I am lucky enough to know many talented knitwear designers, as well as many talented knitters. And for the most part the only thing that separates those groups is that one publishes patterns and the other doesn’t. But there is one topic that I have found these two groups tend to treat differently – garment ease.
What is ease? Ease is the difference in size between the finished object and the person wearing it, generally measured at the bust. So positive ease means the garment is larger than the person’s bust, no ease means they’re the same size, and negative ease means the garment is smaller.
Generally, I see designers embracing ease. They publish patterns with many inches of positive ease and encourage their customers to knit with the designed fit. And I see so many knitters nervous about following the suggested ease. They feel like they’ll drown in an oversized garment and knit smaller sizes they feel comfortable with.
I think many knitters are uncomfortable with ease because they think a larger garment will make them look fat. They find it scary to make a garment as big as an oversized one. First of all, this belief is false and oversized garments do not automatically make a person look larger. And second of all, so what if they do? Why is it so important to signal thinness?
The other thing I think knitters who reject ease end up rejecting is comfort. Garments with more ease are literally easier to move in. The word “oversized” immediately conjures images of sweats, worn while lounging. Don’t we all deserve, and need, more comfort in our lives? It is such an act of self-care to spend time crafting something that will bring you comfort each time you wear it.
There are many wonderful styles of clothing in the world, and I want more of us to consider positive ease as part of our sartorial playbook. It can look put together and fashionable just as much as close-fitting clothing – that comes down to proportions and fit in specific areas like the shoulders. I want us to worry less about looking fat in our clothes and focus more on how they make us feel. I want us to clothe ourselves so we can move freely and feel enveloped in comfort. I want us to be at ease.
I’ve been thinking about Kate Davies’ blog post a question of proportion ever since she published it in July. She talks about how her disability and her feelings about it have effected what she wears. And this week’s topic for Slow Fashion October is What’s Your Look. So I want to respond to all of that and talk about dressing like me.
Last December I began wearing a medical device on my stomach that I prefer to conceal. Additionally, I’ve gained weight over the past year. The combination led to a body that I didn’t know how to dress.
I started with the most vital – clothing that accommodated my new medical device. It needed to have a rise up to my belly button so the whole thing was covered. Patterns and tighter fits provided the best camouflage.
A wide variety of influences led to my selection of tops. In Shrill Lindy West talks about looking at larger bodies helping her to find them beautiful. And as a chronic cancer patient, the rules about what certain bodies and ages should wear don’t seem deserving my attention. I dove into a new wave of inspiration and experimentation, nothing was off-limits.
And this is the silhouette I love – slim fit high-waisted pants with a cropped top. My belly is bigger and home to some of the most intimate parts of my illness, yet I feel like I have found my style in baring it. I feel cool and sexy and comfortable in my skin.
Recently on Instagram there was the fantastic hashtag #myfirsthandknitsweater. It was so fun – seeing the knits that were so trendy 10 years ago, how many people used to take headless photos because we were scared to put our faces online, the pride that comes with the first handknit sweater milestone. My favorite part, though, was seeing how my friends’ style has changed since they were beginning knitters.
Lately I have been feeling bummed around clothing due to a medical device I now wear. I work hard making the clothes in my closet and they used to make me feel so good, but now they make me feel self-conscious about this device I prefer to conceal (and honestly, some of them cause the device to malfunction). I don’t want to have to change my style to accomodate my illness. So it was helpful to me to see this hashtag and remember that there are so many reasons that all of us change our style over time. I looked back at my catalog of FOs and found some comparisons to remind myself of the ways other life changes have effected my wardrobe.
On the left is one of my favorite outfits from 2009 – my Vintage Pink Cardigan with a camisole, skirt and red high heels. On the right is one of my favorite outfits currently – my Macoun over an Ebony tunic and jeans. In 2009 I worked in an office and had to dress business casual every day. Now I work from home and call it a win when I wear pants with buttons. I calculated perfect bust darts for the older sweater and it looked great buttoned up, but I have since learned I only like to knit wide front cardigans because I want to be able to wear them unbuttoned, too.
On the left is my favorite lacy-back from 2010, my Myrtle. I loved the close-fitting cardigan with floral lace, perfect to wear over tank tops to keep my shoulders covered in the office. In 2016 I loved the geometric lace and loose fit of my Delineate (blogged here). I used to focus on creating clothing that highlighted my hourglass figure, and now in addition to preferring more ease, I am drawn to clothing that seems fun to wear and don’t think about whether it meets the rules for what I am “allowed” to wear based on my body shape.
Seeing all this doesn’t make it any better that getting dressed is hard everyday. It doesn’t fix my dilemma about not knowing what to make next because I am still learning what I like to wear now. But it feels more like an opportunity to experiment, and less like yet another thing cancer has taken from me. How do you feel about your style over time? Have you had to adapt your style due to changes in your life?
Pattern: Ebony T-Shirt & Dress by Closet Case Patterns
Fabric: ponte knit in olive (sorry y’all, I never look at the end of the bolt)
I saw a dress in a store window a few months ago, and immediately started planning my own sewn version of it. It was a sweater knit swing dress with a huge cowl neck that looked comfortable and cool. I stopped by my local fabric store and picked up a beautiful olive ponte knit to get the weight and drape I was after and started poring through my pattern collection for a match. The very next day I saw Heather Lou’s Ebony Dress on Instagram, exactly what I was looking for! I just needed to draft my own cowl.
I am pretty new to drafting anything myself, but adding a cowl to this pattern was easy. I chose the scoop neckline so the cowl would be loose, rather than a turtleneck. Once I had sewn together the shoulder seams I measured the circumference of the neck opening. I also measured the height of a favorite cowl on a ready to wear tunic. Then I cut a rectangle – the circumference wide x twice the height (with seam allowances). Then I folded the height in half, sewed it into a tube and attached the tube to my neckline.
I really love how this dress turned out – it swings wonderfully when I move and makes me feel cool. This is the sort of dress I never would have bought in a store before I started making, because it “isn’t flattering” to my figure. But my wardrobe priorities have shifted as I make my own clothes. I bought clothes based on “the rules” of to mask my flaws and highlight the parts of me that were acceptable. Now making something that I enjoy the look of, that feels good on my body, and is enjoyable to make feels more important than dressing to look as thin as possible. It does a better job of making me feel good in my clothes. Every time I wear this dress I think about Erin McKean’s well-known blog post You Don’t Have To Be Pretty, which now 10 years later I am finally starting to believe.
Do you make different clothes than you would buy? Has making changed your wardrobe priorities? Let me know in the comments below!
Every October Karen over at Fringe Association starts a conversation about Slow Fashion. Just like slow food is meant to represent making a choice other than fast food, slow fashion is making a choice other than fast fashion. Here’s her post covering this year’s master plan. Lots of the conversation is happening on Instagram and I posted an intro there last week, but I feel like I have more I want to say than will fit in that format, so I’m continuing my thoughts here.
Slow fashion is a really good match for my interests and the way I approach the world. I have never been interested in collecting clothing, I like to have just enough to serve the purpose of clothing myself. I love knitting, but can’t stand to make something that is going to end up sitting on a shelf. One of the things that has really transformed my making in the past few years was making the decision to treat my wardrobe as a project worthy of care and planning. I know what I like to wear, and spend my time making those things.
Concurrently with this revolution in my crafting, I have been fighting cancer. It has been humbling to no longer be healthy and able-bodied, and I have realized how much of a privilege it is to make your own clothes. Slow fashion isn’t a choice available to everyone, it takes ability and time and money to participate.
Last year I was angry during Slow Fashion October. Every post celebrating someone’s success felt like it ignored my struggles. This year I have a different perspective. Everyone has a reason that it is hard to choose slow fashion, and that’s why we’re talking about it. The pride of a handmade garment is well-earned and it is valuable to talk about how you pulled it off. There’s room for that and a frank discussion of the hard parts.
I hate being wrong. I know it’s not the best quality and I can tell you logically how many valuable lessons you learn from the experience of being wrong. And yet, I still make dumb choices that boil down to trying not to be wrong.
I could tell early in this tunic that the method I was using for my intarsia in the round was too tight and would be noticeable. But I tried to convince myself that it would block out – as if blocking was literally a magic spell to fix problems in our FOs. I told myself it would take too long to undo all the knitting I had done and find a better method. So I forged ahead and wound up with a beautiful tunic with an ugly seam that I spent several nights smoothing out with a crochet hook. Of course I learned my lesson and never forged ahead with a method that I was doubting.
Until my next sewing project where I could tell that I wasn’t catching the edge of my folded up hem. Oh, and my twin needle wasn’t working well, it was breaking every 20 stitches and was a misery to continually be rethreading, stitching a tiny amount and then resetting. But yet again I forged ahead because I wanted to be done with the dress that day. And yet again I ended up spending twice as long ripping out that awful seam and setting it up the right way with fusible webbing and ironing and pins.
I am proud to say that seam is still unsewn. Even though I had my machine serviced, I am still having trouble with my twin needle. I will admit that I considered just forging ahead again, but instead I stopped to investigate solutions. I have a different twin needle on the way and I’m pondering whether a different hem would work.
It felt good to unpick that awful hem, by the way. I’ve always admired crafters who aren’t afraid to go to whatever lengths it takes to make the object they had in their minds eye. I felt a new sense of pride in taking the time to ensure I was making a professional-looking garment.
I am definitely going to make more mistakes, on account of being a fallible human. But I hope I can be less afraid to admit to them. And I hope I can continue to see the value in mitigating my mistakes rather than ignoring them and hoping they’ll go away. I put so much time and money and effort into my projects, I want each one to reflect the best of my skills at that point in time.