At ease: Some brief thoughts about sweater sizing

The part of my brain allotted to dissertation mode is fully on vacation till at least January 6th. It feels good. I have the hand portion of one Wending wrister to finish tonight, then they’ll get a light blocking. I have the Latte Baby Coat to show soon. Z was getting over a cold, so it didn’t seem like the best time to photograph her. Pictures coming soon!

When it comes to deciding on sweater sizes, I think of ease constantly and I deliberate about sweater sizes over and over until I just pick one. Then sometimes I still keep pondering it while I’m knitting, checking Ravelry project notes for the sweater, while comparing my body to the pictured project wearers. Do you all think about it that much?

Firstly, if you’re not familiar with the term “ease” it generally describes how the sweater will fit compared to your body measurements. When something says it has “negative ease” that means it’s slightly smaller than your chest circumference (or whatever point used to measure). For instance, if you have a 36″ bust (at the fullest measurement) and a sweater is meant to be worn with 1-2″ of negative ease, that means it will be fairly clingy and form fitting and will have a finished measurement of about 34-35″. If the same sweater is meant to be worn with 1-2″ of positive ease, it is meant to be 1-2″ larger than your bust circumference (about 37-38″ in this case), meaning that it will have some extra fabric in that area. A sweater with “zero ease” would fit your exact bust measurement.

In my time as a knitter, I have made many more sweaters with negative ease than positive ease. I like the way that fits, and until post-pregnancy, I didn’t really have much bust to contend with, so I’d opt for a 34″ or the closest to that in most sweater sizes. Right now my under bust (at rib cage under breasts) is a 34″, and my  high bust is about 35″ (right under the armpits) while my full bust (fullest part of my bust) is about 37″. Before casting on two of my teal sweaters: Antrorse and Blank Canvas, my greatest deliberation was about the sizing (obviously I had no trouble choosing teal).

See how different these colors are?!

See how different these colors are?!

One thing you should definitely consider in the described sweater size is whether they build the ease into the sizing, or they expect you to choose the finished size that gets you the intended ease. For instance, in Blank Canvas the size you choose gives you that same size as the finished item.  A choice of 36″ bust gives you a garment measuring 36″ at the end.  Though the author of that pattern (Ysolda Teauge) suggests a little amount of positive ease (1″), it’s up to you as the reader to choose the size that will give you that.  In Antrorse, Shannon Cook builds the ease into the sizing. She suggests 2″ of positive ease, so when you choose a 34″ bust size, you end up with a sweater that measures 35.75″ in this case.

Antrorse: Worked from the top down Blank Canvas: Worked from the bottom up

Antrorse: Worked from the top down
Blank Canvas: Worked from the bottom up

I decided to go with a 36″ bust on Blank Canvas, giving me just a wee bit of negative ease in the bust area, with a little positive ease in the waist and about zero ease in the hips if I follow the pattern exactly. I might do one extra decrease in the waist to give it a tad more shaping, but maybe not. I went with the 36″ size on Antrorse, but in this case that will give me a finished garment measuring 38.25″. I will probably add some waist shaping into Antrorse in this case. When it comes to sizing, negative ease is a little more flattering in lighter weight garments, but not as much in bulky ones, so I didn’t want Antrorse to be super clingy in the bust area. Let’s hope this experiment works out well!

A great resource for learning about sizing is Ysolda Teague’s Little Red in the City. The book has some great patterns, but I was most interested in the wealth of information about sizing and swatching, as well as customizing a sweater to best fit your measurements. Amy Herzog is doing a lot of great work in this area too. She has a program called Custom Fit that helps wearers adapt her patterns to the exact measurements they want.

12 thoughts on “At ease: Some brief thoughts about sweater sizing

  1. Thanks for walking us through the sizing debate. I also take for-ever to decide on that because it’s such a make or break part of the finished sweater! I still haven’t figured out what my “preferred” sizing is, although I have a tendency to go too big and now I am a little afraid of overcompensating. Mostly the mantra is “I like knitting; I like re-knitting” 😉

    Also, congrats on getting a break from the degree for a little! Enjoy your wooly time off. 🙂

  2. Oh you are pretty far into Antrorse! It looks so good. I am not sure which size I want either. I want to embrace the positive ease/ no waist shaping thing in designs recently because I almost always gravitate towards extra ease and it makes for an easier knit. I may add a little length to my Antrorse too.

    • This baby goes quickly! Loving it so far. I think I’m going to aim for something between the 34 and 36, but do 34 instructions until the sleeve separation. I may have to add extra stitches at the bottom, and stick in some waist shaping…

  3. This is such a smart way to think about ease. I always hem and haw about what size to knit, then cast on and hem and haw some more. Amy Herzog recommends choosing a size that best matches your high-bust measurement (to ensure good fit in the shoulders) and then altering the sweater as needed elsewhere.

    I’m planning to cast on Stasis in January, so I’ll have to think about this quite a bit. I’m also going to measure other, similar sweaters I have and like to wear to try and pick the right size.

    I don’t blame you one bit for casting on multiple projects in that teal – how could you resist!?

    • Oooh. Your comment made me reconsider a bit. Going with high bust measurement and altering otherwise also sounds like a really smart plan because I was worried about the shoulders being too wide. I think I’m going to go with the 34″ on Antrorse, but I’ll add a couple more stitches to hit an in between size… Great info!

  4. I still don’t know whether I like positive or negative or no ease.. Guess to me it also depends on the project. Or when wearing sweaters or cardigans; to my mood. Thanks for the input, and the info, I might want to buy the ‘Little red’ book indeed..

  5. Oh my gosh I think about sizing the same way that you do. I worry and worry and then I usually just go with whatever is closest to 1″ ease. Constantly while I’m knitting, though, I’m worried that it’s not the right size and that I’m going to hate it. I can’t let myself think about it too much or it’ll drive me nuts- I have to keep telling myself that blocking will fix everything. So stressful!

  6. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! This is exactly what I needed to find right now! Preparing to cast on for Walpole by Hannah Fettig, and I am reading and rereading the sizing. Wanted “Little Red” for Christmas but never got it. Might have to take matters into my own hands on that one…

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