Lion Brand Notebook

News, Ideas and Information for Crafting with Yarn

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What Size Sweater/Top/Dress Should I Knit or Crochet?

July 26th, 2011

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When it comes to scarves, blankets, and even hats, sizing is pretty straightforward. But when you’re ready for your first sweater, things get a little more complicated. You see, there are really two sets of sizing on lots of sweaters: S, M, L, etc. and then there are the actual measurements.

The first type is not very useful. It will tell you what range of sizes an item comes in (e.g., a sweater that comes in XS, S, M, L, XL, and XXL has a range of six sizes, while a sweater that comes in S, M, L only has a range of three sizes), which can give you some clues about fit and patterning but these sizes really shouldn’t be used to determine which size you’re going to make.

What gets confusing is that S, M, L, etc. are relative sizes, so you can have one sweater with a small that’s got a finished measurement of 32″ and another with a finished measurement of 46″. All that means is that it is the “small” of the range of sizes offered for that particular sweater.

What’s really important are the actual finished measurements, generally given as a chest or bust measurement (I’ll talk more about this in a minute). Note that unlike sewing patterns, knit and crochet patterns give actual measurements and do not include ease. So if you want your sweater to be a big boxy cardigan, you probably want to choose one with a finished measurement 4-6″ larger than your body measurements (positive ease). Looking for a figure-hugging glam-girl sweater? Choose a measurement that’s 2-4″ smaller than your body measurements (this is called negative ease).

When we talk about “bust” or “chest” measurement, that’s because for many people, that’s the part of the body with the largest measurement. If this is not true for you — say your hips are wider than your bust and you’re making a tunic length sweater — you should consider that when choosing which size to make.

Remember that when you’re making a sweater, you’re going to be putting a lot of time and care into crafting your garment, and you want it to be just right. It’s not like grabbing a sweater off the shelf…you want to carefully consider which size will be perfect for you (or the lucky recipient of your hard work!).

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  • Starmusicbear

    Thanks for the clear, understandable descriptions of positive and negative ease. I’ve heard these terms all my life and never been very clear about what they meant, but it just “clicked” for me while reading this. Yay! Thanks again.

  • Tammy

    Thanks for the info this helps alot! I always go by measurements not size.

  • Beth Case

    I just want to clarify because I have always wondered this. The measurements in the pattern are the measurements of the finished garment, or your own bust/chest measurement?

    • Anonymous

      Hi, Beth. The measurements are of the finished garment, not your own measurements. If the finished measurements of the garment are exactly your measurements, your garment will have zero ease and will give you a close fit. As Laura notes above, if the measurements are smaller than your measurements, you’ll get a figure-hugging fit, and if the measurements are larger than yours, you’ll have a more casual, loose fit.

      • Beth Case

        Thank you! That really helps. (and why aren’t patterns a little more obvious about that fact? They just assume we all know already?)

        • Anonymous

          We agree, Beth. That’s why our patterns always refer to “finished bust” and “finished length”; we want to make it very clear that we’re referring to the measurements of the garment. We also include sizing notes when garments are meant to fit with negative ease.

  • Beth Case

    I just want to clarify because I have always wondered this. The measurements in the pattern are the measurements of the finished garment, or your own bust/chest measurement?

  • Sanvan44

    Here deep in the heart of Texas, we have to “dress to peel’ – summer or winter..we usually wear looser cardigan-type sweaters over another shirt..but since the winter months can bring overheated buildings; how much ease should be added for a cardigan? 

    • Anonymous

      It depends on the fit that you’d like to achieve. If you want a close-fitting cardigan, I’d say 0-2″ of ease. If you want a looser laying piece, 2-4″ of ease should be enough.

  • Ohhhdear

    You also have to take into account the fiber content of the yarn you want to use.  If it’s a wool or wool blend, add a bit of positive ease to account for shrinkage (which DOES happen even if drycleaned!).  
    I made an awesome top-down sweater using Wool-Ease and wished I’d accounted for its wool content after the sweater had gone through the laundry.  

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