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What Shape Are You?

Feb 24, 2008

Long-waisted Bertha

Apple, pear, banana; long-waisted, short-waisted... And that's just the women—we haven't even started to talk about the men yet! It's no wonder we're confused about body shapes. Seems like every website you go to has different terminology, not to mention a different sizing system. This can be extremely frustrating when you're sitting in front of a pile of beautiful yarn and all you want is to make sure you end up with a sweater that actually FITS.

The good news is that fitting a sweater is not like fitting one of those skin-tight sheaths at the Oscars! Knitted fabric has give and stretch, and knitting yarns have texture, sheen, and softness—all of which are quite a bit more forgiving than the stiff, body-hugging satins on the red carpet.

It is important, however, to know a few key things about yourself. One thing to keep in mind: If someone else tells you are a pear or short-waisted or whatever, realize that they are not the expert in you; you are the expert in you! Maybe they are right in their evaluation; maybe not. Some women go for years following the advice of some shopclerk or relative who told them something about themselves, only to discover years later that the advice was incorrect. Discover yourself for yourself.

Becoming an expert in yourself: For this, you need to be truly fearless and go stand in front of a mirror, in your skivvies. (Be brave! Be bold!) Take your friendly neighborhood measuring tape with you and a notebook and pen. If you don't already have your bust, waist, and hip measurements, go ahead, measure up, and write those down first.

Next, measure from your "neckbone" (collarbone) to your waist, and then from your waist to your crotch. Compare the two measurements. Is your neck-to-waist measurement longer than your waist-to-crotch? This is the traditional definition of "long waisted." Other way around? Short waisted! This makes sense if you study yourself in the mirror: The closer your waist is to your armholes and bust, the shorter (higher) it is; the further away from your armholes and bust, the longer (lower) it is.

...and long-waisted Sandi!

Take some time in front of that mirror. Study your curves. Experiment with measuring different bits and see what you discover—what is the width from one shoulder to the other? How does that compare to the measurement from one hipbone to the other? Shoulders wider than your hips? Or the other way around? Think about tracing an outline of yourself on the mirror: what would it look like? (If you have a really good friend or a spouse, maybe ask them to do just that— have them draw your outline in soap or wipe-off markers and see what you come up with!)

The final step is to see if you can sketch a schematic of yourself (whoo!). Try it! It doesn't have to be the best artwork ever, but see if you can get a basic sketch, with some basic-to-start-with measurements: bust, waist, hip. Neck to waist, waist to hip. Shoulder width. It's not the whole story, not yet, but it's a start.

Questions for you: What did you learn about yourself in this exercise? Any surprises? And most importantly: How does this exercise begin to help with your own knitting?

About the photo of Bertha: The pink yarn is at her waist, and the orange dot is a polite guess at where her crotch would be. Bertha is 13" from neckbone to waist; and about 7.5" from waist to orange dot. Thus: Bertha is long-waisted.

About the photo of Sandi: The pink yarn is around my waist; I decided I preferred not to have the orange dot on my jeans in that location (you understand, I am sure!). I am about 17.5" from neckbone to waist and 10.5" from waist to crotch. Thus: I am also long-waisted.


Sandi Wiseheart is the founding editor of Knitting Daily. She is now the author of the popular Knitting Daily blog: What's on Sandi's Needles.


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AnnaM wrote
on Apr 4, 2008 8:19 PM
sorry about the misspellings and errors above. The worst is "fooling the EYE",( not "fooling the dye")
AnnaM wrote
on Apr 4, 2008 8:16 PM
I checked in with my dressmaker colleagues at our monthly meeting of the the Association for Sewing and Design Professionals. I showed them the picture of Bertha with her red dot, and read them the paragraph about measuring front neck to waist to crotch. None of us has ever heard of such a measurement guideline for waist position "high" or "low". Knitwear and sewed clothing designers use a standardized, average back-neck-to-waist length, versus body size, not height!
Of course this is totally unhelpful, as lots of folks have posted above--but that is where "long" and "short" waistedness comes from. Height, shape, proportion, and "fooling the dye" will all affect the placement of the waist on any garment. I think it IS rocket science! But Sandi love, that dress form with the red dot is a red herring! Your picture gallery of how to find your waist is the best help. But where any one places the ribbing on one of these spring sweaters is;better based on trying on a soft garment that works, and playing with the placement of the waist curve. PLUS looking at yourself analytically in the mirror (shudder). My solution? make and appointment with a local good dressmaker for a consultation! Check whether he/she is a member of ASDP. Ask for help with styling for your body, and for the best place to put the waist curve.
BarbM wrote
on Mar 1, 2008 8:04 AM
I've been knitting for more years than I care to think about, but this is the most helpful stuff I've ever read on fitting.

Thank you.

Barb Meyer
MelissaB@2 wrote
on Feb 29, 2008 3:21 PM
Help! I don't think I see my issue here!
I'm long from my shoulder to my bust line. My bra strap is always on the last notch and empire things that I buy readymade hit me above the bust. How do I fix this issue without making my armhole huge???
Melissa In OR
Cinders wrote
on Feb 29, 2008 7:15 AM
Well I measured and I'm equal in both lenghts so does that make me equi-waisted?!
HelenJ@2 wrote
on Feb 29, 2008 5:46 AM
Hello, found the site and signed up. I have recently been taken up on my offer to teach 6 children at the local junior (7-11) school. As i have only ever taught 1 at a time before any suggestions please? I start in April after the Easter holidays.
Lynn G. wrote
on Feb 28, 2008 6:12 PM
P.S. I think Katie H's comments are very helpful and right on the money.
Lynn G. wrote
on Feb 28, 2008 5:58 PM
There seems to be a lot of confusion here, but my 1st impression after reading your e-mail was that, unless you are allowing for "belly fat" to count a lot in the lower measurement, very few women would have a longer waist to crotch measurement than the measurement of the collar bone all the way to the waist. It's possible, but I think the definitions you used today would put most people in the long-waisted category (as evidenced by your conclusions about Bertha, who is supposed to represent the average person, right?). I agree with those who are using other starting points at the "top," and I agree more with those who are isolating the section between the bottom rib cage and the hip bones as the best way to determine "long or short-waistedness." Regardless of terminology, I am 5'2", and I have short legs, a super-long torso, and a long rise. I am a "petite" by commercial definitions because of my height and short leg length, but I have a terrible time finding anything that fits because most commmerical pants are far too short in the rise for me to sit down comfortably and most commercial tops assume that if you are short, you must have a short torso. Nope! If I didn't have a curvy hourglass shape, and if my rear and hips were not the two places where I carry almost all of my meager body fat (I weigh under 95 pounds), then I would do better when teen clothing, but, alas, my hips are too wide, my waist too narrow, my torso and rise too long. I look cute in teen pants but cannot sit down! I have no idea how this info translates into knitting garments since it is rare for patterns to be written small enough even for my most basic measurements.
Julierose wrote
on Feb 28, 2008 4:59 PM
Hi Sandi--I have frogged way too many sweaters--I knit them and then they look AWFUL on me. i am hoping that this measuring will be a help to my finding out just what looks good on my now-zaftig (!!) figure. Thanks Julierose
GraceJ wrote
on Feb 28, 2008 4:05 PM
I work in technical design and the terms ?long? or ?short waisted? are completely new to me, which is why I asked for clarification in the first place. In my experience, unless you are referring to waist circumference, the waist is a point of reference for other torso measurements.

In technical design, the torso is usually measured from "center back neck" to the "waistline", and then from the "waistline" to the "high" and "low hip". For pants, the waist to crotch measurement is referred to as the "front" or "back rise". The rise is not used in patternmaking for tops; instead the high or low hip is. On a standard* size 8, the length from CB neck to waist is about 15.75? and the waist to low hip is about 9?. This is a standard base measurement (not "normal" or even "average", since there is no such thing!) and is not considered ?long waisted.? Personally, I think that term is confusing and more than a little misleading!

PS. I think Bertha is a Petite, which explains why the empire style line on the Printed Silk Cardigan falls on her natural waist.

SharonL@3 wrote
on Feb 28, 2008 3:59 PM
Very interesting information. But I'm puzzled: by my measurements, I am long-waisted, but whenever I knit a sweater for myself I have to shorten the underarm length by at least an inch so that it isn't too long (I'm also 5 feel tall). This seems to be a contradiction . . .
EleanorM wrote
on Feb 28, 2008 2:35 PM
Making a duct tape dress form is easy. However, I discovered that it is easy to over-stuff it, as duct tape stretches. My husband helped me make one, but it wasn't good for fitting the waist or hips, as I overstuffed it, I am going to make a new one using the paper shipping tape. This material takes a while to dry, but when you are done it is hard and can't be accidentally stretched out of shape.
AlisonM@2 wrote
on Feb 28, 2008 2:32 PM
what shape am I? Blob shaped unfortunately. I have yet to find useful advice to suit my rather lumpy/wobbly frame. A kind friend once decribed me as a rather over comfortable favourite pillow/cushion. At least I'm cuddly!
LaurieR wrote
on Feb 28, 2008 2:23 PM
Speaking of dress dummies... here are some directions for making your own duct tape dress form. That'll give you an even better idea of what your curves look like.
veeknits wrote
on Feb 28, 2008 1:02 PM
Sandi, how about some suggestions on making your own dress dummy match your own measurements? I have mine wearing one of my bras!
Vee L.
CathyM wrote
on Feb 28, 2008 12:27 PM
One suggestion I've seen for measuring is rather than using a measuring tape, use a stiff/non-stretchy ribbon. Generally you need someone to help measure you properly, and this way they don't need to know what your measurements are. And for the measurements you can do yourself, if you can't see the measurement you are less likely to try to pull a little tighter to make yourself feel better.

You would mark the beginning and end marks on the ribbon, and indicate what the measurement is for. You could have a numbered list of things to measure, and just use the number on the ribbon. By using different color pens, you can use the same length of ribbon to record several different measurement points.
Kathfemme wrote
on Feb 28, 2008 11:27 AM
Ok, now I'm confused. If Bertha is long waisted, how come the waist of the sweaters tend to fall lower on her than on the more, uh, lively models in the galleries?
johns188 wrote
on Feb 28, 2008 11:26 AM
My Vogue Sewing book uses the armpit - waist and waist - hip measurements. In an ideal proportion the waist falls midway between armpit and hip. If the waist - hip measurement is greater, one is short waisted; if the armpit - waist measurement is greater, one is long waisted. Other commenters are correct in that the waist - crotch measurement is the rise - one can be long-waisted and have a long rise. Think of rise as the height of the pelvis and long or short waistedness as the space between pelvis and ribcage.
KatieH wrote
on Feb 28, 2008 11:19 AM
For those of you asking about the relation of your torso to your leg length; if your torso is longer than average,the length from your ribs to hips/crotch is long, and you have a long torso (for example, if you are tall but don't need extra length in your pants inseam, but shirts are always too short,then you likely have a long torso). Vice versa, if you are short but you tend to need a longer inseam, and shirts are always too long for you (or if you are tall, and need a longer inseam, but shirts tend to be long enough) then you probably have a shorter torso. If ready to wear clothing fits you well, you are probably of average torso length.

So, this is different than being long- or short-waisted. You can have a long torso and be short-waisted, or the other way around. The short- or long-waisted measurements only have to do with where *your* waist falls on *your* torso, no matter its overall length.
LaurieR wrote
on Feb 28, 2008 10:47 AM
You don't need to be totally bare, but if you're going to wear something, they need to be close fitting.
As for the drawing...why not do what we did as kids? Grab a roll of newsprint or butcher paper, tape it to a wall (using as many sheets as you need to since those of us more generously endowed might need the wider width), and have a friend draw you. I guess you could lie down on the paper, but I don't know how accurate it would be since our bodies change depending on whether we're standing, sitting, or lying down.
Meeb wrote
on Feb 28, 2008 10:46 AM
love this stuff... particularly the attitude that comes with it...

recommended reading : the triumph of individual style, a guide to dressing your body, your beauty, your self.
(mathis and connor) isbn 0-9632223-0-9

i already know all this, and then i thought about why that is the case. i sewed my first apron for 4-h at about the same age my babysitter taught me to knit, and i've been engaged in both art forms pretty intensely ever since. but i just realized that WHAT I KNOW ABOUT FIT CAME FROM SEWING. and a perusal of my extensive book shelves confirmed that intuition. i haven't found a good general knitting book that has presenting an understanding of both general fit and customization of knitting to personal fit as its primary focus. chapters here and there (elizabeth zimmerman's), but no good single tome of reference, particularly not for contemporary fit/style.

so...when can i buy one from interweave?
botirca25 wrote
on Feb 28, 2008 9:47 AM
Do you really have to be in your bare to measure up? If so, then I am going to need one of those extra wide mirrors... for the drawing. This was a very informative article... and you are right Sandi... you can not soley rely on others to tell you how you look like only you know you. Thanks....May the Lord Bless you in this day.
CynthiaF wrote
on Feb 28, 2008 9:41 AM
Sandi -- I really like the Classic Slant Cardigan but am wondering how this button closure will work for those of us with an ample bust. Any thoughts?
on Feb 28, 2008 9:04 AM
This is the most important letter yet!Thank you for the good and clear information! I believe Tana is right it doesn't matter whether you call yourself long or short waisted, what matters is the numbers, and learning where your special numbers are for a perfect fit. Mary L
LaurieR wrote
on Feb 28, 2008 8:04 AM
More great info! Thanks, Sandi! There's a terrific sewing book called Fantastic Fit for Every Body. One of the suggestions is to take a couple pictures of yourself in your skivvies and to make a croquis of yourself so you can see what works and won't work on your shape.
For those of you who are a bit nervous about getting naked and really looking at yourself, being honest about how your body is, taking pride in the strength of your body, learning to love every curve, wrinkle and stretch mark is empowering. Be patient and try not to be critical of your body. It is what it is, and what it is, is wonderful!
Korinthe wrote
on Feb 28, 2008 6:00 AM
I thought "rise" meant "distance from your belly button to the small of your back, with the tape measure run between your legs".

At least that's is how I managed to finally find pants that fit -- measured waist, inseam, AND rise, front to back, and then called LLBean to find out the garment dimensions and ease.
Cinders wrote
on Feb 28, 2008 4:57 AM
Thanks for the info. When I can finally be brave enough to view my naked body I'll go and measure up!!! must psych myself up for this!!!
KatherineH wrote
on Feb 28, 2008 3:52 AM
I'll have to try out the measurements (maybe the rise tells you something about leg length?), but I agree that leg length vs. torso length has something to do with shortwaisted vs. longwaisted. I am 5'9", and have the same back-to-waist measurements as my friends who are 5'2" or less (I joke I have a 5'2" body and 6'2" legs, which averages to 5'9"). I've learned that if I make my sweaters a little longer than what would strictly "fit" me, the proportions look better, even though the waist shaping is in the "right" place. Usually I make a 24" sweater with the waist shaping 6" up from the hem.
JulesG wrote
on Feb 28, 2008 2:39 AM
Thank you Sandi for helping me recognize I am not a box. My mother alsways knit box shaped (long sleeved, because I have very long arms) sweaters for me and I always felt big in them. Now I know that I may wear a little shape and it looks much better than a big box.
Thanks for pointing out where to measure what on my body.
I agree to some of the other comments, my front waist length would be different from my back waist lenght. So is it important to measure both?
As far as I thought, the waist is the narrowest part of your belly - for me this is means a line crossing my navel. I've never heard of the x-inch from your lowest rib etc. meassures.
Julia from Germany
Boothacus wrote
on Feb 27, 2008 11:41 PM
Sandi,Thank you for all the information you are giving us on fitting and to everyone who writes about what they've learned and their questions as pieces are slowly starting to fall together for me. This is the kind of helpful information and you hope to find in a knitting news letter and rarely do, so again thank you. And, by the way, that bra you are wearing gives you a very nice shape in the measurement photo!
TanaP wrote
on Feb 27, 2008 9:11 PM
But that doesn't completely answer the question of fit. A 5'2" person who is long waisted could wear the same sweater as someone who is 5'8" and short waisted. What matters is your neck to waist measurement. Compare that to the pattern, and adjust as necessary. Figure out where you want things to hit you on your hips - 2", 5", 8" or wherever below your waist - and adjust accordingly. You can do that without knowing whether you are long or short waisted. It might matter when deciding what length you want things to be so they look balanced, but again, it all boils down to how many inches from your neck to your waist and how many inches below your waist you want your hem. Quite simple indeed.
SaraH@2 wrote
on Feb 27, 2008 8:24 PM
To add another term to confuse the melee, I was always told that I'm "high geared" - my waist/hips sit higher than average. I'm 5'8" but need a 33 or 34" inseam on pants. Long legs and short ribcage to hipbone measurement.

I agree, the raw numbers will aid us greatly in our knitting, despite whatever terms we use to describe ourselves!
ZoeG wrote
on Feb 27, 2008 7:15 PM
'Discover yourself for yourself' is a beautiful idea that can be applied in so many areas...
MarisaL@2 wrote
on Feb 27, 2008 7:10 PM
I'm another person who thought that "short-waisted" referred to the distance between your hipbone and the bottom of your ribs. I've got about 2 inches of space there.

I'm also confused about where my official "waist" is. They say "three inches above the belly button," but that's around my ribcage. Is it the spot directly under my ribs, or the one directly above my hips? In theory, it should be the space between the bottom of my ribcage and the top of my hipbone but, as I said, there's not much room there. I will not be wearing the wide belts that are in fashion this spring because they'd be circling my ribcage!
JuneP wrote
on Feb 27, 2008 6:58 PM
Knowing how to measure, always helpful....but...
Did anyone see the Martha Stewart show on TV, Life channel last night? It was about knitting! The audience was knitters knitting...and Martha was wearing a very cool knitted sweater...but no mention of it! darn!
invalid wrote
on Feb 27, 2008 6:50 PM
"Next, measure from your "neckbone" (collarbone) to your waist".

This gives me one measurement in front and an entirely different one in back. As well as long waisted and short waisted I guess some of us also need front waisted and back waisted?

"then from your waist to your crotch"

Following the contour of my belly? Or straight up and down?
KelleyD wrote
on Feb 27, 2008 6:48 PM
Okay, so I understood that the length of waist was the measurement from hip bone to rib bone....only an inch or less on me, but as much as 6 inches on other girls. So I am short waisted, but the other girls would be long waisted. There also seems to be a relationship between the relative slenderness and the length of the waist...I have never ever seen a shortwaisted and very slender girl...slenderness and that rib/hip measurement seem directly proportional, perhaps due to the extra room for the organs?

The measurement of crotch to waist is actually the rise, and can be either long or short...on me it is actually long despite being short-waisted.

So when I saw your post, I googled long waisted and got a definition that actually states long/short waistedness as being relative to an average of waistedness....which would imply that we can't know without having a average measurement determined, presumably from a number of studies, and adjusted for height.

Better yet, go by the measurements....if you always go by the numbers, real numbers, you can very rarely go wrong....
knitomatic wrote
on Feb 27, 2008 6:39 PM
if you REALLY want to understand your body shape & what flatters and what does not read "Body Shape Bible" by Trinny Woodall and Susanna Constantine. i thought i'd been there and done that until i read this book!
E.K wrote
on Feb 27, 2008 6:37 PM
Yes, I agree with Sarah. I thought it was about where your waise fell in proportion to your entire body. For example, the lady who holds the torch in Columbia movies would be very shortwaisted. But from the picture, who could know which is longer, the distance from her collarbone to waist or waist to crotch, since she's wearing a dress?
I will have to try this measurement and find out if I'm short-waisted, like I thought. Well, I'm curious to know how this can help me in knitting, anyway. Looking forward to more information.
SarahL wrote
on Feb 27, 2008 6:25 PM
Interesting - I always thought being long-waisted or short-waisted was related to the proportion of your torso to your legs. For instance, I am tall, but have more torso than the average tall girl, and have to adjust my tops and dresses accordingly. If that's not being long-waisted, what would you call it?
Justine wrote
on Feb 27, 2008 6:20 PM
Thank you for this post. Great info!
on Feb 27, 2008 6:18 PM
Sandi, I'm really getting to know what size I actually am. Measured self when you started these tutorials on Knitting Daily and actually found out why nothing I make or buy was fitting! Size and shapes are getting de-mystified. Thanks!!
AdrienneB wrote
on Feb 27, 2008 5:20 PM
This is great and wonderful information. Very helpful for determining when to put in those waist decreases when knitting a non-box sweater. Thank you!
AIRknitter wrote
on Feb 27, 2008 4:59 PM
OH MY, I am so glad that Sandi didn't use the T-pin to "mark" her collarbone.
NatashaH wrote
on Feb 27, 2008 4:44 PM
Thank you thank you thank you!! My mudda tanks you, my fadda tanks you... (that may be a little before the time of some of you...) THis is such awesome information! All we need is to screw up our fearlessness and jump in and use it!!!