Reader Christina is pissed. She writes:
why do designers stop sizing at 40 inch busts, especially since 67% of American women have more than 40" of rack? Secondly, why the HELL did Cheryl Oberle "size" her patterns in "Folk Vests" with bigger needles?
Christina is not alone. Time and time again, I hear people complain about the limited size ranges that commercial patterns come in. More commonly, knitters complain about the sizes not going big enough but I also have a colleague at Rosie's who has trouble because the patterns don't go down small enough for her extremely petite figure.
I wish to take a stand, first of all, on the issue of "sizing" patterns by suggesting that the knitter use a larger needle. It's crap. It's lazy. It's sloppy.
When I work with a yarn, I play around with different needle sizes until I find one that I think creates the best fabric for my project using the yarn. Using a larger or smaller needle than that won't give the same quality of fabric. There can also be other issues of proportion and gauge that make this unworkable. To suggest that a sentence saying "For a larger size, use a larger needle" is tantamount to resizing the pattern is bullshit. I'm right there with you on that one, Christina.
Now onto the meatier question of why commercial patterns don't come in a larger range of sizes. If statistics showed that, say, 60% of all American men wore a size 9 or larger shoe, do you think that shoe manufacturers would make, say, 80% of all men's shoes in size 8 or smaller?
Leaving aside the potential question of sexism, why do pattern manufacturers seem to consistently overlook larger sizes?
My own personal suspicions are crass. First and most significant, I suspect that pattern manufacturers simply don't pay their designers enough for designers to want to write their patterns in a wider range of sizes. It is work to create a broad range of sizes in a pattern; it's not just a matter of math, but also proportion, and fit, and other things. If you're getting paid a nominal amount for a design, or in some cases, nothing, you just don't have much of an incentive to go out of your way to increase the size range of your patterns. Why do more work for the same money?
This is not a slam on designers (although in some cases, laziness may be part of the problem). Designers just don't get paid that much for the amount of work that goes into creating a design. A lot of people design for the love of the craft, and this means that there are lots of people willing to produce designs for free or very nominal amounts. It's hard to lobby for more money when someone else out there is willing to do it for free. Remember, when you design a sweater, you have to knit up a sample garment (sometimes providing the yarn yourself) as well as writing the pattern. For e-zines like Knitty, you also have to provide photographs. You might be getting paid as little as a hundred or a hundred and fifty dollars for an adult sweater, maybe with cables or fair isle or some other labor-intensive design feature; try hiring a test knitter while keeping a significant proportion (any!) of that amount! You may not have that much time to turn around a sweater, and you may face additional challenges adapting your original concept to the finished garment. (What if you swatch a design in a fingering-weight matte wool in a solid color, and the company purchasing the design sends you a bag of worsted-weight variegated mohair with sparkles?)
Another cynical idea that crossed my mind was that maybe pattern manufacturers don't particularly care if larger-sized people make their designs. Let's face it: many of the designs out there are made for models who look like sticks, who are very tall, with no boobs or butt and with an extremely low body fat percentage. That sweater isn't going to translate well on a curvy woman with different body proportions. The pattern manufacturer may figure that women above a certain size just aren't going to make that cropped tube top, so why bother sizing it way up?
Being the gonzo blogger that I am, I decided to go a step further and ask a bunch of knitting designers. I posted a query to a knitting design list I belong to and got these additional reasons:
1. Fit of garments can't always be changed simply by making the size bigger; bigger bodies have curves in places that smaller bodies don't and require more individualized tweaking to look good. Sometimes this would require completely reworking a design and altering it. A knitter will probably get a better result for her individual body by tailoring it to her particular body.
2. It takes more time to knit sample garments in larger sizes than in smaller ones. Deadlines are often extremely tight, giving a designer only a few weeks from swatch to finished garment.
3. The overall style and age group of a design may determine the size range. "Hipper" and "trendier" designs may be geared to smaller sizes on the theory that younger women and teens tend to be slimmer, while more "classic" designs may appear in a larger range of sizes.
4. When publishers try to market designs at the large end of the spectrum, people don't buy them and so they've stopped doing them.
5. Publishers like simple patterns that are easy to edit and follow. The wider the range of sizes, the more complicated (and lengthy) the pattern gets. (For example: For sizes XS and S, do X. For size M and L, do Y. For sizes XL and XXL, do Z.) Many knitters like simple patterns, too, and it costs less to produce shorter patterns (less pattern, less paper) so there are many incentives to keeping patterns short and as uncomplicated as possible.
So there you have it, Christina. Some of those answers make sense to me: for example, the idea that you'll get a better fit by individualizing the pattern to your body needs makes sense and is true, to a more or less degree, for many knitters who don't fit into an "average" set of measurements. Others, like the publishers aren't interested in plus-size knitters, don't sound very valid to me.
Before I turn over the comments to you readers, it bears asking whether it is, in fact, true, that patterns don't come in a wide range of sizes. Let's set aside
Big Girl Knits and Classic Knits for Real Woman by Martin Storey et al., the two recent entries into the world of "plus-sized" knitting. And don't get me started on the Delta Burke collection of patterns.
Rowan patterns have in recent years tended to stop at a 40-inch or maybe a 42-inch bust for women -- pretty small. (However, Rowan announced at TNNA that, beginning this fall, their patterns would include expanded size ranges. We'll see whether this includes all of their patterns and exactly how expanded they will be.)
Dale patterns traditionally go way up in size; the problem is that they tend to be extremely time-consuming stranded patterns with drop shoulders and no shaping. Not very conducive to playing up one's body strengths.
A recent Elsebeth Lavold book shows patterns with finished (I think) bust sizes of up to 54 inches in one particular pattern and 51 inches in another. Pretty good.
A 2004 Knitter's Magazine showed some patterns in expanded size ranges (including a nice Elsebeth Lavold one that went up to the 50s) but others ended at 40-inch busts.
A recent Interweave Knits also showed some patterns -- but certainly not all -- with a finished width in the high forties or fifty-odd inches.
This very unscientific survey suggests to me that the breadth of sizes offered in today's knitting patterns is, well, uneven. Tank tops and other skimpier or close-fitting garments tend to have more limited size ranges than cardigans and more traditionally-styled sweaters (perhaps illustrating points 1 and/or 3 above).
Okay, readers, I'm sure you're foaming at the mouth on this juicy topic. Have at it. And I hope all my American friends had a wonderful Independence Day and that my loyal Canadian friends had a terrific Canada Day.