We haven’t talked a whole lot about crafting and fat in the past, but I know we have some crafty Shapelings out there! (Has anyone knit or crocheted an Adipose cell yet?) I’m an obsessive knitter myself (though the level of obsession ratchets up and down depending on my school schedule), and I’ve been delighted at the explosion of knitting resources in the last several years, especially as the knitting world as a whole gets more conscious about providing a large range of sizes for clothing patterns. Amy R. Singer and Jillian Moreno of my fave online knitting mag, Knitty, did an awesome service to fat knitters (and really, anyone interested in customizing patterns for curvy bodies) with their 2006 book Big Girl Knits; now the sequel, More Big Girl Knits, brings us cute patterns, practical shaping advice, and a healthy dose of body positivity.
Let’s focus on that last point first. Don’t be fooled by the euphemistic “big girl” and “curvy” on the cover: this is a fat-positive book. The introduction is called (in giant unapologetic letters) “We’re Still Fat & We’re Still Knitting.” All the models appear to wear honest to god plus sizes; there’s none of that “I’m a size 2 model but we’ll pretend I wear a 14 for this photo shoot” nonsense certain plus-size retailers trade in. I especially love that the little cartoons used to illustrate points about shaping (among other things) are variously shaped fat women, including women of color. More Big Girl Knits is unapologetically a book for fat women that does not lament fat, pay lip service to dieting, or instruct readers to hide their bodies. For that aspect alone, it wins the Shapely Prose Seal of Approval (which, uh, we totally have) as far as I’m concerned.
The really great thing about this book, though, is the application of fat acceptance principles to help you get the most out of your knitting. Even if you felt meh on every single pattern in the book (which I don’t imagine you will), the introductory chapters on fit, color, texture, and paneling will be useful enough to warrant a spot in your knitting library. Among the eminently practical features: a highly detailed chart for your measurements, a yarn yardage chart for sweaters from chest size 40″ to 58″, and a worksheet to help you design side panels to widen a too-narrow sweater (for detailed instructions on short rows and waist shaping, check out the original Big Girl Knits). There’s even a “plain vanilla” sweater pattern, complete with worksheets and blank spaces in the pattern for you to write your own measurements and stitch counts, which will let you end up with a scoopneck, stockinette, worsted weight sweater with waist shaping. The focus here (as Singer and Moreno write) is on getting to know your actual body, “not the pre-baby, pre-menopause, pre-metabolism-slowdown body you have in your mind. Not the body that used to be or is gonna be cute and sexy at some point in the future” — not, in other words, your fantasy body that will somehow magically make you a master knitter instantly. Instead, learning how to adapt your knitting to the body you actually have (instead of the other way around) is going to make you love your knitting even more.
As you can no doubt tell, I am pretty damn excited about the non-pattern parts of this book. I certainly could have used it a few years ago when I first started knitting sweaters, and I’m definitely going to incorporate some of the ideas and tips into my knitting from now on. So let’s talk patterns. The good news is, there’s a fair variety of styles and shapes to choose from. I’m going to admit this right up front: I don’t like all the patterns. Several of them are too fussy for my taste (including two that are repeats from Knitty), with flowers or bobbles or ruffles that I just don’t dig. However, I can totally see other knitters with different personal styles loving them, and there are sleeker patterns, too — like just about any knitting book, no one knitter is going to want to knit every single thing. The ones I really like are the Twisted Pullover (a v-neck pullover with vertical lines — this is the one on the cover above); the No-Gap Wrap Pullover (a faux wrap pullover); and the Orange Smoothie Tank (a wrap tank with a plunge neckline and vertical eyelets below the bustline — so cute!). Most of the patterns, as you might imagine, are sweaters, but there are also some accessory patterns, including two shawls, a chunky scarf, two bags, and two sock patterns designed with larger ankles/calves in mind. The patterns are all clearly laid out and seem like they’ll be relatively easy to follow (but I haven’t tried any of them yet, so I can’t vouch for that!).
A few caveats:
1. This is not a book for beginners; it assumes you already know how to knit, read patterns and charts, and work various intermediate-to-advanced stitch patterns. To me, this book reads like a great intermediate book: if you have been thinking about knitting a sweater but want a pattern that is going to look awesome on a figure that’s underrepresented by mainstream designs, or if you have experience adapting patterns but want some guidance on some of that painstaking math, this book will be perfect for you. If you’re still learning how to do stitches and the thought of making a whole sweater seems hopelessly far away, then you might grab this now and stick it on your knitting shelf for a few months from now when you’re feeling more adventurous.
2. The patterns here are grouped by a system that I find theoretically charming but practically a bit confusing. The book emphasizes the three Bs — boobs, belly, and butt — and asks you to identify your most “bodacious” part(s). Each pattern has a notation for the B(s) that it works best with; some are noted for just one, others for all three. What I haven’t totally figured out is what it means to “work best” with a certain B; it’s meant to be a body-positive way to indicate flattering fits, but the pattern descriptions don’t always let you know *why* a particular B is featured. For instance, there’s a gorgeous double-breasted cardigan that is marked for Belly and Butt but *not* for Boobs; I assume that that’s because the double-breastedness will add bulk to the chest, but, frustratingly, there is no full-length photo of the sweater from the front (only a profile and a back view), so I can’t even see the Boobs on this one. (Amy R. Singer has put this shot up on Flickr, but it’s not included in the book.) It’s possible that I’m either a) overthinking or b) dense, but I don’t quite understand the 3 Bs. (It doesn’t help that the same (beautiful, happy!) models are used for different Bs — reminding me of my YM reading days when the “hide your problem spots” features would use one impossibly thin model for all supposed “flaws,” even the ones that contradicted each other, like big chest and flat chest.)
3. The cover underneath the dust jacket is cheerfully striped like a circus awning, but it makes my head swim. Seriously, I’m getting visual disturbances just looking at it. I love stripy as much as the next knitter, but I recommend you save the dust jacket!
So, to sum this all up: despite some quibbles, I highly recommend More Big Girl Knits to all fat knitters and even to not-so-fat ones who have to do some math to get their curves into standard patterns. You’re sure to find at least a couple patterns that you’ll itch to start knitting, but the introductory chapters are the indispensable parts. Since this book came out a couple months ago, you can already see some FOs and WIPs from faster hands than mine over at Ravelry (NB: Ravelry links require login). I can’t wait to see more!
What are your favorite knitting patterns for fat or curvy bodies? Have you knit anything from the original Big Girl Knits? Let us know in comments!
Edit: Here’s a Ravelry link to some knits from the first Big Girl Knits book. And some Flickr links for those of you who are not on Ravelry.