Monday, June 26, 2006

The accursed corset?

So, Circles, my local-ish yarn shop has been looking for sample knitters. You knit a sample, you earn yarn dollars, essentially a store credit. Now, I'm lucky, and my yarn budget is... generous, and my time budget is generally not at all, so I'd figured I would leave most of the sample knitting to others who had more need of earning store credits, or who had enough free time to make it more worth it for them.

But then, Allison mentioned that she was looking for someone to knit Annie Modesitt's silk corset pattern. I was entranced. I thought the pattern was gorgeous, and the Regal silk yarn was so sumptuous (and really, outside even my budget), but as a rather plus size woman, I wasn't up for knitting it for myself.

Happy to have the chance to work the pattern, I jumped at the chance to knit the sample. What a mistake that was. I still think the pattern is beautiful, truly lovel, but I have never had such an awful experience knitting anything before, ever.

First off, I should have realized I wasn't going to like the yarn. I have rough hands. Softly spun silk + rough hands = misery in knitting. Constantly feeling like I was snagging the yarn on my very fingertips was awful. I felt like it even made the yarn start to pill when the piece was still being knit, all because I was creating all these tiny snags. The colors? Stunning. The sheen? Divine. While I'm sure I'll still ooooh and aaaaah over the new skeins that come into the shop, I now know that I never ever want to knit with it again, ever.

Second, the pattern. I struggled in numerous way with the pattern. First off, I STILL don't understand how the math of the pattern works. With the listed gauge, and the given stitch counts, I'm really not sure how you were supposed to end up with the desired finished measurements. I knit about halfway through, hinking to myself that it looked too small, but deluding myself in that way that we knitters do, that it would be okay, that I had to trust the pattern, that I just wasn't used to knitting for a non-plus-sized pattern. When I realized that the corset would be only the slightest bit loose on my five year old daughter, I couldn't ignore the truth of it any more. I tried it on a shop mannequin, and it was a joke.

Ripped the entire thing out, and started over again, two sizes larger.

(I have to be honest here and admit that a part of my frustration over the pattern is that, as a plus size, I was really pleased to see a pattern for a beautiful, fitted, sexy top that came in a size large enough that even I could wear it. When I started figuring out the math of it, and realizing that there was no way the largest size would actually fit me, I felt betrayed, even if I don't think it's a top I would ever make for myself.)

There were a bunch of little things that bugged me. I think it's because somehow, I'd simply come to expect more from the way the pattern was written. I'm not sure why that is, although perhaps because I perceive Annie Modesitt to be such a respected designer that her stuff had to be better than I found it to be.

Aside from the sizing issues, things I would have wanted to find in the pattern, but didn't, include:
  • Actual instructions that the i-cord bind off and cast on were recommended for the armholes. It wasn't until my second time through the pattern that I figured out why she had the directions for those on the pattern at all. I still wasn't sure that was where I was supposed to use them, but I guessed at it.
  • An acknowledgement in the pattern shapping that different size women would need the bust decreases in a subtly different spot - the pattern had the decreases at the same distance from the edges of the corset for all sizes. I know from experience that if you want the decreases to fall under the center of each breast, that you need to gradually move them wider as your sizes go out. This pattern didn't do that.
  • Some discussion of height and measurements, and how that might affect where you do things like start decreasing - A, who is our "model" for a lot of the samples is a tall woman, and when all was said and done, although the model looks perfect on the shop sample, it looks terrible on her. Despite the fact that I planned (a bit) for her height and made the corset a bit longer before starting the decreases, they still start above her chest. Similarly, as short and fat, I don't like that this pattern assumed that lengths must increse as width does. That bothers me with lots of patterns, but for something this fitted and precise, I really wished that there had been more discussion about how to custom fit it to your own shape.
  • I realize this is a personal preference thing, but I did not like the way she did her lace charts. I found them wildly confusing and hard to read.
When I "finished" the project, I brought it in to a fitting. Despite already being longer than the pattern called for, it was FAR too short for A, and short even on the mannequins. So, I had to go back and add even more length onto the damn thing. Then, I get all the buttons sewn onto it, and we found that they just popped open if you breathed on them. So, I had to pull them all off and re-do with larger buttons.

Overall, I've never been so glad to see the tail end of a project in my whole entire life.

But, in the interest of fairness, I should point out that on the mannequin, this piece os gorgeous. One of the prettiest things I have knit.


Suzanne said...

First of all, I have to say that the corset is in fact smashing. Last Saturday, or perhaps the one before that, I was in Circles for a little bit, chatting with people and choosing a little yarn. I stopped mid-sentence and gasped when I saw your creation. It is truly lovely and absolutely irresistable. Then I got a little bit of the back story.

On feeling betrayed about the sizing: I can see how you would feel that way, as I would share your feelings. Keep in mind, though, that the sizing betrays everyone, or at least did indeed betray Allison. Is this meant to be worn against the skin? That might make a substantial difference in a close-fitting item.

The challenge of writing a good pattern for a close-fitting item probably cannot be realized due to the huge variation in body type. Boobs can be all over the place, and in fact the lattitude can be changed quite a bit with undergarments alone. At the same time, it should be possible to describe how to estimate whether the constraints of the pattern will work with a particular body.

The more I read about pattern problems, th emore inclined I am to never use one again.

Anonymous said...

I was just at Circles tonight for the first time in weeks and stood there with my mouth wideopen for a few beats when I spied the corset. That is one stunning piece of knitwear. Well done, especially considering all the heartache that went into it! -Rebecca

knitzalot said...

Jeanette, my blogmate, who you probably know she since also goes to Circles, made this and the gauge in the pattern is wrong. Apparently, it's supposed to be 4.5 sts per inch instead of 5.5. She ended up making a larger size with a Dk yarn and it worked out well.

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