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January 22, 2006

Shaping Up

Dear nona,

My dream in life is to create a fitted sweater -- one with intense waist shaping.  Unfortunately, I'm running into a problem, one that's interferring with my life's dream!  Let me spell it out, I'm using side shaping to decrease 4 inches from both the front and the back.   Because I'm decreasing so many stitches the sides of my sweater are looking unnaturally steep and angular -- not at all in harmony with my dream.  Can you help?

Angularly Shaped in Austin

Dear Angularly Shaped,

Have no fear, the key to a beautifully shaped fitted sweater is the vertical dart. 

Vertical darts are the ideal technique for shaping the waist of a tailored fitted garment, allowing lots of stitches to be decreased and then increased without sharp angular side shaping.  Perhaps it would help if I answered a few FAQs about vertical darts...

What is a vertical dart?  Can you give me a few details?

Vertical darts are typically worked in pairs and are -- more or less -- lined up under the bust points.  Vertical darts take on an hourglass shape -- first a series of decreases are used to narrow the dart, followed by a series of increases to widen the dart back to its original (or desired) width.  These decreases and increases are typically worked in pairs on either side of a central stitch.  This central stitch remains constant, keeping the dart vertically aligned.

How far in from the sides should the vertical darts be positioned?

Each vertical dart should be placed in from the edge about one fourth of the total width of the front (or back).  For example, if the width of the front -- at the bottom of the dart -- is 18 inches, then the darts should be placed about 4 1/2 inches in from each side.

How wide should each vertical dart be?

First determine the total width you'd like to decrease and divide this total width by 2 -- remember there are 2 darts.  Half the width will be shaped in each dart.  For example, if you want to decrease 3 total inches then each dart will decrease 1 1/2 inches.

Next multiply the width of each dart by your stitch gauge, rounding to the nearest even number.  For example, if your stitch gauge is 5 sts to the inch and you're decreasing 1 1/2 inches per dart then each dart will decrease 8 stitches -- 5 x 1.5 = 7.5 rounded up to 8.

Finally, since the dart's decreases and increases are shaped around a central stitch, add one more stitch.  For example, if your dart uses 8 stitches for shaping, add 1 more stitch for a grand total of 9 stitches per dart.

How deep should the dart be?

Your basic, garden variety vertical dart is 6 - 10 inches in length, with equal amounts above and below the waist line.  To get the number of rows in the dart, multiple the dart's depth by the row gauge.  For example, if your dart is 8 inches deep and your row gauge is 7 stitches per inch, then the dart requires 56 rows.  Half of these rows are used for decreasing from the hips to the waist and the other half of the rows are used for increasing from the waist to the bust.

How are the decreases worked?

There are many ways to work the dart's decreases.  I'll give you one way, but please be willing to experiment with other types of decreases.  First place a marker right before the center stitch of each dart so you can keep track of where they are.  To work a decrease row: 

knit to 2 stitches before the first marker, ssk, slip the marker, knit the center stitch, k2tog, knit to 2 stitches before the second marker, ssk, slip the marker, knit the center stitch, k2tog, knit to the end. 

The ssk creates a left slanting decrease and the k2tog creates a right slanting decrease.  The decrease rows should be evenly distributed over 1/2 of the dart's total number of rows.

How are the increases worked?

Again, I'll give you one way to work the increases but you might work out a better way for your garment.  To work an increase row:

knit to the first marker, make 1 right slanting stitch by picking up the horizontal running thread between the needles back to front and knitting it, slip the marker, knit the center stitch, make 1 left slanting stitch by picking up the horizontal running thread between the needles front to back and knitting it through the back loop, knit to the next marker and repeat.

The increase rows should be evenly distributed over 1/2 of the dart's total number of rows.

Why not share your experiences with vertical darts!

January 22, 2006 in Ask nona | Permalink


I've also used k3tog in the same positions, lenght etc. is calculated the same way except you decrease 2 instead of 4. This solution is suitable for
those who want to have something inbetween regular and really fitted shaping.

Posted by: katie | Jan 23, 2006 1:08:27 AM

Sounds a lot like the shaping used in Grumperina's Picovoli tee (on Magknits).

Posted by: Zarah | Jan 23, 2006 5:09:59 AM

Neat tutorial. I was hunting through my knitting design books for some info on this last week. I was ending up with the funky hourglass hip shaping on the side. Sweater was too loose fitting, but I'll remember this for the next one.

In the section how deep ... Should that say stitches instead of rows?

Posted by: Beverly | Jan 23, 2006 6:10:45 AM

I read about a decrease in a pattern the other day that would seem like it would be ideal for this...

slip 2 stitches together knitwise, k1, pass both slip stitches back over the knit stitch. The result has the middle stitch sitting on top, so it looks really symmetrical.

However, I don't know quite what would be an appropriate increase that would match this visually. The only one I can think of would be M1R, k1, M1L, but since each M1 takes up ease from the last row, that might be too close together to work without much difficulty. Any ideas?

Posted by: Leisel | Jan 23, 2006 6:59:06 AM

Thanks for the tutorial! I've been looking for info on this very thing for when I design my first sweater.

Posted by: Faith FiberFlash | Jan 23, 2006 7:36:25 AM

Wonderful tutorial, and reminder, on the fitting projcess. Your method is a perfect way to shape a sweater to conform to all of our unique body shapes.

Posted by: annette | Sep 2, 2006 7:40:16 AM

Dear Nona, I need help completing a pair of fingerless mittens by Colleen Meagher, found at your website. I've completed the rt hand and am about to add the mitten cap for the pattern "Urban Necessity". The pattern instructions refer to a chart and all I find is a link to a "Chart for small and medium hat". Please help! Karen

Posted by: karen Fair | Nov 21, 2006 8:50:53 PM

Have you ever heard of knit to 3 sts before marker knit 2 together, skp? This is supposed to make a vertical dart but looks really clunky! Any suggestions? Pattern doesn't say to slip marker or not? Vogue knitting pattern #20 Holiday issue 2006. No corrections posted.
Thanks so much,

Posted by: Mary Simon-Casati | Jan 17, 2010 3:19:47 PM

OMG thank you so much for this article. I have a sweater that I've been dying to make but although I'm quite slim, I've got a definite hourglass shape. So I've been at a loss as to how I should do the waist shaping as I've increased the original hip measurement by 9 inches but am still using the original pattern waist size. Thank you!

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