Are You In A Box?

Don't Box Me In

A lovely not-box: Kathy Zimmerman's Dovetail Pullover

Sorry. I couldn't resist that…

Many folks avoid wearing garments with any kind of body shaping, preferring to wear boxy silhouettes, as they think that boxes hide areas they would rather not show off: a generous belly, a small bust, or hips which are less than "perfect" (whatever perfect is!).

In reality, if you are largish, a boxy sweater can make you look bigger—people see the outlines of the box and they mentally "fill in the box," imagining that you fill the entire sweater up and down. If you are smallish, a boxy sweater can make you look even tinier, as though you were a little kid wearing Mom or Dad's clothing. On the other hand: A boxy sweater is comfortable and easy to move around in; its clean lines are particularly good for showing off intricate cable patterns. There's nothing wrong with wearing a boxy top, if it is balanced with other elements: beautiful stitch patterns, a bit of gorgeous jewelry, a pretty scarf, an interesting neckline, fabulous shoes… But if boxes are all you wear, maybe it's time to give yourself some more choices in your wardrobe.

Perhaps the first question is: If you have a less-than-perfect figure (and don't we all!), why wear shaped garments at all? Doesn't shaping just emphasize what you have (or don't have)?

In fact: Yes. But let me re-phrase that a bit: The right shaping for YOU, wisely chosen, can balance your figure, show off your good bits, de-emphasize the bits you are self-conscious about, and make you feel fabulous.

Because let's face it: Sometimes a girl's gotta strut. And defining your body's curves, instead of hiding them, can actually make you look better than you imagine. Here's why:

Out of the box: Stefanie Japel's Cable-Down Raglan

Our eyes naturally seek out curves to look at, because they are visually more interesting. (We humans like "interesting." It's one of our favorite flavors.) If you wear a box, the eye will rest on whatever curve it can find—which might be the very curve you are hoping to mask, pushing its way out of the confines of The Box. Waist, bust, or other sorts of garment shaping gives the eye a curve to look at; curves force the eye to move up and down, providing interest (see above) and balance. Waist shaping, in particular, is a visual trick: It forces the eye to see you as an hourglass-shaped, more-or-less balanced whole, instead of staring at your biggest or smallest feature.

Knitwear designers accomplish hourglass shaping in as many clever ways as there are clever knitwear designers. Some make ingenious use of traditional decreases and increases; some work vertical darts; some use pattern stitches, such as ribbing and cables, to pull in the fabric; some use gauge changes to change the way the fabric fits. Shaping, of course, is not the only way to keep the eye moving: Vertical lines of any sort, such as cables, lace patterns, or interesting colorwork, can engage the eye enough so that The Box is less of a box and more of a painterly canvas. Combine interesting stitchwork with clever shaping, and you have the Dynamic Duo of flattering fit.

Take a moment to look at the photos in this post: They start with what appears to be a traditional box shape, but each designer has added both shaping and stitch detailing to produce a lovely result.

Garment shaping is your friend. No matter how big or small you are, no matter what you think your flaws are, a little bit of shaping in the right places can help bring curves, balance, and world peace to even the simplest of knitted sweaters.

OK. Maybe not world peace. But a little more knitted beauty certainly can't hurt!

Have Knitting Questions? Get Them Answered on Knitting Daily TV!

Not everyone has a knitting instructor down the block—and even if you do, sometimes it's hard to get up the courage to say, "This might be a dumb question, but…" Part of learning to be a fearless knitter is learning that there is no such thing as a dumb question! We're all in this together, and your "dumb question" might just be the same one thousands of other knitters are curious about.

So ask away! We invite you to email your knitting and fiber-related questions to We'll choose a handful of the ones submitted to be answered on our new public television show, Knitting Daily TV, which will begin airing on PBS this July. Watch for the regular show segment titled "You Asked It!" and see if one of the hosts (maybe even Eunny Jang, editor of Interweave Knits!) answers your question on TV!

Find out more about Knitting Daily TV!

Sandi Wiseheart is the editor of Knitting Daily.

What's on Sandi's needles? I've been kissed by a llama! There was an alpaca show near where I live, and a llama named Roxy took a fancy to me. And I bought alpaca fiber to spin. What's that? My knitting? Oh yeah. I'm back to the Gathered Pullover, which has spent some time in the meditation pond, and more Secret Project knitting. But I'm still swooning over Roxy and the alpacas…

Other Things You May Like to Check Out:


Knitting Daily Blog

26 thoughts on “Are You In A Box?

  1. Oh, I needed this post. Encouraged by the galleries, I’m trying to figure out a sweater just for me. Now I won’t be afraid to add waist-shaping. Time to stop dithering and cast on!

  2. My trouble is that I have curves I want to show off (ok, after the baby’s here), and sweaters are never shaped enough for me! I have a small waist, and I’m very proud of it, and sadly, most clothes tend to de-emphasize it, even those meant to show off a waist. Which means I end up re-designing or discarding patterns I otherwise adore… the sweaters above have lovely shapes, and are too boxy for me! Can I encourage thoughts or designs to help show off small waists and curvy hips? Not to mention my long waist…

  3. I hope the Knitting Daily show will be on my local PBS channels! Awesome!
    I’m still learning about fit. The last post about how to figure out if you’re long or short waisted was very useful! Thanks for the info!
    Apparently I’m long waisted, but in the back it seems like I’m short waisted because of my generously proportioned rear-end. How do you compensate for that? Short rows?

  4. Ok, I have a waist, but that’s about it. Think of a tomato with a slightly indented line around the middle. When I look at patterns in my size I see linebacker width shoulders, which I don’t have. I guess that’s the “box” I have the biggest problem with.

  5. I would love to watch the Knitting Daily on TV… However, I couldn’t find either program on the PBS schedule page. Ok, so I know think Knitting Daily wouldn’t have listed show times if it’s not out yet, but there is a full listing of Needle Arts programs with pics and everything and I can’t locate this show on the PBS schedule page at all. Could you please clue me in when/where to find the local schedules? (I’m in NYC)

  6. **** Sandi here!

    The TV show has not even been filmed yet, so that is why there are no pics and no schedules online yet. Each local PBS station contracts as to what shows they want to buy, so if you want to see KD TV in your area, call or email your local PBS station and let them know! The schedule should be online closer to the first airings in July. 🙂

  7. I have the unfortunate luck of having a very very torso heavy body. I have a regular head (yay), wide wide shoulders, large breasts (no problem there, really), heavy belly, no hips and thin legs. So, I guess I’m sort of humpty dumpty shaped, or like an athlete with very bad hives.

    It’s very hard to knit in such a way as to flatter anything in this situation. If I knit for my shoulders, it’s going to be a wide garment no matter what. If I knit for my shoulders and breasts, I get a sort of Brunhilde effect. =) If I try to knit for all 3, then you can see the nice pair of rolls I have, and… well. Yeah, I cover up what I have on top as best as I can. I can’t really think of a way to minimize anything in this situation.

    I sure could use advice about it, though.

  8. I want to thank you for writing this column on shaping. I wish more women would appreciate how much better they look in a well-fitted garment. it is the mark of a well dressed woman that her clothes fit… it is not that they are trendy or vintage; it is all about fit.

    Love your columns… keep talking girl!

  9. I am so excited about the T.V. show. Hope that my local PBS station carries it. I like the idea about the sweaters knit for different shapes. Mine is a little too bulky around the middle. Have to work on that.

  10. I’m really looking forward to watching KD on TV. I will call my local PBS stations. Since I have satellite tv, I get 3 different PBS stations. Great article on shaping, as always. Fire Island Lady Terry

  11. I love the nicely shaped sweater you showed here. My questin is, how to decide what size to make. My bust is 40 inches, my waist is much smaller and my hips are larger. Do I make the 44 inch, which would give 4 inches of ease at the bust and cling to my hips? This is a recurring dilemma for me!

  12. I’m short, and I have a disproportionately large bust, but that’s rarely the problem when it comes to modifying patterns to fit me. My biggest issue is this: I have very narrow shoulders, especially when paired with the aforementioned bust. I’ve almost figured out a way to deal with this: I need to knit the back a size or two smaller than the front. However, after I’ve made these modifications, I run into problems in fitting the smaller-sized sleeve cap into my now-lopsided armscythe. I can usually fudge the number enough until it ends up right, but it’s definitely not a perfect solution, and I’m loathe to try and knit each half of the sleeve cap in a different size!

  13. I have also fallen in love with an alpaca…about 8 years ago now and have successfully navigated the phases of wanting to retire and start up an alpaca farm, wanting to retire and spin alpaca yarns, and wanting to retire and just sit and look at these beautiful creatures!! Of course the need to eat, feed my offspring and spouse, clothe us all and keep a roof over our heads have all contributed to my successful navigation thus far…but the financial adviser has indicated that in 9 or 10 more years…..hmmm

  14. So the Knitting Daily show starts in July? What a great birthday present for me! LOL I’ll have to write to my local PBS channels…I suspect they’d love to put it on since Utah has lots of crafty folks!

  15. I have definitely lived “in a box” and would like to get out of it but how do I know which patterns make the most of a decent sized bust matched with a slightly protruding tummy? I would love to be pointed in the right direction.

  16. I would like to see more patterns to flatter the more mature figure of a senior without making us look like the garment is too heavy and weighing us down, or that we are trying to look 20 again.We want to look classy but not like were trying to regain our youth.

  17. I am making the Cable-Down Raglan and I have to say that this pattern is a HUGE disappointment. It is extremely carelessly written – which is a very big disappointment since Stefanie is such a big name in designing. It is very clear that the test knitting was done ONLY for the small size. To make the larger sizes, the numbers were simply put into a computer rather than actually considered in line with the pattern. Since when do bigger people have longer arms? Since when are they far longer waisted? I made the size 44 and it ended up tunic length. The sleeve instructions are a laugh. They only say “follow pattern”. Yeah. Right. There is the diamond and two cable panels – 54 stitches. I had 92 stitches. What in the world am I supposed to do with all those left over stitches? Okay, reverse stockinette stitch – but it would sure be nice if she told us how many st to purl before starting the cable patterns! All in all, a VERY big disappointment for the first Stefanie Japel pattern I’ve done and I doubt I will ever do another one.

    Riki Hall Kongtong

  18. Sandi…thanks so much for sharing all the great information about shaping….being a bit of a rebellious type, I’ve never felt obligated to follow any pattern stitch by stitch so I have been “shaping” my knitting for most of my life….love my waist, hate my hips syndrome..but this is the first time I’ve seen such concrete easily understandable instructions….personally I for those folks unsure what size pattern to start with…I usally the pick the size that will have the least fitting needed….if the shoulders, bust and waist are fine, but the hips aren’t then pick the size that fits the shoulder bust and waist…then only one adjustment will be needed for the hips…I also check my fit every inch or so as I go along…..I know the fun is in the knitting not the measuring and fitting and adjusting but the best fun is in wearing a beautifully fitted garment..Sandi…thanks again for Knitting Daily..

  19. I love the cable-down raglan. It seems to me that the directions (Interweave Knits, Spring 2007) do not include decreases for the waist. Although the sweater looks curves, the schematic shows it straight. Am I missing something? Thanks.

  20. The bonus photo idea is wonderful. So often the model is “modeling” and the item being shown is not seen. When this happens to a fault (the item is not fully seen or a section is not viewable) then I usually stay away from knitting it…. as the model may be compensating for something being amiss.

    Thanks for the bonus photos – front, back, side, sleeve area & details are important.

  21. The bonus photo idea is wonderful. So often the model is “modeling” and the item being shown is not seen. When this happens to a fault (the item is not fully seen or a section is not viewable) then I usually stay away from knitting it…. as the model may be compensating for something being amiss.

    Thanks for the bonus photos – front, back, side, sleeve area & details are important.