By Sandi Rosner

In the Fall issue, we talked about choosing which size to make for sweaters. But for every sweater we knit, most of us will make several smaller projects. Many knitters refuse to be caught without a pair of socks on the needles for knitting on the go. Hats and mittens are just as portable, and are a wintertime necessity. This month, we'll talk about how to choose an appropriate size for these essentials.

Most knitters don't give much thought to size when planning these smaller projects. They pick up some yarn, cast on some stitches and make a hat with the knowledge that it's sure to fit someone. But haven't we all experienced the disappointment of investing hours carefully crafting a pair of socks or mittens only to find that they don't fit well? It's worth spending a little time up front to avoid that sinking feeling. And if you're knitting a gift, making sure it fits well is a lovely way of saying "I made this just for you."


Start with Good Measurements

Just like when you measure for sweaters, you'll need a good cloth measuring tape. You'll also need paper and pencil to record the measurements you take. If you often knit for others, consider keeping a record of measurements for each person. Whether your preference is a small notebook, a computer spreadsheet, or a note on your phone, you'll find it helpful to have these measurements close at hand when planning your projects.


Hat size is determined by the circumference of your head at the lower edge of the hat. Wrap the tape measure around your head, above your eyebrows and ears. Be sure you don't have a finger under the tape, look straight ahead, and keep the tape level with the floor.

Mittens and Gloves

The size of hand coverings is based on the measurement around your palm, inside thumb. Be careful not to wrap the tape too tight— it shouldn't indent the skin. While you're measuring your hand, make a note of the length from the crease at the base of your palm to the tip of your middle finger. If the intended wearer has a manicurist on retainer, be sure to include the length of those fingernails.


Sock size is determined by the measurement around the ball of your foot at the widest point, just behind your toes. Don't worry about the fact that you'll probably get a bigger measurement around the arch of your foot; the heel gusset will accommodate that. Take two more measurements while you're at it: 1) the length of your foot from the back of your heel to the tip of your toes, and 2) the circumference of your ankle at the point where the cuff of the sock will land.

Negative Ease is a Good Thing

Ease is the difference between the finished measurement of the garment and the measurement of the body part it covers. For accessories, you'll nearly always want some negative ease so the garment hugs the body. An oversized sweater can be a striking fashion statement. Oversized mittens or socks? Not so much.

For hats, gloves and socks, aim for about 10 percent negative ease. That means if you are knitting for a 22½-inch (57cm) head, you'll get a good fit with a 20-inch (51cm) hat. For my 10-inch (25cm) feet, I make socks with a 9-inch (23cm) circumference.

Of course, there are exceptions. We rely on the inherent elasticity of knitted fabric to make our projects fit. Stranded or slip -stitch colorwork can result in a fabric with considerably less stretch than single-color knitting. In such cases, your project will be more comfortable if you aim for a size closer to the actual body measurement.

If you're using a very bulky yarn, you may also want to choose a size closer to the actual body measurements. In these cases, the yarn itself takes up some space inside the tube of your hat or mittens. A couple of extra stitches can prevent a crowded fit.

Gauge Matters

You already know this part, right? All the measurements in the world won't get you a good fit if your gauge doesn't match the pattern specification.

Maybe you want to dive right in to the knitting without making a swatch. We understand. Take a minute when you are 4 to 5 inches (10 to 12.5cm) into your project to check how many stitches you're making per inch. If your gauge is off, it's better to find out when you are halfway down the leg of the first sock instead of after you've finished the pair.

Making Adjustments

What if the mitten pattern you're dying to make only comes in one size and you need your mittens a little bigger or a little smaller? Unless there are elaborate colorwork or stitch patterns that are continuous around the piece, most accessory patterns are easy to alter.

For patterns with a relatively small repeat, consider whether you can add or subtract a repeat of the stitch pattern without spoiling the overall effect. Can you add a couple of stitches on either side of a central cable or lace panel to get a little extra width?

One of the most common adjustments occurs when you need to accommodate ankles that are significantly larger than the foot. If the difference is only an inch or so, you shouldn't have a problem. The ribbing at the top of the sock should expand enough for comfort. But if the difference is more than an inch, it's worth making some alterations.

If you're working from the cuff down, be sure you use a good elastic cast-on method (tubular works well, you can find out more about that here). Add enough stitches for an extra repeat or two of the stitch pattern in the leg of your sock, and decrease those extra stitches away just before you begin the heel. If you're working toe-up, add extra stitches after the heel is complete and be sure to use a stretchy bind-off (again a tubular method works well).  Of course, be sure you make notes about the changes you've made so you can make the second sock to match!

We all want our hand knits to be worn with pleasure. Taking care with the fit of even the smallest projects is one way of honoring the time and attention you invest.

Sandi Rosner lives in Charlotte, North Carolina. Her latest book is 21 Crocheted Tanks & Tunics: Stylish Designs for Every Occasion (Stackpole, 2016).