FO: CustomFit Courant

Have you ever had a project that was so fraught with problems and frustrations that, when it was finally finished, you weren’t sure if you even wanted the thing anymore? This sweater was a little bit lot like that.

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The yarn, Tanis Fiber Arts Yellow Label DK, was a souvenir from the Purple Purl in Toronto, Ontario. I visited during a day trip while on a longer vacation to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls to celebrate my fifth wedding anniversary, and I went in with the explicit purpose of purchasing a sweater quantity. I chose the color because it’s similar to a long-gone favorite sweater (a casualty of threadbare elbows and, eventually, a too-short hem). I specifically bought enough to complete Amy Herzog’s Courant, a pattern similar to another favorite sweater that needs to be retired (it also succumbed to threadbare elbows, as well as shadowy underarm discoloration that won’t wash out).

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Just after I returned from that trip, Amy announced the Maker program for CustomFit. CustomFit is a Web-based application that uses your body measurements and your gauge to generate a custom sweater pattern. Anyone can create a CustomFit account for free to store body measurements and gauge information; you only pay when you generate a custom sweater pattern. The Maker program is a subscription option for CustomFit that allows you to pay a small monthly fee to receive sweater credits on predetermined dates throughout the year that can be redeemed for patterns, rather than paying per pattern. The Maker program has basic and premium subscriptions, and both offer significant cost savings over the pay-as-you-go option if you knit more than six sweaters a year.

I’m not that prolific (yet), but I was intrigued by the concept and wanted to support this alternative approach to pattern sales. Plus, I was already preparing to cancel another subscription service that I no longer used, and it coincidentally had the same annual cost, so I decided to trade one subscription for another to get a service that I would actually use without increasing my monthly spending. Win-win.

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With Justin’s help I took comprehensive body measurements. I knit a gauge swatch. Because Courant is one of the patterns built into CustomFit, all I had to do was plug my numbers into a simple form and hey presto! I had a perfectly fitting sweater pattern at my fingertips.

In a flurry of excitement I cast on and knit all of the pieces in about ten days, helped along by a four-day weekend and a very understanding husband. Then I blocked and sewed up all of the pieces, and suddenly I realized that this sweater was not going to fit. It was too big all over, but especially in the armholes and bust.

I wept. I wailed. I gnashed my teeth. I questioned whether I was the only person in all of knittingdom for whom the magical fitting formula simply did not work. I prophesied a lifetime of ill-fitting hand-knit sweaters and despair.

I…may have overreacted.

But can you blame me? Promised the sublime joy of a perfectly fitting sweater without on-the-fly modifications or frogging, is it any wonder that my hopes went soaring among the rafters? Or that, when this elusive prize failed to materialize, they would come crashing down with such noise?

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When I finally pulled myself together, I contacted the CustomFit help desk, where I was connected with none other than Amy herself to discuss my knitting and fitting woes. We determined that the most likely culprit was a combination of a too-small swatch and superwash yarn, which has a tendency to grow under its own weight more than a non-superwash yarn in larger items, with a dash of mis-measuring thrown in. She counseled me to give in to my tight knitting tendencies, as a firmer fabric can counteract superwash stretching shenanigans. She also provided more insight into the different amounts of ease in various parts of my schematic.

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Eventually I mustered the energy to frog all of the pieces, de-kink and re-wind the yarn, and knit several new swatches. I generated a fresh pattern at a tighter gauge, provided to me for free courtesy of the lovely folks on the CustomFit team.

It took a lot longer to re-knit the sweater than it did to knit it, partly because of the gauge and partly because I wasn’t feeling particularly charitable toward the project. The bazillion ends created from re-working already-cut yarn certainly didn’t help matters. And if that weren’t enough, I decided that the original cowl-neck wouldn’t work with my yarn (no natural drape), so I redesigned it to have a split that would allow it to lie flat across my shoulders.

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I finally completed the sweater at the end of May. When I tried it on, I wasn’t in love. Some of the problems are my own doing. The sleeve cuffs are a little snugger than I’d like, but I narrowed the sleeves compared to the original pattern, and my tubular cast on ironically turned out to be tighter than my normal long-tail cast on even though by all accounts it should be stretchier. I also think the fabric I created is too stiff: while not quite bulletproof, it still lacks some of the flexibility and recovery you would expect from a plied 100% wool yarn.

Some of the problems are, I think, a result of a conflict between my fit preferences and the fit philosophy underlying CustomFit. When I chose a close fit, I imagined it would hug my back curve more closely, and I didn’t anticipate so much excess fabric under the bust. (In case you’re looking at the photo above and thinking that I’m full of lies, I should mention that I’m holding my breath in that picture. No, I don’t know why, although caramels and homemade Chex Mix are delicious easy scapegoats.) I also understood that the purpose of negative ease at the hips is to better anchor the sweater, but when I raise my arms, a healthy sliver of midriff appears.

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Basically, I expected a close fit to better conform to my shape, instead of completely hiding what little waist definition I have and making me look like a rectangle. But, since it was too warm to wear anyway, I decided to stuff the entire thing in a drawer and re-evaluate my feelings in colder weather.

I pulled it back out to wear while Christmas tree hunting on the one of the few below-freezing days this month, and I can confirm that it is at least warm. I don’t dislike it quite as much as I did during the first try-on–I’m no longer entertaining the absolutely ridiculous notion of frogging the whole thing a second time to make a different sweater–but it will never be my favorite sweater.

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Despite my lukewarm feelings, I’m going to give CustomFit another try. If I can’t find a way to make it work for me, then I can always spend my credits making sweaters for Justin now that CustomFit has options for straight sweaters.

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