Last month Anushka Tay, designer of The Crimson Stitchery, left a thoughtful and insightful comment about alterations for knitting patterns. You can see the full version on ‘Framing Our Problems with Fit’. This article was originally published in Moorit magazine back in 2021, but the comment is here on my blog.
If Anushka’s name rings a bell, and you’ve rummaged through my site, she interviewed me for her YouTube channel a while back. You can watch it here on YouTube. Part of that day’s conversation involved knitting pattern alterations, but here’s some of what she said in her comment:
…there is an overall lack of confidence in this arena [alterations]. It’s something I hope will be more and more encouraged in future. I would love the online knitting sphere to shift away from a focus on (over)consumption of materials and more towards up-skilling.Anushka Tay, 16th May 2023
I really appreciate and agree with the emphasis on moving in new directions. Here are three possibilities inspired by Anushka’s words.
- Upskilling for designers, not just knitters | In future, designers will need to be more confident about drafting patterns and their understanding of anatomy. This increased confidence will help them to help their knitters with fit and alterations.
- Larger yarn producers / companies being more supportive of designers | Investing in training, promoting tutors with alterations expertise, and facilitating knowledge transfer. In other words, collaborating with designers in a way that’s more symbiotic, and not greedily using their creative work to drive sales. There’s no reason for hand knitting to resemble fast fashion! Plus, the relationship with the knitter isn’t over once the yarn is sold. Yarn sales are part of a larger ecosystem and life experience for knitters, as smaller independents well know. Emotions and memories of projects can create positive – or negative – associations.
- Related to the first point, there’s the possibility of designers running their own classes or creating resources to help knitters with alterations. This is the kind of pattern support that’s more appropriate for designers to offer, not how to execute techniques. Knitting techniques are much more generalised or universal. There are fewer ways, for example, to execute ssk than there are to alter a sweater pattern. For a wealth of techniques and learning resources, Patty Lyons and the A-C Techniques YouTube channel are two solutions of several. Support teachers who specialise in technique – they need us too!
As an aside…
I completely understand why tutors who aren’t designers might be hesitant about offering general classes on alterations. In my clothes making tutor life, many have asked if they can pay me to alter clothes for them. I’ve always refused, because it’s neither my pattern nor my garment construction. Plus, it takes a certain kind of problem-solving mind to dive into any pattern and resolve to fix it, no matter what. It’s a rare gift, one to be treasured, and one I do not wish to possess.
I can also personally attest to knitters not being ready for alterations – that is, depending on how you interpret silence. Here’s my tuppence.
Alterations and the Aneeta cardigan
The Aneeta cardigan is my second best-seller after the Bonnie sweater, and the one I’m most proud of because I designed it to fit beautifully. I also produced a separate photo tutorial for sales through my website, showing knitters how to make alterations based on their cup size. It’s a wrap cardigan built to accommodate a range of body shapes, and it draws on my tailoring background, so I’m confident that it works. In addition to the tutorial, I also created a short email series on how to shorten or lengthen the cardigan without spoiling the flow of the wrap.
(N.B. as I write, I have switched email providers, so this email series has been disabled for new customers. It’ll be back when I’ve found my way around the new system and transferred the data.)
In the photo of Aneeta here, I’m wearing the cardigan with cup size adjustments. The white version below, modelled by Ainur Berkimbayeva of Mama’s Teddy Bear (I’ll come back to her in a second), is knitted without bespoke increases for bust shaping. We were both able to achieve the fit we wanted. This is why I created the tutorial: for knitters to suit themselves.
I released Aneeta as a standalone pattern, tutorial included, in April 2021. Since then, I’ve seen only one in the wild, knitted by Ainur, who’s also one of my favourite designers. Of all the follow-up emails I send to check in on knitters after shopping with me, I’ve had only one reply to date. This knitter said that she was “still not confident in making sweaters, but getting better.”
FYI, Ainur bought and posted about the Aneeta pattern with no input whatsoever from me. Her words above are all her own opinion, as with anyone else who’s bought my patterns.
It’s just not cricket(s)
Apart from that, I haven’t heard a peep from anyone else who’s bought Aneeta. There are several reasons why that might be, and I’m not offering this story as more than a helpful anecdote, but it is interesting to think about. Maybe, when the design course is properly up and running, I can survey customers again to find out how they all are. I’ve made it clear that I’m available for support, but you never know. Considering that thing we all have called a STASH, check-ins further down the line – as in, several years later – probably wouldn’t hurt.
I’m missing valuable feedback, and perhaps other designers are too.
On the other hand, maybe it’s not as bad as I think. Last month, Tara McMullin wrote this about silence:
We’ve learned to associate the sound of crickets – an aural stand-in for silence – with irrelevance. No response is a bad response, a rejection. Silence becomes a rebuke of what we’ve created, and, by extension, who we are. …
Today, silence is the most likely response to what we share. It doesn’t mean that we’ve created something bad or that we’re bad. It means people just aren’t gathering on the platforms where we typically share things as much as they used to. Further, the silence we do encounter might be a prelude to deeper engagement.Tara McMullin, What Works, May 2023: https://open.substack.com/pub/taramcmullin/p/welcoming-the-silence?utm_campaign=post&utm_medium=web
Maybe this silence is part of the shift that Anushka alluded to in her comment. We are all listening, progressing, growing and changing. But if this silence is winter, I can only be excited for spring 😉
I’ll end this post with a question for knitters, and links to a couple of anonymouse surveys I’m running until the end of June. What could designers offer to make knitting pattern alterations easier for you to execute? Please comment below!