Updated: May 12
“I wish I knew how to evaluate a pattern to know whether or not it’s ‘good’ before I start knitting.”
I’ve heard so many variations on this one. We want to make sure we, as knitters, are investing in something worth the time and money. This post is the first in a three-part series on evaluating patterns - today we'll cover how to evaluate modeled photos. Part two covers the information provided by the designer (with a deep dive on schematics) and part three talks about how to get the most from other knitter's projects.
Let's make sure we have the right framework for this evaluation
But before we dig in I want to reiterate something I say as often as possible - there's no wrong way to love knitting. A pattern is 'good' if you enjoy working from it and it creates the thing it says it will.
It's very easy to get caught up in whether something is the best, follows all the rules, or otherwise does things 'the right way.'
This industry tends to be staffed by women doing very low-paid work, with very little power when it comes to third-party relationships. That power relationship can be further influenced by systemic racism.
Many designers come to this work because of an inability to work in other industries - maybe they have child care needs and can't be available regular hours, they are nuerodivergent, or they have an ability difference. There's also a range of financial resources - some with the capital to tap lots of experts, others, not so much.
It's worth holding these intersections in mind as we challenge what patterns 'should' offer, and to interrogate whether our expectations are reasonable for a $8-$12 microbook.
So with that in mind, I hope you get some value from this series, and are able to make a more informed purchasing decision!
Reading a sweater on a model
Modeled photos are the gold star for evaluating how a designer envisions the finished sweater’s look, feel, and fit - with a caveat.
For publications, samples are sometimes commissioned and knit before a model is finalized, so the sweater may not be worn with the intended ease – it might be larger or smaller, or it might be on a model with a very different cup size than the one implicit in the designer’s size chart.
With that caveat, here’s what I look for as I'm evaluating the way a sweater looks modeled:
Is there room for the front neck?
Does the neckline have a curve that gives enough room for the front of the neck? If there's a cowl or a turtleneck, does the fabric buckle beneath the neckline on the front? Is the neckline being pulled up, so that there is not enough room in the armhole? These are all red flags that there might not be enough room for the front neck (and you can dig in more here on my blog)
How deep is the armhole?
If the armhole is too shallow, there will be ‘whiskers’ or pull lines coming from the underarm and reaching up towards the neck. If the armhole is too deep, the garment will bunch under the arm and may cause felting or chafing. In set-in sleeves and yoke sweaters, a long underarm depth will prevent you from being able to lift your arms, because the cap will be very steep.
Here, Becca wears Bock with about 3.5 inches of positive ease. In worsted weight yarn, that's a fairly trim fit. There's equal ease in the front and back, so we expect it to be snug in the front at the bust apex, and yes, there's the slight whiskering at the full bust you'd expect (that's also what creates that curve-hugging look, so it's a fair trade!). This is a really great photo for evaluation, because we can see that the raglan depth is just right for her (not too shallow and tight, but not so deep that when she raises her arm the whole sweater goes with it, and not so deep that it chafes). We also have good visual access to the neckline, both width and depth. Bock is part of the Hudson & West spring collection '22.
Does the garment appear to be clipped?
Sometimes photographers will resort to using clips to change the fit of a garment. How can you tell if you're looking at an honest photo?
Look for pictures of the garment at all angles and see if the ease looks consistent. Some red flags:
It looks like it has waist shaping but none is noted on the schematic or in the description.
The front or back of the sweater seems to change in size from photo to photo.
Some part of the sweater seems to have ease inconsistent with the pattern description. For example, the pattern describes a sweater with equal ease in the front and back, but the model appears to have less room in the back, even though she’s busty. That doesn’t make sense, and it means that the back has probably been gathered up and clipped.
Be suspicious of weird poses
Ideally, modeled photos will include pictures showing the whole garment from the front, back, and side. I also look for photos seated and standing, and in a variety of poses. Here are some things that would make me cautious:
All the photos have the arm held close to the body
The photos are all art photos (highly staged, may have other objects in the foreground, may focus on hair, jewelry, or accessories)
One part of the body appears to be pinning the garment in place, such as holding the sweater hem to one side of the hip.
All of the photos are detail shots.
Let me know in the comments if you have any questions, and check out posts two and three for more info!
PS - looking for more on choosing a sweater pattern? I wrote this blog post last year, especially for knitters thinking about casting on their first sweater.