#KnitPetiteProject: How can petite sewing resources help a knitter?

Our last post where we looked at what the limits of modifications are.
The #KnitPetiteProject plan.

All other #KnitPetiteProject posts.

The #KnitPetiteProject now has a Ravelry group. Join us!

NEW #KNITPETITEPROJECT SURVEY! Please answer this very brief survey to determine the future of the #KPP!

It’s a new month, and a new focus here in the #KnitPetiteProject. We’re moving from our very practical look at sizing in May and June to the topic of sewing and what it can offer the knitter.

When I first began knitting, I was not a sewist1. I was annoyed and frustrated that nearly every detailed petite-fit resource I found was for sewing. Faced with that wall of google search results I felt 1) petite fit wasn’t an issues in knitting (which I think we’ve shown isn’t true! and 2) sewing has nothing to offer me – it’s like a language I don’t understand, and certainly don’t need to understand!

But, there’s plenty of support from around the knitting world that says knowledge from sewing can help knitters: Ysolda referenced sewing resources to build her sizing chart. Interweave recently shared how some sewing tools and tips can help a knitter. June Hemmons Hiatt has a whole chapter of her book dedicated to how a knitter can use a sewing pattern to design and learn about fit! The list does indeed go on!

My hope for the posts this month is to create a knitter-to-sewist dictionary. The world of sewing has so much to offer knitters! And, you don’t have to learn everything about sewing to get value out of it for your own petite fit needs.

Today, let’s start with a wee intro on the world of sewing with some terms and gentle, beginner-friendly sewing resources that are useful for knitters.

And, there’s a treat at the end of this post. We have an interview with a petite (and petite-plus!) sewing pattern maker!

…this information can be enhanced by also working with sewing patterns. You will gain skills doing this and acquire a familiarity with the proportions and subtleties of fit in [the upper bodice area] of a garment that will provide you with a much wider scope of design possibilities.2

How can Petite Sewing Resources help knitters?

The above quote is from the inimitable June Hemmons Hiatt. Her incredibly thorough book The Principles of Knitting is on nearly any list of indispensable knitting books, including the #KnitPetiteProject’s!

She goes into great depth in Chapter 24 about the value of using sewing resources and knowledge in order to plan a design for your own sweater. And before you think that you can’t design, or just don’t want to, remember what we talked about last month: depending on the pattern, and the amount of modifications you want to make, you may just have to reverse-engineer that sweater. Which is a run-around way of saying you need to gather some designing skills to get you to your end goal.

Please don’t be intimidated! The #KPP community is here to help!3

There’s many terms that you may recognize when you look at sewing resources. Sewists and knitters share terminology like drape, ease, hem, armscye, seam allowance, and selvedge.

Sometimes there’s terms that are either quite different or entirely new-to-you in sewing resources that make things confusing or intimidating. Let’s begin our look at what the sewing world has to offer knitters with this short list of helpful terms for your foray into googling “petite fit alterations”:

apex: highest point on a rounded area. Usually refers to bust apex, which is important to know in both sewing and knitting for instances of bust circumference alterations.

Big Four: this is a term used to refer to the largest sewing companies (Simplicity, Vogue, Butterick, McCalls). This may be important to whatever you’re reading because it’s those Big Four that have used a (fairly stable) sizing system for decades. This sizing system assumes many things about your body, including a bra cup size of B. Other independent sewing companies have made a point of using a different cup size as their base (for example, Colette uses a C cup size).

darts: Knitters can also create darts in their sweaters, but the production of the dart is different for a sewist. In sewing, a dart is a fold of fabric that’s stitched down to help round out / narrow an area. Usually found at bust and waist.

grain/grainline: direction of the threads in a woven fabric. The grainline is a marking on a sewing pattern that helps you line up your pattern piece with the fabric’s grain. This is important because the direction of the grain will affect the look of the finished garment.

muslin: a “rough draft” of a garment. This is made using inexpensive fabric so that the sewist can try on the pattern and see any fitting issues before using a more expensive fashion fabric. Unfortunately, knitters can’t really create a muslin in the same way  sewists can!

princess seams: these are alternative ways to cut and sew fabric to shape a garment through a vertical seamline. These seams do the same kind of thing as a dart, but look quite different. Princess seams run from either the shoulder or the sleeve and curve down and over the bust, sometimes going all the way to the bottom hem of the garment. Because of the ways a knitter can shape their fabric, they don’t have to worry about seam lines in the same way a sewist does.

slash and spread: this is a technique for making a pattern larger in a certain area. Following particular lines, you can cut it apart and shift it out to add room where you need it.

sloper: this is a base pattern that has been made to fit a particular person’s measurements, from which the sewist can then develop other patterns and styles. This is a very important and useful tool for sewists who are interested in a perfect fit and want creative freedom. Check out the WORKBOOK idea below for a knitter’s “sloper” option!

Beginning Sewing Resources for a Knitter

  • Craftsy has a free, downloadable guide on fitting. This 24-page pdf is a gentle introduction to fitting that’s aimed at sewists, and includes info on plus and petite fitting. The plus-size section is actually sub-titled “it’s all about vertical dimension”! This is really something we can use!
    FYI: one of the reasons I included this resource is because under the Petite section they say, “The importance is not always to look taller (even if that’s not a bad thing), but to find great proportions and style.” I love that they spell out that the goal is NOT always to look taller! Phew! (sorry, it’s just a pet-peeve…)
  • Simplicity, one of the Big Four sewing companies, has their own fit guide you can access for free here.
  • This post from Craftsy goes over some petite fitting issues, and shows both the shared ground and solutions as well as the differences between sewing and knitting. Sewists can make a muslin (essentially, a “rough draft”) to rework and adjust in a quick and inexpensive way. Knitters can’t really do the same thing! But, knitters do get to work with a much more “forgiving” fabric; sewists generally have to be more particular about fit (which makes accessing their fit resources really useful for knitters!)
  • And, don’t forget about our interview earlier this year with Petite Plus sewing patternmaker Kathleen Cheetham!
  • Sewist’s blogs are a rich source for general petite info because these folks are already having conversations about practical things like petite alterations, aesthetics, and history. A great example is this post from Betsy of SBCC, our interviewee this week!
  • Just last month I references a series of posts from the lingerie designer, sewing teacher, and personal stylist Maddie. This includes an overview with general-rule modifications to petite in sewing and a couple posts on guide on length and width reductions from our interviewee this week Betsy.
  • The indie sewing designers at Colette have a handy little newsletter Snippets that sends out helpful sewing tips. Many of these tips are at a beginner or intermediate sewing level, so it’s a nice way to be introduced to sewing terms, tips, and techniques.
  • The (mostly free) online magazine Seamwork (from Colette) gives you access to loads of informative articles that will teach you about fit from the sewist’s perspective, but also about developing your own wardrobe, details about different fibres, and interesting fashion history. I’ve signed up for their newsletter and it’s a nice monthly prompt to check out the issue.
  • The Curvy Sewing Collective is a great blog resource for petite plus knitters. They get into great detail about fitting with posts about starting out a sloper, 10 things to know as a beginner, and choosing patterns to minimize adjustments.
  • We’ve already talked about Fit for Real People here in the #KPP; this book has great information on measuring yourself and identifying you own body’s shapes. The special feature I recommend this book for is the step-by-step instructions on creating a Body Graph.

Survey: the future of the #KnitPetiteProject

The survey this month for the #KnitPetiteProject asks you just a couple simple questions about some tools we can use to help each one of us on our petite fitting journey.

The first is a WORKBOOK; this would be written from a petite perspective, for petite folks.

It would include all the very practical, helpful resources, tips, tricks, and basic sweater knitting patterns that would be both already petite and built for easy modification.

Seamwork, issue 28. “Our detailed fit guides will help you pick the right size and make adjustments to get the perfect fit. You can find these fit guides on the each pattern’s page in the catalog and in the PDF instructions.

It would include great tools inspired by the sewing world, like the fantastic fit guides from the indie sewing company Colette (image at the right). Over past year or so they’ve been including these guides to help sewists understand the fit the designer was aiming for, and enable simpler and more straight-forward alterations.

The new, simple sweater designs included in the workbook would already be petite sized, and would be designed specifically to be easily modified so you can essentially create your OWN knitting “sloper”. You’d have a perfectly fitting sweater with less work, and it would be something you could use over and over as a blank canvas onto which you can add whatever fun design detail or feature your heart desires!

Do you want this workbook? Let me know by clicking YES on the #KPP survey!

The other tool we can use together is an open-ended KAL. This would be based in the #KPP Ravelry group, where knitters could choose whatever sweater they like and bring their questions and advice to the community for support and encouragement. Petite knitters working together!

Do you want this KAL? Click YES on the #KPP survey!

And as always, the #KnitPetiteProject is open to comments, questions, and suggestions. Anything you want to share, just include it on your survey, too.

And now, on to a special treat for this post!


Betsy is the talented patternmaker behind SBCC Patterns; a line of sewing patterns for petite women, with 5’1″ as the base size for her designs. I knew I had to talk to Betsy when I read that she’s a fit-obsessed perfectionist with over 10 years of experience in the fashion industry.

#KPP QUESTION: You are one of the few independent designers in either sewing or knitting who directly serves petite (including petite plus) people. I love your work and believe it is very important!
What led you to select the petite market for your patterns?

athens, ga
Betsy of SBCC

SBCC ANSWER: My original idea was to make home sewing patterns for the standard/average height female customer, as it’s second nature to me from my ready-to-wear career. However, during the development I realized that I would have to alter the patterns just to fit my petite frame. Why should I invest a ton of energy and time, and not have something that I can wear straight out? Selfish? Perhaps, but I realized that I am not alone in this problem and there are many petite sewers out there looking to make a garment without a ton of alterations.
After further investigation I found that a large section of the female population could be considered petite- a whole lot more, potentially 70%. Petite is traditionally defined as anyone short in stature but also can be considered anyone with a short torso with long legs, or short legs and a longer torso. Also, some petite fits feature narrower body widths a well. There are so many approaches that there is definitely room in the indie sewing market to cater to this group.

#KPP QUESTION: With knitting patterns, there’s been a great dearth of designs catering to petite people, resulting in petite knitters having to wear designs as-is or independently learn ways to alter the fit to suit their tastes.
What fit sacrifices does a petite person make when wearing a non-petite sized garment? What are some of the tell-tale signs that a garment (particularly tops) isn’t sized for a petite (and petite-plus) body?

SBCC ANSWER: I like to say the biggest indicator is when you choose your size and it just feel like you are a kid playing dress up. The proportions are off and you definitely don’t look like your tall friend who can wear the same thing, but it looks so much better on her.
Some of the primary fit indicators include:
• Overall body length is long
• Sleeves are long
• Armholes are too low
• Necklines are too low
• Waist level hits below the navel
• Rises and inseams are too long (pants)

There are also considerations of styling. The details of the style may appear out of proportion, like waistband heights, collars and even leg openings.

#KPP QUESTION: I love that you serve petite women of all sizes with SBCC. In general, what are some differences in your pattern sizes from “regular” pattern sizes? (ie: certain body measurements or proportions?)
Why are these differences important? (SBCC Sizing info)

SBCC ANSWER: My fit approach is intended to cover all petite bases- overall short and slightly smaller body frame. Traditionally for RTW (ready-to-wear), petite is proprietary formula of reductions based on a regular misses pattern. Each company has their own rule for how much to reduce the armhole height, reduce the total torso and inseams, to name a few points. For SBCC Patterns I develop the pattern specifically for petite so all the details are proportional from the start. I have my own base numbers that I start with and go from there.

#KPP QUESTION: You have many patterns designed for knitted fabric including the Bronx Dress, Cabernet Cardigan, Gimlet Top, and Cosmo Maxi Skirt.
Knitted fabric and hand-knitting are more “forgiving” for fit than woven fabric in that knits stretch.
As you’ve created so many pieces that are in a knit fabric the answer may be clear, but I’m curious: what, if anything, is the value in petite sizes for knit fabric?

SBCC ANSWER: Yes, I do love knits! Knit fabric is like my grown up version of Play-Doh and works great for all size ranges. I can stretch it, twist it, mold and drape it depending on the look I am going for. Knits are just so functional for an active lifestyle and very forgiving to work with. I am particularly drawn to the drapey quality of knits as I can achieve more looks that I could in a woven fabric. With knits, I can also fit a wider range of women without having to make fussy adjustments. Also, the sewing techniques used tend to yield a quick and easy project.

#KPP QUESTION: What’s next for SBCC?

SBCC ANSWER: There are always more patterns in the works, of course. I would like to be able to complete a few new summer styles, but my mind is already on fall. I have a great blazer planned that I think is really going to be a hit. Jackets are pretty much what I grew up making in the industry, so it feels really good to bring those skills to a tailored garment, just for petites.
I’m also devoting a lot of time to my business Patterngrade where I work with a lot of indie pattern designers and up-and-coming/established ready to wear designers to bring their ideas to life and in other technical capacities. It’s a heavy workload, but I always try to squeeze SBCC styles in when I can.

You can read more about Betsy and SBCC on her website, and in this interview with Kollabora, Madalynne (and another here), and Blueprints for Sewing.


Have you ever accessed a sewing resources to learn more about petite fit? Were you able to use it? Why, or why not?


1 I’m using the word “sewist” throughout these #KPP posts for a couple reasons. 1) It’s pretty widely used among the sewing community, and 2) typing out the word “sew-er” ends up looking like “sewer” – that is, the place where the toilet water goes when you flush. Yuck. So, sewist it is!

2 June Hemmons Hiatt. Principles of Knitting. Touchstone Publishing, 2012, pg 481.

3 I want to create a #KnitPetiteProject workbook that will make knitting and fitting a sweater for YOUR petite body just as easy as it is for knitters of a “regular” height. Click YES on the #KPP survey if this workbook is something YOU want!

#KnitPetiteProject: How can petite sewing resources help a knitter?

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