Gauge/Tension in miniature knitting

miniature knitting
© F H Powell 2015

In response to our recent request for blog ideas we were asked why no gauge/tension is given on our patterns and how to ensure a good fit on a doll. Usually in human sized knitting patterns a tension square or gauge is given, unfortunately this does not work in miniature as easily, as the gauge square would often need to be larger than the item being knitted. As yarns cannot be easily unpicked and reused in miniature work (every mark shows) this would waste a lot of yarn.

Body shape and history

If you consider the human form over the years it is evident that due to improved health and nutrition it has changed from Victorian times to the present day. Doll makers portray these periods differently and reflect these anatomical changes in their dolls. As miniature dolls also vary a lot in size between manufacturers and in the case of porcelain dolls, even how they are constructed, gauge is very difficult to include in a pattern. Doll manufacture is unlike other model making (such as model cars or airplanes) in that the aim is to give a representation of a person rather than an accurate scale model. After all we are we are all different shapes and sizes unlike a particular fighter airplane! Some dolls may have very large joints (such as ball joints) or padded bodies. Many 1:12th scale lady dolls have very tiny waists, as many of the moulds were originally designed to make Victorian dolls. Therefore later styles of clothes may look overly large on these dolls, as a corset would no longer shape the body. Many of the dolls used on our patterns have these miniscule waists, but the clothes hide them.

All patterns are scaled down to true 1:12th scale from original measurements in human sizes. So in the case of a mans jumper designed to fit a 36 to 38-inch/90-95 cm human chest it would measure about 1½-inches/4 cm across the dolls jumper (or approx 3-inches/7.5cm around the chest). However, if you actually measure around a male dolls chest, it is sometimes much less than 3-inches/7.5 cm and the jumper will appear to be much too large. Male dolls also tend to have very broad shoulders and very narrow waists, so garments may appear overly large, and if the garments are altered to fit at the waist they may then not fit at the shoulders.

Problems to look for
It is also worth considering that very few knitted items are designed to be really skin-tight. Some garments are designed to go over other garments, and if these are also knitted, will require more room in miniature than if the other garments are sewn. For example a cardigan might need to be slightly larger if it is designed to fit over a knitted jumper or dress, than it would need to be to go over a sewn blouse or dress.

All our patterns give a finished size as a guide. If your knitting is working up much larger than the finished width, check the pattern to see if the item has a loose fit (such as 1920’s items), is gathered into a ribbed band after knitting, is blouson style, or in the case of a bolero starts across the shoulder blades rather than the waist.

Possible solutions to the problems
Using a different yarn from that used in the pattern could cause other variations in gauge. Acrylic yarns have no natural bounce and so items may knit up much larger than those knitted in pure wool. Cotton has similar properties to acrylic, when used to replace wool. Yarns also differ between manufacturers and 1-ply has the largest size range of all yarns, some 1-ply yarns being almost twice as thick as other yarns, this will also affect gauge.

Another thing which affects gauge is the way the knitter actually knits, some people knit much tighter than others. Using a slightly larger needle to loosen tight work or a slightly smaller size needle to tighten up loose work can easily rectify this. This will often have more effect on the width of an item than on the length of the garment.

If after trying to tighten or loosen the item still looks baggy on your doll the shape can be filled out somewhat by using padding such as cotton wool. The age of the person the doll represents will also have a bearing on the shape of the doll, patterns designed for the ‘more mature lady’ will require the doll to have a larger body size and may require extra padding.