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Understanding Ease

Jul 4, 2014

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.

Emmanuelle Pullover by Mercedes Tarasovich-Clark. This sweater is designed to have positive ease. Mercedes thought out the design carefully so that it's loose-fitting, but not too big.
Ease is one of those "little things," and it was an elusive concept when I started knitting.

What is ease, exactly? Well, it's the 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 what's known as negative ease, which sounds counter-intuitive, but it simply means the garment is supposed to stretch to be slightly (or totally!) form-fitting. So the finished piece will actually be smaller than your measurements. But it's supposed to be that way!

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)"

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).

The schematic for the Emmanuelle Pullover     
Now, don't panic. Even though most designers include only the finished garment measurements in that upfront 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 general guidelines for ease allowance: For a 32-inch bust: 34-inch standard ease; 36-inch roomy ease; 33-inch tight ease; and 30-inch form fitting (or negative ease). So, you'd take your bust measurement and add 2 inches for standard ease, 4 inches for roomy ease, 1 inch for tight ease, and subtract 2inches for form-fitting ease.

The Emmanuelle Pullover would be considered roomy, I think. That model has got to be about a size 34- to 35-inch bust, and the pattern says that the sweater shown is a 38-inch bust. So, you can see that this sweater is designed to be roomy. You should choose a size 2- to 3 inches larger than your bust size.

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 don't be afraid of knitting sweaters with negative ease! I try to knit my sweaters the same finished size as my bust or 1 or 2 inches larger than my bust. I've learned that wearing clothes that are too big doesn't hide anything, it accentuates it! Especially when you're vertically challenged, like I am.

One of my favorite moments was when I had my friends try on a bunch of Interweave sample sweaters, most of which were size 35 bust. Almost none of the ladies thought the sweaters would fit them, but when they tried them on, they were pleasantly surprised. The quote of the day was, "I think I've been knitting my sweaters too big!"

Understanding ease is just one of the elements that help you knit sweaters that fit. To learn more about knitting sweaters that fit perfectly, download Kate Atherley's web seminar, Knitting Designs with Custom Fit. Kate will show you how to study a pattern before you start knitting; explain the concepts of ease, fit, and styling; teach you how to measure yourself properly; and provide lots of tips for easy alterations to make your garment fit perfectly.


P.S. Have you knit a sweater with negative ease? Were you scared it wouldn't fit? Leave a comment and share your story!

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Knitting Designs with Custom Fit: The Basics of Sizing Knitting Patterns for Garments

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Andi12 wrote
on Jul 6, 2014 8:07 AM

Can you recommend a good book that explains ease , sweater shaping, etc.

judirain wrote
on Jul 5, 2014 12:37 PM

I have the opposite problem. I'm a very small woman and the problem I have is with shoulder straps being too long on sleeveless garments or armholes being too long on ones with sleeves. This was a particularly annoying problem after I finished the Admiral's Knot camisole, I haven't been able to figure out how to remedy this even after decades of knitting. Any suggestions? Thanks.

AngeliH wrote
on Jul 4, 2014 3:08 PM

This is such important element in knit wear design and yet so less understood by most knitters. I also have to resize all patterns when I had to knit to fit someone. Other than the issues mentioned in this article, I also find that every time when one substitute yarns, the games changed too. Not all yarns can stretch or reflex the same, depends on the gauge of one's knitting, depends on the fibers in the yarn, depends on ply and twist of the yarn, the final EASE is never going to be the same or as expected unless these elements are taken into consideration. I wish someone in the design sector of the industry or in the yarn manufacturing can come together to "educate" about all these intriguing elements are at play at the same time, in order to achieve more satisfying knitted work.

Sushiggins wrote
on Jul 4, 2014 11:29 AM

This was one of the best explanations of ease I have read.

Nemuko wrote
on Jul 4, 2014 11:07 AM

Thank you for being so clear! I copied this out and just put the pages in a plastic page protector, maybe I'll laminate them.

Mary BethK wrote
on Jul 4, 2014 10:37 AM

My favorite feature of Knitting Daily was always the gallery. It was a visual demonstration of ease to have a magazine sample sweater modeled by several Interweave staffers of different body types. I'd love it if you'd bring that back.

on Jul 4, 2014 9:14 AM

What a great article!  Thank you so much for sharing.  Ease has always eluded me and your explanation was very clear and thought out.  I can now feel more confident when choosing which sweater size fits best!

VVis wrote
on Jul 4, 2014 8:54 AM

Out of all the newsletters that end up in my email, this is the only one I frequently file to actually use the information given. I am especially grateful that it is written by someone who is not perfect model size and has great useful suggestions about how the rest of us who are not industry perfect model size can make adjustments to commercial patterns to end with something that makes us look as great in the garment as the model on the pattern. This article was especially helpful and informative. Thank you.

HaydeeJanina wrote
on Jul 4, 2014 8:53 AM

thank you so much for this column, I can say I understand what ease means now!!

Mfolly wrote
on Jul 4, 2014 8:27 AM

If only getting a sweater to fit correctly were so simple! So often, to get it to fit your bust, you have to do a size with ginormous shoulders, so the finished product looks sloppier than necessary given the bust ease.

My pet peeve is designers who don't recognize that not everyone has skinny toothpicks for upper arms, or seem to design for underarms to be super tight. Also, these measurements are not provided in the sizing information, so to learn how much a given size allows for upper arms you have to look at the pattern itself and that is a disincentive to purchase a pattern. Standard guidance for adjusting patterns to fit your measurements offer scant help for this issue.

Of course, trying out various DIY methods to get comfortable sleeves and underarm without knitting a sweatshirt, I have realized it's quite difficult to make the judgments and perform the calculations required. Maybe that's why even if a designer recognizes the problem, she/he doesn't attempt to correct for it.

KateM@40 wrote
on Jul 4, 2014 8:26 AM

I get very frustrated at patterns which tell me which size the model is wearing.  I'm supposed to know her bust size?  Based on what?  Telling me the ease is a LOT more informative, and less intrusive to the model.

on Jul 4, 2014 8:10 AM

That was so helpful. Kathleen, would you also please do a bit on getting the shaping in the right spot vertically? Height-wise you've got me beat, and the waist shaping in most patterns would end up at my hips, which is not super flattering. That's one of the main things that's holding me back from attempting a sweater.

on Jul 4, 2014 8:08 AM

That was so helpful. Kathleen, would you also please do a bit on getting the shaping in the right spot vertically? Height-wise you've got me beat, and the waist shaping in most sweater patterns would end up at my hips, which is not super flattering. that's one of the main things that's holding me back from attempting a sweater.

Rita@52 wrote
on Jul 4, 2014 7:11 AM

Great article, Kathleen!