same info as in the book, but I’m able to give a lot of hands on attention to the students and it helps people gain confidence. So if you’re interested, please check out the schedule here.
Credits: All photographs Scott Jones. The design on the cover is Beau Blazer. The top right photo is Dora wearing the Shrug Hug. The other images are from left to right: Creampuff Cardigan :: Shawled Collar Tunic :: Eleganza Raglan :: Floating Tee.