It’s inevitable. You knit a pattern after having chosen the size listed for your measurement. You spend a lot of money on good yarn, hours of time
watching Netflix while knitting, blocking, and finally sewing up the seams. And then it doesn’t fit. I see it happen frequently with friends starting their first garment after knitting scarves and hats for awhile. It happens to experienced knitters whose technical prowess can’t be beat. Fit is such a hard thing to get right with a sweater, when a lot of the time, you can’t see if it will fit until after it’s made. And then you can tweak the seams a bit, but only so much before you resign it to the back of the closet, never to be worn, or *gasp* unraveled.
Here’s where some knowledge about how garments fit and ease come into play. Yes, it’s a bit of math. But I rely on measurements just as much as the wearer’s personal preferences. The sweater above was a tad too big for me, but when I tried to give it to my mom (who is just a bit bigger than me), it fit her perfectly. If she were me. And liked a closer fit and a shorter hip length. But since she prefers a slightly more relaxed fit and longer length, it wasn’t her preference. And that is something that a pattern doesn’t necessarily talk about.
This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot, as my mom was recently here and finished a vest that I helped her repattern so it would fit her better. It’s something I do so automatically, I don’t think about it and don’t realize that everyone else doesn’t do it too. So here’s how I approach starting a new sweater. And even sewn projects out of knit fabric, like the draped shirt I made over Christmas or the peplum top. It may not end up perfect every time, but this will land you much closer to striking range.
A soft tape measure
A ton of garments that you already own, that fit how you want your new garment to fit
A friend for measuring if possible
Part One: Measurements
You’ll need to take a full set of your own measurements, and this is much easier to do accurately with a friend. I’ll highlight here what you’ll want for a sweater or a top, but as long as you have a buddy, it wouldn’t hurt to have them take some lower body measurements just so you have them.
Wear a bra you’re most likely to wear with the garment. Not a sports bra that changes your shape, or compressing activewear. Just your normal everyday wear. Also no shoes to make sure you’re standing straight and tall. You’ll want to wear light and well fitting clothes, like a camisole or crew neck fitted T and leggings. I also like to tie a small elastic or yarn or marker around the waist for easier demarcation when taking the verticals.
Take the following circumference and horizontal measurements:
1. Neck: at the base, where you would wear a crew neck T.
2. Shoulder length: the length from the top of your shoulder from the base of the neck to the bone where your sleeve would start; the length a shoulder seam would be in a garment.
3. Full bust: the largest part of your bust measurement, making sure to keep the tape level and snug. Not necessary to breathe in to make the measurement as big as possible. *I also take a measurement specifically between bust points for when I sew, to better fit my darts. Not necessary for knitwear, but again nice to have.
4. Under bust: Where your bra band sits, directly under the bust. I do tend to tell people to exhale here to make sure it’s the smaller versus larger measurement you’d get when at full breath in. This isn’t necessarily used in knitting unless you’re making something with a fitted midriff, but nice to have and hard to take yourself.
5. Waist: The smallest measurement where you bend at the side when singing “I’m a little teapot,” not wherever you happen to wear your pants.
6. High hip: About 2-4″ below your natural waist, where the top of your hipbone starts.
7. Full hip: The largest part around your hips and booty, typically where your legs meet the body.
8. Bicep circumference: the middle of your upper arm, no flexing necessary.
And the vertical measurements:
9. Center front and back length: from the base of your neck to the waist; the hollow in the front and the spine bone in the back; or where you would want a crew shirt to start and stop.
10. Full front and back length: From where the top of your shoulder and base of your neck meet, (over the bust point in the front) to the waist. This will tell you how long you want your top to be from the waist shaping to the highest point of the shoulder.
11. Mid shoulder to bust point: Only a front measurement; this translates to the distance you’ll want from where you start shaping the armhole in a pattern to the shoulder seam.
12. Side length: the distance from the bottom of the armhole to the waist. You may want to start where your camisole or tank line is, instead of all the way shoved up into your underarm, which can give you a false high measurement.
13. Waist to high hip: the distance from your waist marker to where you took your high hip circumference.
14. Waist to full hip: the distance from your waist marker to where you took your full hip measurement.
15. Sleeve length: for the purposes of knitting, I take a sleeve length from the top of the cap (where your seam would sit on your shoulder) to wrist. You can bend your arm a little if you’d like, but knitting stretches, so no need to bend like a Barbie arm as is traditional when measuring for a woven garment.
It seems like a lot, and you may not end up using all of the above. This time. But the next project comes along and has different style lines, and you’ll always wish you had a full set. To be really complete, you could take a thigh circumference, inseam to ankle and floor, and waist to ankle and floor if you’d like.
Part Two: Figuring out your preferences
Take a look at the garment you’re about to make. How would you like it to fit? Is it a close fitted shell or a boxy tunic? Does it have oversized sleeves, 3/4 length sleeves, or end at a cap? How low is the neckline? Where does the length hit the body- at the waist, on the hip, or down the legs like a tunic? Whatever stands out to you as an important detail to the style, take note. And then find something in your closet that you love with that detail and measure it. Measure three if you have them to find an overall pattern. I’ve found I have a preference for where I like a fitted shell to end on my hip, and make sure to adjust that length measurement in my pattern. I like a cap sleeve to end at a certain place on my bicep, and do the same there. I also have a slightly bigger bicep circumference than is considered standard for my size, so sometimes I’ll knit the sleeve for a size bigger around and then decrease away the extra stitches quickly so the height of the cap stays the same. It’s all preference.
The original pattern photography, and the schematic diagram. Ever see a sleeve cap shaped like that for a traditional armsceye? Me either. Hence the scribbles on the note to the side, and the finished sweater.
Look at the schematic diagram that’s usually included for knitwear, or your pattern pieces if its a sewn garment. How do your measurements and preferences align with the pattern? Is there anything you want to change? Most knitting patterns have a section that says, “knit until piece measures X inches.” Those are the places to easily change your length. For circumference, you can always cast on a larger size if you have a larger hip and do more decreases if you have a smaller waist. Or add waist shaping to a straight pattern, as I did with the striped sweater above. Once you have your measurements and a decent size gauge swatch, take out your calculator and figure out what to change by how many stitches and over how many rows. I like to knit fitted garments with “zero ease”, which means I knit to exactly my measurements. (You add ease to a sewn pattern to allow for movement, but in knitwear it will frequently stretch enough to make it unneccesary. But that close fit is also my personal preference.)
Part three: Community
As a third step, join Ravelry. It’s an amazing collaboration of online knitters. Search for the pattern you’re about to embark on, and see what everyone has to say about it before you make it. Everyone might agree that the length is a bit short. Or have good modifications for changes you want to do, but already spelled out so you don’t have to math yourself. Plus you can see if the yarn you’ve picked has any quirks- like stretching a lot or a little, which will affect the fit. Seeing it on a multitude of bodies will give you a better idea of how it will look on you too, and hopefully help to encourage or dissuade you from picking something beautiful in a photograph but uncertain if it’s your style.
It sounds like a lot of work. I know. And it usually hangs me up for a day or two measuring everything I own and deciding how I’d like it to fit best. But in the end I always get a garment that fits pretty perfectly straight off the needles, instead of my first linen sweater which was four inches too wide with sleeves that wouldn’t set in. I’ve been knitting this lavender number since late September, and made just a few changes. But since it’s knit on size 2’s, I knew I needed it to fit well since I would not be ripping it out and redoing it. And as soon as I finish this sleeve, I’ll be able to block the whole thing and see. Just in time for our ever-changing spring weather; a new short sleeved sweater sounds like just the ticket. Finished pictures to come when it’s all done. ❤️
Don’t be afraid. Just know yourself and knit how you want, not what a pattern says you have to do. You could end up with something far more incredible.