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Ease On In to Well-fitting Knitwear (plus a free pattern!)

Jan 18, 2010

Being a larger gal who's also quite short (5' 2"), I have to make adjustments to almost every sweater I knit. While the main tool in making those adjustments is the ever-important gauge swatch, there are lots of other little things that I pay attention to as well.

Ease is one of those "little things," and it was an elusive concept when I started knitting. What is ease, exactly? Ease is extra width that allows free movement in a garment, and understanding how it works can be key to making a sweater that fits.

One thing about ease that I learned the hard way was to pay attention to the garment measurements in the pattern. (Some sweaters are designed with negative ease, which sounds counter-intuitive, but it simply means the garment is supposed to stretch to be form-fitting, so the finished piece will actually be smaller than your measurements.)

Many patterns list just the finished measurements of the actual sweater, but I love it when designers list the ease, too. This is the measurement listing for a sweater I knit a couple of years ago:
     Sizes: To fit bust 32(36-40-44-48-52)"
     Finished measurements: Bust—36.5(40-44.5-48-52.5-56)"

How great is that? From reading these measurements and looking at the schematic for the pattern, I knew I could make the size 48 to fit my 50-inch bust. I would not normally ever make a size 48 without carefully studying the pattern and yarn choice to make sure the finished sweater would stretch appropriately (no gapping or over-stretched fabric) to fit my actual body. By showing the finished measurements right up front with the "to fit" sizes, I could tell at a glance that this sweater had quite a bit of ease built into the design, so I was okay knitting the pattern as written (for the most part).

Now, don't panic. Even though most designers include only the finished garment measurements in that up-front info (the section that includes materials, gauge, etc.), you can look at the schematic and figure out how much ease you'll want by comparing the finished measurements with your own measurements.

Here are some general guidelines for ease allowance—32": 34" standard ease; 36" roomy ease; 33" tight ease; and 30" form fitting (or "negative ease"). So, you'd take your bust measurement and add 2" for standard ease, 4" for roomy ease, 1" for tight ease, and subtract 2" for form-fitting ease.

Keep these guidelines in mind when you're looking at the finished measurements for sweaters you want to knit; they'll really help you evaluate how a garment will fit. And when you're evaluating sizes, don't forget that knitting the same size garment as your bust size won't allow you any ease, so unless you want a tight or form-fitting garment, choose a size that allows one or two extra inches.

In her new book Knitwear Design Workshop: A Comprehensive Guide to Handknits, renowned designer Shirley Paden gives a nice introduction to ease and its purpose in knitwear design. (I especially like her hints on comparing garments you already own to your measurements to find your desired ease for each area of a sweater!)

Understanding Ease
Excerpted from Knitwear Design Workshop: A Comprehensive Guide to Handknits by Shirley Paden

In order to move comfortably in a garment, there has to be some ease, or extra width. Most designers allow about 2" (5 cm) of ease for a garment that will be worn over undergarments. This means that the garment measures about 2" (5 cm) more in circumference than the actual body measurements, or 1" (2.5 cm) across the front and back. Usually, an additional 1"  to 2" (2.5 to 5 cm) are added to the standard ease amount for outerwear that is worn over clothing, for a total of 3 to 4 (7.5 to 10 cm)of ease.

Keep in mind that these are standards, and they may not correspond to the way you like your clothing to fit. The amount of ease is a personal choice. Compare your body measurements to a garment that fits well to get an idea of the amount of ease that's comfortable for you. Try on and measure several garments to determine your ease preferences. You may like the way one garment fits in the bust, the way another fits in the sleeve and armhole, and the way a third fits at the neck. In each case, lay the garment out flat on a hard surface (a table or measuring board), measure the parts that you like, and then compare those measurements to your body measurements to determine the desired amount of ease.

Ease is also used as a design element. Additional ease is added to produce the billowing sleeves on a poet's coat or the roominess in the bust and armhole of a drop-shoulder pullover designed to have an unstructured, oversized fit. Negative ease is used in the body of a garment designed to be form fitting (although the sleeves usually include ease to allow for arm movement). When designing with negative ease, be mindful of the elastic properties in the yarn and stitch pattern you select. Wool is more resilient and therefore more elastic than nonresilient fibers such as cotton or raime.

Here's a video clip of Interweave Knits editor and Knitting Daily TV host Eunny Jang talking with Shirley about designing and the patterns in her new book.

A Free Pattern from Shirley!

Interlocking Cables, pictured above, is a beautiful, sophisticated knit. We've classified it as an experienced project because of the allover cable pattern—it's definitely doable, though, if you've got a couple of cabled garments under your belt! The fold-over boatneck collar is so flattering on many of us, especially with a fancy cami underneath! You can fold this collar down to varying degrees, too. I'd probably fold it down about half as much as the model in the photo has it folded. Any way you choose to wear it, it'll be a piece of art!




Featured Product

Knitwear Design Workshop A Comprehensive Guide to Handknits

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Knitwear Design Workshop is for all knitters who want to go beyond commercial pattern instructions, whether it's modifying those instructions for a garment that fits them perfectly, designing their own traditional knitwear, or creating stunning works of wearable art.


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kaliana wrote
on Jan 22, 2013 4:07 PM


I'm trying to find out how to know how many stitches to increase to allow for negative ease when adding cables to a pattern.  I can work out how many to cast on easily, but to allow for negative ease I'll have to increase some.  Is there a formula to work this out?  I don't want to have to do it by trial and error.  Somebody must know.   I see the website is trying to sell me a book.  Does it tell me how to work out how many stitches to increase?  If it does I'll buy it.


Geri@2 wrote
on Jan 19, 2010 2:35 PM

Hi Kathleen,

First thank you for your great newsletter. I save many of them for future reference. But the reason I am writing today is to say an even bigger THANK YOU (!!!!) for this issue. I am a similar size as you are, and you don't know how helpful it is to me to "hear" your thinking process as you describe how you figure ease in your other knitting projects. I am just trying to "graduate" from scarves to wearable garments, and I never realized that I needed to take an ease measurement into account when looking at a knitting pattern (makes complete sense, but I never thought about it).

Bless you and long may you write!!


mtlyga wrote
on Jan 19, 2010 2:32 PM

Also when figuring ease, you need to take into consideration the yarn you are using.  Non-resilient yarns (cotton; bamboo; linen) need negative ease, while resilient yarns (yarns that spring back when you pull them) need positive ease.  What this means is that if you are knitting a short-sleeved cotton sweater for spring, you won't be happy with the results if you have used your bust measurement and added ease.  My bust is 34" and I subtract two inches to knit a 32" finished sweater (it was in bamboo) that fit nicely.

on Jan 19, 2010 12:24 PM

Loved all of her designs shown.  I was wondering if Shirley has designed any for the First Lady, Michelle.  Her style seems to be "Jackie O" ish.  I think she would look wonderful in Shirley's designs!  

I am new to knitting and you have inspired me!

Thank You.

Susan Naso

Palm Coast, FL

Betty@119 wrote
on Jan 19, 2010 9:16 AM

This comment is not about cables, but about finding the correct yarn for a " men's scarf."  I finally learned the pattern and began knitting only to find the yarn looked like an old worn cheap sweater.  It had puffs and piles all over it.  What kind of yarn should I use with a pattern that is finally knitted with an elaborate pattern?

Thank you so much...Will continue to look for an article or some help with this problem.

JanetD wrote
on Jan 19, 2010 4:43 AM

This was a great inspirational video.  Shirley's designs make me want to knit one (or all) right away.  I've gone to ravelry to look at all her patterns there.  I will surely take notice of her designs in the future. Plus, I am inspired to keep on designing my own.

MaryH@8 wrote
on Jan 18, 2010 8:52 PM

This is the kind of post I like to see in Knitting Daily -- one that is truly informative and not just an ad.  I hope to see more good tips.  Also, I miss the galleries and other information specifically on how to adjust garments from Interweave Knits for good fit.

texgal55 wrote
on Jan 18, 2010 8:03 PM

Thanks, Kathleen, for the beautiful freebie pattern.  I love it!  Also, I really enjoyed Shirley Paden's video.  She's a fantastic designer, I just watched with my mouth hanging open at her creativity.  I loved every garment she showed.  And, thank you so much for your very informative piece on ease in a garment.  It really makes more sense to me now.  In fact, as I sat here reading the article, I thought about the slim line vest I'm knitting for my daughter and I really wonder if it's going to fit her -- and I almost have the back finished!  I'm going to put the back up to her back to see how it looks like it's going to fit and then if it looks like it may be tight, maybe I can add some ease in the two front pieces.  Thanks, again.  I absolutely love Interweave! MyraW

Marg wrote
on Jan 18, 2010 6:49 PM

Fantastic and useful article AND a great freebie pattern!  This is one Knitting Daily that is a keeper.  Don't know if it is a result of the feedback on Ravelry, but this is definitely much closer to what I think makes a great newsletter.

CarolD@8 wrote
on Jan 18, 2010 4:07 PM

It's so hard to guess how much a designer has in mind for ease without the size and finished measurement data and an idea about how the sweater will behave when worn. And is it worn next to the skin or over another layer? How will the yarn make it stretch or sag? My disappointments usually involve picking a design that doesn't meet those expectations, but I have a hard time knowing when I'm off the mark. So I cover myself in cables and nobody notices!

McKennaO wrote
on Jan 18, 2010 12:13 PM

Thanks for a great post, Kathleen. You're right, it's excellent when the designers provide the body's dimensions as well as those for the finished article.

And I'd like to thank Interweave (since I'm on the subject of randomly considerate gestures and was about to download the pattern for Interlocking Cables); thank you for always providing - somewhere - the information on where the pattern (free or paid) was originally published. It saves me the aggravation of duplicating electronically what I already have in print. I know this isn't phenomenally important in the big scheme of things, but I wanted the good folks at Interweave to know that it's much appreciated.

Maryann@612 wrote
on Jan 18, 2010 11:52 AM

Interlocking Cables looks very nice on the model.  but would it be practical to wear?  NOT for me!!  as designed, it calls for WOOL .... it would be a very Warm Sweater .... EXCEPT,  I would NOT feel warm at all exposing my neck & shoulders like that!!!!  it's suggested to wear a "fancy cami" underneath.  how about a nice Turtleneck?  or lots of Scarf that would provide full coverage!

B.L wrote
on Jan 18, 2010 11:52 AM

I often wonder, when I see a blur of beautiful cables, if the garment was actually hand-knitted.  Are they?

RobinH wrote
on Jan 18, 2010 11:36 AM

One thing I've noticed is that when I'm knitting warm sweaters that I plan to wear over a shirt or turtleneck, I have to remember to add a little extra ease for the garments I plan to wear underneath the sweater.

MirandaJ wrote
on Jan 18, 2010 11:28 AM

Thank you so much for such a beautiful, interesting freebie pattern! It's so nice to see a truly stylish design, and one, too, that's challenging. Hope to see more in the future!