Heels and Shoulders Above the Rest

I recently made the observation – not particularly earth-shaking – that the shape of the human shoulder is somewhat similar to the shape of the heel.  A bit round yet knobby, a bit protruding, both serving the function of joining parts of the body at roughly a right angle.  Human experience being what it is, I doubt I am the first to notice this, but I am not aware of much discussion in the knitting literature which gives the shoulder the same sort of attention to precise fit and shaping as is given to sock heels (other than, perhaps, the Faroese shawl, which incorporates distinctive shaping in the shoulder area).

Sleeves, yes.  Sleeves get a lot of attention.  Sleeve caps.  Sleeve style and shaping.  Sewn-in sleeves vs. knitted in sleeves. Top down vs. bottom up.  The discussion always gets around to problems with fit in the various styles of sleeve shaping.  Occasionally I will see an offhand mention of the possibility of using increases, decreases or short rows to refine the shape in the shoulder, without specifics.  (If anyone reading this knows of resources that do discuss this, please point them out to me.)

It is not an accident that a classic set-in sleeve has the best fit.  It is the only one that takes into account the curve of the shoulder.  When the sleeve cap is eased into the armscye, it creates a shoulder-shaped bulge where needed.  Other sleeve styles – raglan, dolman, dropped shoulder, etc. – let an essentially flat piece of fabric droop as needed over the shoulder, leaving excess folds to pile up below.

I am what sweater knitters seem to like to call “curvy”, the excess poundage being a legacy of years spent taking care of everyone but myself.  (No comments about that please. I’ll deal with my issues in my own time.)  With ample upper arms hanging alongside a generous bust, the last thing I need is extra folds of fabric in the vicinity of my armpit adding even more heaviness to my appearance.  But I would like to be free to incorporate the style lines and ease of knitting of the raglan or dropped shoulder sleeve without reproach.  I don’t have an answer yet but a vision is forming, and it seems to pivot around the recognition of the similarities of the shoulder to the heel.  What if, regardless of the sleeve type, a three-dimensional approximation of the shoulder itself were made part of the design as well?


5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. andresue
    Feb 22, 2013 @ 12:21:24

    🙂 I love this post! And, I’m curious to see what solutions you come up with!

    Have you read “Sweater Design in Plain English” by Maggie Righetti? She’s got a section in there about accommodating larger bust sizes. She talks about bust darts and larger than normal bind offs at the underarms as well as using different decrease rates on the body and sleeve. She also discusses raglan sleeves and argues that decreasing every other row doesn’t fit the body exactly and calls for a different decrease rate. I really loved her book and it changed the way I look at sweater design.


  2. Jeri Lea
    Feb 22, 2013 @ 15:41:13

    Thanks for the reference! I haven’t read it. (To be honest, I’d be more likely to open a book named “Sweater Design with a Whole Lot of Mathematical Formulas”. :))
    But I will definitely check it out. I saw somewhere else about changing the decrease rate to get a better fit on raglans. Don’t know where it was. I took a class from Lily Chin at Interweave Knitting Lab New England this fall about draping fabric on a dress form or person to draft sweater patterns, so I was going to try that to get just the right angle on my next sweater. But I still think I will want to work in some shoulder shaping as well.


  3. entendante
    Feb 23, 2013 @ 12:49:37

    One thing that comes to mind is that although the shoulder at rest is the same shape as the heel, it moves in ways a heel isn’t expected to. Will removing some of the under-arm bulk restrict the ability to lift one’s arms, or create a pucker at the shoulder when moving? I’m eager to see what you come up with!


    • Jeri Lea
      Feb 23, 2013 @ 17:39:37

      Yes, I’ve been thinking about that, too. Just yesterday I was wearing a fitted-sleeve sweater and watching myself raise and swing my arm and the truth is that shoulders do bunch up when raised. There’s probably no getting around having to have wrinkles somewhere at some times. I don’t think I would advocate having too great a mound to accommodate the shoulders, but just a touch of shaping to let some sleeves drape more elegantly than they do naturally. I learned the downside about too much shaping when I made perfect short row alterations for a larger bust, and discovered that the sweater only looked nice when I stood perfectly erect. When moving or sitting, my own natural contours had empty knitted replicas elsewhere!


      • entendante
        Feb 24, 2013 @ 11:00:03

        “the sweater only looked nice when I stood perfectly erect. When moving or sitting, my own natural contours had empty knitted replicas elsewhere!”

        I suppose that’s one way to encourage flawless posture… (Knitted Iron Maidens!)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 19 other subscribers
%d bloggers like this: