Knowing your shape

When I started knitting, I was very eager to knit myself a cardigan.  I bought expensive wool, had a pattern I liked, and I even knit a gauge swatch. I chose to knit the medium size, as I usually wear a small or medium from a shop.

I knit all the pieces, seamed it together, and it was horrible.  The sleeves were like tents, and the shoulders caps hung inches off my shoulders.  I was gutted.

Does this sound familiar?

Now looking back, I know exactly what I did wrong, but at the time, I was baffled. Now to really illustrate my failed attempt, I should really include a photo…but I’m not sure I’m that brave!!

There were a couple of main points where I went wrong.  The first was the gauge.

Now I did knit a gauge swatch that was correct. However, when knitting the complete piece, my gauge went from 18 to 16 stitches over 4 inches! Now, as a novice knitter, your gauge is more likely to vary over a large piece and as you relax into your knitting.

To take this into consideration for garment knitted in pieces, I would suggest starting with a sleeve and rechecking your gauge as you go. Sleeves can be left a little larger if it is just a slight gauge difference or reknit if it looks like it will make a big difference. If you are knitting in one piece from the top down or the bottom up, you will need to keep a close eye on your gauge and make adjustments if necessary as you go.

In addition to my gauge was the issue of fit.

When you walk into a shop, most people know roughly what size will fit. Often you need to compromise; maybe the shoulders are just right, but it’s a little tight across the chest, but if you go up a size, the chest is right, but the shoulders are too wide and baggy. The beauty of hand knitting (that I think is often forgotten) is that it is customizable. It will fit YOU. However, this does take a little knowledge on your side.

The pattern

When I (and any other designer) is designing a garment, we have to create it to fit standard dimensions. Generally, this entails using standardized tables (probably with some modification from personal experience) to create a range of sizes.

If you are created with standard proportions, that is great for you but what happens if you are large busted, have narrow shoulders, high-waist, short arms?

None of these is wrong or right, just different than the average. When you get a pattern, and you want it to fit you, I would first examine the schematic. Most, but maybe not all, dimensions will be on this. If some key dimensions are not there, calculate them (count rows to get waist height, add shoulders and neck together for total shoulders, etc.).

Measure yourself

Now, this is the hard part – you need to know your own dimensions. You only need to do this once, draw them on a little stick figure of yourself and put it somewhere you can find them the next time you need them. If you have a friend that will do this with you, that is great, but if not, you can also do it yourself.

Get a snug-fitting t-shirt that fits well, mark your widest bust point with a pin and measure around yourself at that point. Repeat this for your waist and hips. If the shoulder caps fall exactly where your shoulder curves, then this measurement will give you your shoulders (if it is off, measure the difference and make the adjustment).

Now you can take off the t-shirt and measure the distance from the shoulder to your fullest bust point, your waist and the widest point of your hips. Take the measurements from the armhole shoulder height as this is lower (you can see how the shoulder will slope towards the neck).

Now put all the measurements on your little drawing and put it somewhere safe.

What’s my size?

Now that you have all of the dimensions, you need to know what to do with them! This part is dependent on what type of garment you are making, the yarn gauge and, of course, personal preference.

Ease is the basis of all your size decisions. For a close fitted garment, you will have little to no ease (if your bust measures 36, you knit 36-inch size). A very fitted t-shirt style may even have negative ease (for a 36-inch bust size, you may knit a 34-inch chest size).

For a heavier outerwear jacket or heavy sweater, you will have positive ease (for a 36-inch chest, you would knit a 38-42 inch size).

The weight of your knitting yarn and the type of pattern comes into this decision as well. A thick yarn and a very elaborate cable will create a thick fabric, possibly with a little less stretch. This means that you have to add extra inches to the finished size to make sure it will fit.

Finally, personal preference. A good way to see what kind of fit you like is to look in your wardrobe. Find a top in your wardrobe with a similar weight yarn that you like how it fits. Measure the bust size and use this as a guide.

Now armed with this information, you have the tools available to help you avoid the complete disaster that was my first sweater! If your relative proportions are non-standard, your next step is to customize your garment.

If you are struggling with making knits that fit, you can also check out my Masterclass, where each step is covered in detail with tutorials.

4 thoughts on “Knowing your shape

  1. Thanks for this; I think part of the reason I’ve been on a lace kick lately is that I’m subconsciously avoiding sweaters. I can feel like a master knitter as long as I’m just making a really fancy rectangle or triangle; sweaters always make me feel like a novice. I’ll be very interested in your post on how to make adjustments!

  2. I followed the directions from your Craftsy class to take my measurements before starting on my Curdach. Consequently, it is my best fitting sweater ever!

    Those same measurements have helped me to evaluate other patterns.

    My summer plan is to use your MasterClass and the new cotton yarn from your shop to make a Citrus Dream cardigan.

    Thank you for so many resources to help turn me into a knitter who feels capable and in charge!

    Speaking of sweaters, what is that amazing piece you are wearing in the picture above?

  3. I’m glad the resources are so helpful for you!
    The sweater above is the new summer KAL, Laminarus, that will be released tomorrow!

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