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table of contents » chapter 11 (of 29)

11: Shaping

A garment
is a balance of texture, shaping, finish and impact. The first three elements are important to the fourth, but, although they all lean on each other like a house of cards, shaping is the keystone that keeps the whole structure together. Shaping is the difference between a scarf and a piece of clothing.

Your own ideas and knowledge, or those of a pattern writer, will control the shape of what you knit. The outline of the pieces is created by increasing or decreasing, casting on and casting off, or using different sized needles. Then the finished garment is made up from the shaped pieces joined together. Even if the knitting has been done with circular needles in one piece, it will be shaped somewhere.

Shaping is not just structurally important, it is also visually important. It is the key to easy joining and finishing, and the matching and placement of shaping is crucial to the way the garment will look.


Increasing or decreasing the stitches at the beginning or end of a row will be correct as far as pattern instructions are concerned, but shaping in this way creates a jagged edge [pic 1,2,3].

Decrease edges that result from working shaping on first two and last two stitches of every knit row. The jagged edge makes it difficult to work a neat seam.

These decreases have been worked on every second knit row, and the edge is jumbled and bumpy.

Left sample increased every second knit row, right sample increased every knit row. The right edge always looks neater than the left, but still presents a joining problem.

When you start to pick up stitches along an edge with bumpy shapings, you will encounter the problem of just where to place the stitches. You need to be able to see a clearly defined line of stitches to follow when picking up, both horizontally and vertically, so that there will be a well shaped edge. This is crucial if the added knitting is in a contrast colour. If you have used the edge stitches for shaping, the only place to pick up stitches will be quite a few stitches in from the edge to avoid the shaping, which is not ideal. It means that there will be a thick line behind the pick-up edge.

The perfect (read undetectable) seam requires matching row to row. If it can be worked one, or at the most, two stitches in from the edges, there will be less bulk. Knitted fabric drapes and stretches and fits because it is flexible, and a thick seam doesn’t move as well as a fine seam. This is difficult to achieve with a bumpy edge, because shaping stitches really get in the way.
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