Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Size Inclusiveness: A Hot Topic

Recently, a Raveler who is also a yarn shop owner wrote to me to express disappointment that the sizing for Willingdon is not as inclusive as she had hoped for. She has a lot of larger customers who won't fit into the size range of the pattern (36 1/4 - 49"). It's a valid criticism. So, it's worth taking a moment to let you know where I as a designer am coming from.

I'm a small person, and so is my daughter. I'm 5'1" and she is 5'2", and we're both on the slim side. Both of us have difficulty finding and wearing clothes off the rack. This is how my motivation to make my own designs was born. I had had enough of re-calculating patterns to accommodate our petite stature. My designs have always arisen out of my family members' knitting desires and needs (include my son in here too -- "Stripes", Sandridge, and the "Modern Gansey" were invented just for him). So you can see that from the start, I've been something of a specialist in the small end of the size spectrum. 

It's also important to remember that size is about more than just height and weight; it's also about proportion. Isabel and I are small but pear shaped. We have small busts, skinny arms, and wider hips. That's why some of my designs don't look their best on the well endowed. Brookline, for example, has a narrow front closure which is prone to gapping on those with more frontage. (As an aside, that's not why it's not currently available. I was never happy with the magazine editing of this sweater and at some point I need to go back and restore its original features as seen in the red version on Isabel. That's a whole other tale for another day. Don't give up hope all of you who have requested this back in the lineup.)

"Grading", which is the technical name for the sizing of patterns, is complex. It has to take many factors into account. When designing a top-down raglan pattern, for example, there has to be a balance between the depth of the raglan, the width of the upper arms, and the circumference of the chest. Add to that the need to accommodate a particular stitch pattern and you begin to see what's involved. Some designs are easily adjusted to deal with all of these elements, some not. With the as yet unpublished Victoria (not a top-down design), I would probably have to add a third repeat of the lace panel if I were to add larger sizes, which would in turn change the look of the hem and neck decreases. Doable, but the end result would have a different feel. Gaps between sizes can also vary depending on the size of a stitch pattern repeat. Trellis, for instance, has a long stitch pattern repeat, resulting in relatively large leaps between chest sizes. 

Magazines (online or print) these days want to be as inclusive as possible. It's common now to see submission calls stipulating sizing up to a women's 70" bust. I applaud them for this. But, mathematical limitations aside, since my aim remains primarily to design for my family's personal use (I have no business model), so far I have not aimed to expand sizing beyond my comfort zone. That is not to say that it is not worthwhile or not being done. My friends Robin Hunter and Deb Gemmell, have done a thorough exploration of the problems of fitting larger sizes. I highly recommend their set of cardigan patterns. There are constantly more options as the demand for expanded sizes continues to increase.

I suspect I may have unleashed a storm with this post, but at least now you know why I do what I do.