I love knitting. I’ll happily spend several hours at a time carefully knitting stitch after stitch and row after row, and with simpler patterns can easily devour an entire season of a TV show in a week, while knitting away. But it took me a very long time to graduate from knitting hats, gloves and market bags to knitting actual clothing. I currently only own one single piece of clothing knit by myself, and am working on a matching piece as a gift for my mother in law.
It’s no mystery why I’ve delayed knitting sweaters for so long. Knitting takes time and effort, as well as the cost of the yarn, and as a plus size woman there is nothing worse than spending what would pay for 2-3 shop-bought sweaters on the yarn required for a single hand-knit one, then spend months working on it, only to have the result be an unmitigated disaster. In fact, when I eventually did bite the bullet and bravely dive in to making my very first sweater, the results were terribly disappointing.
The Moody, by Elena Nodel, looked like a perfect pattern. It was knit in aran-weight yarn, making it a relatively quick knit as well as being thick and warm for Winter. The simple striped effect was flattering on the model, and the raglan sleeves meant that, despite being worked in the round top down, it’d still have a nice shape in the shoulder and armpit. The open waist and chunky collar gave it a really cute, youthful look, when so many cardigans made available to plus-size women can be conservative in design, intended more for women in their 40s and over than those of us in our teens and twenties.
It also came with many modifications – different sleeve lengths, optional pockets, and optional increases and decreases at the bust, waist and hips which should have promised an excellent fit.
I took so much care with the pattern, rewriting it specifically for my measurements, sizing down to account for the generous positive ease, adjusting the sleeve and cross-back because I knew they would come up large on me.
It should have been perfect.
But the results were far from what I wanted.
Here’s a picture of me without the cardigan on.
And here’s the wholly unflattering result, just waiting for me to knit the collar.
I’m sure you can see the problems with the result, but let me be clear. The sleeves, despite being adjusted for a smaller size, were incredibly baggy, to the point that I could actually fit my thigh in them, and despite being knit as short as possible – starting the cuff pretty much as soon as they were joined in the round – they reach my elbows. The body is massive on me, despite being reduced, and looks shapeless. The neckline gives the illusion that my bust – admittedly rather large in any case – makes up 90% of my torso. And I looked dowdy, stuffy and stiff.
What went wrong? Let me be clear, the problem is not with the pattern exactly. I will admit that the pattern itself did have some issues that are very common when standard-sized patterns are upsized by the designer to plus sizes; the sleeves and cross-back appeared to be increased linearly with the rest of the pattern, when these are areas that, on most plus size people, do not usually get bigger at the same rate as the rest of them.
However, the main problem was simply that the pattern was poorly chosen by me. I fell in love with the design having seen it worn on several women – all of them much slimmer, and with very different shapes to my own. The only plus size person shown wearing the pattern was wearing it with multiple modifications which meant I couldn’t see what the default shape would look like on a larger lady. I know, normally, that high necklines which entirely cover my chest do not suit me, and I know that vertical lines with nothing to break them up across my bust do tend to make me look bigger in the chest. But I ignored my own common sense in favour of playing with a fun pattern. And the end result was a waste of two months work, and having to frog the entire piece back to the start and use the yarn for something else.
Pretty much all of the flaws inherent in the pattern itself would have been forgiveable if I had simply chosen a better pattern for my shape to begin with.
I learned my lesson, and made a point of writing out a checklist of requirements for future patterns, taking account of the good and bad of the pattern I worked with. So now, I only look at a pattern for myself if it is:
- Aran or Worsted weight yarn
- Sleeveless or set-in sleeves, or can be modified for those
- V-neck, scoop neck or square neckline, or has angled textures and features breaking up the bust and neckline
- Negative ease or only low amounts of positive ease, for a better fit
Following these preferences, and looking for patterns that also included my favourite things such as cables, colour-work and lace, led me to this design, which I think we can all agree looks much, much better on me.
This pattern has everything. The original pattern has sleeves, which are set in rather than knit raglan style, making it easy to adjust them to fit. I opted for a sleeveless style, but could easily change my mind later and knit the sleeves whenever I feel like it. The plunging v-neck flatters my bust, and the cables – which you might think would look bulky and too large on my bust – actually work to break up the shape of my chest very nicely.
Even better, the way this pattern is designed to drape and stretch to the shape of the wearer meant I didn’t need to adjust anything at the bust, waist or hips. All I needed to do was shrink down the armhole a little – which was incredibly easy due to the design – and knit the back piece a size or two smaller for my crossback. With minimal adjustments needed, there was very little that could go wrong.
There are several other patterns that I think will work equally well, and which I plan to make for myself when time allows. They are very different from each other, but each have similar elements which work for me. See if you can spot the flattering elements in the Fargo, the Cabelina, the Royale, the Plexus, the Twists and Diamonds or the Ruth.
It’s easy to avoid picking the wrong pattern if you stick to a few simple principles. Identify what you like about the clothes you already own, and research what these design elements and fabric elements are called in knitting patterns. Only buy patterns if at least one picture shows the entire thing, with sleeves, collars and other areas visible and not hidden by unusual poses. Check on Ravelry to see what other knitters have made using the same pattern – look specifically for people similar in size and shape to you. At least for the first couple of items you knit, choose patterns which are versatile, relatively easy and which do not require heavy alterations in order to fit you. And if in doubt, check the Ravelry forums and ask for advice from other knitters. They will be happy to tell you if they think the pattern will suit your shape, and to suggest modifications that you may want to use.