Knitting in Plain English

The Only Book Any Knitter Will Ever Need

Maggie Righetti

St. Martin's Griffin/Thomas Dunne Books

Chapter One
 
You Can Always Tell What’s Wrong with the Garment by the Way the Model Is Posed or, Slender Five-Foot-Ten-Inch Models Look Good in Anything
 
It happens every June and it happens every January. It happens so regularly you can count on it.
 
Every June and January, starry-eyed and eager craftspeople invade their friendly local yarn supplier bearing fresh-off-the-press copies of the needlework periodicals that are blossoming with elegant and enchanting visions of projects to make, sweaters to create—and potential disasters.
 
Part of the knitting instructor’s job is to help people understand the techniques necessary for them to complete the project they have chosen to make.
 
Simply by seeing hundreds of garments both in progress and completed means we knitting instructors become painfully aware of what knitted fabric will and will not do. And after fitting and adjusting hundreds of articles on hundreds of different kinds, sizes, and shapes of people, we have become absolutely certain of what shapes knitting will take and what shape the human body will not.
 
So every June and January (and often in between) I gather these starry-eyed and eager knitters around the worktable, and using their new periodicals as texts, I hold an impromptu class called “You Can Always Tell What Is Wrong with the Garment by the Way the Model Is Posed.” It’s a fun class with lots of giggles, ah-has, and exclamations such as, “So that’s why it never looked right!”
 
Listen in and join the class. I’ll assign you our homework before we begin: Pick up your newest periodical filled with knitting designs and look at the photos. That’s all. Just look—and then think about them. Your homework is to look for yourself, think for yourself, and learn to recognize for yourself when something is not quite right.
 
With as many patrons around me as I can gather, the lesson starts. Pointing at the cover, I say:
 
Be aware—beware—of any garment whose model is not standing in a normal relaxed position.
 
A good-looking, well-designed, properly proportioned garment can easily stand scrutiny. It looks good straight on and on straight. The model could just stand there and you’d want to make the garment, sure in the knowledge of what the finished product would look like. A sweater worth making has nothing to hide.
 
But what if the model is posed in an exaggerated way so you can’t see the neckline or the wrists or both shoulders? The picture above is a perfect example (see fig. 1.1). You can only see one shoulder. The neckline is covered up with a very attractive blouse. But you aren’t making the blouse—you are making the sweater, and you haven’t the foggiest idea how the neck is finished or where it is supposed to sit on the human body. One wrist is covered by a bracelet; the other is hidden in shadow.
 
The model is posed as if she were stretched out in front of a roaring fire, all cuddly and warm. Heaven help her, though, if she’d tried to get up and walk to a window to look out. Her sweater would probably drop to her knees, judging by the way the bottom of it is hidden in folds. You’d have no idea whether it was a case of a tiny model and a sweater too big for her, or if the waistline was intended to be the hemline.
 
You really need to know what you’re making, what it’s supposed to look like, and how it’s intended to fit before you begin. If you don’t know these things, how will you know if you are doing it right?
 
If you can’t see the whole garment,
 
don’t make it!
 
Next, we all agree, is a picture of a striking handbag (see fig. 1.2). The model is posed in a knit dress, of course, yet this large handsome shoulder bag is the focal point. If this is a knitting book whose instructions are trying to sell the yarn for a knit dress, why cover it up with a luscious handbag?
 
A veteran of misleading photos of knitting projects, whom my class calls Grandma, immediately spots the inconsistencies. “She carries that handbag because the shoulders don’t fit. Just look at the picture—you can’t see the left shoulder at all. It’s turned away and out of the picture. The right shoulder is covered up with the strap of the bag. What’s more, the bag covers her waistline. If the dress looked good, they wouldn’t have to hide it. Now, if it had raglan sleeves and if the waist were brought in somehow, it’d be good-looking. But they can’t fool an old lady like me with a huge handbag.” She has learned to separate the fiction from the reality.
 
Younger, less experienced knitters quickly learn to detect the inconsistencies between the photograph and the finished product. One points out that the dress is vertically striped and that all the stripes are the same width from top to bottom. “So where did the width at the waist and bust go?”
 
A retired salesclerk responds with a laugh. “Well, honey, in the old days when I was selling dresses, if it was too big around the waist or in the bust, we’d just hold it together in the back while the customer was looking in the mirror. That’s the old clothespin-in-the-back trick.”
 
The knitters in the class know that they can’t walk around with a clothespin in the back, and they won’t make this “cannot work” project.
 
On the next page of the magazine is a study of a sweet young thing in marvelous golden tones (see fig. 1.3). Her hair is spun gold, the sweater tawny gold, and the chair golden brown. We can’t tell where one begins and the other ends. It is all one golden glow.
 
The class oohs at the lovely illusion. It is a great mood photograph. But as far as information about the sweater pattern it is trying to sell, it is a big loss.
 
I ask the class, “Honestly now, can you visualize yourself in the sweater? Where will the neckline fit around your neck? Where do the shoulders rest? Does it have shoulders at all? Where and how does the garment end? If you make it, you may find out—to your dismay!”
 
The class ah-has. We flip to the next page.
 
You could order the jewelry from the next photo and know exactly what you would be getting (see fig. 1.4). The sweater, however, is another matter.
 
The class has caught on and learned
 
the lesson well. They ask me to forget
 
the jewelry and tell them about the sweater.
 
I begin. “It has a collar.”
 
“What kind?” they ask.
 
“I can’t tell, but it has sleeves.”
 
“What kind?”
 
“I can’t tell.”
 
“How long are they?” they ask.
 
“I can’t tell, but I don’t think that they are long,” I answer.
 
“How long is the sweater? Where does it end?”
 
“I can’t tell, but I can tell you that if I try to tuck a sweater into a gathered skirt, I look like a barrel.”
 
“Why don’t they show the shoulders?”
 
“I don’t know. I don’t want to make the sweater, but I do want to know how I can order the jewelry.”
 
Because we can’t order the jewelry, we turn the page (see fig. 1.5).
 
“That’s cute.”
 
“Which one, the sweater or the hat?”
 
“Both!”
 
“How can you tell the sweater’s ‘cute’?”
 
“What is it made of?”
 
“I can’t see. Get a magnifying glass.”
 
“It’s made of some sort of fuzzy stuff.”
 
“I’d rather make the hat.”
 
“Well, you’ve got to admit the hat is a real showstopper.”
 
“Are there instructions for it?”
 
“Look on page seventy-eight.”
 
“No hat instructions.”
 
“How about the sweater?”
 
“It has instructions.”
 
No one can tell anything about the sweater; there isn’t even a graphic drawing. Granny says, “If the sweater was worth making they’d show it to us. It’s called ‘attraction by association.’ Because the hat is pretty, you just naturally think the sweater is pretty, too.”
 
We turn to yet another page, still looking for something to make (see fig. 1.6).
 
“A coat—I need a short car coat.”
 
“I’ve always wanted a knitted car coat.”
 
“Too bad they didn’t put that one on a slender model—she looks dumpy.”
 
“She is skinny. Look at her cheekbones and neck. It’s the coat that’s dumpy and huge.”
 
We look at the instructions. They say “small, medium, and large.” There is no indication of how small “small” is, nor how large “large” is. There are no drawings, charts, or measurements included in the instructions.
 
We don’t know if it was merely that there was only a slender model available for a large coat when the picture was taken or if the garment was intended to be large and dumpy. Since we don’t know what size to make, we can’t make the car coat either.
 
Since this book was first published in 1986, manufacturers, magazine and pattern book publishers, and designers have changed their ways. Photos picture the finished garment in a truer light; schematics and drawings of the pieces of the article are usually shown; measurements of both the completed parts and the article are often given. What a change! If this chapter in the original edition made any difference, I’m pleased.
 
In the same way we go through the whole periodical, the students getting wiser all the time. Never again will they make a garment they cannot see clearly. Never a garment that has places covered up. They also learn to look at the article with a critical eye, to see that the item fits the human body as it exists and not be taken in by a pattern written strictly by the book. God was not consulted about the variety of human shoulders to be covered. It’s not easy, but if you recognize the problem, it can be solved.
 
Try to picture yourself in the garment. Would your broad shoulders fit in those set-in sleeves, or do you need a raglan or drop sleeve for the sweater to fit well and look good?† In pictures, the problem of poorly fitting shoulders and sleeves can be solved by hiding at least one shoulder and “adjusting” the other. You can’t do that when you are wearing the garment. If the shoulders fit, they would be shown. Those smart-looking pictures of men’s sweaters frequently show the models with hands on hips and chest out in order to straighten the armhole wrinkles. Outstretched arms are often used to camouflage the saggy-baggy look.
 
The picture-book lesson concludes with the realization that the proper fit for the proper person can be achieved. Eyes have been opened; minds have been awakened; knitters have become aware. Even if you couldn’t attend my class, you too can become aware.
 
Look at old, as well as new, knitting pattern books and magazines. Try to avoid the projects where the model is in an exaggerated pose. Look for a pattern that may be adapted to your special way of life, quite unlike the model in the phony setting. See for yourself the good and bad ways the design is shown and choose the project most suited for the personality of the wearer.
 
Look at current high-fashion magazines to spot classic good looks and high style. This is how many hand-knitters steer away from trendy projects. On the other hand, many fast and prodigious knitters make a whole wardrobe of “fads.” It is best to “know thyself.” Don’t start something that will obviously be out of style by the time you finish it. Do indulge in smaller fun things if someone will wear them when you get them finished.
 
Don’t get into a khaki-colored K1, P1 rut. Try a new bouquet of knit patterns. Know the person who will wear what you knit because it makes the knitting more fun if something you’ve made is liked and worn—and fun is what it’s all about!
 
Look for knitting ideas, not just in knit shops, but in fashion stores and on the street. Observe strangers and friends. Try on garments to test their feel and see the way they are made. Ask other knitters what they are doing or have done, and if they would do it again. Most knitters are friendly people who will happily share their projects, their past glories, and sometimes even their disasters. Studying other people’s knits is better than copying the adjusted photographed model.
 
Don’t fault the magazine editors who select these photos. Though many seem to be experts, they are journalists and may or may not be knitters. Most probably they are not knitting instructors. They do not necessarily understand the limitations of either knitted fabric or the human body. They have to create magazines that will sell.
 
And don’t fault the photographers, either. Photographers are artists. Rarely are they knitters. They simply do the best they can with what they are given to create an attractive picture.
 
Look for yourself. Think for yourself. Learn to recognize for yourself when something is not right, and trust the judgment of the knitting instructor at your helpful yarn supplier.
 
 
Copyright © 2007 by Maggie Righetti. All rights reserved.