All of you are well aware that I'm a total fiber junkie who explores odd nooks and crannies that might hold yarn and fiber wherever I happen to be. Most of you know that I teach various fiber-related classes. Some of you also know that I design knitting, weaving, tatting and crochet patterns, although I keep that fairly quiet. I prefer to help others design rather than have people making my designs.
Yesterday afternoon I was indulging my fiber junkie in a most unexpected way. I actually found a small local store that carries some basic (and decent!) yarns and was happily poking around in a back corner. This place does not advertise itself as a yarn store, and the only reason they carry yarn is that the owner's wife crochets and knits. I was there for a completely un-fiber-related reason, and the yarn was a lovely bonus.
So I'm poking around behind a pillar, happily fondling some skeins, when another customer enters. I carefully put down the skein I was currently cuddling to my cheek (some people simply don't understand yarn etiquette) and prepared to act like a normal person until she had concluded her business and left. The other customer seemed like a nice lady, probably a little older than I, and from her conversation an equally- doting grandmother. But then she made three comments that revealed her as a complete fiend! "I DID follow the pattern - and the sweater didn't fit at all!" To compound matters, she then commented that she never did get gauge with the recommended needles, although she used them for the entire sweater! Her final comment was "If I couldn't do any better than that, I wouldn't have the nerve to make people pay for the pattern!"
You would be so proud of me! I didn't know her, it wasn't my LYS, she wasn't a student of mine, and so I kept my mouth shut. I made none of the snarky comments that were clamoring for release, biting my tongue instead. But this overheard encounter festered through yesterday evening's sit and knit at my LYS; I actually dreamed about it last night; and this morning I've decided to have my say.
First is a sore point of long standing. Patterns are a record of how one (or perhaps two or three) knitters made a certain design to specified measurements. They aren't edicts from a higher power, and you can't leave your brain and common sense behind when you decide to knit that pattern. If all you want to do is completely mindless knitting, stick to knitting items where size doesn't matter. Scarves, shawls, dishcloths, bags, items to be felted later...there are many items at myriad skill levels that don't require fitting. They can keep a knitter happy for decades.
Second, if your actual measurements don't match those stated in the pattern, the resulting garment won't fit you. Don't whine about it and don't blame the designer. You are as your genes and your life choices have made you, and if those have culminated in a 5-foot nothing, 150-pound top-heavy grandmother, you can't logically expect a design created for a 5-foot 8-inch, 135 pound woman with a B cup size to fit!
Finally, if you DO choose to make a knitted item following a pattern marketed by a designer who (I guarantee!) sweated for hours over the details you love, engage your brain and common sense BEFORE you pick up your needles! Do a large gauge swatch in the same knitting technique (back and forth or in the round, in stockinette or in pattern, as specified by the designer) in a yarn identical to or as close as possible to the fiber and weight of the original design. (No, I didn't say color - color doesn't matter - only fiber type and yarn weight!)
Measure, then wash that swatch, let it dry, then measure it again. If your measurements differ from the gauge specified in the pattern, change needles appropriately, make another swatch in the same knitting technique (back and forth or in the round, in stockinette or in pattern, as specified by the designer) in a yarn identical to or as close as possible to the fiber and weight of the original design. Measure, wash the second swatch, let it dry, then measure it again. If your measurements still differ from those specified by the designer, change needles appropriately and do it a third time. Continue as required until your gauge matches the one in the pattern!
If you can't be bothered to perform this step as many times as it takes, don't whine about it when the garment doesn't drape or fit like the one in the photo! The fault isn't with the designer - it's with you! Ditto if you decide to use worsted weight cotton yarn for a design that was made with fingering-weight wool-silk blend. Don't blame the designer for your own choices!
All right, you did five gauge swatches in a fingering-weight wool-silk blend until you got gauge with a needle three sizes smaller than the designer recommended for that same yarn. You chose the bust measurement closest to your own, cast on and knitted as directed, decreasing, increasing, binding off, etc., as specified. The garment STILL doesn't fit. That can't be my fault - it's got to be a bad design!
When and where did you leave your brain, may I ask? There is more to a body than a bust measurement! Some of us are short-waisted, some are long-waisted. Some have hourglass figures, some are straight from hips to shoulders. Remember my second point above? "If your actual measurements don't match those stated in the pattern, the resulting garment won't fit you."
Before you cast on (while your gauge swatch(es) are drying?) sit down with the pattern, a (gasp!) calculator and a list of your own measurements. If the pattern has 6 inches (at the row gauge given) between the hip and the waist, and you have 4.5, make the necessary adjustments to the pattern! If the pattern calls for an 8-inch armhole and you need 9.5, make the necessary adjustments to the pattern! If you need short-rows to accommodate your bust, plan them out before you cast on - decide how many rows you need, how you'll incorporate them into the stitch pattern, and how far above the hem and below the armholes you need to place them.
Do this and any other planning before you cast on. Then knit, trying on as you go. If your plan isn't working, as demonstrated by trying the in-progress garment on your actual body, analyze why and fix it! Don't ever be afraid to rip out knitting - you like to knit, remember? If you rip out, you'll simply have more knitting to do!
All this ranting boils down to two simple points. Every single body is different. Every single knitter must learn how to make a plan for their own knitting.
Of course you can start with a pattern - designers themselves start with a general idea of what they want. Just don't leave your brain behind and allow someone else to make all the decisions for you! It doesn't work in knitting any better than it works in life.
Rant is now complete!