FAQ: What Size Sweater Should I Knit?

I often get emails from people who look at the schematic of a pattern, take their measurements, look at the suggested ease, and find themselves stuck and unsure what size to cast on. Sometimes it’s a case of not fully understanding ease, and in other cases knitters just want confirmation that they’re understanding things correctly and making the right choice. Whatever the issue may be, I imagine that for every one of those emails, there are four other knitters who are wondering the same thing but are afraid to ask. So here are my answers for everyone to read!

Miette by Andi Satterlund

Understanding Ease

Garment patterns will ideally tell you the recommended ease. Ease is the difference between the garment’s measurements and your own measurements. A sweater with positive ease is bigger in circumference than the wearer, and a sweater with negative ease is smaller in circumference than the wearer. A sweater with zero ease has the same circumference as the wearer. Almost all of my patterns recommend negative ease which can sound scary if you’re new to knit garments. Negative ease makes for a snug fitting sweater, but knits are stretchy so negative ease isn’t restrictive like you might imagine it to be. Positive ease is less form fitting, and tends to be drapier. To get an idea of what kind of ease you’re used to wearing, take your own measurements, and then measure your favorite store bought sweaters. Compare and see what you like!

Chuck by Andi Satterlund

Choosing a Size

You can use the pattern’s suggested ease and your measurements to find the best size for you. For example, if you have a 34 inch bust and the pattern suggests 1-3 inches of negative ease, your ideal size would have a finished bust measurement somewhere in the 31-33 inch range. Sometimes, however, you end up outside of that range. For example, let’s imagine that the pattern comes in sizes 30 (34, 38, 42). If you don’t want to modify the pattern, you have to choose between 4 inches of negative ease and zero ease. Which do you go with? That’s where knowing what you like comes into play! If you measured your favorite store bought sweaters and you know that you like tighter sweaters, choose the size with 4 inches of negative ease. If you know you prefer sweaters that have a looser fit, choose the size with zero ease.

Marion by Andi Satterlund

To Fit vs. Finished Measurements

Sometimes, instead of suggested ease, a pattern will give you measurements “to fit.” These measurements have the ease calculated for you. For our hypothetical pattern, the sizes are to fit 32 (36, 40, 44) inch chests. These aren’t the measurements of the actual sweater; they’re the measurements of the ideal wearer for each size. If the final sweater measurements are available to you, you can use them to figure out the ease. For our hypothetical pattern, that is 2 inches of negative ease. I’m not a fan of this style because it leaves a lot of knitters confused because it doesn’t give you a range of fit and it’s hard to choose your size if you don’t match the suggested measurements nicely. I also simply don’t like telling knitters which size they should be wearing. Fit and ease are personal preferences, and although I have my recommendations as a designer, I prefer to leave the final decision up to the knitter.

From A to Z by Andi Satterlund

Study Your Schematic

Now, most of this advice is focused on your bust measurement, but it’s not the only measurement to consider when choosing your size. The bust measurement is sort of the standard measurement used to describe sizes and one of the more important ones for good fit. It’s also the easiest to use to describe ease because the suggested ease isn’t universal throughout a garment. You want more ease through the armhole, and less across the shoulders and so on. In most cases “suggested ease” is actually “suggested ease through the torso of the body.” So with that in mind, study that schematic to make sure that your measurements correspond nicely with the measurements for the size you think you’d like to knit. For a fitted sweater with set-in sleeves, the cross shoulder measurement typically should closely match your own, and the armholes should be deeper than your own measurement. Make sure all the measurements for a size will work well on you before you commit to knitting a whole sweater based on them. If your bust is larger or smaller for your frame than the body type the standard sizes are based on, choosing a size according to your bust measurement alone could steer you wrong.





23 responses to “FAQ: What Size Sweater Should I Knit?”

  1. Lisa

    Yuss! I finally think I fully understand ease now! Thank you! I’ve been working up the courage to knit my first cardi for awhile now and this gives me a little more confidence to choose my pattern.

  2. Thank you for posting this! I always start over thinking things and get confused on the ease stuff. 🙂

  3. Ellisen

    I’m still confused. I’m small, especially shoulders, upper bust, arm diameter, waist depth. But I’m most comfortable in lots of ease around the waist/hips. When I choose the larger pattern for flare, then all the upper measurements are way too large. I don’t see an alternative to altering the patterns. Thanks for your ease article, though.

    1. Not every person is going to be able to get away with knitting the pattern as written. It sounds like you’d have to do modifications to get your ideal fit, which is why it’s important to study the schematic and look at all of the measurements involved instead of focusing on just your bust or just your hips so you know what you need to modify.

      If you want to change the silhouette of a sweater from a fitted shape to an A-line to give it more ease through the waist and hips, you will definitely have to modify that pattern!

      1. Cara

        Thanks Ellisen for the comment, and Andi, for the answer. I have the same dilemma and this helped. It is not enough to just choose a pattern that looks cute. I have to learn how to alter it to fit my body shape. I think I am now feeling courageous enough to re-do those sweaters that I am not wearing because they just don’t fit right.

  4. Siobhan

    Thanks for the tips, this measurement bizzo can all get a bit confusing. I find measuring a jumper or item of clothing that fits me well is a good starting point for comparing to pattern schematics.

  5. Tina

    Very helpful post Andi. Many thanks.

  6. Alexandra

    Thank you! Ease can be confusing – will definitely be referring back to this!

  7. Thanks – that’s helpful, especially for us here in the UK when we’re trying to understand patterns from the other side of the pond (ours aren’t written like that at all, so it can be quite confusing – spent last night trying to explain to someone in our knitting group and I think we both got muddled). I think I’ve got it now!

  8. Very Helpful,Thank You

  9. Emma

    Great post, Andi, thanks a million! Ease has been an extremely confusing concept for me until now. This article was timed perfectly for me too, as I just finished my swatch for Agatha – now I can be more confident in which size to pick 🙂

  10. Great article!

  11. This is a wonderfully informative post ~ thank you so much for this Andi! I do a bit of hit and miss style with my knitting, but I am sure that this FAQ will help to sort out a few things for me. Thanks again for sharing!!

    bonita of Lavender & Twill

  12. Dori

    Thank you so much for this! I’ve got ease pretty much down, but your last point about fitting *everywhere* is something I had never really taken into consideration. Also, it’s good to make sure I did know what ease was all about.

  13. Sara

    Very interesting, thanks Andi. Negative ease has always thrown me. So, I want to knit your lovely Hetty – my bust is 38 1/2″, my upper bust 35″, so if the pattern has 2″ of negative ease, I guess I should knit the size M, 37 1/2″ ? I would rather a little snug rather than far too snug.

    1. That sounds like it’s the right choice for you, then.

  14. Janice

    My problem is that my bust is disproportionately large and I’m trying to figure out how to make my garment fit my body and my bust. My torso measures 39″ but my bust is 47″.
    I am inclined to knit the size that fits my torso and increase to fit the bust. But that’s a lot of increasing to do and I don’t know if it will fit properly.
    Any suggestions?

    1. Unfortunately standard sizes aren’t going to fit everyone.

      There are two basic choices for bust shaping. You can add fabric using increases to create vertical “darts” or you can add fabric using short rows to create horizontal “darts.” Little Red in the City by Ysolda Teague has a lot of useful information on adding horizontal darts, and you might find it helpful.

  15. Jo Anne Neal

    Finally I’ve gotten help with understanding ease. It’s so disappointing to knit a sweater and after completion find it is too small or too big. It’s surprising how many knit shop owners don’t have a clear understanding. Thank you for your help.

  16. Melissa

    So helpful! Thank you!

  17. Sophie

    Hi. I somehow cant wrap my head around this. I just got a pattern, has “finished bust circumference” choices (35, 37, etc.) for size and then sates the sample is worn with approximately 2.5 inches of positive ease at bust. So, do i measure bust, and 2.5 and then go with that corresponding size? Thanks so much. So glad to stumble on your blog!

  18. Barbara Sinclair

    I’m bit confused here with the ease. My torso or hip is 39 or 40 around over my clothes, but my bust is 30 inches. I have been unable to find out how to modify a sweater pattern that indicates the hip measurement is 34 or 36″! I have made several sweaters that accommodated my hips, but the overall sweater was too big and had to give them away! How do I find out how to make modifications? I would appreciate hearing from you. Thank you.

    1. Well, cropped patterns easily avoid that problem! 😉

      But to really answer your question, there aren’t a lot of books available specifically on modification because the fundamentals are the same as calculating from scratch. To modify, you basically calculate the numbers you need for the section of the body you need adjusting, and then blend them with the pattern. So if you need more width through the hips of your sweater and you’re following a pattern, you’d calculate the waist to hip section from scratch and follow your custom numbers for shaping while using the pattern for guidance for details like stitch patterns. For reference for doing the numbers from scratch, Sweater Design in Plain English is not body-positive or pretty, but the content is some of the best.

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