Monday, May 9, 2011

My sweater is too tight under the arms, or at the chest/bust--the magic of gussets

If the bust/chest area of a sweater is too tight, you can fix this by messing around with the armhole length.  Are you surprised? In fact, the fit of the upper body of a garment is very highly affected by the length of the armhole, and a great deal of the designer's attention is paid to the exact measurements in this complex, saddle-shaped area where many seams run together, and the arm meets the body of the sweater.

The great thing about the upper body/armhole connection is that the entire fit around the bust/chest can be eased by lengthening the armhole (and, of course, the fit around the upper arm can also be eased in this manner).  Although lengthening the armhole sounds like a project which would require re-knitting the upper part of the garment as well as reknitting the sleeves, this is luckily not the case IF (and only if) the garment was made in pieces (has seams).

To lengthen the armhole, and thus add ease to the upper body area (and to the upper arm area, as well) we are going to use a gusset.  A gusset is simply an inlaid piece of fabric specifically designed to add ease to the applied area.  Our specific gusset, an underarm gusset for a sweater, is a diamond-shaped piece of fabric knit from the same yarn as the garment itself, then inserted (sewn in) along the top of the side seam and the top of the arm seam.

This magic diamond-shaped insert adds ease where it is needed, and thus saves you having to reknit a substantial portion of the garment. Although the line drawings below shows a gusset set into a set-in sleeve garment, the gusset trick actually works with every shoulder style--drop-shoulder, raglan, etc. This is because it is not added at the shoulder itself, but under the arm at the side seam, and so creates no distortion in the shoulder style selected. (And for the historically-minded, a gusset is a traditional method of constructing ganseys.)

As to how large to make the gusset, you must first determine how total many inches of ease you want to add around the garment at the bust/chest (or around the upper arm, if this is where the tightness is).  You would then work each gusset until the total width at the widest point of EACH gusset is ONE HALF the total added ease desired, so that both gussets together add up to the total ease required around the circumference of the garment.

As to knitting the  gusset itself:
Prep step: cast on, then work two rows of 2 st I-cord.
row 1: k1, m1, k1 (3 stitches on needle)
row 2:  purl.
row 3: k1, m1, k to with 1 st of opp edge, m1, k1.
row 4, purl.
REPEAT rows 3 and 4 until the diamond is HALF as wide across as the total number of inches of ease you seek, as explained above.
row 5: k across with no shaping.
row 6: purl across with no shaping.
row 7: k1, SYTK (or any other left leaning decrease you prefer), k to within 3 sts of other edge, k2tog, k1.
row 8: purl.
REPEAT rows 7 and 8 until 5 sts remain on a purl row.
row 9: k1, work a three stitch decrease (scroll) on the middle three stitches, k1.
row 10: purl
row 11: k1, k2tog, 2 stitches on needle
finishing step: work 2 rows of 2 st I-cord, bind off

Below is a photo of a gusset knitted according to the above instructions, the widest measurement is 17 stitches.

When you come to sew the gusset inside the garment, pick out (remove) the seam in the underarm area of your sweater (top of body, top of arm) beyond what you will need to sew in the gusset--this gives you some maneuvering room. To make sure of your gusset placement, begin the sewing centered on the center two (no shaping) rows (i.e.: rows 5 and 6) as shown in the illustration two below.  Resew the body and sleeve seams above and below the gusset insertion and wear your remodeled sweater in health and good fortune.

Here are some tips:

1) As to the actual sewing-in of the gusset, the illustration shows an overcast stitch worked from the outside, but this is only to give the general idea of sewing, and to maintain the perspective common to all the illustrations, namely from the back of the right arm.  The overcast stitch worked from the outside would actually be a poor choice. Far better would be to sew (or slip stitch!) the gusset from the inside. (Aaaand--if you had slip stitched the seams, rather than mattress-stitched them, taking out the seams would have been easier in the first place!)

Click this (or any!) illustration to enlarge

2) The sewing (or slip stitching!) from the inside is done at the rate of 1/1 (one stitch of the gusset is sewn/slip stitched to one stitch of the body or arm)

3) The instructions included in this post for knitting the gusset result in a utility sort of a gusset which adds width in a relatively concentrated area--just at the underarm.  If the problem extends past this area, work the gusset relatively longer (i.e." a longer diamond) by adding more plain rows between increases/decreases.  This will add more ease in a longer stretch of both the body and the arm.  Of course, if the problem is mainly in the upper arm, you can make the gusset shorter at the body end while knitting it longer along the arm seam.  If the reverse is true--if the body is tight but the upper arm is pretty much OK in circumference, reverse the procedure--making the arm part of the gusset relatively shorter than the body portion to provide bust shaping with very little ease added to the arm circumference. In these ways, the gusset can be customized to your exact ease requirements.

4) For supergeeks: If you are a demon for symmetry, begin the gusset with a provisional cast on in the very middle of the gusset, then follow the directions for the decrease portion of the gusset. When the first half is done, remove the provisional cast on to re-gain live sts on your needle, then work the decrease portion of the gusset again.  As you can see in the photo of the gusset, above, the decrease portion at the top of the gusset looks prettier than the increase portion at the bottom of the gusset, so by working both ways from the middle, you'll get two pretty decrease portions while avoiding the increase portion altogether.

Finally we'll end with a note on gussets at the crotch, rather than under the arm. Crotch gussets are a great idea for adding ease in an often-tight area. These are quite common in eastern-style pants and leggings.  While not common in western clothing, they are slowly becoming available as a specialty item.  Those who knit longies (either baby-bottom leggings or children's/adult leggings) can add a gusset to the crotch area in the identical manner as shown in this post for underarms, thus easing the entire garment for better fit, as well as the side benefit of moving the seams to lower-stress locations.

Part 1: My sweater is too wide
Part 2: My sweater is too long, my sweater is too short
Part 4: My hat is too loose
Part 5 : My sweater slips off my shoulders
Part 6 (still to come): My sweater is too small around my middle


Anonymous said...

Far better would be to sew (or slip stitch!) the gusset from the inside. (Aaaand--if you had slip stitched the seams, rather than mattress-stitched them, taking out the seams would have been easier in the first place!)

I'm only familiar with mattress seaming, and couldn't find anything in the index about slip stitch seaming. Any pointers for information?


Martha Joy said...

Thanks for the nice article. Very useful, I'm just not sure I have the nerve to undo seams or maybe cut into my knitting! And as for that: Is there a way to steek without a sewing machine?

I actually knit a gusset into this longie right from the start. It started out as a diaper cover, but since I cast on too many stitches and just couldn't bring myself to rip them out, I converted it to a long wool pant for my daughter instead. But I kept the gusset, since it was part of my plan, even though she's been out of diapers for two years now.

It was quite easy to do, too. Have a look at Not so happy with the colours on it, but it's warm and durable, and that's what matters.

TECHknitter said...

Hi Anonymous--slip stitching is shown on TECHknitting blog, but only as an edging for garter stitch.

(cut and paste this address into your browser's window--I'm sorry I don't know how to add a link in the comment section.)

Slip stitching knitwear together is the same exact thing as adding the edging, with the only difference being that the crochet hook is inserted through two layers of fabric, rather than one.

Hi Martha Joy--there is a way of steeking without a sewing machine, provided that the item is made in grabby wool. One day, there will be a post on this sort of steeking, but I'm not sure when that post will see the light of day.

The method in this post, however, does not involve cutting into your knitting--NO! It only involves undoing seams.

-- TK

C said...

I am so glad you've been publishing this series of posts! I have about 5 sweaters that I've started and gotten up to the armhole and been afraid to continue because getting all the measurements right in that one area with all the different pieces coming together seems really daunting. (My very first sweater literally just has the cap sleeves left to be knit up before seaming, but I keep putting it off because I'm worried about getting the size and shape all wrong!) It's reassuring to know that there is an easy fix available in case I mess up. Can't wait to read the upcoming posts!

twinsetellen said...

I've been pondering how to alter a pattern that has perfect shoulder fit but is too tight around the bust. This should fill the bill perfectly, and because I haven't knit the sweater yet, I can add it proactively!

Gussets are some of my favorite things!

TinkerTots said...

Not that you need confirmation... but it sure does work!

I ran out of yarn on my first sweater, and the arms and top were just too dang tight. So I raveled my swatch and turned it into diamonds and.. voila!

marlene said...

Dear Techknitter. Again, I am wowed by your logical and magical thinking. I would like to know, where you are going to list this blog in your index for future searching occasions. I would love to bookmark every one of your blogs but then, I would never find what I was looking for. Thanks in advance for your reply

TECHknitter said...

Oooo--you got me, Marlene. The index often runs behind the posts (it's such a pain to do it!!)

Off to update now, so thanks for the nudge!


TECHknitter said...

a little later...indexing completed (under "garment correction")

Angeluna said...

Another WOW helpful post. Thank you.

marlene said...

I keep looking for my post and can't find it, so I'll post again. How is this topic most easily found in the index--for future reference. Thanks.


TECHknitter said...

Hi Marlene--after your last post, I got busy and added all these garment-surgery posts to the index under the new heading "garment correction." However, Blogger (the service which publishes TECHknitting blog) then proceded to go down and eat all comments and posts made in the past 24 hours, effectively erasing your comment and all the indexing.

So, long story short--when I get the time in the next couple of days, I'll catch the index up, then you'll be able to find all these posts about fixing the fit of your knitwear under a new heading" "garment correction."

Thanks for writing and giving me the nudge!

Best, TK

TECHknitter said...

Hi Marlene--UPDATE--the index is updated through the most current post (May 12, 2011). Thanks again for giving me the nudge!!

Sharon said...

Gussets are magic, aren't they? I like to add them to the thumb of my gloves. In ready-made, you can also find crotch gussets in hiking pants, bicycling pants, and, presumably, other kinds of riding pants. They make a huge difference in comfort and ease of movement. Another thing I love about my (woven) hiking pants and shirts is that they have knee and elbow darts (which are sort of the mirror twin of gussets).

kittenknit said...

Could you add an entry to this series for shaping the high bust to avoid the extra folds of material? You see them in all shapes of people and types of construction and I'd like to be able to have my sweaters fit better there.

TrishKnits said...

Oh my god!!! I came to your site for additional info about inserting a zipper and ended up finding the solution to what until now was a heartbreaking problem. After spending countless hours making a vintage reindeer sweater for my husband from an original 1950s Mary Maxim pattern, it ended up too snug under the arms. Now I will not only have a perfectly inserted zipper, I can stop crying and fix the fit with gussets. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

TECHknitter said...

Dear Trishknits--you are welcome. Thanks for writing. --TK

kushami said...

Hi TechKnitter,
I'm echoing TrishKnits' comments above - I am trying to finish a long-running WIP cardigan for my dad. After many struggles, I finally pieced it together, only to find that the set-in sleeves were too tight.
Then I stumbled across a mention in Knitty about adding gussets to set-in sleeves, Googled it, and lo and behold, your awesome post appeared!

Now, can you tell me how to add reindeers as well :-)


TECHknitter said...

Hi Sarah--I'm glad you discovered gussets--they are pretty magical for improving the fit, aren't they? Beat, TK

Sonja said...

This is a great tutorial! I would like to know if you might have a suggestion as to how to knit a teardrop-shaped gusset rather than a diamond-shaped gusset. The reason I ask is that I am trying to add more room to the under arms of a close-fitting sweater. The chest is fine and does not need to be bigger. The sweater has arm hole seams but no side-seams because the body was knit in the round. So it seemed to me that a teardrop-shaped gusset would work better than a diamond in this situation. Thanks for any tips!

TECHknitter said...

Hi Sonja--football-shaped would not be difficult. Once you get to the final total gusset-width you prefer, simply work a few rows at that width instead of starting the decrease immediately. This eliminates the "points" of the diamond and elongates the entire shape more smoothly. Best, TK

TECHknitter said...

Ooh--Sonja--one more thing. You mention that you do not want to change the chest measurement. However, you will have to construct the gusset so that it starts and ends narrow, in order to avoid creating a lump of fabric in the sweater underams. Experiment with different rates of growth and shrinkage--try the blunter end near the body with the pointier end buried in the sleeve seam. Your sweater, not having body seams, is going to take quite some creative knitting to make the gusset do what you like without too many lumps!

Changeling said...

Hello TECHknitter: Can you help? I am knitting a gansey for my husband but I am knitting it flat, not in the round (I know, I know, it isn't traditional but my husband is severely kyphotic and too many short rows in the round sag). I want to place gussets in the armpits but the only guidance I can find is either the suggestion above or directions in the round. I am thinking that I will create the bottom half of the gusset on either side of the front of the sweater, then the top half as part of the sleeve top. Will this work, or should I just knit flat and sew the gusset in separately per your instructions above. Thanks.

BTW, I love you. :-)

Rene Twersky

TECHknitter said...

Hi Renee--yes, you can add the gusset diamonds as four triangles--two on either side of the top end of the arm seam, and two on either side of EACH side seam of the garment. may wish to consider adding them afterwards because this allows for better fitting. To explain: If the gussets aren't quite exactly right the first time (too wide, too narrow, not correct length) it is the matter of under an hour's work to knit and install two new gussets, whereas, when they are made part of the garment, it will take a lot more fooling around to re-fit them. Best, TK

Anonymous said...

For a moment, I read the measurement part of your sample gusset as 17 inches across and I was so confused... 17 stitches makes much more sense! And thank you so much for this post! You saved me from having to rip out my sweater's sleeves...again ;) and now I know how to seam this without wanting to tear my hair out! (slip stitch)

Anonymous said...

Wow, thank you so much for this post!

I am just about to graft underarm stitches on my icelandic sweater, which has been knitted in the round (seamless). (The stiches under the arms are on stitch holder still). The size is perfect, yet for some reason the underarm hole is too small.

Do you think that the technique you are showing would work on this type of sweater too? I would need to cast off the stitches on the holder first? Do you have other suggestions that could be tried?

Thank you so much,

TECHknitter said...

Hi Marie-Pier. For an Icelandic yoke construction, the gusset method will not work--all you will get is a wad of fabric under each arm which will not add any ease to your garment. This is because a gusset must have vertical length, but the underarm seam of an Icelandic garment is strictly horizontal.

May I suggest that you take a photo of your garment and post your problem and project on the technique forum of the Ravelry website? I (and the other readers!!) may very well have a solution, but without a photo, it is difficult to understand exactly where the problem lies.

Thanks for writing--TK