Three thoughts about grading

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There are several ways to understand the process of grading knitting patterns. I’ve contextualised the role of the grader in two of my From Needle to Needle blog posts, but I’m going to be selective today.

For me, grading is a design solution with a technical outcome and a practical application. Here are three ways of applying creative problem solving to the process of grading patterns.

Don’t forget design principles

Grading is an exercise in scale and proportion. If pattern or motif placement is a key feature of your design, make meaningful connections between that and key locations or ratios of the human form.

For example, if the front neck drop is 10cm on your sample, will that be the same for all sizes? Will your design retain its character and compositional harmony? Or, is it better to think of the front neck drop as landing approximately halfway between the shoulder and armhole shaping? This option allows you establish visual relationships that can be translated into discrete measurements. Knitting pattern grading is full of numbers, yes, but the numbers need to have meaning and context. In other words, numbers are the outcome of the visual relationships in your design.

There’s no right or wrong answer here – but you do need to experiment and make a decision.

For more on design principles, have a look at my book reviews for Maitland Graves, Helen Brockman and Pamela Stecker.

People watching is not a perversion

Pay attention to the body’s contours and key areas of variation. In general, body areas with prime fat and/or muscle storage, e.g., upper arms, torsos, chests, buttocks, thighs, etc – contribute to the ratios that denote body shape, especially when compared to relatively slim areas of the body. Anticipate this in earlier stages of design, by the drafting stage at the very latest.

Some body measurements, like the ones listed above, are meaty and will vary widely from person to person, never mind on the same body. You need to drop any expectations or assumptions and let the person’s shape do the talking. Other body measurements, like wrist, neck and head circumferences, are bonier and do not contain a high proportion of muscle or fat. Differences here will be by the centimetre or fractions of an inch, rather than several centimetres or inches.

Understanding this will help you to focus on good fit, which is often overlooked when grading a pattern. Try not to see the measurements of your sizing chart as targets to hit; see them holistically and let fit be your guide. Fitting and grading are siblings.

Have a look at Kim McBrien Evans’ outstanding work on size charts for more on this. There’s a wealth of information for anyone keen to learn about grading knitting patterns.

Pattern drafting for knitwear design - raglan sleeve detail on the Karin sweater

Let the design details help you

In sewing, this could be adjusting pleats or gathers as needed to increase or reduce the volume of fabric, particularly woven fabric. Knitted fabric is stretchy, but NOT magical – it needs help and direction!

One of the greatest beauties of knit as a constructed textile is the potential for fully fashioned shaping. If you make your shaping – and therefore your grading – needs a design feature in their own right, that’s definitely one way to extol the virtues of knitted fabric. Wovens could never compare to this dynamism! For crochet, you can multiply this by ten.

My Karin sweater is a good example of this. The photo above shows short row shaping on the raglan sleeve of the Karin sweater. Adding extra length through the centre of the sleeve creates MUCH better fit and follows the contours of the shoulder. I worked German short rows here, and the double stitches are tucked into the purls of the seed stitch rib of the sweater. Because our shoulders and arms are individual – some are more sloped, square, narrow, wide – every knitter can add the length needed for their shape.

If you already know you need to clothe twelve hypothetical bodies in a size range, anticipate the needs of each shape (and subsequently size – shape takes precedence in my book). Don’t just merrily work on the sample and kick the grading can down the road. Make it a part of design development. Get swatching and experiment with increasing and decreasing techniques – and don’t forget that you can go horizontally, vertically, or in both directions.

Final words

I hope these tips have inspired you to think differently about knitting pattern grading; maybe even imagine yourself enjoying it! I still believe that grading should be a separate job, nestled between designer and tech editor – but one step at a time. Thinking about knitting pattern grading creatively ensures we’re heading the right way.

Three thoughts about grading

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Natalie in Stitches

I design for confident knitters who are keen on getting their garments to fit well. My catalogue includes knitting patterns for lace sweaters, cable sweaters, shawls, cowls, and the occasional scarf. These designs are ideal for building or curating an inspiring wardrobe. I am also a qualified teacher and share my favourite tips, tricks and techniques on my blog, where you can also find advice on garment fitting, alterations, knitwear design and sewing pattern reviews. Courses are also coming soon - sign up to my newsletter for updates.

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