Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Men's sweaters: E-Z adjustments for better fitting garments

Poking around Ravelry the other day, I found a thread where a bunch of fellows were wishing for sweaters which fit better than standard "cylinder" sweaters--they want to show off their manly figures in better-fitting garments.

Yowza!  OK!  I'm ALL for that, so here are two super-quick informal methods to adjust any "stockinette cylinder" sweater for the rising "v" shape evidently at issue. (Naturally, these methods will also work for anyone, male or female, with a chest significantly greater than their waist, but this particular post is pitched towards the fellows who got me started thinking about all this in the first place.) 

METHOD 1: Graduated needle size
Here's a handsome fellow in his graduated needle size jersey--4 different needle sizes were used to knit the scrap of fabric laying under this sketch of a body-builder and you can see the difference in gauge as the fabric climbs the rising V shape of this imaginary fellow's torso.

graduated needle size method

Here's how: Start by closely examining the sweater pattern schematic:  you are looking for a sweater which will fit around the chest at the nipple line with the amount of ease deemed appropriate. Make up your gauge swatch until you get the stitch count for the fabric called for the pattern.  (The nipple line is used because for many men's bodies, this represents the widest part of the chest, so this is the point of departure for garment chest measurements.)

For a standard stockinette-cylinder bottom-up sweater, start the sweater body with waste yarn--knit a few rows or rounds with yarn of the same weight as the sweater to be knit.  The best waste yarns are acrylic or cotton, because these are easy to remove.  You'll go back and take out the waste yarn at the end, working the bottom ribbing last.  (When the ribbing is worked last, you can try the garment on, allowing you to perfectly adjust the length and bottom circumference of the ribbing in real time, rather than worrying about these measurements at the outset, when you really don't know how the garment is going to fit.)

In any event, after the waste knitting, commence to knit the sweater body with needles TWO sizes smaller than the ones needed to get gauge. Work until the garment reaches the lowest rib bone.  Switch to needles 1 size smaller than those needed to get gauge (which would be one size larger than those used so far).  Work until the garment reaches about the third rib bone (this might be a short-ish rise, that's OK--this short stretch is in the nature of a transition zone). Switch to the needles used to get gauge and work further.  If the shoulders are in proportion to the chest, you can stay with these needles all the way up the rest of the garment.  If the shoulders are not in proportion, but larger, then switch to one size larger needles 1/2 way up the armhole.

The sleeves are similarly started on needles two smaller, switched to 1 smaller partway up the forearm (how far up depends on the forearm development) then to the size used to get gauge somewhere around the elbow--again, this depends on the degree of arm development.  For a disproportionately larger upper arm, switch to needles 1 larger just before the bicep bulge, otherwise, work to the top of the sleeve in the needles used to get gauge.   Obviously, if making the garment in the round, it is easy to match the graduation in needle size, but if making up in pieces, be sure to take a note on which rows the change occurs, or you will have trouble matching up the pieces when sewing-up time comes, and there will be puckering and flaring.)

To nail down the needle changes with an example:  suppose the sweater pattern you choose requires a gauge of 5 st/in at the chest.  You would find which size needles you need to get this gauge--say for the sake or argument, a size 6.  You would then knit the bottom of the sweater on size 4, switch to size 5 where the chest begins to flare--the bottom of the ribs, switch again to size 6 just before the nipple-line, at about the third rib up from the bottom.   Stay with the size 6 all the way up, unless you need to accommodate some massive shoulders, in which case, switch to a size 7 halfway up the armhole.

Naturally, graduated needle size comprises an informal approach, and one which may not work on the most heroic figures--despite my strongman sketch-models, actual weight lifters and body builders are probably best advised to get out pencil and paper and do the actual math to figure a rising gauge, as well as actually adding to the stitch count.  However, experience demonstrates that simply graduating the needle size does work for everyday body variations: many women have the identical problem, only just turned upside-down ("^" instead of "v") and this approach has successfully been part of my informal bag o'tricks for a long time--my oldest is 21, so these adjustments have been in use around here for a couple of decades, at least!

Method 2: ribbing

This handsome fellow sports a jersey knit in a 2x1 rib (k2, p1) and you can see how the ribbing stretches as it climbs the rising V shape of his body-builder torso. 

Ribbing method 

This method has the potential to be even easier than graduated needle size.   For this trick you simply work a standard stockinette "cylinder" sweater as instructed in the pattern, with the only change being the switch to ribbing, allowing the clinginess inherent in the fabric to overcome the sagging and bagging which would otherwise occur.  For a sweater which fits around the chest in stockinette, a ribbed fabric will cause the garment to have a moderate amount of negative ease.

A 1x1 ribbing requires the least modification--being a multiple of 2+1 (ie: any odd number), the only change to the stitch count might be the addition or subtraction of a single stitch.  Wider ribbings, such as 2x2 (a multiple of 4+2) or 3x1 (multiple of 4+3) and so on, take more adjustment to the initial stitch count.

Combo approach
The same needles were used to knit the entire ribbed scrap underlying the second sketch, with the nature of the ribbing itself providing the stretch.  However, there is nothing to stop you from COMBINING these methods--using graduated needle size PLUS ribbing to get a really "v" shaped sweater.

A note on yarns
For the graduated method, experience shows that lofty woolen yarns work best.  A very tight twist could look stringy at the largest gauge while feeling stiff at the smallest gauge, but a loftier yarn takes the gauge change without either effect being particularly noticeable.

Good knitting!



amber said...

What about men who are the opposite shape? If I do a ribbed sweater on my husband, it makes his belly look third trimester and in reality his belly is small.

TECHknitter said...

Hi Amber--It is possible to knit ribbing so that, when worn, it does not stretch--ie: by having more stitches in the fabric, so that when worn, there is positive ease in the garment. This allows the ribbing to never have to stretch, and so you don't get the "bulging" effect--good looking on a chest, but on a belly, not so much...

Of course, it is also possible to adjust patterns the other way--so that a garment calling for ribbing is worked in stockinette, which will make the garment larger than it would be in ribbing.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, this was very interesting. If I ever tried it, I might want to do the opposite shape.

Rhonda said...

Very informative... and I love your visual aids!

New York Built said...

I thank you for the heads up on the Men Who Knit forum on Ravelry. I have discovered this technique of changing needle size to graduate sizing...in a great context.

Do this technique, particularly when you are making a stranded sweater or pullover. The pattern stays visually true to the fabric, without wonky changes and weird perambulations to distract the eye from your meticulous pattern following. In addition, the woven stitch to keep the floats in abeyance works well to preserve the tension.

Learned both in my well-thumbed copies of Mary Thomas' books...but I suspect you already knew that, since we are both fans of hers.

TECHknitter said...

Hi NYB--Thanks for reminding me where the graduated needle idea comes from--it's been part of my bag o'tricks for so long, I'd forgotten. This is why we have to be humble and claim only "unventions," because in knitting, there is unlikely to be anything new. Thanks again! TK

kmkat said...

Cool! I was thinking about doing something like this to add a bit of waist shaping to a sweater I am planning in a stitch pattern that doesn't easily allow for increases and decreases. Now I have some better ideas about needle sizes to use.

MikeT said...

Also, some of the broken rib patterns have the same stretchiness as 2x1 or 2x2 ribbing but a lot more visual interest - and the stretchiness is less obvious. I mean, if you have pecs and a V-shaped torso, you might as well flaunt them, but you can flaunt them subtly, instead of having ribbing lines that say "O HAI I HAVE PECS FOR YOU TO ADMIRE."

Azalea said...

Would you kindly expand on this (so to say!) for women with large cup sizes? I've tried to work the front of a sweater as L with the back as M but get tangled up in the armhole stats, and the proportion is more like XL to M, anyway. (I'd fail 3rd grade arithmetic if I tried it now.)

TECHknitter said...

Hi Azelea--the problem of working this trick differentially for the front and back of a garment is, as you say, that there will be trouble at sewing-up time. Instead, it is better to use short rows to add ease to the front WITHOUT adding LENGTH.

Here is a link to a post about the THEORY of short rows


and here is a link to a post about the HOW-TO for short rows.


The idea is like adding a short-row heel--a bulge in the fabric localized to where the bulge is required, so that the heel, for example, is accommodated without adding length to the upper surface of the sock. In this same way, the bust can be accommodated without distorting the back or the armhole.

There are several resources to pursue, also--a "bust line" group on Ravelry, among them.


Diana Troldahl said...

Love the illustrations, and easily adjusted (by reversing the process) for fellas shaped by my strong, handsome, but dumpling-shaped beloved :-}

gayle said...

I once knit a sweater for a friend who had a 28" waist and a 52" chest (and considering he was only 5'8", all that shaping had to take place pretty quickly.) He was very pleased - it was the first sweater he'd ever had that actually fit him. I used a combination of ribbing, increases, and needle changes to make it all happen. (The real trick was making the lower section small enough to look good, but still big enough to fit over his chest so he could put it on. Couldn't talk him into a cardigan...)

TECHknitter said...

Hi Gayle--handknitting saves the day again, eh? Thanks for writing. --TK

kiwiyarns said...

Thank you for this - very helpful! Thank you for so freely sharing your extensive knowledge.

Anonymous said...

Helpful AND entertaining!