Wednesday, October 3, 2012

the issue of ease, part 1

There is much misunderstanding about ease: is it included in the pattern? how much does a sweater need? Here is my answer to both of these.

  1. Ease is included in the pattern (and reflected in the finished measurements). BUT different designers like different amounts of ease, different styles require different amounts of ease, and the amount of ease we like changes over time (as styles and our bodies change). So there's lots more to understand and consider.
  2. How much ease a sweater needs is a function of the designer's preference plus the style of sweater plus the weight of yarn. What follows are guidelines that designers usually follow.
By fine yarns, I mean 21 or more stitches to 4"; by medium yarns, I mean 18–20 stitches to 4"; by heavy yarns, I mean 17 or fewer stitches to 4".
By fitted styles, I mean set-in sleeve or close-fitting raglan: for non-fitted styles, I mean loose raglan or drop-shoulder.

Each explanation is an and/or, meaning it could be one or all of the suggestions offered.

We say bust because that's usually the fullest part of the body being covered. But if the sweater is longer and your hips are fuller (which standard sizes say is the norm), then ease is added to hips. And if your tummy is bigger than your bust, then ease is added to that measurement.

The measurement should be taken at the fullest part of your bust or tummy or hips. (It is a common misunderstanding to think it is taken under the bust.)
  • very close fit  = bust + 0" or less  for fine yarns, for fitted styles, for garments that won't be worn over another, for stretchy stitch patterns (This is also called negative ease.)
  • close fit = bust + 0–2"  for fine or medium weight yarns, for fitted styles, for garments that may not be worn over another
  • standard ease = bust + 2–4"  for fine or medium weight yarns, for fitted styles, for garments that may be worn over another
  • loose fit = bust + 4–6"  for medium weight or heavy yarns, for non-fitted styles, for garments that may be worn over another
  • over-sized = bust + 6" or more  for heavy yarns, for non-fitted styles, for garments that may be worn over another
Ease is added to each size within the standard sizes you see at the back of your knitting book or magazine. But consider that each size covers a range of possibilities: for example, a medium is 36–38". So if you are at the smaller end of your size range, you'll have more ease between your body and the finished sweater: if you are at the larger end of your size, you'll have less ease between your body and the finished sweater. And if you have a 39" bust measurement according to the chart you are neither a medium nor a large! What to do about all this will be discussed in tomorrow's post.
Obviously, there is a lot of latitude for how much ease should be added. So designers work with their personal preferences. I, for example, prefer more ease rather than less: given a set-in sleeve in a fine yarn, I'd go with standard ease rather than close fit when either of these choices would be perfectly appropriate. Why? Because in high school I was a tiny thing with HUGE BOOBS that I wanted to hide. And I am now an older girl (over 60) who thinks close-fitting clothes not so age appropriate. If you are younger and never wanted to hide your body under a tent, then you may find my styles a little loose. What to do about this will also be discussed in tomorrow's post.

So for now, this is what ease means and how it is usually applied. Check in tomorrow to read how to work with it to ensure you knit a garment that fits the way you want.


  1. Hi Sally! Thanks for taking on this subject. I've always struggled with how much ease to add (or how much to assume is included in the pattern). Are there any industry standards or publication standards about how much to use? And, as far as the models in publications, are there any useful tips about how much ease there is in the garment they are wearing (in case you want to emulate it)? Thanks so much!

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  3. As far as I know, there are no industry standards applied. Different knitting magazines or publishers may have guidelines, but I have never seen any. AND maybe we don't want them, because they would not allow for something fabulous that sits outside these parameters.

    As for an actual garment, the publication should say what size in which it was knitted. BUT this isn't always helpful because you don't know the size of the model herself. She could be a teeny tiny thing on which the sweater is HUGE!

    If you see a chart of standard sizes at the back of the publicatation, then you know to what sizes things in the publication were knit. And since you know the finished measurements of the garment, you can calculate exactly how much ease was added, despite how it might look on the model!

    Thanks for such good questions!
    PS The early morning version of this post had some errors in it that have been corrected. What you see now is correct.

  4. What a timely discussion for me! I am a "mature" woman and find most patterns either too "youthful" or too "frumpy". I like a CLEAN fit that seems to be what you classify as somewhere between close and standard fit/ease. Looking forward to your next post on the subject.

  5. Thanks for posting on a topic that's always timely.

    I, too, am often confounded by the photos of the garment, where even if they tell you the size that was made, you don't know the size of the model.

    To help address this, they've got a really interesting gallery over at Knitting Daily, which is sponsored by Interweave Knits. They take the model garments that are sent in for publication, and then have various people try them on. So you see how the garment fits on varying sized and shaped people, and they give you the measurements of the garment, the model that appears in the magazine, and the other people photographed in the garment. Extremely helpful and illustrative.

    Especially useful for those cases where the advice of "measure a similar garment that already fits you well" doesn't work because I have no such similar garment.

    Sadly, I'm not seeing many very recent updates to the gallery, but there's many items there to peruse.

  6. The lack of clarity with ease in the pattern descriptions is one of me pet peeves. Knitters always must double check the schematic and double check the expected number of stitches when the armhole bind off starts just to make sure there aren't errors --- because they sometimes are.

    Also, I have seen so many patterns, like almost all of them, that ignore the selvedge stitch. One pattern that I paid for, from a professional, is knit with heavier weight yarn and the calculations do not consider the selvedge! That's four stitches that will disappear and that's more than an inch less than the expected size! And sure enough, a number of people on ravelry complained in their project page that the sweater turned out small.

    For men too. My husband is kind of skinny. His storebought sweaters are all 40 inch chest, which is about the right ease or too much, but the shoulders are all 17 inches, which hang off too far. Since I have taken your class in fit and pattern drafting, I know enough to fix this in hand-knit. So the pattern I chose didn't explicitly say what the chest measurement of the garment would be, just what the chest measurement of the wearer it will fit. But I know enough to check. The small size (to fit 38 inch chest) makes a sweater with 44 inch chest! And a 15 inch shoulder width.

    Thanks to your handouts from the class, I re-engineered the pattern to be 39 inch chest and 16 inch shoulder width. And I anticipate perfect set-in sleeves, based on your class as well.

  7. How wonderful that you were such a good student!

    I am hoping there is a movement in our world to patterns that give the information you need. You are not the only one who craves it!

    But, sadly, there is no school (like the many fashion schools out there) where one can go for a course on HOW TO WRITE KNITTING PATTERNS. So we (me included, of course) learn as we go. And when you write and tell us we screwed up, that's all good stuff! It helps us learn.

    The sad thing is that many women DON'T question: they just follow the pattern and blame themselves. We need confident knitters who question what they are doing!