Friday, May 7, 2010

Designing and fitting knitwear: some background considerations

TECHknitting is running a poll, asking you, dear readers, what subjects you would like to hear more about (not too late to leave a comment! fabulous prizes!) Quite a few comments touch on the mega-topic of designing knitwear, and the related issue of making garments which fit.

Frankly, without so many comments, I could never have summoned the gall to tackle so vast a subject. Yet the level of frustration and curiosity about this topic evidently runs high. So, with a big gulp, TECHknitting blog is heading into a series about designing knitwear/knitting garments which fit.

Today: some background considerations. Future posts will go into further detail. The series will end by laying out some resources and tricks to refine the process.

The complexity at the heart of knitwear design: textile creation meets patternmaking

There are formal courses available in designing knitwear, a subject at the intersection of textile design and patternmaking If you click through to any of the links in the foregoing sentence, you will see that these formal courses involve a 2- or 4-year undergraduate degree, complete with thick textbooks of mind-numbing complexity such as "Apparel Product Development," "Complete Guide to Size specification and Technical Design," and "Design and Patternmaking for Stretch Fabrics."

The reason for all this complexity is not far to seek: a successful knit garment requires:
  • that a fabric be created (out of string!!)
  • which is attractive in itself (textures? colors?)
  • which is successfully garment-shaped (all the requisite parts: arms, front, back, all fitting together smoothly)
  • which fits in the desired manner (shoulder style suits the body, neck line reveals or covers what is wanted and no more, arms of correct length and diameter, length correct to reveal or cover desired assets, front style as desired: cardigan, placket, pullover)
  • that the fabric created suit the garment being made, and
  • the whole must be infused with a certain style (cool? warm? high fashion? traditional peasant wear? form-fitting? Channel?)
When we add that the garment should be hand-knit, we up the already-complex equation by another order of magnitude. The fabric created from string is not going to be created by an infallible machine, featuring uniform stitches created by needles immovably set a fixed distance apart. No!

When we hand knit, we now add the requirement that the fabric be created stitch by stitch, with a pair of sticks! Aaaaand ... these sticks are going to be held by a human being--a person who, over the course of the knitting will cycle through the entire human range--relaxed, angry, tired, enthusiastic, distracted, neglectful and passionate. Not to mention, that the garment being knit must be customized to fit one person. And finally, the whole effort is a one-time shot: this garment must work right the first time, no do-overs are planned. Translated into technical terms, all this means that the fabric, size and style must be of such a nature as to allow for significant variation, yet result in a successful garment.

In sum, the complexity at the heart of hand knitting is that we are not only making fabric by hand with all the variability that entails, but, at the same time, we are making a garment. So we have to consider not only the fabric itself (color, texture) but at the very same time, we have also to consider the garment shape and all the baggage that goes with that (fit, fashion, function). And of course, the fabric and garment shape must complement one another.

Putting all this together is a pretty tall order, no? (And an especially tall order to consider over the course of a few posts in a on-line knitting blog!) Nevertheless, we're going to take a shot at untangling some of this complexity: In this series we'll start at the beginning, by looking at some body types. We'll next name the different knit garment shapes and consider their pros and cons for each body type. We'll also consider the fundamentals of fabric creation and the balancing act between garment shaping and fabric creation. The series will wind up with a series of resources and tricks you can use to make knitwear which fits and flatters.

'til next time