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by Ysolda March 01, 2019

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Confused by which size of a sweater pattern to make? To get the best fit you'll want to know what size you are, and how to read the sizing information provided in your pattern.

What size are you?

Just like in ready to wear clothing, there isn't really a consistent sizing system that's used universally in knitting patterns, although if you often knit patterns by one designer or publisher you might be able to work out your size for that brand. The only way to know for sure what size you are is to take your measurements. Knitting patterns are usually sized by the finished chest or bust measurement, but sometimes the intended body measurement is given instead. In that case look to the schematic for the finished garment measurements. A schematic is a line drawing of what your finished sweater, or the individual pieces of your finished sweater, will look like, with measurements for all the sizes given on, or alongside, the illustration.

What's the difference between finished measurements and body measurements?

It's important to make sure you understand which measurements provided in your pattern are the finished measurements of the sweater, and which are of your body. They shouldn't all be the same, and the finished measurements of your sweaters will vary depending on the style and fit.

Ease

The difference between your body measurements and the finished measurements of the sweater is called ease. This is referred to as negative and positive ease. Negative means that the sweater is smaller, while positive means that it's larger than the body. Some patterns will tell you what size the model is wearing and their chest measurement while others will give a suggested amount of ease to help you choose your size.

graphic with text: negative ease, garment is smaller, positive ease, garment is larger

Ease is partially a matter of personal preference. There are usually a couple of sizes in a pattern that you can choose between, depending on how fitted you like you're sweaters, but you don't want to stray too far from the designers intentions or the proportions will be very off. If you want an oversized style look for a pattern that's intended to be worn with lots of positive ease, rather than making a much larger size of a fitted design. Scroll down to see the same designs on different people.

Measuring existing sweaters

It can be helpful to measure garments that you like the fit of and compare those to the finished measurements provided in the pattern. Consider whether the garment you're measuring will have a similar fabric, in terms of thickness, drape and stretch, as your project.

How to take your measurements

Before taking body measurements, if you're someone who wears structured bras, it might be worth getting a fitting. Wearing the right bra size can make a huge difference to the measurements you end up with, and the fit of your sweaters. Check out this older post on how to tell if you're wearing the right size and what a difference it can make. 

Measure over close fitting garments, including, if applicable, the kind of bra or binder you'll wear with your sweater. Keep the tape measure level all the way around your body, snug but not too tight.

The measurements you'll take will depend on your body and the kinds of sweaters you want to make. Skip the ones that don't apply to you.

Before beginning use string and stickers to mark a few key points:

  • The natural waist. If you aren’t certain where your waist is bend to the side or feel for the curve at your lower back — this bend is the natural waist. Tie a piece of string around. Tie a second piece around the underbust, at the bottom of your bra’s underwire.
  • Run a finger from the side of the neck to the shoulder until you find the end of the bone and mark with a sticker.
  • On the side of your hip mark where you would want a regular length sweater to end.
  • Close to your armpit on your body mark where you would want the bottom of a close fitting armhole to be. Make this easier to refer to by tying string around your arm at this level.
  • If you think you might need some extra shaping for the bust mark your nipples with stickers. Yes really!

Download a printable worksheet you can fill out with your measurements.

Comparing body measurements to the schematic

Compare your body measurements plus the amount of ease you'd like to the garment measurements given in the pattern. Remember to refer to the schematic for the most extensive list of garment measurements. Here's the schematic from Ravelston.Because there are a lot of sizes the measurements are given in a table below the illustration. 

What size should you make if you have a larger bust?

Most knitting patterns aimed at women are sized by the bust measurement. This doesn't make much sense, and I go back and forth on whether to continue sizing my patterns like this. The full bust measurement can be dramatically different between two people who are otherwise close to the same size. 

Unisex patterns and patterns aimed at men tend to be sized by the chest without being shaped to curves. 

If you have a larger bust you'll find that choosing a size that matches your high bust measurement to the bust / chest size given is likely to be the best starting point. 

Do you need to make changes to the fit of your pattern?

You probably won't find that all of your measurements fit neatly into one size of the pattern. Maybe you need longer sleeves, narrower shoulders, or more shaping at the bust. Choose a size that gives you the closest starting point.

If you're making a closer fitting garment you might need to make changes to the shaping or combine stitch counts from different sizes to get the best fit for your body. Look out for more posts on how to make specific changes and let us know if there's something in particular that you've been struggling with. You might also be interested in my book Little Red in the City which includes an extensive section on making changes to patterns. 

A visual comparison

We thought it might be helpful to see the same designs on different people, and the same person wearing different sizes.

Wardie

Woman with pale skin wearing dark overalls and a beige wardie cardigan standing with a cobbled alley behind

You can also see me wearing this sample, styled a bit differently in the original pattern photos.It's the size 37 1/4" - that's around 2" of positive ease. 

Woman with pale skin wearing dark overalls, a striped shirt and a blue oversized Wardie against a yellow and grey wall

This is me wearing the size 46", that's closer to 10" of positive ease. Note that the sleeves are a little long but not ridiculously. Bex made this Wardie for herself, and shortened the sleeves to fit her shorter arms. If you want to make Wardie with a lot more positive ease to match this slouchier fit, which I love, you'll probably want to shorten the sleeves. The oversized fit pushes the top of the sleeve further down your arm so you need to compensate for that. Love the colour? It's Finull PT2 in 438. 

Woman with brown skin and dark hair laughing and wearing a dark top with a close fitting buttoned blue wardie We recently met up with our friend Aja Barber and she kindly posed for a few pictures. If you're interested in ethical fashion, conversations about race and intersectional feminism, or looking for styling help check out Aja's Patreon and instagram. Here she's modelling the same blue Wardie with less ease. 

And here's the same one on Bex. You can tell they're a similar size but that Aja is a little taller with broader shoulders. She also made her top from the Concord pattern by Cashmerette, which is a great option if you're looking for a sewing pattern for a fitted tee sized for plus sizes / larger cup sizes. 

 Woman with pale skin and brown curly hair leaning on a brick wall wearing a pale blue patterned top with the blue wardie, it fits closely

Ravelston

For the pattern photos of my latest pattern, Ravelston, I modelled the grey v-neck. You can see that the yellow one has a looser fit with more positive ease on Noor than it does on me (this one has more or less zero ease at the full bust on me). 

Ysolda

Ysolda designs knitting patterns, spent years teaching at events and loves to find new yarns and books to share.



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