By Sandi Rosner
Knitting designers and editors get all sorts of questions. But one of the most challenging questions we hear is: "What size should I make?"
Why is this question a challenge? Because the answer is usually "It depends." How big is the intended wearer of this garment? How do you want the piece to fit? For sweaters, size is determined by considering the size of the body to be clothed, the size options offered by the pattern, and the amount of ease the wearer desires. (We’ll tackle measuring and fit for hats, mittens, and other accessories in the next issue.)
Good fit starts with good measurements. It can be difficult to take accurate measurements of your own body. It can be even more difficult to ask someone else to take those measurements for you. Just remember, body measurements are just numbers. They aren't a reflection of your beauty or worth as a person. Consider inviting a trusted friend over for a glass of wine and a measuring session. If it helps, you and your friend can agree not to say the numbers out loud. Just record them without comment.
In addition to the wine, you'll need a good cloth measuring tape. If the only measuring tape in your house is 20 years old, invest a couple of dollars in a new one. Measuring tapes can stretch over time. You'll also need paper and pencil to record the measurements you take.
Sweater sizes are usually determined by the dimensions of the largest part of the body to be covered. For most people and most sweaters, that's the bust. For a longer sweater intended to be worn by someone who's "all about that bass," the fullest part of the hip may be the defining measurement.
Take your measurements wearing the bra you intend to wear with the sweater. If you've enlisted the help of a friend and you're feeling shy, wear a close-fitting T-shirt and a pair of leggings so your results aren't distorted by the bulk of your clothing. To take a bust measurement, wrap the measuring tape around your torso at the fullest part of your bust. Take care that the tape is not twisted, don't put your finger between the tape and your body, and make sure the tape is parallel with the floor all the way around. Don't pull the tape measure so tight that it indents your skin. Record the measurement to the nearest ¼" (.5cm). While you're at it, measure the fullest part of your hips the same way. Measure your upper arm, too, with your bicep relaxed, not flexed.
If you're making a sweater with set-in sleeves, you'll also want to record your cross-back measurement, or shoulder width. This is the distance between the armholes of your sweater, and is measured along an imaginary horizontal line drawn from the top of one shoulder to the top of the other. Use the bony knobs at the top of your shoulder as the end points of this line, not the outside of your upper arm.
Twist Collective patterns aren’t sized with terms like small, medium, and large. We think it's more useful to give you the actual finished measurements of the garment. For most sweaters, that means the bust circumference measured just below the armholes and the length measured from the back neck edge (below the ribbing or other neck edging) to the lower edge of the sweater.
You'll usually see at least five size options, usually in 3-inch to 4-inch increments. Recognizing that fabulous comes in all sizes and shapes, we try to make the smallest size smaller than 36 inches and the largest size larger than 50 inches whenever possible. The sizing increments are determined by the width of stitch pattern repeats and designer preference.
In most cases, you can choose your size by using your bust measurement plus or minus the amount of ease you desire, then rounding to the closest size option.
Don't Forget About Gauge!
The finished measurements of a sweater are the product of two factors: the number of stitches worked and the number of stitches per inch. That's right—gauge. All of your careful measuring will count for little if you don't match the gauge specified in the pattern. For more information on how to measure gauge and why it's important, take a look back at “Got Gauge?” in the Spring/Summer 2011 issue.
All About Ease
Ease is the difference between the body measurements and the finished measurements of the garment. A garment is said to have negative ease if it is smaller than the body (like a close-fitting T-shirt). If the garment measurements match those of the body, there is no ease. If the garment is larger than the body, it has positive ease. Knit garments usually require less ease than woven garments, because knitting will stretch to accommodate the shape of the body.
Twist Collective patterns specify how much ease the designer had in mind. This is usually expressed as a range, such as "Intended to be worn with 2 ¾–4 ¾" / 7–12 cm ease.” But this is only a suggestion. Ease is a matter of personal preference, and you get to choose how you want your sweater to fit.
The style of the sweater will also impact the amount of ease that works best. For a lightweight pullover, you might choose negative ease for a close fit. For a chunky cardigan or jacket, you may want positive ease to avoid gapping at the buttons or so you can layer other clothing underneath.
Some women like their sweaters to hug the body, emphasizing every curve. These women tend to like a lot of negative ease in their sweaters, with the finished measurement as much as 10 percent smaller than their bust measurement. Other women prefer that their sweaters skim the body, with finished measurements matching or slightly larger than their bust. Still others love the roomy, oversized look of sweaters with 8 to 10 inches of positive ease.
To all these women, we say, “Hooray!” You do you. Make and wear your sweaters in whatever size makes you feel comfortable, beautiful, and confident.
Sandi Rosner is the Executive Creative Director at Premier Yarns in Charlotte, North Carolina. Her latest book is 21 Crocheted Tanks & Tunics: Stylish Designs for Every Occasion (Stackpole, 2016).