Understanding pattern sizing in knitting

In This Chapter

Understanding pattern sizing Measuring yourself properly Picking the right fit.If you’ve ever bought clothes based on the size marked on the label alone only to find out that they didn’t fit properly, you know that one designer’s medium isn’t the same as another’s. With off-the-rack clothing, you can always run back to the mall and exchange your purchase for a different size. But if you’ve spent $100 on yarn and two months’ worth of free time on a sweater, it’s heartbreaking to discover that you’ve knit the wrong size. So take the time to figure out which size to knit on every project you make. I confess that pattern designers don’t always make sizing easy, so do read through this chapter and take it to heart. In this chapter, I explain the sizing information that you might find in a given pattern and show you the way to measure yourself properly. To wrap up, I explain how to put together your measurements and consider factors such as ease so you can select the best size.
Some knitters don’t want to be bothered with the extra steps in this chapter; they just want to knit, and who can blame them? But take heed: Figure out what size you are and what size you need. Even if this figuring takes you all night (and really it’ll take about five minutes), you’ll still be way ahead of the game because your sweater will fit you when it’s done. And after you know your measurements, it’ll be that much easier the next time. The phrase “Take time to save time” may sound cliche, but just like doing a proper gauge swatch (see Chapter 2 for more information on this topic), a little prep work on sizing before you grab the needles can save you a lot of heartache.

Deciphering a Pattern’s Size Information

Knitting patterns are famously bad for inconsistent sizing. Patterns from different designers, countries, or eras can vary significantly in what measurements are considered a small. A woman with a 36-inch chest may be considered a small by some designers, a medium by others, and even sometimes a large! Believe it or not, even patterns within one topic or magazine may not have standardized sizes.
So, you absolutely must read the fine print on the pattern to know what size to knit. For instance, at the beginning of a pattern, you can almost always find some note about sizes. The least helpful note is “One size fits all.” If it’s a scarf, that’s fine. If it’s a garment, however, take time to figure out what its final dimensions will be. If you’re petite and the one size is 60 inches around, it can’t possibly fit you!
In the following sections, I explain the types of sizing information that you can expect to find in a pattern, and I go over the standard sizes from the Craft Yarn Council of America that I use in this topic.

The kinds of size information in a pattern

Most garment patterns have some sort of small/medium/large sizing. In addition to that method of sizing, most patterns also give you the garment’s finished chest circumference. Note that this measurement is the finished size of the garment though, not your actual chest measurement; there’s usually a difference between these two numbers, as you find out in the later section about ease.
Some patterns also helpfully tell you that a medium fits a 38- to 40-inch chest. If this is the case, you don’t have to do much work because if you know your chest measurement, you know exactly what size to make for the garment to fit as the designer intended.
If you can’t find sizing information up front in the pattern, go to the schematic. Schematics are illustrations that give you detailed information on the measurements of the garment for each size. By looking at these illustrations, you can figure out, among other things, the garment’s chest size and arm length. The numbers given for each measurement in a schematic correspond to the sizes covered by the pattern, with the smallest size first and the largest size last, just as they are in the pattern directions. Remember that unless it’s indicated otherwise, schematics give flat measurements, so you need to multiply the width of the front by two to get the garment’s chest circumference.
You may want to flip through this topic, choose a pattern that appeals to you at this point, and have a look at the schematic. The first number to look at is the total chest circumference in the size that you think is right for you. Grab a tape measure and a sweater you like and compare the chest circumference in the schematic to the chest circumference of the sweater. While you’re at it, compare the lengths of things like the sleeve or the distance from the hem to the beginning of the underarm shaping. This exercise shows you how to use a schematic to assess the fit of a garment in a pattern and choose the correct size.
If you have only the finished chest circumference of a garment, you must take ease into account. Ease is the amount of room between you and your clothes. In other words, unless the garment is meant to be very close-fitting, you don’t want to knit it exactly to your bust size. Take a couple of minutes to read about ease later in this chapter before you start knitting.

The sizing conventions in this topic

The patterns in this topic are based on sizing standards set up by the Craft Yarn Council of America to help minimize the confusion of pattern sizing. I use the same size standards throughout this topic, so a large size, for instance, is always designed to fit someone with a 40- to 42-inch chest circumference. This topic features patterns sized for everyone from XS to 3X. Not every pattern has every size, but knitters of all body types will find patterns to suit them. And while it’s always smart to double-check that the size you’re knitting is right for you, for the most part, you’ll find that a small is a small across the board.
Table 3-1 shows the standardized women’s sizes (in inches) from the Craft Yarn Council of America. The elements sized are the following (see the next section for more details on these areas):
Bust: The measurement around the fullest part of your chest Cross back: The measurement between your shoulders
Back waist length: The measurement from the base of the neck to your waist Sleeve length to underarm: The measurement from your wrist to your underarm

Table 3-1 Standardized Women’s Sizes
XS S M L 1X 2X
Bust 28-30 32-34 36-38 40-42 44-46 48-50 52-54
Cross back 14 15 16.5 17.5 17.5 18 18.5
Back waist length 16.5 17 17.25 17.5 17.75 18 18.5
Sleeve length to underarm 16.5 17 17 17.5 17.5 18 18.5

The Craft Yarn Council of America also has standardized sizes for men, children, and babies. For tables and additional information, head to www.yarnstandards.com.

Measuring Yourself

Figure 3-1 shows the parts of the body that you need to measure before you start knitting a new garment. When you measure, follow these guidelines:
Use a cloth or plastic tape measure; if yours looks worn and stretched out, spring for a new one. A stretched-out tape measure won’t give you an accurate measurement.
Strip down to your skivvies, or at least wear something close fitting. Measurements taken over a winter parka won’t be accurate!
For all horizontal measurements, try to keep the tape measure untwisted and parallel to the ground. Hold the tape measure snug to the body, but don’t cinch it in.
For all vertical measurements, keep the tape measure perpendicular to the ground. Hold the tape measure close to your body and let it follow your curves, just as the finished garment will.
How to measure yourself (or someone else).
Figure 3-1:
How to measure yourself (or someone else).
How do you measure yourself accurately? You can’t! You really need a friend to help you do this right. You can do pretty well with your bust, waist, and hip measurements, but just try measuring yourself from armpit to wrist or shoulder to shoulder! Find someone to help you measure honestly and accurately.

Here are some specific guidelines for measuring each area in Figure 3-1:

Chest: Measure around the fullest part of the chest. Remember, this measurement isn’t the same number as your bra size!
Waist: Measure around the tummy at the narrowest point, which usually is even with the belly button. Don’t hold your breath or suck in your gut (as much as you may want to!).
Hips: Measure around the hips at the widest point.
Cross back: This is the measurement from shoulder to shoulder. Often the cross back measurement is taken incorrectly across the full breadth of the shoulders including the arms. Instead, you want to measure from the shoulder joint where your arm bends (not from the edge of your arm).
Sleeve length to underarm: In knitting, the critical length of the sleeve is from the wrist to the underarm. The cap of the sleeve can be shaped in a variety of ways, so measure from the underarm to the wrist.
Back waist length: Measure from the nape of the neck to the waist. It’s helpful to measure your front waist length, too. If you have a curvaceous figure, there can be a big difference between the distance from the neck to the waist in the front and in the back.
Total length: Measure from the top of the shoulder to where you want the garment to end, perhaps at the hip. It may be easier to take this measurement from a finished garment. See the section “Trying the ‘favorite sweater’ technique if you’re still unsure about size” later in this chapter for more information.

other helpful measurements include foot length and head circumference:

Foot length: Put a ruler on the floor and stand on it with your heel at the zero end of the ruler. Note the number even with your longest toe. Make this measurement without shoes on, of course.
Head circumference: Hold a tape measure snug around the head just above the ears.
Fill in your measurements in the table on the Cheat Sheet so that you always have them ready. I include a couple of extra columns in case you knit items for your loved ones; this way, you always have their measurements handy. And remember to update the numbers from time to time, particularly if your weight has changed.

Knowing What Size You Should Knit

Compare the numbers you’ve written down in Table 3-2 to the numbers given for the Craft Yarn Council of America standard sizes in Table 3-1. Do you fit exactly into one of the standard size categories? Probably not. No worries, though; in the following sections, I give you guidelines for determining the size you should knit.

Focusing on essential fit considerations

In knitting, the chest measurement is the most critical measurement, so that’s the number you should focus on. However, if your hips are wider than your chest, take that number into consideration when choosing your size. For a garment that ends at the waist, stick with the chest measurement. For a garment that falls below the hips, such as a coat, you might consider knitting a larger size. If you can’t decide what size is right, try out the “favorite sweater” technique that I describe later in this chapter.
If your arms are longer or your waist is shorter than the measurements given in the table, lengthen your sleeves or make the body of your sweater a bit shorter before you begin the armhole shaping to get a perfect fit.

Factoring in ease

Even though patterns are written for a person with a certain chest size, you’ll notice that there’s a lot of variability in the size of the actual finished garment — even for things that are the “same size.” At first, this may seem confusing, and it can lead people to knit their garments in the wrong sizes. But the variability has to do with what designers call ease, or the amount of space between you and your garment. Consider these ease facts:
Standard ease is 2 to 4 inches. This means that if your chest measures 40 inches, your garment would measure 42 to 44 inches (that’s the chest circumference) for a standard fit.

A loose fit can measure 6 inches or more over the body measurement.

Something that’s meant to fit tightly may be the same as your body measurement or even smaller, which is called negative ease. Something with negative ease has to stretch to fit you and will be very form fitting.
Generally, thinner yarns need less ease than bulky yarns — think of the fit of a fitted T-shirt versus a big, bulky sweater. Here’s a tip if you’re unsure of how much ease to incorporate: Look at the photograph of the finished garment that you want to knit and see how it fits the model. Is it tight? Loose? Close to the body? Billowing? By looking at the finished garment, you should be able to decide how much ease you need. Add that ease number to your chest measurement from Table 3-2, and then choose the finished size that most closely matches that total chest circumference.

Trying the “favorite sweater” technique if you’re still unsure about size

If you still aren’t sure what size to knit, try measuring a favorite sweater. You can skip measuring yourself entirely (if you really insist), or you can use this technique in combination with your body measurements to get a good idea of what size fits you best.
Choose something from your closet that fits you well and is of a similar weight and style to what you’re planning to knit. It doesn’t have to be a handknit — even a sweatshirt can give you useful information. If you’re knitting a cardigan, choose a cardigan; if you’re knitting a bulky turtleneck, choose a bulky turtleneck. The more of your favorite items you measure, the more complete and accurate your sense of fit will be.
Take an hour some day to sketch and measure all of your favorite sweaters, and then keep these schematics handy in your knitting notebook. This way, when you’re ready to choose a new project, you’ll have a clear idea of what range of measurements will fit you. In addition to helping you understand your size, measuring all your favorite sweaters can also tell you something about what styles suit you. If your pile of sweaters trends toward V-necks, raglan sleeves, and lightweight yarns, there’s probably a reason. In other words, before you knit a bulky, drop-shouldered turtleneck, go try one on!

To measure your favorite sweater, lay it out flat and follow these guidelines (check out Figure 3-2 to see the proper places to measure):

Width at chest (A): Measure across the sweater, just below the underarm. If the sweater is a cardigan, close it before you measure.
Width at waist and hip (B and C): You should note these measurements if the sweater has any shaping.
Sleeve length (D): Measure from the cuff to the underarm.
Armhole depth (E): Holding your tape measure perpendicular to the line of the chest, measure from the bottom of the armhole to the shoulder.
Total length (F): Measure from the shoulder to the bottom of the sweater. Note that most clothing has shoulder shaping, so the outside of the shoulder is lower than the neck. Measure to the shoulder (rather than all the way to the top) and compare this number to the length of the knitted sweater before you begin the shoulder shaping. The difference usually is subtle, but some people are particular about such things.
Make sure you write down the measurements from your favorite sweater. Jot them in on Figure 3-2 (or make a photocopy of Figure 3-2 and write on it). If you prefer, make a quick stick-figure sketch or scale drawing on graph paper to keep in your knitting bag.
What to measure on your favorite sweater.
Figure 3-2: What to measure on your favorite sweater.
When you know the measurements of the clothes that you like to wear, you can compare them to the garment specifics given in a pattern’s schematics. This comparison, coupled with a more accurate picture of what size you are (based on this topic’s sizing standards) will help you create with confidence garments that fit.

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