The math behind customizing a knitted lace stole

Our week with Fibra Natura’s Flax Lace yarn continues today with how to select a finished size for a stole.

We began the week talking about the features of linen yarn and the design possibilities of Flax Lace. Then, we had a swatching day, followed by a treatise about blocking. Our goal is a stole for bridal attendants or a mother of the bride or groom in any one of the 11 colors available in the Flax Lace line.

Flax Lace yarn in turquoise, mineral, and white

We have fiber and a swatch, and know what to do with them. How big should we make it?

You might think “It’s a stole, isn’t it pretty much one-size fits all?” You’d be close. The fact is, you wouldn’t want your flower girl or junior bridesmaid tripping down the aisle in a stole the same size as the one worn by your 5’10” maid-of-honor! With some guidance, you can make different sized stoles.

There’s a general rule for determining the length of a stole – it’s between 1.25 and 1.5 of the wearer’s height. I’m 5’2″ [162cm]. 1.5 times my height is 93″ [236cm] which is a bit too long. 1.25 times my height (77″ [196cm]) – is a little too short. 84″ [213cm] is my preferred length.

Note to the novicea stole is a rectangle shape, and while we wear it horizontally around our bodies, down the length of our back, we revert to our geometry lessons, where the “short side” of the rectangle is the width, and the “long side” is the length. Hold that thought as you read on.

When writing this post, I averaged the finished sizes of 20 stole patterns. The result was 26″ x 72″ [65cm x 1.5m]. For me, 26″ is too wide, and 72″ is not long enough, so I created another way to determine size for a stole, based on the wearer’s measurements.

I first asked, “What does a stole have to do?” Well, it has to cover the back. A woman’s back length (neck to waist) is between 15 -18″ [38 – 46cm], and you’ll likely want a stole to skim at least 2″ – 4″ [5 – 10cm] below that. Being a petite height, I find I can get away comfortably with about 20″ [51cm] – any wider than that, and the fabric bunches up around my arms.

I made this PiR2 shawl for bedtime reading. It falls a scant inch lower than my natural waist. If I wanted to wear it outdoors, I’d rather it be a couple inches longer (or more), so it skims over the small of the back.

To determine length, I use two measurements: the “wrap” and the “drop”. Stoles tend to slip off the shoulders and our elbows make convenient catchers to keep them from sliding to the floor! “Wrap” estimates the amount of fabric needed to get from elbow to elbow.

To get “ wrap,” I measure from the left (or right) front armhole, around the arm and the back, then around the other arm to the other front armhole. Since I wear a stole over other garments, I take this measurement over clothing to incorporate enough ease. My “wrap” measurement is 43″ [107cm]. It happens to be about the same measurement I get when I take a tape measure and measure from my front waist, around the back of my neck and back down to the front waist. Try that on yourself! Once I know the “wrap,” I determine the “drop.”

The curved white arrows around the shoulders indicate where to measure to obtain “wrap.” The natural waistline is indicated by the straight black line, and “drop” is measured from the natural waist to the desired length (white vertical line).

“Drop” is a matter of personal preference or desired impact. It is roughly the distance from the waist to the bottom edges of the piece. A short stole gives a more casual look – you’ll see them belted over a pair of jeans and a button down shirt. A long stole is more dramatic – long stoles used to be sold with prom and bridesmaid dresses. The wearer’s height is also a factor in calculating the “drop.”

The wide blue line in this photo shows a more casual length for a stole. The curved white line shows the waistline, where it might be belted. The blue line has been drawn to match the length of the sleeve cuffs, but this creates a severe horizontal line that could be avoided by adding just 2-3 more inches to the length of the stole.

Because stoles tend to slip off the shoulder, they need to have enough drop so the elbows can catch them. For an average-height adult, you want a minimum of 14″ [35cm] on each side of the “wrap.”

Let’s say I want a stole to fall just above the hem of a knee length dress (vertical white line in the photo above). I take my wrap (43″) then add the distance from my waist to just above my knee (19″ [48cm]). To get to the other knee, I need another 19″. That’s (43+19+19) which gives me a stole that’s 81″ long [203cm]. Hey! That’s just under my preferred length! It works!

If you want to make stoles for a series of bridesmaids, the drop will likely be very similar, but the wrap could be very different, depending on the build of the wearer! By using back length, wrap, and drop, stoles can be customized for a junior bridesmaid or flower girl, too.

Between Tuesday’s post about sampling and today’s information about sizing, you have all you need to make the stole. Tomorrow, though, I’ll give you the pattern for my stole and a bonus pattern for a ring bearer pillow top. Here’s a sneak peek of the knitting – beautiful, yes?

I’m really enjoying creating this frothy piece!

This is part 4 of 5 in this series.
Go back to part 3: Best reference for blocking your knits

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