Picking the right size - aka making sure you garment will be worn
You have seen a garment pattern you really like the look of but aren’t sure how to decide which size to make. It is something we’ll all come across at some point. You can’t try on a pattern and a bag of yarn.
Choosing a size is partly about comparing the sizes in a pattern with the size and shape of the person who is going to wear the finished item but also about their personal preferences about how they like to wear a garment. For example, a designer might imagine a sweater as an oversized outer garment but you think you’d like it tighter on you.
To work out what size to make, a good place to start is by looking at what size information is included in the pattern.
To fit and actual measurements
There will usually be a “to fit size” which could be given as a chest measurement, an age range in children’s patterns or for women a dress size. To be honest, an age range or a dress size may not tell you that much because of the variety in the speed kids grow at or in the measurements meant by a particular dress size. It is also worth remembering that the to fit size isn’t giving you the actual measurement of the finished garment.
Some patterns will also give an “actual” or “finished” size measurement for the chest which you may find more useful in deciding what is best for you. For example, a cardigan a to fit measurement of 97cm may have an actual chest size of 109cm to allow for a layer underneath.
In other patterns, you may see a note about “ease” rather than one or other of the to fit and actual size measurements. Ease refers to the difference between these.
Positive ease means the garment is looser than the body measurement. So, the cardigan used as an example above would have a positive ease of 12cm.
With negative ease, the actual size of the garment is smaller than the to fit measurement. For example, you might see a sock pattern with finished foot circumference of 17.5cm and a to fit size of 20cm. Because you might want your sock to stretch over your foot, it has a negative ease of 2.5cm.
No ease means the finished size is the same as the to fit measurement.
If your pattern refers to ease, make sure you know whether the measurements given are for to fit or for the finished garment (ie they includes the ease). If something has an ease of 10cm, this could make a massive difference to whether your garment fits or not!
Other measurements and schematics
Your pattern will also give other useful measurements. For garments you will usually have a neck to hem length and the length of the sleeve from the cuff to where it joins the body.
You may also have a schematic or plan of your garment that gives more measurements such as the width of the neck, the waist size if there is shaping and the upper arm circumference which can help you understand more about the fit.
Measuring yourself or someone else
Now you have an idea about the size of the garment in the pattern, you need to know how that compares to you or the intended recipient.
Write a list of the measurements given in the pattern and do your own one for each of those. This will help you avoid problems like sleeves that are too long or too tight. Very few of us are an exact match from the standard size charts designers use as a starting point.
To measure yourself or someone else, use a full length flexible measuring tape. People are curved so rulers aren’t much help and those handy retractable measuring tapes you often find in knitting bags may only be a meter long which isn’t useful for some parts of the body.
You want to wrap the tape round the body part at the same level as shown in the schematics as far as possible. Think about where the hem of a sweater sits and where the sleeves join the body. Overlap the end of the tape to get an accurate measurement. Take care not to pull the tape too right – it isn’t a tourniquet – or let it flap about. You want a goldilocks measurement where the tape sits comfortably on the body.
Deciding on your size and fit
Now you know the measurements of the different sizes in your pattern and the measurement of the body it is going to fit.
Sometimes you will be a match for a particular “to fit” size and all the other measurement seem to work so it is fairly easy to choose a size. But you may find that you are between sizes.
To decide whether to go up or down a size, think about how you are going to wear your garment. Is it going to be close to your skin or worn over other layers? If a cardigan has a 5cm positive ease but you want it to go over a couple of layers you might want to go up a size to make it roomier. Or if it has lots of positive ease, it might be more of a relaxed a fit than you’re comfortable with – so you might choose a smaller size.
One thing than can be a big help here is to measure a similar garment you already own and like the fit of. This will give you an idea of which pattern size you will be most comfortable in.
It is worth spending a bit of time thinking about the fit of garments before you start. Afterall you want the final item to be worn and enjoyed.
Knit School includes videos on reading schematics and measuring yourself to help you get the best fit for your knitting.