How To: The Muslin Mockup
Have you ever spent weeks knitting a garment that ended up too big or too small, even if you matched the recommended gauge? It's a pretty common frustration, and the best way to avoid it is by making a muslin mockup in addition to your gauge swatch!
If you sew you're probably already familiar with this practice, although, you might not have thought to apply it to your knitting projects. Why not? Gauge swatches tell us everything we need to know about the fabric, but what about how the finished item fits? We're given schematics, dimensions, and diagrams- but it's not so easy to visualize how those numbers really look and feel when being worn.
Muslin is a cheap, undyed, plain weave, lightweight cotton fabric that you can literally get at any fabric store (and we happen to have the awesome Eureka Fabrics right across the street from us!). Making a mockup is easy, and it doesn't require too much effort. Simply measure and cut the muslin into the shape(s) according to the dimensions given by your pattern. Use safety pins to construct the garment, try it on, and see what you think!
The perfect example is the gorgeous Potawatomi Poncho, which is the template pattern being used in our current Design Your Own Poncho Class. It's a beautiful design, and most students in the class don't even want to modify it too much. "It's just a poncho, so it's one size fits all, right? No big deal?" Maybe. Maybe not. Take a look at the pattern's photo below.
It doesn't give you an accurate sense of the size. Not only is the model sitting down, but you have no idea of how tall or petite she is. All you see is a big, cozy, oversized poncho- which is exactly what you'd expect when you knit it up. Unfortunately, you might end up a bit disappointed.
We did a muslin mockup of the Potawatomi for the class, and it was truly eye-opening. Many of the students that felt as though they didn't want to change the pattern at all soon realized that the fit is nothing like they expected! That "big cozy oversized poncho" pretty much fits more like an "oversized bib" on anyone over 5'6". And even more so if you've got curves like I do! Take a look at the mockup shown on a shop mannequin (which is very slender) and then compare it to how it looks on me (5'10" and size XL).
I would definitely want to modify the size, and luckily the mockup allows us to catch this before we start the knitting. Once you find your cast on edge on the mockup, you'll be able to determine what you need to do- whether that's starting with more or less stitches, or knitting more or less rows. To fit myself, I would add both rows and stitches to the poncho. If you're tall and thin, you might just want to add rows. If you're short and curvy, you might just end up adding to the total number of stitches.
You can use this technique on any project you're not sure about! It's even helpful for those accessories like cowls, scarves, and shawls. Patterns for those kinds of projects often say "gauge isn't important".... but the size of the finished piece still is! So the next time you're wondering if 60" is too long for a scarf, or if a cowl design will be wide enough to wrap around twice- just knock out a muslin mockup to see how you like it. It's no fun when your shawl ends up more like a bandana!