Knitting at Large blogger Julie Matthews gives advice on adapting patterns for plus-size women
As a plus-size woman, I spent decades wishing I could wear beautifully crafted, natural-fibre sweaters with intricate cables or colourwork. Instead, all I could buy were cheaply made, fine-gauge, acrylic garments that looked frumpy and shoddy after only a few wearings.
Frustrated, I decided it was time to learn to knit a sweater that fits regardless of my size and shape. I read every knitting book I could find, took classes with several well-known knitwear designers, and spent my leisure time knitting, knitting, knitting. Fast forward five years – I now have an entire wardrobe of spectacular pullovers and cardigans, each made with top-quality yarns, that fit well and look great.
Here are five important things I’ve learned about knitting ample sweaters:
1. Size doesn’t matter
In knitting, sizes are mere suggestions. There is little standardisation in knitwear sizing; an extra-large in one pattern may be the same as a large in another. Accept the unfortunate reality that sizes mean nothing in the knitting world. The only things that matter are the finished garment measurements. Change your thinking from “I wear a size 24” to “I wear a 127cm sweater.” Note that the finished garment measurements are your actual body measurements plus ease, or the extra room you need to feel comfortable in your sweater.
2. Use a sweater schematic
If a sweater pattern doesn’t have a schematic, you should make one. A schematic provides the road map to knitting the sweater. If you don’t have one, it’s like driving without a map or a compass from Washington, DC to Washington State on a cloudy day. You’ll neither know where you’re going or where you’ll end up.
The easiest way to make a schematic is to use graph paper, a pencil, and a ruler. Using the measurements provided in the pattern, draw the pattern to scale. Then draw your measurements on top and you’ll immediately see the modifications you need to make. For example, here is the revised schematic for the sweater I’m currently making with my modifications shown in red.
3. Take accurate measurements. And swatch!
The operative word is ACCURATE. Don’t guess. Don’t fudge. If you want the sweater to fit when you’re done, then you must take good measurements. Try using this worksheet from the Craft Council or equivalent.
And yes, you MUST swatch a tension square first. Don’t skip this incredibly important step. You must know that you are knitting to the correct tension, and the only way you can know is if you swatch. Just do it!
4. Use lots of buttons on cardigans
Most cardigans are designed for six or seven buttons; I always use ten or more. Larger bodies, especially busty or curvy ones, need more buttons. They will eliminate both the gaping space between buttons and the need for safety pins, too.
5. Practise makes perfect
In the past five years, I’ve made over two dozen sweaters and each has been a learning experience. None of these sweaters are perfect, but each one is better than the last. Knitting inevitably improves over time, and so does sweater making. Persevere and practise and you’ll soon be making sweaters you love.
You can read more of Julie’s adventures in plus-size knitting at knittingatlarge.com.