>Hitting a smaller target: Part 1

>Disclaimer: The following is some more crochet tech talk.  It may at first appear to be mostly harmless wingeing about poor, poor Doris, the long-suffering crochet designer.   It will be not-such-good reading for many casual visitors.  I beg your forbearance and promise that, eventually, through this first and the next installments, there will be a happy ending and a really excellent point to it all.

CYCA sizing guidelines for women

This, my crochet friends, is the sizing bible, the listing of standard body measurements suggested by the Craft Yarn Council of America, and for better or worse, it is the guideline for crochet designers who wish to have their work published in traditional print venues (books, magazines, pamphlets, yarn ball bands).  The CYCA sizes are graded in precise four-inch increments for bust circumference.  We are admonished to follow the size ranges and as accurately as possible state the kind of fit that the garment style offers (loose-fitting, standard-fitting, body-conscious, etc.).   On paper it looks tidy.

We all know for a fact how widely the sizing can vary among commercial clothing manufacturers.  I can’t begin to tell someone what my size is without listing all the exceptions.  Well, I am sort of a size 6 for tops but not bottoms.  I am sort of a size Small, but only if Small means 6-8.  If Small means 4-6 then I am a Medium.  But I like my T-shirts tight, so I sometimes wear XS if that’s a 4, but not if that’s a 0-2.  But I am also a Petite size being 5’2″, but only in tops in body (waist) and sleeve length, because some petite sizes also have narrower shoulders, too, which I don’t require.  I can sometimes wear Junior size 7 (and Big Girl Size 14 or 16!) but  it depends on the cut.  I am a Petite in skirts, but not always in pants because petite pants are sometimes too shallow in the rise, so it depends on how low the waist should fall.  If I go by my waist measurement I am a size 10 pants.  If I go by my hip measurement, I am a 4.  Go figure.

The more I can coax women (usually it’s only your closest friends who will share this level of personal information) into revealing their sizing issues, the more I understand that nobody is a perfect off-the-rack size anything.  So here’s the terrible truth, nobody is a perfect off-the-crochet hook size, either.

And that is why I started designing the the things I do in the way I do.  I could not get a good fit nor a nice fabric (I so suck at sewing crocheted pieces together that I began insisting on NO-sew construction) by following patterns that existed.  With departures so radical from what was written, I discovered I was, in essence, creating my own designs.

I get it.  Honestly, I do.  There have to be some standards and guidelines for knitting and crochet so we all have a common basis and speak the same sizing language. But standard size patterning only works if you posses a standard sort of body.  Nobody has a standard body.  Every body is unique.  So, although this set of guidelines is useful, it does not tell enough of the story about fit, garment ease and drape.

And the other, even more distressing issue is that standard pattern writing and size grading only works if you are doing standard crochet design.  Straying even the teeniest bit outside the box could lead the designer to a world of patterning pain.  Even if by some miracle the pattern adheres to the guidelines, there are still too many things that can go horribly wrong for the crocheter.

To help you see the issues I face every day, here are some of the unsettling lessons I learned:

What sells a design, pattern, garment or yarn to consumers is pretty pictures. Photography for fashion and advertising favors strikingly slim, tall models.  A designer cannot possibly know while crocheting the sample garment what size/shape model will ultimately be chosen to wear it.  It almost doesn’t matter what size garment sample you submit.  The model is always going to be two sizes smaller than the sample, and at least five inches taller than average height.  The stylist will bunch up the excess fabric and clip it tight, hopefully in an unnoticeable place on the model, in order to make a fashion image. Not every shoot goes this way and not every piece gets this much manhandling, but it happens enough that I know the difference.  No one can expect to look that way in her crocheted garment because the model in the sample didn’t even look like that without the “alterations”.

Because I began tinkering with crochet design by making things that fit me, my natural inclination was to recognize a certain set of proportions as correct.  I learned real fast to make my samples (usually the smallest size to be offered in the patterning) both narrower and longer, to the point where they seemed abnormal to my eye, but that’s what was needed. I also stopped working with colors, stitch patterns and yarn textures that don’t photograph well.  Already you can sense a certain reining-in of creativity.

Space is money. Printed page real estate is limited and precious.  There are horrible penalties to pay if your written patterns are longer than the editor deems necessary.  Contractually, you can face outright rejection of the design… or if the design is still accepted and the publication has to incur extraordinary costs for pattern technical editing, you can face having part of your fee withheld.  I have never heard of the latter happening to anyone, but strictly according to some design contracts it could happen.  And, in the course of that red pencil butchery, if your pattern is rendered unfathomable, you the designer have no say in the matter and no recourse.

Don’t get me wrong.  I appreciate and value technical editors more than I can say.  They have saved my butt on countless occasions and their changes and suggestions are usually right.  {GEEZ, it hurt me to say that} Interweave Crochet and Caron International are two of my employers who now routinely ask me to review pattern edits before publication.  I totally appreciate the opportunity.  But that does not always mean there is either agreement or joy in the process.

Plus sizing is now a reality of crochet design, not an option. It was not so long ago when pattern drafting was way easier.  Just look back at knit and crochet patterns in magazines and books from a couple of decades ago.  Three sizes were the norm.  Small, Medium, Large.  And remember, American clothing sizes went through a reality check in the 70’s.  I am right now looking at a  crochet booklet from 1965 where the body bust for size 10 is 31″, size 12 is 32″, size 14 is 34″, size 16 is 36″, size 18 is 38″.  Or look at vintage patterns from the early part of the 20th century where no sizing information at all is given.  No gauge, either.  Even today some high fashion designs and in particular, garment designs originating from outside the US are offered in only three sizes.

Without question, the plus size range of the crochet market has historically been ignored or under-served.  I do my best to extrapolate patterning for body bust at least 48″ in the designs where it is feasible and/or desirable.  But you gotta know that if it is in mind that I will eventually have to write the pattern to include sizes up to 2X or 3X, I find myself avoiding or abandoning design ideas that are too difficult to enlarge, too outside the box to hit the standard sizing guidelines, or would take too much real estate to explain stitch by stitch how to do for plus proportions.  Can you sense more reining-in of creativity?

That’s enough for today.  In the next installment I hope to tie this stuff together and make a point.


10 thoughts on “>Hitting a smaller target: Part 1

  1. >Don't apologise!! These, and more reasons like them, are why I now only design for myself. You should see some of the horrible photos that magazines have taken of my designs, not to mention butchering the patterns, and putting ridiculous claims like 'Make in a weekend' on something that's going to take at least ten days of solid work…..And I'm the one people complain at!!*sigh*I do love your patterns, though!

  2. >Doris, you are in my head.I really hope that designers can one day specialize as petite, plus, etc. designers. Of course, that probably means self-publishing, though.

  3. >As a relatively new crocheter, I find this glimpse inside the "secret" world of crochet design and publication fascinating. I'll be interested to see what it's leading up to. . .

  4. >If what I've seen of your work is under the constraints of editors and they who hold the keys to print Real Estate (as a publisher myself, I love that term and may…uh…borrow it) I would LOVE to see what your imagination and skill can do with the shackles off. And thank you for saying what designers and manufacturers do not want us to hear: we're not all six feet tall with eighteen inch hips.

  5. >As a new member of the crochet society, I'm so glad to hear you say that. I made a sweater (gauge was correct) and blocked it and it was too small. I have shoulders and baby birthing hips….in any situation, that is hard to fit. Just learning as I go. Thanks for the insight!

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