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Knitting Sweaters and Modeled Bust Ease

Jul 15, 2013

Last week a question came to me from a reader asking about the ease in Mercedes Tarasovich-Clark's Emmanuelle Sweater from Knitscene Fall 2013. There's been a lot of discussion about the idea of ease in the office lately, and so I thought I'd go ahead and address the concept and part of the reason why we don't list the modeled bust ease in Knitscene.

First, we have to define the term.

Ease, for a knitter's purpose, is the amount of space around the part of the body on which the project is worn.

More simply put, it's the extra amount of fabric (or negative amount of fabric, in some instances) that is added to a sweater pattern at the bust and can greatly affect the fit of knitted sweater. Most knitting patterns that are designed to fit a specific part of the body are designed with ease in mind. Sock patterns are generally designed with a bit of negative ease--that is, the circumference of the sock is smaller than the circumference of the intended foot. This helps the sock stay up and not slouch down the leg while being worn.

Modeled bust ease is the circumference of the sweater at the bust minus the model's actual bust measurement. In the case of the Emmanuelle Sweater, the sample garment is 38" in circumference, and the modeled bust ease is about 5" or 6".

Some knitting patterns include the modeled bust ease; Knitscene does not. Why? There are a few reasons:

  • Bust ease just one small part of knitting a sweater that fits. You do generally want to choose a bust size that is closest to your own measurements, but that doesn't mean the finished knitted sweater is automatically going to fit your shoulders, your arms, the rest of the torso, or that the waist shaping will be in the right place... More on that in a bit.
  • Preferred bust ease is subjective. When I knit the Emmanuelle Sweater, I will not knit it with 5" or 6" of ease—having that much extra material around my body makes me really uncomfortable, especially since extra fabric in a sweater seems to automatically collect around my underarms.
  • Even if a knitter has the same bust measurement as a model, that knitter may have a different body type. A 5'9" model could have the same bust measurement of a 5'4" knitter and their body shapes could be very different. If nothing else, the knitter would likely have to make significant adjustments in knitting the torso to fit.
  • Gauge can impact bust ease significantly. Even when using the same yarn and needle size called for in the sweater pattern, you are not the sample knitter and your gauge can be different from the sample gauge. Even if you are the same bust circumference of the model, if your gauge is even just half a stitch off, your bust ease will be different than pictured in the magazine.

So, then, what would I recommend to knitters for knitting sweaters that fit? The schematic. The schematic will tell you everything you need to know about the dimensions of the sweater before you knit it. Study the sweater's schematic and measure yourself against those numbers. It's easiest to have someone else measure you, but if you're itching to cast on and no one's around, pull out your favorite sweater that fits the way you like and measure it.

In her article on modifying knitting patterns to fit your frame from Knitscene Fall 2011 (on sale right now!), designer Amy Herzog describes how to determine what modifications you'd need to make, based on your personal measurements: "A successful sweater is one that fits your shoulders. The average measurements used in clothing design assume a figure with a relatively small bust and narrower shoulders. If you have a larger bust and/or broad shoulders, you should choose a size based on your upper torso instead of your full bust measurement. To take that measurement, pull a tape measure snugly around your upper torso, high up in your armpit. Choose the sweater size with a bust measurement closest to your torso measurement, allowing for recommended ease. If you have a small bust and broad shoulders, work hip and waist instructions for a smaller size, increasing to the chosen size at the bust. If you have a larger bust, accommodate it with bust darts."

Take into consideration the fabric as well. A Stockinette fabric, or one with cables, likely wants a little more ease than a lace or rib fabric. If a designer has included notes about the garment's intended ease, we make sure to include them in the notes section of each Knitscene pattern.

Tomes could be written about knitting sweaters to fit your body (and, well, there have been quite a few). Some great resources are Laura Bryant's Yarn to Fit video (also available in DVD format) and Amy Herzog's exhaustive blogging in addition to her book Knit to Flatter.

Every fellow knitter out there wants you to be able to knit sweaters (if you so choose) that fit you perfectly, so when you're walking down the street wearing your own Emmanuelle Sweater, you can do so feeling confident that it flatters your figure and people want to know where they can get their own. I'm simply saying that modeled bust ease may not be the best measurement for achieving that result.

Happy knitting,


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