Briar Rose Vintage KAL: Fit, Estimating Yardage

Today is our first meaty knit-along post for the Briar Rose Vintage Knit-Along!

I’m going to try to tackle a couple of issues we’ll have to deal with early on: fit and estimating yardage for yarn.

One of the reasons I’m glad we’ll be working Briar Rose is that it’s a stockinette (sometimes called stocking stitch) sweater. I know that might seem boring to some, but that works well for this knit-along as it will make describing and executing the resizing process a lot less complicated when we get to that point.

The fit of our vintage sweater

There is one question you have to ask yourself when figuring out what size to knit this pattern: how do you want your sweater to fit?

As I’m sure you know, many vintage sweaters from the 1940s and 1950s were meant to be rather fitted. Let’s use a 34” bust as an example. When you do the math for patterns similar to Briar Rose, you discover they were usually knit with zero ease (knit to 34” exactly), a couple of inches of negative ease (knit to perhaps 32” or 33”) or one or two inches of positive ease (knit to 35” or 36”). If you were knitting a cardigan you usually wouldn’t go with zero or negative ease because you’d get gaping at the buttonholes as the knitted fabric stretches across your bust.

Ease can be tricky. Too much negative ease and you’ll be stuffing yourself into your sweater. Too much positive ease and you run the risk of it hanging poorly on you and looking baggy. Now fit is a personal thing, and you want to be comfortable in what you knit. Personally, I tend to like my vintage-style pullovers to have around 2” of negative ease across my bust (though I’ve knit to 4” of negative ease and been happy with the fit), but I like about zero ease or a little bit of positive ease at my waist. I have a short torso and a large bust, so when I increase from my waist up to my bust I like to give myself a head start so I can get there fast enough. ;) Depending upon your shape and preference, you might want something different. I’m going to show you the math to do that when we talk about resizing in the coming weeks.

My best advice is to measure a similar type of sweater that fits you well for comparison. Lay it out flat. For today’s calculations, you’ll mainly want to know the width across the bust, how long (tall) the sweater is, how deep the armholes is (height from top of shoulder to bottom of armhole) and how wide the sleeve is at the widest part (before it connects to the body of the sweater). We’ll get to more specific measurements as we go along, but for now that’s a good start.

If the sweater doesn’t fit you exactly like you want, what alterations would you make? Give it a few more inches across the waist? A little tighter in the bust? Think long and carefully about how you want your sweater to fit YOUR body. Just make some mental notes at this point, we’ll get to the nitty gritty soon.

The shape of our vintage sweater

Unlike modern sweater patterns, vintage sweaters from this era that were similar to this style were usually knit to a relatively short length. (Don’t get me wrong, there were obviously other styles of sweaters that aren’t like what we’re working on.) From the bottom of the hem to the armhole, we’re talking around 11.5” to 13.5”, give or take. Once you’re wearing it, it usually hits you somewhere around a hand’s width under your natural waist. Our pattern is 12.5” from hem to armhole. Length is just about the easiest thing ever to alter, so if you’re particularly long in the torso, this is no problem.

Also unlike modern sweater patterns, vintage pullovers from this era were usually knit to what I think of as an inverted trapezoid.

You can see that’s the case with our pattern. Smallest at the waist, largest at the bust.

The narrowest point is at the hem, increasing gradually up to the bust with increases (on both sides of a row) spaced evenly. The increases usually end a few inches before you work the armhole since the widest part of your bust, no matter how great a bra you’re wearing, is lower than where your armpit starts.

Now many modern patterns incorporate “waist shaping” to shape a pattern to be more like an hourglass, and are often longer in the torso.

Okay, they don’t usually look like Vera Ellen’s wasp waist, but you get the idea!

Because the length is usually much longer in modern patterns, and hits lower on the hips, many modern patterns start shaping near the hem by decreasing in for the waist, and then increasing back out for the bust.

Vintage patterns don’t (usually) do that.

The sweater above is knit in the same inverted trapezoid style I’m talking about. This is what it looks like laying flat. Where I placed the asterisk is just to note that ribbing pulls in more than stockinette, so the sweater flares out a bit naturally where the ribbing ends and stockinette begins (plus, sometimes sweaters, vintage and modern, have you increase several stitches between the ribbing and body). The increases started about 1″ above this point and continued gradually until a few inches before the armhole. You can see it looks like a gentle slope on the actual sweater.

You’re welcome to shape your sweater however you feel most comfortable, but know that the vintage shape for our pattern as written is the inverted trapezoid I’ve been talking about. We’ll talk more about shape when we go over resizing the pattern.

Yarn

Our pattern calls for fingering weight yarn. In the UK and I believe other countries, I know this is often referred to as 4-ply yarn (though it’s worth noting that fingering weight does not have to consist of 4 plies). In the last few years, more people would probably equate fingering weight yarn with sock knitting, and you’ll often see it referred to as sock yarn. However it’s becoming much more common to see modern sweater patterns in fingering weight, too.

Our vintage pattern knits up in fingering weight at 6.5 stitches per inch (spi), which is a slightly looser gauge than many vintage patterns that call for fingering weight yarn (they’re often knit to 7 or 8 spi). So good news—this will knit up a little quicker! If you want a sweater that’s a little more dense, you could try a sport weight yarn and see if you like the fabric it produces at 6.5 spi. This post is going to get really long really quick when I start talking about calculating yardage, so I’m going to save my thoughts on yarn for another day.

Yardage

I admit this one is the hardest area for me to give you advice, since everyone is a different size and thus needs differing amounts of yarn to knit the same sweater. I cannot say for certain how much yarn you will need! Please buy more than you think you’ll need! I can’t stress this enough. I will do my best to walk you through the estimating process, but I encourage you to seek info elsewhere if you’re concerned.

If you break down our sweater into its parts, you can think of it as a rectangle for the front, a rectangle for the back, a rectangle for each sleeve, and one for the pocket and the collar. Yes, they aren’t perfect rectangles of course, but it’s okay. That doesn’t matter, because we’re just going to use rectangles to estimate our yardage, and rounding up is always better than rounding down in this department.

If you know what your gauge should be (in the case of our pattern, 6.5 spi by 8.5 rows per inch), you can use this Knitting Fiend calculator to estimate your yardage. You plug in the details for each piece (rectangle) and add them together. Sounds simple, right? Well, you might want to grab a beer or a cup of tea for the next section. But trust me, it only looks scary. When you sit down to do it yourself, you’ll see it’s really pretty easy, just a little time-consuming.

Estimating the yardage for our pattern

I’m going to estimate the yardage for our pattern as written to give you an example to go by so you can do this exercise yourself for your own size. At this point don’t worry about how you’re going to get to the size you need, let’s just worry about making sure you’ll have enough yarn first.

For the pattern as written, the finished size would be 34” across the chest (it’s about half an inch less so I’m just rounding up). Let’s break that down. That means the front at its widest over the bust would be 17”, and same for the back. The height is 12.5” to the armhole, and then another 7” to the shoulder shaping. Then another .5” for the shoulder shaping (it’s 6 rows by our pattern, so that’s a little over .5”, but let’s stick with a half inch just to make it easy).

Remember, I’m not including any shaping in these generic rectangles here so that I over estimate instead of under estimate yardage. (I know, I’m going to keep harping on this. Sorry! It’s important, can you tell?)

Our rectangle for the front (and the back):

12.5” (hem to armhole) + 7” (armhole to shoulder) + .5” (shoulder shaping) = 20” long
Measurement at widest point (the bust) = 17” wide
Rectangle dimensions for front and back = 20” long x 17” wide

We’ll do the same for the sleeves, again thinking of them as a rectangle even though they obviously have shaping to them too. As written, at the widest part of the sleeve, it’s 13.5” wide. While sleeve caps are not usually exactly quite as tall as an armhole, for the sake of estimating up, we’ll say they are. The sleeve length in the pattern is 6”, and we’ll throw in another 7.5” for the armhole (since that’s the depth of our armhole on the body).

Our rectangle for each sleeve:

6” (sleeve length to armhole) + 7.5” (sleeve cap length) = 13.5” long
Measurement at widest part of the sleeve = 13.5” wide
Rectangle dimensions for each sleeve = 13.5” long x 13.5” wide

Now all we have left is the pocket and collar. The pocket is 27 stitches wide so by our pattern’s gauge, that would be about 4” wide, and it says the pocket is 3” tall. I’m going to bump each up an extra .5” to be safe. Rectangle dimensions for the pocket: 4.5” x 3.5”.

The collar… okay, that’s a little messy since it’s a weird shape. I really need to just knit the collar to be sure of the shape. I’m just going to guess by the size I think it is that the collar needs 60 yards of yarn.

Now, we take our math to the Knitting Fiend calculator.

We know, per our pattern, that our stitch gauge is 6.5, and our row gauge is 8.5. Plug those numbers into the first two fields in the calculator.

Then for each rectangle, plug in the width and length (what I think of as height, really).

Going by the measurements I did for the original 34” bust size in the pattern, I get the following…

Front yardage: 374
Back yardage: 374 (obviously the same)
Sleeve #1 yardage: 202
Sleeve #2 yardage: 202 (obviously the same)
Pocket yardage: 18
Collar yardage: 60
Total yardage estimate for 34″ bust: 1230 yards

1230 yards of fingering weight yarn. And this seems kind of on the high side to me, but not by too much. Consider that the pocket and collar will take up a good bit of yarn, sleeves take way more yarn than you think they will, and we estimated with straight rectangles when our pieces will have more shaping. But…and I keep saying this…I would rather buy too much yarn than too little yarn. (Keep your receipt! You can always return unwound yarn if you do end up buying too much. But trying to match dye lots when you run out can be a nightmare, if not impossible. I’ll talk about this more when we go over yarn.)

Estimating YOUR yardage

This is where you’ll have to refer back to the section where I talked about HOW you want your sweater to fit. You’ll need to know the measurements you’ll want for your sweater. Because in order to estimate how much yarn you need, you need to know how big you want your sweater to be. It’s okay if this changes slightly between now and when you cast on. Nothing needs to be set in stone right now, so we’re just shooting for a ballpark figure here. After all, you might want to change how you shape the sweater slightly, but you yourself aren’t going to be a drastically different size between now and March 1st.

You will:

  1. Figure out the basic rectangle size for your front/back (use the same size for front and back)
  2. Figure out the basic rectangle size for your sleeves (use the same size for each sleeve)
  3. Include the pocket and collar estimates I did above
  4. Add them all together using the Knitting Fiend calculator

Measurements you will need to estimate your yardage:

  1. Desired length from lower hem to armhole
  2. Desired armhole depth (armhole to to the top of your shoulder)
  3. Desired sleeve length (to armhole)
  4. Desired width at upper arm (which will be the widest point of your sleeve rectangle)

Specific factors to consider…

  • If you need a deeper armhole than the pattern (7.5”) you will need to increase your armhole to shoulder measurement when you calculate your rectangle. You will also need to increase your sleeve cap length by the same (since we use the armhole to shoulder measurement to calculate the sleeve cap height for our rectangle).
  • If you want the sweater longer than the pattern (12.5”) you will need to increase your hem to armhole measurement when you calculate your rectangle.
  • If you want the sweater wider/narrower than the pattern (for the 34” bust it’s 17” for front and back)  you will need to increase/decrease your measurement at the widest point of your bust.
  • If you want the sleeve length longer/shorter than the pattern (6”)  you will need to increase/decrease your sleeve length to armhole measurement.
  • Don’t want a pocket? Don’t want a collar? Omit those yardage estimates.
  • If you’re knitting along with a different pattern and need help figuring out what gauge that pattern calls for just ask me. :)

Now please, don’t let this all scare you! All you are doing is breaking down your sweater into super basic elements (rectangles), so you can estimate how much yarn you need. If you need help, please ask. You’re welcome to ask in the comments, and I’ve setup the Flickr group (please join!) so we can start threads on these topics as we go along to discuss things in-depth as needed. I’m happy to spend as much time as you need discussing this, and if we come up with any major snags or revelations I’ll be sure to post on my blog.

Large size changes

I just wanted to give a brief heads up to you ladies who want to knit a size that’s several inches larger than the original pattern, say by 8” or more. Knowing that many vintage patterns only offer one size (shame on them!) that’s usually in the vicinity of 32-38”, you may by necessity already be armed with the skills to size up your patterns. If not however, you can still stick with fingering weight if you’d like, and we’ll work through sizing up the pattern. Or there’s another method you can employ, which is selecting a weight of yarn that’s heavier than in the original pattern. When your gauge changes, the size changes. If you knit a sweater at 6.5 spi that works out to 34”, the same sweater knit at 5.5 spi works out to 40”, and at 5.25 spi works out to 42”. You get the idea. I’ll talk about that more when I go over yarn and supplies, but just wanted to place that seed in your head. I think this sweater would be lovely (though naturally slightly heavier) in a sport weight or DK weight.


Have I left you with enough for today? Even though this post is long, hopefully I’ve broken it down enough so that it’s not too intimidating. All you’re going to do is decide approximately how you’d like your sweater to fit and plug some numbers into the calculator to estimate how much yarn you’ll need.

Just think, next time we get to talk about yarn. And that’s much more fun, right? :)

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Golly, 8 Comments!

  • What a great explanation of planning for fit!!

    Reply

  • I’m reading this on my lunch break and I must admit I skipped over the math section. Math is hard! < -- bad Barbie role model.

    Though I was glad to see that you encourage the practice of matching a sweater to the shape of an existing sweater that we like the fit of. This is always how I’ve knit my sweaters in the past – and with little else direction, unfortunately.

    I’m trying to decide if I want to to an inverted trapezoid of the modern hourglass. I have a few short vintage sweaters that look great with high-waisted skirts or pants, but in all practicality, I seldom wear them. I do have one vintage sweater that is a slight hourglass and hits right across my hips and I LOVE it, so maybe I should go with that? But then a short sleeved sweater is ostensibly a summer sweater (summer in SF at least), so maybe I should go with the Inverted Trap and just make myself a delightful skirt to pair with it? Hmm, things to consider…

    Reply

  • That is a great explanation…even if my head is spinning from reading it all. I am a 34′ bust so will just follow the pattern and hope for the best. I will buy more yarn though…I can make a pair of socks with any leftovers.

    Reply

  • @Sherry Thanks Sherry! I was worried it would send everyone screaming away. LOL

    @Moe Math is hard, let’s go shopping! Hee. I promise I won’t make anyone do math more complicated than a little multiplication and division. :D Your comment reminds me when I talk about yarn to talk about how we think we want to wear our sweaters, because that definitely will play into how you want it to fit! When you do estimate yardage, you could always go a little longer, like the sweater that you love that hits your hips, and then change your mind. Easier than choosing a shorter length and then regretting you don’t have enough yarn and can’t change your mind!

    Reply

  • Brilliant well written and very comprehensive. Great to see all that useful information in one place too.

    I’m going to make my Briar Rose with stripes so I’m glad your maths confirms that I do have enough yarn to make it!

    Reply

  • Wow what a great instructional that must have taken ages to do! My mum always has to size up for me :o( She does a great job though! I have no idea how she does it though eeek

    Good luck to all those taking part!

    Reply

  • My goodness, what a lengthy post! This leads me to believe that you are quite knowledgeable about all things knitted – so we are in good hands with this knit-along. I am looking forward to picking out my yarn (after finishing up a few projects first).

    Reply

  • It’s taken me a couple days to get rid of the math shakes from reading this post, but I finally sat down and calculated how much yarn I need to buy. A friend, who is a knitwear designer, said to always buy one more skein than the math calls for, just in case. Thanks for this post!

    Reply

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