It started with the Not to Knit class this fall. Two sessions on the many ways that we can go wrong when we knit a sweater. Some are in the knitter's lap: not reading the pattern; not looking at the specs (which show measurements for sleeves, bust line, waist, and so on); being romanced by a yarn that is not right for the project; willfully (that would be me) refusing to take the time to swatch and thus depriving oneself (that would be me) of really important information on how this yarn and this size needle and this knitter will produce a certain product that may or may not be right for the pattern that sweet-talked you into making it; not stopping to occasionally measure the product to see if what you (that would be me) are knitting is close to the specs (see above) noted by the designer.
Other factors, not necessarily deliberate, may also assist you in taking a wide detour around the sweater that you are wearing in your mind's eye. Perhaps the picture in the magazine doesn't show all the details, like that heinous band around the bottom of the thigh-length tunic which does little for any one's shape. Or the model is standing so as to hide the many extra yards of fabric, so that the sweater that seems to be narrow is, in reality, trapeze-like. Or, the color in the photo is miles away from the color of the real yarn, and you (this would not be me) keep trying to talk yourself into the hope that what looks like mud will knit up into a rich brown shade.
Not because it's the new year, but because it is cold and I'm stuck inside and had time on my hands, and because the most valuable lesson of the very helpful What Not to Knit, for me, was: look at the specs. Compare them to the specs from a favorite pattern. Or measure a favorite sweater and compare that info to the pattern that you're considering. Below, the specs from Vivian:
Alongside each measurement, from cuff to height of hood to sweep (that's the measurement of the base of the garment), I noted measurements from my favorite, orange, hooded sweater from Anthropologie. What I found is that Vivian is cut much closer in the arm, smaller in the waist, and has a hood that's about three inches shorter. Overall, my favorite sweater is drapier, looser in the sleeve, and has more of a bell effect at the cuff.
Then I forced myself to do a swatch with my yarn, Debbie Bliss Cashmerino Aran (I think that this is color 16). The pattern calls for a thicker yarn, but I loved the color and feel of this cashmere-wool-microfiber blend. I made a pair of Fetching a year ago in the same yarn and color.
And I swatched, per the pattern, all three stitches: stockinette, seed stitch, and large cable. I was assisted by the finale, two episodes long, of Dancing with the Stars. I sat in the den, watched the shows on the computer, and swatched. Then I even finished the swatch by washing the same way that I'll care for the sweater. Results: with a size 7 needle, I was dead on for each stitch.
Next, I started on the left sleeve of the sweater, as a back-up, emergency test of gauge and fit. I worked the bell cuff, slipped the stitches onto scrap yarn, and tried it on. Okay so far: feels full enough, and I like the way that it has one pointier, longer edge that curves across the back of my hand. I continued onward to the end of the first cable chart for the cuff, including decreases from 40 to 32 stitches.
Slipped it onto scrap yarn and tried it on again. Be aware that this all takes much, much more patience than I have ever demonstrated, at least knitting-wise (and maybe in all endeavors) before. Not so sure now. The cuff, tried on with a short-sleeve tee because that's what I was wearing, feels a little closer than I'd like. And if I add in a long-sleeve tee, maybe even claustrophobic. And far from my Platonic ideal-sweater, which is 11" versus Vivian's 8.5 inches at the cuff and 9.5" versus Vivian's specs of 6.5 inches in the forearm. At this point, I put cuff into bag with pattern and stepped away.
I'll post a question on the Vivian Knitalong on Ravelry and see if anyone did anything as odd as making the sleeve from the size 40 sweater and the body from the size 34 (with needed modifications, and this is my first cable-seed stitch patterned sweater). Or perhaps I need to not do the decreases for the size 34 sleeve and let it be looser all the way up the forearm until I begin patterned increases for the upper arm?