#KnitPetiteProject: Practical Sewing Resources for Knitters

Our last post where we looked at how sizing is different in sewing than knitting.
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!

This post is one that I hope we can add to on a continuing basis with suggestions from the #KnitPetiteProject community.

Here, I’ll list a few sewing resources that are helpful for knitters. If you have any suggestions to add, please let me know by replying to this post.


This is my own duct tape dressform in action!

Dressforms are useful in a number of ways. You can buy one that’s adjustable and use it to help get an idea of shape, to model your WIP and/or FO, and to generally represent your shape if you’re thinking about fitting issues.

I personally chose to make my own dressform; the advantage to this is that your dressform will be your exact shape, and so can also act as an objective visualization of your actual torso shape and proportions. Making your own dressform also saves a lot of money.

A disadvantage to making your own dressform is the time and energy involved, as well as the fact that it’s hard to pin into the form; your pins get all goopy with tape! But, that’s more of a sewist’s problem than a knitters.

This video below shows you how you can make your own duct tape dressform.


Fit for Real People

I’ve been singing the praises of this book over the course of the #KnitPetiteProject; it gives you a great sense of fitting diagnosing and techniques to alter it. While these techniques are for sewing certain aspects remain true for knitters. This book also has the Body Graph which, like the personalized dressform, is a great tool to help you get objective about your shape and thus be more clear on what fit you’re looking for and how to get there.

Robin Hunter is a knitting designer with a wonderful blog that is a rich resource for the petite knitter. A regular feature includes interviews with knitting designers, where many have answered the very important question, “How did you determine your size range?”
You can check that out here.

And even though her blog is named “How to become a Professional Knitter”, it holds great tips, tutorials, and practical info for some of the topics we’ve been looking at in the #KnitPetiteProject including taking tricky measurements, why sizing systems don’t seem to represent petite folks in knitwear, and how to do things like recalculate sleeve caps.

Robin is also one of us petite folks; I’m so pleased she’s been kind enough to answer a few questions for the #KPP.

#KPP: Much of the advice I’ve found for selecting a size to fit your frame is to pick the bust circumference that matches your torso (upper bust) measurement. This advice intends to give the knitter something that will fit their shoulders, which is very important in a sweater.

Many #KnitPetiteProject survey respondents stressed that they “always have to shorten the sleeve cap/depth” for their sweaters.

RH ANSWER: Before I answer the questions below I’d like to mention that my background is in custom clothing, not from a fashion school where the focus is on industrial garment making for the retail market. Consequently my knowledge and approach is very different from many other designers. I’ve taken pattern drafting classes where the goal was to create a pattern for a specific individual with a more couture style approach. I’ve been a student in tailoring classes with an emphasis on proper fit specifically targeting women. Those classes used Italian tailoring methods adapted from traditional menswear techniques. I’ve also done dressmaking with a custom clothier where we produced samples of specific techniques not used in the retail market and we were expected to produce garments using challenging fabrics. The consequence of a custom clothing education means I think more about the body and its relationship to the garment. I think of the flat pattern shape as a starting point to achieve correct fit and expect to make small incremental steps after the pattern is created to accommodate the process of moving from a flat pattern to a three dimensional body.

#KPP QUESTION: As sleeve cap math is very involved, how should a petite person proceed in choosing a size to fit their shoulders?

RH ANSWER: Many people have told me sleeve caps are difficult, but I think the old adage “it’s easy when you know how”applies here. Knitting takes advantage of the simplification of the sleeve and the sleeve cap being reduced to a one piece symmetrical style due to the stretch of the fabric. It’s very different from the two piece fitted and curved sleeve shape for woven fabrics. That sleeve has a cap which differs at the front and back to accommodate the shape of the upper arm. Knitters are creating both the fabric and the shaping at the same time. This is what gets them into trouble. In the sewing world no one considers this to be a difficult task because they work with a real size pattern which has a line in the sleeve cap to fold out extra length and a corresponding line on the torso to make the same adjustment. Having a full scale visual really helps when developing the mental representations required to make alterations. When I teach knitters to do this, I teach it visually by using real size knitter’s graph paper in the same gauge that they are getting on their swatch. It’s a two-step process for the knitter. First get the flat pattern right and then transfer the information into stitches and rows. The knitter doesn’t have a way of choosing a pattern size to fix this. They need to learn how to do it once and then transfer that knowledge for alteration to every pattern they knit, knowing they will have to adjust the sleeve cap for length. In my case, I know my preferred armhole depth for a set in sleeve is 6.5 inches. Armed with that knowledge I can look at the schematic for my size, compare and adjust accordingly. I explain the process on my blog here. Once a knitter develops a set of key garment measurements this becomes much easier. BTW I have come across knitters who catch onto these concepts very easily without a sewing or pattern drafting background.

#KPP QUESTION: Is taking the torso measurement the best approach, as it is for regular sizes?

RH ANSWER: I agree with this advice as it’s certainly a better starting point than the full bust measurement where cup size comes into play. Having said that, it is only a starting point. Most patterns will still be too long in length even if the shoulder width is correct. Where I think this is failing for knitters is in the understanding of relationships of the parts of the body. The phrase “standard sizing” seems to have taken on a different definition than the one which I learned to understand in my custom garment background. It appears that knitters today think standard sizing is hard data which equals real life body sizing. My understanding of standard sizing is that it is the sizing of a specific retailer, designer, or pattern company. The relationships of the measurements are based on a specific fit model who could be very different than you. Bodies vary in size and shape much more than is commonly recognized by novice garment makers. Pattern alterations are three dimensional in nature but we are fooled by the flat pattern making system in our early learning stages. Knitters are even more challenged because they don’t work with full size individual pattern pieces. The final confusion comes from that single schematic which does not reflect the actual proportions of all of the sizes. It’s normally based on the smallest size and would change in significant ways proportionally if you drew the largest size to scale.

For a sample comparison of real world sizing (me) to the Craft council standards please see this post.

#KPP QUESTION: Is there any special information or instructions you can recommend a petite knitter should consider in addition to this?

RH ANSWER: I think knitters need to spend time looking carefully at the schematic provided. I’ve often had questions which make it clear they look at the photo and ignore the details provided on the schematic. I’ve worked with knitters in my classes who are totally focused on body measurements before they understand the concepts behind ease and how it is impacted by the hand of the fabric you are creating. To get around this, as you are building knowledge, it really helps to start measuring garments instead of your body. You can even use one which doesn’t fit the way you want by pinning it and using the resulting measurements. When you finish a garment which doesn’t live up to your expectations don’t just move onto the next one and hope for the best. Use pins to mark where it should be different and start taking notes. What weight yarn did you use? Does the fabric drape or is it stiff. Most importantly measure it. What length would you prefer? How deep is the sleeve cap and should it be shortened? Where should you make waist shaping decreases and increases. Keep in mind you will learn the most from trial and error. Don’t let the fear of failure stop you from moving forward.

#KPP QUESTION: Another challenge for petite women is that sizing standards assume our bodies are longer than they may actually be; we then have to make any horizontal (and vertical!) modifications in a truncated amount of space, compared to a regular-height knitter.

Do you have any tips, advice, or resources you can suggest for petite women (of all ages and weights) with these sorts of issues?

RH ANSWER: I think the most important thing is to first learn your own preferences and knit accordingly. I made this mistake many times early on. I looked at a great pattern photo, said “I want that” and plunged in without considering the details. If you’ve never worn a dolman sleeve sweater, don’t invest all the knitting time to create it before you know it will make you happy. Look at what is currently in your own closet and what you enjoy wearing. If it’s a silhouette new to you, try on a friends garment or go to a retail store and try the target style on to get a sense of what works.

If you are a petite, chances are you have already purchased clothing from a retailer who targets that segment of the clothing market. Measure those garments (especially the knits) and compare where they fit you and where they don’t. How much ease do you like? Do you prefer tailored styles or loose flowy clothing?

You can continue to use patterns but be aware what you will need to spend time on adjustments. Knitter’s graph paper is your friend. You can print it out in the correct ratio and draw your garment or a specific problem area out.

My series here may be helpful.

Finally, remember you can experiment and make changes to a pattern, there are no knitting police!

#KPP QUESTION: What sweater construction would you suggest for a petite person (particularly, one who may have to think about sleeve cap and depth?)

RH ANSWER: I know many knitters become strong defenders of one form of construction over another. I think every type has its pros and cons. Each construction method can be adjusted to work with a specific body shape. It’s important to understand first what the end goal is in terms of fit and then to secondly address the technical challenge. As an example, often well-endowed petites find top down raglans a challenge because the classic design has an increase rate which makes the armholes too deep by the time the bust is large enough. My fix is to cast on more stitches on the front to increase the size there and I cast on more stitches at the underarm to solve the circumference problem and keep armhole depth appropriate.

#KPP QUESTION: Would you suggest any sweater constructions to avoid in particular if you are petite and need to adjust sleeve depth or any other vertical measurements?

RH ANSWER: No I don’t think we need to avoid any specific construction types, for me it’s more about shapes and silhouettes which are sometimes driven by the construction. I think we need to make sure that things are proportionally correct. I suspect we petites end up suspicious of some silhouettes because we try them on in regular sizes and feel overwhelmed by the extra length and the overly wide necklines and shoulders. Once those issues are resolved I don’t see the problems being specific to construction. I do sometimes see problems with the scale of design elements. A very wide cable panel may look different in relation to the overall sweater if it’s been shortened significantly. The rectangle which is the torso of our body does become squarer in nature for shorter women. Certain stitch patterns make not work if the canvas of the body isn’t big enough to carry them. However, I do want to emphasize this should be about pleasing yourself and being comfortable in your clothing not about addressing some perceived figure flaw. I would suggest knitters focus on a specific silhouette and work on several garments in that style and construction before moving on to another one. Each project will be incrementally better and you will learn faster.

#KPP QUESTION: I love the discussion you outline in your post here:

“Most hand knitting patterns come in from 3 to about 7 sizes with no variation in length or figure type. There are many reasons for this simplification several being due to cost, publication space, the difficulty of grading each size individually, the inability to have every size test knit as well as an industry that underpays designers. So what’s a knitter to do? I’m still thinking about this. As a designer I’m considering doing patterns that would target these specific markets but the question is would you buy them?

What would you suggest a petite knitter should do?

RH ANSWER: My recommendation is the same for all knitters regardless of their fit challenges. If you want to knit garments, take the time to educate yourself on how to make changes to the pattern. Don’t just follow it blindly. One of the best things about making our own clothing is we can get exactly what we want if we are willing to invest in some trial and error experimentation.

#KPP QUESTION: What fit resources can you recommend for petite knitters? (Anything! From knitting books/videos/classes/websites to information from crafts other than knitting like sewing manuals etc…)

RH ANSWER: There are now an amazing number of easily accessible resources to help you through your journey to improve fit. If you don’t like one, just move on, another instructor might work better for you. Keep in mind different makers will have different approaches and they won’t always give you the same exact instructions. You don’t have to become a designer but understanding the processes involved will help you through making the necessary adjustments to an existing pattern. You will find lots of patterning making links on Pinterest and videos on Youtube.

As you know I have lots of resources on my blog which includes an index here.

I especially like this Peggy Sager explanation of length, circumference and depth as it relates to fit.

The first 16 minutes of this video shows the process demonstrated.

Here’s the process for drafting a sleeve cap for woven fabric. Knits are simplified because they are symmetrical.

This site has some wonderful visuals explaining fit and ease.

I can highly recommend Shirley Paden’s book Knitwear Design Workshop: A Comprehensive Guide to Handknits and her Craftsy class Handknit Garment Design. If you are math phobic just ignore the segments on the magic formula and instead plot curves and angles visually on knitter’s graph paper as I show on my blog in the Pattern Drafting posts starting here.

This post is about Deborah Newton’s method for creating a muslin for hand knitting from T-shirt fabric. It’s for plus sizes but the basics still apply to petites.

#KPP QUESTION: Do you know of any knitting designers who create patterns specifically for petite folks? (There are a few who do this for sewing, but I’ve yet to find someone who addresses the petite market in knitwear).

#RH ANSWER: I don’t. The most I’ve ever seen in a knitting pattern is in the instruction sections where the pattern will say to x inches or desired length.

I do include this in my pattern notes: All length measurements included in the instructions are suggestions only and should be customized to suit the intended wearer.


Do you have any sewing resources to add to the list? Please comment on this post!



#KnitPetiteProject: Practical Sewing Resources for Knitters

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