Knitting Ninja

Friday, January 13th, 2012 11 comments

I burst out laughing when I opened this on Christmas morning – my manga obsessed 15 year old created this for me as a gift. She also made her father a t-shirt with an image of a samurai, and baked her heart out for every member of the family.

I’ve also posted a close up on my flickr stream. Should I put the kid to work so that we have a knitting ninja calendar in 2013?


Thursday, December 15th, 2011 23 comments

For such a quiet little web site, my site does require quite a bit of work – hence the silence. I am happy to report that I’ve mostly won the battle and added lots to it in the past few weeks, both seen and unseen. There are now kits, needles, notions and a few books I’m enthusiastic about. Also had a wee sale on black Friday which was announced to newsletter subscribers only – I will continue to announce any price breaks solely there, so sign up if you’d like to be in the loop!

But, back to the subject at hand…
It’s been a while since I promised to write about grading, but it’s a lengthy subject and requires an uninterrupted block of time.

Before we can start about grading, let’s take a quick look at patterns and where they come from. When I speak about patterns, I don’t mean stitch patterns but rather the garment pieces garments are comprised of – what you see when you look at schematics. These are drafted using one of two methods: draping or the flat pattern method. Draping is done by pinning and positioning fabric on a dress form to develop the desired garment. I usually drape an a half size dress form, as can be seen in the photograph at the top of this post.

Flat patternmaking begins with what is known as a block or sloper – these are shells which fit the body with only wearing ease added. Sewing enthusiasts can purchase a pattern for one from one the four big pattern companies; in theory, any changes that must be made to it for fit would also be made to any pattern from the same company whether it is for length, width, etc. An example of a fitting shell can be viewed here.

Once a block has been perfected, it can be used again and again to create new styles by drawing new style lines. One could use the bodice alone to create the pattern for a vest –  the neckline could be redrawn to a deep V, with length added below the waist and more wearing ease  added throughout if needed. This is a very basic example, but I think you get the idea.

Once the pattern pieces have been perfected for the sample size, grading can begin. Let’s take a look at a front bodice to begin:

As you can see, the piece above represents only half of the front bodice. There’s no need to show both pieces as they are identical mirror images.

Succinctly, grading (or sizing) refers to extending the range of sizes garments are available in. The patternmaker takes the pattern drafted to fit the sample size and makes the adjustments needed so that it will fit smaller and larger sizes. It isn’t simply a question of blowing up the pattern a certain percentage – doing so would result in parts of the garment being ill-fitting as the shoulders and neck do not follow the same growth curve as the hip and bust do. The adjustments must been evenly distributed in a way similar to this:

The particular pattern piece shows what the grading would be for a difference of 1 1/2″ – the overall size grade can be seen by adding the three numbers at the very bottom and quadrupling them, since we can only see a quarter of the entire bodice. As you can see, the bust and waist are made bigger by the full 1 1/2″ while the shoulder width has increase only by 3/8″ across the entire width. The neck is slightly  wider, gaining only 1/8″ across the width, but deepens a little as well by another 1/8″. The armhole is a little deeper, as is the length from underarm to waist.

I won’t bother showing a plain sleeve – I think you’ve all seen one of those before. Let’s see one being graded instead.

In the sleeve above, which is also graded for a 1 1/2″ difference in overall bust size, we see a few interesting things. First, the forearm and upper arm have different grading rules applied: the former gained only 1/4″ while the latter gained a full 1/2″. These are the only width changes – all the others confine themselves to the length, which needs to be added at the cap as well as at to the forearm and upper arm(note that the length of the sleeve was split in two both to allow for differing grades for the forearm and upper arm and to properly position an elbow dart, if needed). Which brings me to a little aside…

Over the years, I have heard many comments regarding length in knitting schematics. Often, knitters are under the impression that the only changes grading should bring to a pattern are to the width with perhaps some added length to the cap and armhole – the logic being that since patterns are graded to fit the same stature, they shouldn’t have added length through the body and sleeve. Sorry, but that’s wrong.

Girth does indeed add length to a pattern piece. Let’s do a little math – I know how much you all like math.

Let’s take two ovals – both are 10″ high but one is 5″ wide while the second is a perfect circle at 10″ wide. The circumference of the ellipse is 24.84 (no need to pull out your calculator, unless you want to – there’s an online calculator right here), while the circumference of the circle is 31.4. Even taking into account that the pattern piece only needs half of the the circumference to reach the top, we still have a difference of over 3 1/4″ in length. By the way, I’d like to apologize for not dressing any balls as proof. I’m too much of a slacker, I guess.

Anyhow. Spread it around, will you? I’m really tired of seeing patterns out there with the same body and sleeve length *for all sizes*.

Enough for that particular intermission. Back to grading.

I’m sure a few of the knitters will already have looked at the examples above and remarked that they are intended for cut patterns. That’s true, but I have yet to find a resource intended specifically for knitwear so used the logic above and converted to apply to knitwear using percentages and divisions. The full grade (1 1/2″) became my 100% while the other measurements were derived thusly:

Full grade: 100%

Front: 50%; full grade divided by 2

Back: 50%; full grade divided by 2

Shoulder Width: 25%; full grade divided by 4

Neck Width: 8.33% (*); full grade divided by 12

Side Depth: 8.33% (*); full grade divided by 12

Armhole Depth: 12.5% (*); full grade divided by 8

Neck Depth: 8.33% (*); full grade divided by 12

Wrist: 16.67% (*); full grade divided by 6

Bicep: 33.34% (*); full grade divided by 3

Sleeve Length: 16.67% (*); full grade divided by 6

Cap Length: 8.33% (*); full grade divided by 12

When I begin to grade a sweater, I begin by choosing my grading increment - in the case of a stockinette garment, I’d opt for a number divisible by 4 to make things easier. If it was a pullover knit at a gauge of 6 stitches to the inch, I might opt for a grading increment of 20 or 24 stitches. I probably wouldn’t choose an increment of 12 stitches as I’d then need too many sizes to run the gamut of 32″ to 50″ finished bust size – I feel it makes the pattern less legible as locating the correct size between a range of 6 (32″/36″/40″/44″/48/52″”) is easier than locating from a range of 11 or so sizes (32″/34″/36″/38″/40″/42″/44″/46″/48/50″/52″) . The fit can always be fine tuned by aiming for a gauge *slightly* looser or tighter than specified for in the pattern.

If my sweater was patterned, I’d have fewer choices as my stitch pattern would then dictate my grading increment. Whatever the increment ends up being, I convert it to an actual measurement and go on from there. A spreadsheet is invaluable for this, as a set of formulas divide the increment for each pattern piece and size, and the next set of formulas translate these measurements into stitches. Here’s an example:

This is just a portion of a spreadsheet, and it is something that no one else sees usually – it ends up being pretty messy, as I create formulas for any calculations I need along the way. You can see that the formulas suggest numbers impossible for knitwear (such as 143.9 stitches) – a line follows where I adjust the number into a whole one, and the following line indicates what measurement I should use on my schematic.

Where a spreadsheet really shines is at keeping track of small changes – imagine I was grading a sweater with a gauge of 4 stitches to the inch, for instance, and that my stitch pattern was 5 stitches wide. I’d probably have to opt for a grading increment of 5″ if I wanted to add 2 repeats of  my stitch pattern on each front and back. The grading for the  front and back would be easy, as each would need an additional 10 stitches per size. The neck width would be a different story, though, as each subsequent size would require an additional 0.41″, or 1.66 stitches:

With the help of the spreadsheet, I can use a little conjecture to decide where it’s acceptable to add a little extra width to the first, and where it is best to opt for a somewhat smaller opening.

Enough for today. If you’re still reading this (anyone?), here’s a little bibligraphy.

Grading Techniques for Fashion Design Second Edition – Jeanne Price & Bernard Zamkoff (the book I use the most, but OOP, unfortunately)

Pattern Drafting and Grading: Women’s and Misses’ Garment Design – M. Rohr (an old favorite; also OOP but the prices aren’t quite as high)

Concepts of Pattern Grading: Techniques for Manual and Computer Grading Second Edition – Kathy Mullet, Carolyn Moore & Margaret B. Prevatt Young (I haven’t read this one, but may for fun)

As always, ask any questions you may have in the comments!


Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011 2 comments


Lyn and Kelly guessed correctly - I am indeed knitting Carol Feller‘s Corcovado from the last Twist Collective. It’s a nice break to knit someone else’s pattern!

While I do appreciate the freedom of following a pattern, I pretty much never knit any pattern as written. First of all, I can’t – as I discussed the other day, most patterns are written for someone measuring about 5’6″ to 5’7″. I am not exceedingly short (5’3″ *and* 3/4″), but clothing is generally just a little too long. The first thing I do is study the schematic.

Doing so, I first saw that the body length for Corcovado is 22″ for all sizes. Adding the armhole depth and shoulder shaping results in over 30″ overall length – which means the hem would hit mid-thigh. A good 4″ would have to come off. But here’s where the style preference comes in – I’d rather have a nice, deep ribbing at the bottom. 3″ sounds about right – a total of 7″ would have to be lopped off.

It was a piece of cake applying that change to the front – I merely multiplied 7 by the sts-per-inch number and cast on that many fewer stitches (using a provisional method; you can’t see it here but I’ve grafted the cast-on edge to the back’s side seams. It’s nice and flat). The back required a few more calculations, but nothing too tricky – I’ve talked about it before and I can assure you that it gets easier each and every time. I intend on picking up stitches for the bottom band and knitting down, so cast-on the back with a provisional method as well.

One more thing worth noting – see how all the ends are on the bottom? I’d rather keep my shoulder edges nice and clean so began the left front with a wrong side row, thereby executing colour changes at the hem. It meant that my slip rows would also occur on the wrong side, but only entails working ‘sl1 wyib, p1′ instead of ‘k1, sl1 wyif’.

Oh, and Laura asked – the colours I used are softspun in black, and regal in ‘fir green’ and dark grey’.

2 Quick things

Friday, November 18th, 2011 3 comments

I’ve cast on for a purely me project – can you guess what it is? The pattern calls for Softspun – which I chose as my MC – but I’m using Regal instead for CC1 and CC2. I might jabber on about the changes I’m making if anybody’s interested (for both fit and personal taste).

Contest Update:

As much as it saddens me, I had to give up on 559 – perhaps somebody threw away their ticket, not realizing how close they were to baby alpaca joy.

So, I picked a new number (1214), which ended up being Christina in Montana – one of the customers and newsletter subscribers. Her response: ‘are you serious?’…

Vote for Mo!

Tuesday, November 8th, 2011 3 comments

Patternfish began rolling out its November newsletter this morning and you may have noticed I have a little something in there – it’s a sweater I made especially for my sister-in-law, Monique. You heard about Mo before – I showed her first project a few entries back (a bit of an overachiever, isn’t she?) – but this is the first time I’ve showed a picture of her on this blog. Isn’t she gorgeous?

Her sweater was initially to be named ‘Blue MOon Pullover’ – get it? Mo? But we feared it would just look like one giant screaming typo. Blue Moon it is, then.

Anyhow: I’m not sure how long voting will last, but you can see all the finalists right here. And, if you feel so inclined, vote for Mo!

Oh! And I’m still waiting for number 559 to get in touch with me – check your tickets, everyone! If I don’t hear by the 18th, I’ll pick a new number.

Calling Number 559

Friday, November 4th, 2011 No comment

Oona’s birthday has come and gone, and the time has come to pick a winner (with the help of If you hold number 559 in your hands, let me know! Reach me at infoATstdenisyarnsDOTcom.

Sample Sizes

Friday, October 21st, 2011 8 comments

*this photograph has nothing to do with this post – I just can’t bring myself to post without any images…

Ever since I taught a class about custom fitting your knits in Iceland, I’ve been mulling over discussing the issue on this blog. Before I begin, I think it would be best to talk about where we are (usually) starting from in order to best illustrate the concepts used to alter garments for one’s figure.

To start with, one needs to know which size most knitting patterns are calibrated for. Whether we are talking about knitting patterns, sewing patterns or even ready to wear, a garment is designed in what is called a sample size before being graded to fit other sizes. This varies, but only slightly, from one maker to the next – the measurements used are typically about 34.5″ around the fullest part of the bust, while the waist and hip respectively measure 26.5″ and 37.5″. Furthermore, this sample size measures 5’7″ and wears a B cup.

In ready to wear, this size is often designated as a 4. In sewing patterns, these measurements would be a little larger than a 12 through the bust and hips. Coincidently, have any of you ever heard that Marilyn Monroe wore a 16? Many like to use this fact in order to make a point about today’s women being held up to slimness standards not seen in Marilyn’s day. The problem with this assertion is that clothing sizes have changed since Marilyn’s day – I just grabbed one of my vintage patterns, and a 16 is marked as being 34-28-37. In other words, quite close to today’s size 4 (I have to admit that the fact that the waist size was larger when women wore girdles makes me pause for a moment).

I’ve asserted before that sample sizes vary from one manufacturer or make to another, and it does. It isn’t really as foolish as it seems, though – in ready to wear (RTW) , manufacturers need to address their customer base as best they can and different age groups have different fit concerns. So this may explain why one store’s size 4 fits one woman better than another’s. If this a subject you find yourself particularly interested in, I would suggest reading Fashion-Incubator, Kathleen Fasanella‘s blog. She posted a very thorough discussion on vanity sizing a while back which I have found fascinating.

I hope that all this discussion about sizes versus measurements have made one point amply clear – it isn’t enough to look for one’s size and one should rather look at the finished measurements of the desired garment. This is very, very important when regarding knitting patterns as the alpha sizing has absolutely nothing to do with RTW but rather uses letters in addition to measurements in order to avoid long strings of numbers in the pattern when directions are given for only a few of the sizes. It can be confusing to someone who expects a knitting pattern to match their RTW size  - a pattern containing 8 sizes separated by a grading increment of 2″ would likely result in a  large with a finished measurement of 38″ whereas a RTW large often designates an actual bust measurement closer to 40″. In this case, a string of finished measurements like these:

32 (34, 36, 38, 40, 42, 44, 48)”

And would result in a string of alpha sizes such as these:

XS (XS, S, M, L, XL, 2XL, 3Xl, 4XL)

I can also assure you that an off the peg 4XL will not have a finished circumference of 48″, unless said garment contains lycra in its fabric.

Note that I’ve talked about actual body measurements and finished measurements – knitting patterns differ from sewing patterns and RTW in that they present the knitter with finished measurements whereas the latter present sizes. Sewers (sewists? seamstresses?) pick a pattern and must consult the paper pattern or measure it in order to determine its finished measurements (they also often sew a mock garment called a ‘muslin’ out of inexpensive fabric to test the fit, but I doubt I’ll be convincing knitters to do the same anytime soon). So, Knitters not only need to know what their actual body measurements are but also need to know how much ease is needed in order to choose the appropriate size to knit from in a pattern. We’re told that ease is a matter of preference, but that is only true to a certain point – if a garment’s silhouette is supposed to be close fitting, a knitter should not attempt to knit a version with 6″ or more of ease as the fit would be poor throughout as a result.


Silhouette Tops Jackets Coats
Close Fitting 0-3″ n/a n/a
Fitted 2.75″-4″ 3.75″-4.25″ 5.25″-6.75″
Semi-Fitted 4.25″-5″ 4.5″-5.75″ 6.75″-8″
Loose Fitting 5.25″-8″ 5.75″-10″ 8.25″-12″
Very Loose Fitting 8″ + 10″ + 12″ +


The terms used in this table will be familiar to those who sew – sewing patterns include written description which detail the fit as well as any feature of the pattern, such as pockets. Unfortunately, knitting patterns don’t indicate in the description what kind of silhouette the garment is designed. Some indicate how much ease, but knitters must often use their own judgement to determine how much ease to add to their actual body measurements.

Which wouldn’t be so hard if we were all 5’7″ and wore a B cup… we’d just add however much ease we need to our actual bust measurement and choose the appropriate finished measurement.


That’s enough for now – one day, I’ll explain how grading is done when it comes to knitting patterns. In the meantime, please ask any questions you may have in the comment section- I’ll check in and answer to the best of my abilities.


Vero leaves again

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011 No comment

We’ve been quite the traveling pair this year, Marcel and I – he went to Connecticut, then I went to Iceland, then he went to  Newfoundland, then I went to New Brunswick, then he went to Stratford and now I’m going to Rhinebeck. Which is why he ended up scribbling ‘vero leaves again’ on the kitchen calendar. But we’ll be staying put once I return… I think.

As I’ve already mentioned, I’m off to Rhinebeck this Friday with Tara and blogless Kate-the-Enabler. I skipped it last year and while it really couldn’t be helped (it happened too soon after  the infernal renos), I really missed it – so I decided to celebrate with a  contest. It actually started a little while back when I started distributing these at KnitEast:

As you can see, each has an unique number – I’ll be announcing the winner here on Oona’s birthday this upcoming November 2nd, so you’ll all have to check your numbers then if you aren’t a customer or a newsletter subscriber. Customers and newsletter subscribers may have more than one chance to win, as numbers will be assigned to each single purchase as well as to all subscribers. And of course, if one of you bumps into me in Rhinebeck and is already  entered via the newsletter, a ticket would provide an additonal chance to win.

So, what is the prize? Why, 16 skeins of the beautiful sommet in the colour or colours of your choice. Would you like 16 different colours? Done! What about 4 skeins each of 4 different colours? No problem!

Oh, and speaking of newsletter – I was recently asked how one signs up. There are two ways: you can either create an account and check the box to subscribe to the newsletter, or you can visit this page and add your email to the list. Either will work fine.

And with that, I’m off – I still have a few rows to add to my Rhinebeck cardigan and a bit of packing to do. Don’t forget to say hi if you see me!





Monique’s blankie

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011 4 comments

Sometime last year, prompted by a dear friend’s pregnancy, Monique asked if I’d guide her in knitting her very first project. She’d only knit before, and had never cast on, bound off or done any kind of decrease. I immediately accepted and visited Patternfish on my ipad so that she could choose what to knit for Kate (also known as the boss of our hair). Imagine my surprise when she chose my bear claw blanket, without even knowing that I had designed and knit for IK back in 2003*.

I warned her that this entails a fair bit of knitting, but she was undaunted. We agreed to substitute yarn, as I have a bit on hand, and selected a palette for baby-to-be Ella by playing around in Illustrator.

Because Nordique is heavier than the original yarn, Mo decided to knit only 4 squares but decided to knit a wider border. It didn’t end up being ready for Ella’s birth – a couple months would have been a bit of an optimistic timeline for a woman with two boys under the age of 6, don’t you think? – but it was ready and blocked with time to spare for her first birthday.

Mittens are next – as soon as I come back from Knit East, she’ll come over and select her colours for a pair of Jared‘s Northlight Mittens. Perhaps she’ll catch the blogging bug and will tell you all about it herself (she’s now on ravelry, btw).

And, speaking of Knit East, I’ve decided to run another little contest. Anyone I meet in New Brunswick and Rhinebeck will receive an entry coupon. Those who can’t make it to either can enter by subscribing the the newsletter. I’ll share a few more details in a couple days.

*It took me 6 weeks to knit the original, and I must have knit literally during every waking moment. Since then, we refer to seemingly insurmountable endeavors simply as ‘bear claw’. Ironically, IK decided not to run the pattern until 2005!


Monday, September 19th, 2011 4 comments

Those who don’t subscribe to the newsletter probably don’t know that we recently added something new to our collection:

This is Sommet - it’s a pure baby alpaca which knits up at the same gauge as Nordique. Trust me… I’ve tested it every which way to Sunday!

First, I swatched by its lonesome using Laura Grutzeck‘s Hunter Jacket pattern as its basis:

Next came a portion of the border from the Green Mountain Shawl. I went up a couple of needle sizes, as I did when I knit the original.

I was having fun, can you tell? So, I tried to see how the halo would stand out against Nordique. Jared used Boreale in his Northlight Mittens pattern (scroll down a bit – it’s on the fourth row), but Nordique and Sommet will also work – it’ll just be a warmer pair of mittens.

I then tested out a strand each of Nordique and Sommet… perhaps I’ll add a big collar to Gamine at some point in the future.

For a lighter weight garment, a strand each of Boreale and Sommet. This is the border from Robin‘s Woodward Cardigan from the last issue.

Finally, I swatched Sommet double stranded. Oona’s Hoodie is a good choice for a heavier, pure alpaca garment as it is fitted and seamed. Alpaca does not share wool’s elasticity so care has to be taken when selecting a pattern for it. I am planning a yoked cardigan knit in the round, but it will be fitted and knit using a single strand – I don’t imagine I’ll have any problems since it is a sport weight.

Now, it’s your turn! Enjoy swatching…