Full Figure Flattery: Tips to Modify Patterns for a Great Fit

You know how it goes. You see a sweater that looks fabulous on the model and has all the things you love—cables or lace or a nipped-in waist. And then you try to envision it on yourself—and it’s not such a pretty image.

Just because a garment has shaping doesn’t necessarily mean it will fit. And if it is the wrong shaping for your body, it can look pretty dreadful. Ultimately, that experience wastes your time and money—and bruises your ego.

So let’s get this out there: we are all shaped just a bit differently. And no matter what size we are, we have lumps and bumps in different areas on our bodies. Each of us wears a piece of clothing just a bit differently.

As a crocheter, you have a great advantage: you can create bespoke garments. Sounds fancy, doesn’t it? It simply means “made to order.” You are making a made-to-order garment for your body. When it comes to plus sizes, that is a great benefit—it’s difficult to find larger-size garments that take into account proportion and fit. Larger garments tend to be big and shapeless, rather than fitted to a flattering degree.

So, you need to first decide what shape is happiest on your body. Then you can learn to modify a given garment to create that shape.

Ready? Before we head to the tape measure (yes, we’re going there), let’s consider a few other elements: yarn, stitch pattern, and construction.

Yarn

Forget the worsted. Fabulous for afghans, awesome for accessories, pretty terrible for a plus-size sweater. Because of the volume of fabric, the sweater itself will be heavy. Further, it will likely stretch vertically over time. DK to laceweight (look for the CYCA symbol on the ball band; you want a number 0 to 3) are your friends for plus-size garments in particular. This does not necessarily mean you’re doomed to a lifetime of tiny hooks; in fact, you’ll achieve great drape and breathability by sizing your hook up with lighter yarns. And if you’re working Tunisian, you’ll use a significantly larger hook than the yarn-ball band suggests.

Stitch pattern and technique

Stitching plays a huge role in the resulting sweater. Tunisian crochet doesn’t stretch horizontally, so it calls for a good bit of ease around the bust. Single crochet can be heavy and stretch vertically. Look for stitch patterns that combine different sizes of stitches and incorporate chain stitches; this results in a fabric with breathability and drape. Not sure you love a stitch pattern? Make the gauge swatch in the pattern stitch and carry it around with you for a while. Hang some light weights from it to see how it’ll stretch. This will give you an idea of how your sweater will hold up to your daily rigors.

Construction

You have some options when it comes to ideal construction:

• Plus-size crochet sweaters that are constructed from the bottom up in pieces and seamed have great stability and hold their shape.

• A top-down raglan sweater worked in a substantial stitch, such as Tunisian knit stitch, will hold up quite well. This style also lends itself to easy modification, since you can try it on as you go, altering the depth of the armhole or width at the bust.

• A sweater worked top down with set-in sleeves has a more tailored fit and holds its shape well.

Shaping

Shaping is nearly as individual as the crocheter. As a designer, I prefer to write plus-size patterns with no shaping. This makes it easier for the crocheter to make the alterations. And with designs in traditional crochet, rather than Tunisian crochet, I also include a good bit of double crochet or half double crochet in the stitch pattern for easier alterations.

When you’re selecting the pattern size, forget everything you think you know about whether you wear a size 14 or 16 or whatever. You are going to work from true numbers: your actual measurements. And that doesn’t mean what you want your measurements to be, but what your measurements are right now.

Now we’re ready for the tape measure. Use the above checklist as a guide to take key measurements. Use graph paper to make a scale of those measurements, then connect the dots to sketch a rough little model of your shape. Nothing fancy, just a geometric shape. Are you a circle? A triangle? A rectangle? An hourglass? With these measurements in hand, you can see where modifications can lead to a garment that fits and flatters you—for instance, if you’re an hourglass, you may want shaping at the waist; if you’re a bottom-heavy triangle, you may want A-line shaping. It allows us to see where modifications can be made so that the garments we crochet fit and flatter.

Once you select the pattern that you want to make, it’s time to do a gauge swatch. Gauge is a critical part of the modification process. Make a gauge swatch in the yarn you will use for the project in the stitch pattern designated, using the hook you intend to use. (Even in the same size, different brands of hooks can produce varying results.) Work a swatch at least twenty-four stitches by twenty-four rows, or about four rows longer and four stitches wider than the swatch guidelines in the pattern. Measure your swatch at the center, away from the edges, placing pins at the edges of a four-inch square. Now count the numbers of stitches across four inches, and the number of rows within four inches.

Note that every crocheter and designer has a different gauge. Your task here is to align your gauge with the designer’s in order to complete the project. If you have more stitches and rows than the designated gauge, your crochet is tighter and you should do another swatch with the next hook size up. If you have fewer stitches and rows, you should work a swatch with the next hook size down. Keep working swatches until you have a gauge that matches that of the pattern.

Rohn’s Frisco Cardigan is an excellent candidate for pattern modification.

After you achieve gauge, look harder at the pattern to determine your exact modifications. A great tool for helping with this is the schematic. The schematic is the little drawing of the outline of the sweater, with key measurements for each size. A schematic is a map of sorts—a way to look at the entirety of a pattern without having to dig too deep into the written part of it quite yet. On the schematic, find a bust size that matches the widest part of your body. For me, that is my tummy. My stomach sticks out about three inches farther than my chest; therefore the bust measurements aren’t the best place to start.

The Portland Cardigan, another of Rohn’s designs, is a top-down raglan and can be customized for your favorite fit by altering the number of increases at the neckline.

Whether it’s your tummy or your bust, choose the larger of the numbers and begin there. Depending on the sizing of the pattern, you may have to round up or down. Make this decision based on the amount of ease you desire; if you want the garment to fit loosely, pick the larger number, and if you want it more fitted, pick the smaller number. Standard-fit clothing has an ease of around three inches—that is, the garment is about three inches larger than your actual measurement.

Once you select the desired size, look at the rest of the measurements on the schematic to determine where modifications should be made. Look at your shape again, and consider where you want to add or subtract stitches to allow for, for instance, a bust smaller than a tummy. Also, consider whether you want to add or subtract length. Write all this down and take notes.

Once you have all your numbers adjusted, you’re ready to begin. As you crochet, you will want to measure and remeasure to be sure your modifications are producing the desired shaping; if you are making a top-down raglan, you can just try it on as you go. Keep an eye on your gauge, too—if you get uptight, your gauge might tighten.

Right about now, you may be thinking, Rohn . . . this is way too much work for a sweater. Why can’t I just follow the pattern?

Well, the truth is, you can. However, with a bit of work and time, you can crochet a sweater that fits you just the way you want it to. After all the work you put into crocheting the sweater, you’ll want to wear it again and again, wallowing in the compliments. The key to this is preparation and diligence while crocheting. You have the ability to modify your crochet to fit your wants and needs.

Take the time to get to know your body and what works for you. Then you can take your crochet and your wardrobe to a whole new level.


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