Today, I was thumbing through some old issues of Vogue Knitting. I stumbled upon this issue from 1989:
Look carefully at the cover, where it says “Special sizes Part 1”. Intriguing, no? Further investigation reveals this:
Two patterns designed in special sizes. The text reads: “At long last: Fashionable details programmed into two on-the-go career tops designed and sized for the full-figured woman”. Here is the kicker. Every pattern in this edition (with the exception of these two) comes in 5 sizes: to fit 32, 34, 36, 38, 40″/81, 86, 91, 96, 101 cm bust. These two sweaters, designed for us full-figured gals, also comes in 5 sizes: to fit 38, 40, 42, 44, 46″/96, 101, 106, 112, 116 cm bust.
Let’s review what this tells us:
- “Normal” women are sized only from 32-40″.
- “Full-figured” women are sized only up to 46″.
- Apparently, if you are a size 32-36, the full-figured sweaters won’t suit you, and if you are above a size 40, none of the “normal sweaters” are going to suit you.
- If you are not a size 32-46, then you are not the target audience.
This was 1989, of course, and things have changed since then, right? Well, yes and no. Emma just requested a pullover designed by Kim Hargreaves (Tan, Ravelry link here). I had a look and it comes in 6 sizes – 32, 34, 36, 38, 40, and 43 (81, 86, 91, 96, 101, and 109 cm), which are labelled XS, S, M, L, XL, and XXL. So, in 1989 my current size would make me “special”, while in 2020 I am XXL. Head thunk.
On the other hand, lots of designers are now striving to be more size inclusive. Just today, I’ve been looking at a new Kate Davies pattern (Treit, Ravelry link here), sized from 33-60 inches, and an Andrea Mowry pattern (Pink Velvet, Ravelry link here), sized from 32-64 inches. And a quick look at a recent Vogue shows patterns with a much wider range of sizes, like Aegean (Ravelry link here) sized from 32-52 or Staple (Ravelry link here) sized from 36-60.
One of the reasons why we knit is that we can tailor things to fit. But in the old days, a full-figured girl would need to exercise a lot of math to make that happen. Today, we can all be equally mathematically challenged and still knit something that fits.
I really enjoyed reading this post. Yes, we still have a long way to go but at least some designers are starting to try to include more normal people in their patterns. It would be amazing to see more “sample” sizes and knitted models in the larger sizes.
Agreed – it would be great to see larger sample sizes. There has been lots more diversity in models lately, though clearly more to do. I feel like we are moving in the right direction. (Nice to see you here! My apologies for late reply.)
Japanese patterns famously used to offer only ONE size, to fit a 32″ bust or thereabouts, and expected knitters to adapt as needed. So American crafting publications of earlier eras were at least more accommodating than some of their international peers!
I still have and love that issue of VK, and remember being sorry that the instructions for sweater #18 (at the left in your picture) didn’t start with my own size 32. The actual bust of that size-38 garment measures 44″ – too much for me, even in the oversized ’80s, and I didn’t feel competent to adjust the wide neckline, shawl collar, and raglan sleeves to my proportions. Re-sizing the boxy, oversized, drop-shoulder pullover designs typical of the ’80s was a breeze, though, the usual routine for me then and still common even now.
No matter what one’s size or build, clothing “off the rack”, knitting patterns, and sewing patterns always seem to need alteration, and anything more fitted than a sloppy-joe style needs hard-won tailoring skills. I gave up sewing because of fitting problems: the disappointment and the waste of good material were too much. Knitting and crocheting are more forgiving, as at least yarn can usually survive being frogged and re-used.
Wow. Its really cool that you remember having that thought about the size range when that issue came out. Thank you so much for sharing. I agree about sewing – even though sewing lets you fit things to your body, I always worry that once you’ve cut your fabric you are stuck with it. I never worry about knitting, because you can always rip. (That may be because I am a much better knitter than sewist.) Also, I totally didn’t know that about Japanese patterns.
The increased range of sizes in modern patterns is so very welcome. Pompom mag patterns are particularly good on this point. I was looking through some old Rowan books a while back and would have to make two of anything in those – one for each arm lol. 🤣
Agreed, although Rowan patterns are knit with so much ease that you could probably fit two of you in any of them. (I even wrote a post way back in 2013 called Rowan runs big – https://knitigatingcircumstances.com/2013/01/05/rowan-runs-big/) Pompom is good. Kate Davies new club has a big range of sizes. This is all good.
I knit quite a few of Heidi Kirrmaier’s patterns, because on her sizes I’m an M2, whereas other designers I’d be a L, so it makes me feel better. In 1989 I was a size UK6 and when I wore a Bat wing jumper my mum knitted for me I looked like the first puff of air I’d be blown away. If I could just split the difference between my size now and then 😂
I know exactly what you mean about Heidi’s patterns. It was so great to not be knitting a Large! The power of language and positive psychology!
Very true – sizing expectations were so much different back then! And even though many designers are now writing their patterns for a much broader range of sizes, we also have tools to do a lot of the math ourselves. I love Amy Herzog’s books and Craftsy classes – she really walks you through customizing your knits to fit your own body and measurements. And gives you guidelines to follow for garment features that will suit every body type best.
Good point about having better tools. I have Amy’s books and I think she has been great about supporting size diversity. I also like Shirley Paden’s book for sweater design.
Funny that you should write about this just now. I today came across a pattern I tore from a magazine, likely in the late 80’s or early 90’s. I made it back then, and loved it. Dropped shoulders, simple cables and traveling stitches all over. It actually is a Norah Gaughn, which made me chuckle as I still love her designs. Back then I never heard of her. Anyway, it is written for “size 8-10. 12-14 and 16-18 are in parentheses” Finished measurements are 46,49,52. There is no waist shaping, so clearly this is a rectangular sweater, almost tunic length. It is hard to imagine that it actually fit and flattered too many people.
Yes, that’s exactly how they used to size them. As if we all differed by 6 inches total! I love Norah though. I am sure that designers were limited by publications and their guidelines.
I also love Norah, and suspect I could make this one fit properly by changing needle sizes to do the shaping. I don’t think I want the challenge of adding or deleting stitches, given the all over cabling!