When I set out to write about ease, I decided to survey a small number of books in my knitting library to see what they had to say on the subject of “average” or “typical” ease when designing a hand knit garment; specifically, how they translated actual body measurement to garment dimensions. I actually took notes — I recall making notes from one book while I was on a train (somewhere along the Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal corridor) while the person across from me exhausted his laptop battery playing some video game.
The books I surveyed were:
- Ida Riley Duncan, The Complete Book of Progressive Knitting (Liveright, 1940) and Knit to Fit, 2nd ed. (Liveright, 1970)
- Sion Elalouf, The Knitting Architect (Knitting Fever Inc., 1982)
- Vogue Knitting: The Ultimate Knitting Book (Random House, 1989)
- Carmen Michelson & Mary-Ann Davis, The Knitter’s Guide to Sweater Design (Interweave Press, 1989)
- Deborah Newton, Designing Knitwear (Taunton, 1992)
As you can probably tell, only two of these books are still in print. The other three I bought second-hand at various times. Obviously my design instruction library is seriously focused on the 80s and 90s; not too long after the survey, I finally bought Maggie Righetti’s Sweater Design in Plain English. At the time I did this survey, I also had (and still have) Ann Budd’s The Knitter’s Handy Book of Patterns (that’s the first one in the series) and Barbara Walker’s Knitting From the Top; I didn’t consult them for the survey, I think because neither discussed ease or measurement in absolute terms the way the other books did. Budd’s “Handy” series, of course, isn’t really directed towards designing your own patterns, but rather provides a framework for basic knitted garment shapes. All three of these books are still in print.
Before I go on, I’ll say that while I’m happy to own all of them, I find I’m most inclined to go back and re-read Walker, Righetti, and Newton. With Walker and Righetti I’m likely to read out of idle interest; from time to time I agree, but I do find myself disagreeing with points here and there. I just read Newton over because of her description of her creative process — not because I’d do the same thing, oh, no! I shudder a little when I look at the lavendar cabled motorcycle jacket. But it’s interesting that Newton wrote a book with concrete examples about how she translates her ideas into swatches and garments. Walker’s book, of course, is most unlike all of the others I’ve mentioned here, because it goes into great detail about knitting many garment shapes from the top down. (I also own stitch dictionaries, including Walker’s four treasuries, but I tend not to use them. I look at stitch dictionaries from time to time, note interesting patterns, but then… tend not to use them.)
The book I’m least likely to consult out of the numbered list is Elalouf; while that is in part because I can never find my copy (but it’s available for free from Knitting Fever on its website! it’s not a big book; rather, it’s a cerlox-bound booklet), it’s also because the designing methodology is covered in significant part by Michelson & Davis. both Elalouf and Michelson & Davis explain pattern drafting with a similar chart format and with worked examples, too, Michelson & Davis has better diagrams and provides worksheets and formulas to follow when doing your own calculations. Both books also cover different sleeve shapes; the content of both books is similar, but Michelson & Davis has more detail. If you’re hunting for books on drafting knitting patterns and are wondering whether it’s worth the effort to hunt down Michelson & Davis, then look at Elalouf’s book online, ignoring the section on “constants” (this is Elalouf’s way of explaining certain constant-but-still-variable numbers in a pattern, like a 7.5 inch armhole depth for a size 38 sweater; Michelson & Davis do a better job of explaining where numbers like that come from). If that kind of methodology works for you, but you want a different (or better) explanation, you might be happier with Michelson & Davis.
Both The Knitting Architect and The Knitter’s Guide to Sweater Design stick with hem-to-neck construction. I’ve never seen Elalouf’s second work that goes into different construction methods, The Advanced Knitting Architect; evidently it’s back in print now, because here’s a review. But the information in the first Elalouf book is generally covered in Michelson & Davis, and Michelson & Davis has more content.
Next, once I format the tables: a survey of how these books identified body measurements and instructed its readers on ease.