About Woolly Wits

I am a hand-knitting designer and teacher. See and purchase my published designs on Ravelry.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Woolly-Wits Asks: How Does a Vertical Line Flatter Your Figure?


Thanks to the Webs catalog for a great example of how a simple design change can make a huge difference in how a hand knit sweater enhances the body.  These are their Basic Pullover and Basic Cardigan patterns available as downloads.  Each pattern can accommodate not only a range of sizes, but a range of yarn weights.  Although the picture captions don't identify the yarn weight used, they both appear to be about a worsted weight.  Both sweaters have the same basic shape: crew neck, drop shoulder, long sleeves, no waist shaping, ribbing at hip and cuff.  And, they are clearly modeled by the same person in the same lighting.  But, look how much slimmer the model appears on the right!  In the pullover, her torso looks shapeless.  There is no feature to direct the eye other than the contrast of sweater and skin at the neck and hands.  That means the eye just circles around and around, turning the lovely model into a visual blob.  When you add the button band, there is now a design element which attracts the eye and moves it vertically.  So, she looks taller and slimmer.  Granted, a button band is a big step up in skill and time required over the pullover, but I think this is the strongest photographic evidence possible that both are the best possible investment. 

These photos are even an argument against the crowd that loudly proclaims that dark colors, especially black, are slimming.  There's no way you could convince me that she doesn't look slimmer in the vivid fuchsia cardigan than the navy pullover.  So, go ahead and live and wear color!

Monday, October 25, 2010

What Not to Knit, Couture Edition

This weekend I was sitting back and reviewing my current crop of fashion magazines.  And, I found a sweater on offer that I thought could not go without comment . . .

This is from the pages of a top, top fashion magazine.  In fact, the very top.  What it is is a Michael Kors sweater and lace skirt.  The skirt is of organic cotton, but it is unclear from the descriptive text whether or not the sweater is also.  But, it is described as a hand-knit boyfriend sweater.  I guess so, if your boyfriend is a NFL linebacker.  I think it violates every rule in the 'What to Knit' guidebook:  grossly oversized, super-bulky yarn, drop shoulders, crew neck, light color, no waist shaping.  It also seems to want to defy the laws of physics.  If this is pure cotton, it has got to weigh a ton.  And gravity is certainly going to be pulling it out of shape with a sagging shoulders and neck - and it is!

What really struck me, though, was how much it resembles every knitter's first sweater.  Doesn't everyone begin with a drop shouldered, crew neck pullover?    And, isn't the craft world a wonderful place when even a beginner knitter can produce a sweater that sells for a mere $1,295 at Michael Kors stores?  (See proof to right.)

Maybe I should rejoice in the fact that the hand knitter might have made something close to an industrialized world living wage.  After all, if it took 20 hours to knit, and she (isn't it another great assumption that the knitter is a she?) made $200 on a $1,295 sweater, that's $10 an hour.  Now, that's probably a huge stretch to think she made that kind of money, given the 100% retail mark up and the number of middle men in the process from cotton boll to store hanger, but maybe it's progress.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Woolly Wits Review of Knitty Deep Fall 2010

I love Knitty.  What's not to love about free patterns that in no way resemble something your grandma would knit for you?  But, it's not just the patterns, it's the education and inspiration too.  And, the community. 

Ahhh, the community.  Doesn't it seem like all the knitty-istas are skinny young things?  Who design sweaters for other skinny young things?  But, there are a few goodies in Deep Fall . . .

Pleased to introduce you to Lia.  She's got a lot going for her.  A fitted shape to show off her curves.  A deep v-neck to elongate the neck and add height.  And, beautiful cable patterning which pulls in just below the bust to accent the girls.  But . . . bulky yarn?  In my view of the world bulk = fat.  The designer, Mandie Harrington, says she chose the Malabrigo Chunky to make the sweater a quick knit.  However, to be it doesn't matter how fast you can finish a project if, the first time you put it on, you think , "this makes me look fat".  Because then it gets shoved to the back of the closet and never worn and there's all the knitting time down the drain.  So, I really want to love Lia but I just can't, baby.

Meet Eileen.  What a great gal.  She has that great dress up/dress down combination of lace knitting and a zipper.  This is a sweater you can see over a dress at work or with sweatpants on the weekend.  She's at a great gauge of 20, so even though the stitch pattern is highly textured, it is not adding a lot of visual weight.  The open zipper and collar create a great v-neck, and the double-ended zipper allows the bottom to open for ease of movement and additional visual interest.  (This is how I wear all my cardigans.  I button two or three buttons just below the bust to highlight the girls and make you think I have a waist, but the bottom flares open to balance my broad shoulders and cover my generous booty.)  I do wish Eileen didn't have such fat arms.  The designer cut the armholes deep to make it easier to layer, but any excess of knitted fabric adds visual weight.  This feature would make me crazy enough to open up my Garment Designer software and rewrite the pattern for a European fit - a higher, tighter armhole.  But, I think Eileen's on my To Do list.

This is the Carnaby skirt by Nikol Lohr.  I love knitted skirts (and in fact I just finished the sidewinder skirt from the fall issue).  What I love about this one is the very strong vertical lines.  The skirt is knit vertically with a heavily textured stitch to help prevent sagging.  The patterned panels are interrupted by short rowed stockinette stitch sections which cause it to flare out and create the A-line shape. The gauge of 19 sts over 4" is just on the edge of what I prefer (since, as I said above bulk = weight) since no one wants extra pounds on their hips and bottom, but I think the vertical design elements help counteract the horizontal spread.  The designer was even thoughtful enough to acknowledge that not everyone is comfortable wearing a 17" skirt, and to give directions for lengthening (or shortening). 

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

What TO Wear Review of Vogue Knitting Fall 2010

Clearly, blogging is not as addictive as some claim. Or else I have a highly non-addictive personality. But, in either case, after a great communication gap, is my next blog. The magazine arrived on my doorstep the day after my last post. Anyhow, these are my favorite flattering designs from the current issue:

Pyramid Jacket, Knit One Crochet Too ad, page 32

This design breaks several of the What Not to Wear Rules, but I am going to give it a pass, because it looks like a fun knit. The body is worked in bias stripes, which, combined with the v-neck and button placket, make a garment which not only makes you look slimmer, but enhances curves. The design features which don’t tickle my feather are the apparent lack of waist shaping, and the drop shoulder which is resulting in a lot of excess fabric in the upper arm.

White lace shawl cardigan, Patons ad, page 46

Yes, this is a crochet garment. I know that expressing admiration for such may cause some to think I have gone over to the dark side. But, can I admire without intent to emulate? This sweater plays on the trend of circular garments, but in an interesting take with lace panels. The great amount of excess fabric at the neck creates a super-full shawl collar, and the garment is styled with a pin to hold it together at the waist. Very, very pretty and feminine.

Design #13 by Brooke Nico, page 84 & 85

My friends are now wondering why I am now singing the praises of another circular lace design. They know I am not the girly type. But, in the interest of objectivity, as well as the knowledge that just as we all have different body shapes, we all have different tastes. This design benefits from shaping which defines a waist and creates a huge portrait collar. And, it appears weightless. The deep blue color is unusual for a lace garment, but I think it adds to its unique charm.

Design #20 by Mari Tobita, page 93

This is a nice design for the more pear shaped. The upper body has deeply textured cable panels which end at the waist and release their fullness creating extra fabric to flow over the bottom and upper thighs. The button band and single cable down the center of the arm both help create the illusion of height.

Design #21 by Norah Gaughan, p. 94

True Confessions: I worship at the temple of Knitting Goddess Norah Gaughan. As I was getting serious about knitting and staring to look at designers, I consistently found myself drawn to hers. I love her unique geometric construction. I love her so much I can even admire a sweater knit in a gauge of 3 sts per inch. Normally I would never wear (or knit) a garment this bulky. The one exception would be a vest. Since the arms are not covered, they bring the sweater back into scale – and even look thin by comparison. This design is especially nice since the tie at high waist pulls the garment in close to the body. And, the ribbing also helps accentuate curves.

Design #28 by Heidi Kozar, page 101

This is a colorful choice for an inverted triangle shape. All the pattern emphasis is at the waist and hip, and this is the figure type that can use the visual weight to balance broad shoulders.

Monday, August 16, 2010

What TO Wear Review of Vogue Knitting Early Fall 2010

Last week I reviewed the fall issue of Interweave Knits.  Just in under the wire (before the fall issue is published next week), is my review of the early fall issue of Vogue Knitting.  They have combined their spring and summer issues and introduced this new one so they have three cool weather issues and one warm weather issue.  This is probably a great idea from a marketing perspective, but has me all out of whack. 

Shawl Collar Sweater from Laura Zukaite’s Luxe Knits, Art Yarns ad,
page 8

I love the drape of this garment and the super-body-lengthening scarf/collar. This would be a great choice for the rounder apple-shaped body who carries her weight through the torso, especially the abdomen, but has thinner legs.  With this body type you want to put all the emphasis at the shoulder and hem - with very little visual excitement in between.  This long, long shawl collar is very dramatic and artsy - and a great opportunity to use a really special yarn. 

Cardigan Design by Yvette Silverman, Cascade Yarns ad, page 37

Again, I love the drape on this garment. The vertical patterning of the knit stitches against a purl background really lengthen the body. And, the peplum defines a waist (for those without one) and gives volume to the lower half (for those who are top-heavy. And, with a simple top and v-neck, this would be a great design for the more busty girl.

Short Sleeve Cardigan, Isager ad, page 41

Again we have vertical knit stitches against a purl background to lengthen the body. But, this time they end in a pretty bell shaped lace pattern at the hip. The elbow-length sleeves also have the lace edge trim for a lovely finished look. The neckline is (again) a v-neck, but, in my opinion, buttons too high. However, as we are knitters, that’s an easy fix. I would omit at least the top buttonhole and probably the top two, but then I am happy to wear a camisole under a top that’s a little too low for comfort.

#11 Long-Line Vest by Erica Schlueter, page 65

And then there’s Maude . . . .

This is a retro look that’s been ready to make a comeback for a while now. And, maybe it should. It’s a great look to lengthen the body to make you appear taller and slimmer, especially when the lines are not interrupted by a lot of color or texture. This design has beautiful shaping, which makes all the difference. (For comparison, see #13, which has no shaping and is nowhere near as slimming.) The cable work at the v-neck has a subtle beauty and relieves the monotony of all that mind-numbing stockinette stitch.

#16 Lace Cardigan by Fiona Ellis

At first I was underwhelmed with this design, although it hits many key ‘what to wear’ elements: lightweight, v-neck, open cardigan, etc. The bracelet length sleeves are right on trend for this winter. Then I noticed the lace panels on the body. They are skewed from the horizontal by short row wedges. This give a huge uptick in the knitting interest, it not the flattery factor. These diagonals are still a little to close to horizontal to be truly curve-enhancing. But, all in all, this is a very nice sweater, especially for a more petite figure.

#17 Belted Shawl Collar Cardi by Renee Lorion

This is a classic shape, and with the wrap and v-neck shawl collar, a really flattering one for most women. As is typical of this design, this one is cabled. Generally, cables fall into the ‘what not to wear’ category, since they add a lot of bulk. But here, Renee has placed vertical panels of lace between the vertical cable panels, which lightens it up, adding drape and reducing bulk. And, two strong vertical elements definitely make the wearer appear taller.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

What TO Wear Review of Interweave Knits Fall 2010

One of my goals for this blog is to guide knitters though current issues of the major knitting magazines in search of patterns which best obey the rules of dressing to look longer and leaner. I’ve been slow to get this going since I’ve spent most of this summer away from home with no access to a scanner, but with the fall issues arriving, and my return imminent, I will attempt to pick up the pace. So, we jump into the fall issue of IK in search of designs which are not crewneck pullovers . . .

Florence Cardigan from Mission Falls Silhouette pattern book, page 15

A great, great classic sweater which will flatter lots of different bodies. It hits all the key points for my body type – curvy, broad shoulders, short-waisted. The design is simple – a fitted v-neck cardigan - with mostly stockinette stitch. What makes it sing is the lace which wraps around all the edges, creating a very flattering vertical panel in center front.

Cloisonné Jacket by Deborah Helmke

This is a practically perfect design for the inverted triangle body – broad shoulders and narrow hips. The shoulder line is a plain stockinette in dark brown. Just above the bust, is a lovely organic color work design in the brown and a bright blue. At the hip line, there’s a strong strip of brown and then a band of lace in the bright blue. All the emphasis at the hip to balance the shadowed wide shoulders. And, add to that a v-neck which fastens with a single hook and eye just above the bust. So, you get a diagonal neckline to visually cut the shoulder line, and it fades into a body-lengthening narrow open front. See? Perfect.

Arching Cables Jacket by Mercedes Tarasovich-Clark

Soooo cute! And what fun to knit! This short, shaped jacket begins with a cabled belt which is turned on its side. Stitches are then picked up from both sides to knit the cabled top and ribbed bottom. And, expecially clever is the v-shaped increase panel in the center back to create additional shaping. The short sleeves are right on trend for fall. This style would work on many different body types, but perhaps not the busty. If one of those girls with plenty were in love with this design, I would highly recommend adding short rows to create a bust dart. This would also not be my first choice for bodies proportionately bigger on top, since the drop shoulder creates excess fabric, which means visual weight!

Cardigan in Tilli Tomas advertisement, page 117, design by www.jenniferknits.com

The disclaimer is that there is only one view of this sweater, and a rather arty one at that. But, I like what I see, and the hidden problems can be addressed with simple alterations. This is a great design for the A & B cup gals, as well as those who need to balance out a larger bottom half. The tuck pleats across the upper chest , as well as the ruffle at the v-neck add volume, but in a very modern way. Since I can’t tell from the photo whether there is waist shaping, I will HIGHLY suggest it be added if missing.

Forest Vest from the Classic Elite Woodland pattern booklet, back cover

Just like the Cloisonné Jacket (above) this is a great design for the inverted triangle. It’s got a v-neck – and double-breasted at that – and plain stockinette stitch at the shoulder. From the low hem to just above the bust are body-lengthening cable panels. They are not so dense as to add visual weight to the torso. The fit is close to the body, and possibly a little A-line (it’s hard to tell from photo). With a lot of attention at the bust, as well as the double-breasted closure, it’s not a good choice for the full figured. But, all those inverted triangles should take a long look.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Where Does the Eye Go?

I recently came across an interesting, and perhaps obvious factoid. The human eye is drawn to bare skin. This certainly should be true from a biological perspective, since the ultimate function of any species is reproduction, and nothing says ‘I’m getting lucky’ like a little nudity. And, I don’t think any social scientist would argue with me on this point either.

So, if we can draw ourselves away from salacious thoughts of Calvin Klein print ad models, let’s think about how this information can be used to the advantage of those of us not likely to be plastering our underwear clad backsides across a billboard any time this century.

If the eye is drawn to skin, it is especially going to be drawn to the transitions between flesh and fabric, since they also offer not only the former, but also a contrast of texture and color. So, we need to give thought to necklines and hems.

Let’s talk hems first. They should always be placed to draw attention to a narrower part of your body. So, if you have fat arms, as I do, your short sleeve should never end at the widest part of your arm. Bring it down closer to the elbow, and your arm will look much slimmer. Also, consider the bosoms. If you want to draw attention to them, end your sleeve even with the fullest bust point. Then you have that focus line pointing right to the girls. But, I don’t need the extra attention, so I’ll be sliding my sleeve cuff down.

The sweater pictured to the left is a lovely design, and the model is certainly trim and shapely, but the cap sleeve is doing her no favors. Not only is it cutting across a meaty section of the upper arm, it is moving at a diagonal, giving an even longer line than if it cut straight across. This is perhaps the hardest sleeve style to wear well. Also notice that if the diagonal line of the sleeve hem were to continue on, it would cross right over the bust. Again, not the sleeve style of choice for a woman trying to de-emphasize her bust line.

The hem of a knit skirt should also be even with a slim point of the leg. For most women, a length around the knee is most flattering. If you are younger and have good legs, you can go just above the knee. If not, you can go just below the knee. A skirt hem at the fullest part of the calf is very unflattering since it implies that your entire non-visible leg is that wide. And, full length is not attractive either if your ankles are not nicely shaped. (We are discussing fabric-to-skin transitions here, so we will defer discussion of sweater hems for another day, since I hope you are wearing something besides your Calvins below.)

Necklines are usually designed to draw attention to one of two areas – the face and the bust. Sometimes they enhance a shoulder, a back or a neck, but these are definitely the secondary players. Today let’s assume that we are ladylike, and want to focus attention on our lovely faces, rather than those other assets further south. (And for many of us, they slide even further south every day.) As we learned, bareness on the chest is going to draw the eye there. So, if there is no distracting cleavage, the eyes will move up to the face. With a wide neckline exposing lots of skin, such as a scoop or deep v-neck, the eye might linger for a moment or two. But, if you have a narrow linear opening, such as a slit or an unbuttoned cardigan, that vertical line is going to move the eye right up to the face. And, while I don’t mind the occasional admiring glance at my figure, whilst in conversation I would prefer the focus on my deep brown eyes.

Monday, June 28, 2010

What Not to Knit, Part II

"Here's a lesson every knitter should try to learn before they have a closet full of unflattering knit stuff: Sweaters are clothes.  I know, it seems obvious - but it took me forever to realize that my rules for what I'll wear are the same no matter where the clothes come from.  If you wouldn't but it, don't knit it -  even if it would be really, really fun to knit." - Stephanie Pearl McPhee, a.k.a. the Yarn Harlot

With this in mind, I pass along a pattern which recently came through my electronic in-box: The Nina Vest in Sahara from Stacey Charles.

I think it's a fabulously flattering design.  The deep vee neckline really lengthens the torso.  The wrap draws emphasis to the waist.  And, the inverted vee at the bottom echos the vee at the top.  The combination of yarn and lace pattern appears to give the design drape and flow.  

So, who should be cautious in selecting this great design?  The vee at the bottom will draw attention to a pronounced tummy.  Those of us with fat upper arms would want to make sure we wore a garment with sleeves underneath.  And, deep vees can be an issue for those with narrow shoulders. But, except for these caveats, I call this one a winner!

What Not to Knit

The major knitting magazines – Interweave Knits, Knitter’s and Vogue in print and Knitty and The Twist Collective online – offer many clever, fun-to-knit designs. But only a fraction of these designs are truly flattering to the less-than-perfect figure, such as mine, and - maybe - yours (Supermodels can stop reading here). Of course, every figure is unique, but there is a basic set of principles that will, when applied to a garment – hand knitted or not - make the wearer appear taller and thinner. And, isn’t that what we all want? (Supermodels: I already told you to take a hike - not that you need the exercise)!

The more flattering a garment is – the better it makes us feel about our bodies – the happier we are to be when we wear it. And, knitters spend so much time and money to make a garment, they should love the result.

If you hang around a yarn shop long enough (and I have certainly logged my fair share of hours – let alone dollars), you’ll hear some variation of, “I have a closet full of [hand knit] sweaters, and I never wear them.”

So, where do knitters go wrong? Often, it’s in the choice of garment to create. We are seduced by the beauty of a sweater on the model in the photo. Or, it’s worked in a technique we always wanted to try. Or, we already have the yarn in our stash. Absolutely wrong, quite possibly wrong and definitely - potential-to-be-wrong. Knitting a sweater is a long-term relationship that must be approached with the same critical evaluation with which we choose a long-term mate. A careful examination of the strengths and weaknesses of this potential companion and how those complement or combat our own is vital to our future happiness. A hasty choice made at the yarn shop can be just as disastrous as a twenty-minute engagement culminating in a Vegas wedding officiated by an Elvis impersonator. Being swept away rarely results in a life-enhancing decision.

Of course, many things can go wrong with your sweater after the honeymoon. We found out the gauge swatch lied to us about its true nature. The pattern can’t or won’t communicate clearly with us. Or, we simply lose interest after that first hormone-induced rush has faded. But, all of these troubles can be resolved through knowledge, understanding or the help of a counselor at the yarn shop. What can’t be fixed is a sweater design that is inherently incompatible with your self.

As a hand knitting designer and teacher, I want all knitters to be confident in their choices and satisfied with the results. So, I am going to share with you all that I know about the general rules of dressing to look longer and leaner, as well as how to address specific body issues – narrow shoulders, big boobs, short-waisted, too much junk in the trunk, etc. This knowledge will guide you in choosing knitting patterns that will flatter your specific body. I’ll also show you can be misled by patterns and how to read the photos and schematic of avoid this problem. And, a thousand other tips and tricks I’ve learned since I started knitting at age seven. (Thanks mom!). But, it’s all from the perspective of a knitter, and not fashionistas. They can go to the store and try on dozens of sweaters to find the one with the perfect fit that shows off their curves and makes their blue eyes sparkle. Knitters can’t try on a pattern, so we have to be smarter. And, I know knitters are!

So, that’s a taste of what’s to come. I hope it’s not too much of a tease. But, I know there are knitters out there who can’t wait for this font of knowledge to start flowing. You’ve got to cast on. Now. So, I’m going to start with a review of patterns published in the spring issues of my favorite magazines. I’ll point out the designs which demonstrate the "what to knit" principles, any pitfalls for particular body types and possible changes to increase their flatter-ability. So, look for the next post . . .