Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Petite Interview Part 1

I really enjoyed doing an interview with Teresa Gregorio of Canary Knits this summer. It's always interesting how someone else's questions help to clarify one's own thinking on a particular topic. I'm going to put some of the interview I did back in July here on my own blog.  There's a lot to digest so I'll do it as two posts. 

TG: 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: 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.

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

RH: 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.

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

RH: 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.

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

RH: 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.

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