Knitting A Summer Top: Determining The Right Size

As you can see from the photo, I have worked several inches of the Tattoo Tank by Marlaina Bird from Knitscene Winter/Spring 2010. This is a very loose fitting sleeveless tee shirt that flares out at the hem for a bit of swingy, drapey, floaty fun.

It can be a challenge to choose the right size for a top like this, where a good bit of positive ease is part of its natural charm. Choose a size too large, and you look like you're wearing your camping tent all summer. Choose a size too small, and the hem will fit, but the bust will be too tight.

Rule of thumb for choosing a size: Always select according to your bust measurement, and alter the rest of the garment's measurements as needed. Why? Armhole shaping is proportional to the bust measurement, and all those increases and decreases and bind-offs needed to get a non-gaping armhole are very tricky to adjust. If you choose a size based on the bust measurement, you won't have to fiddle with the armhole shaping. Simple as that.

Problem: What if you choose a size based on the pattern's finished bust measurement, but the corresponding hip measurement (or waist measurement) in the pattern is too small? Hip and waist shaping are easy to alter. A few moments of math, and you can add inches to either waist or hip as required.

Example: My full bust measurement is 41". Thus, I have a choice of sizing between the 46.5", the 42.5", and the 38.5". This tank is supposed to be worn with positive ease, so the 38.5" will be too small. The 42.5" gives me only 1" of positive ease, which isn't really very much. the 46.5" gives me 5" of positive ease (wow!). That's too much, methinks.

I know I'd like more ease than one inch; but 5" is a LOT of ease! When you wear something too loose, it becomes a visual illusion: Other people, when they see you wearing an oversized, loose sweater, will mentally "fill in the space" between you and the sweater. In other words: A flowing tee shirt with tons of positive ease may make you feel as though no one can see your love handles, but in reality, that flowing shirt makes you look as though you are many pounds heavier than you actually are!

I'm going to make the size closest to my full bust measurement–the 42.5"–as this will give me the best fit in the armhole area. I think the 46.5" will have an armhole with Gaping Possibilities, if you see what I mean.(NOTE: However, if my cup size were a D or above, I would have chosen the size larger.)

The garment begins at the hip, where the finished measurement is 56". Yikes! My hips are 46", which means that I would have 10" of positive ease Down There. My hips are my widest point. I'm worried about that much swing around my widest point, especially as this is a worsted weight yarn–the thicker the yarn, the more visual bulk is added to one's silhouette.

All that makes me a bit nervous. The summer tanks I have made previously were done out of sock weight or, at the most, DK, yarn. I pull those tops out of my closet to compare them…and I notice that my two favourite tops have lace detail at the hem. Every time I wear those tops, I get compliments. (I rather like compliments.)


What if I added a bit of lace at the hem of the Tattoo Tank? An hour or so after I have that little idea, I've swatched and I like the way the lace looks. So I cast on, and knit a simple lace edging I adapted from the top of the tattoo heart chart in the pattern, carrying out the rhythm and feel of the heart on the back of the tank.

All should be well. My new top-to-be is purple. It's a lovely cotton/tencel blend. It's silky and shiny and it's got lace at the hem.

All right then–why is something niggling at me about the few inches I have already knit? I can't put my finger on it, but something isn't right here.

I take the tank off the needles and measure, just for the sake of curiosity…only to find that the hem circumference is (ready?) seventy-two inches. 72. Three score, plus ten-and-two.

That's…that's…that's Gi-gant-o-nor-mous. HUGE.

Well. Let's look at the bright side. At least now I have a really good-sized swatch.

Leave a comment and console me. Or laugh with me. Distract me with yarn photos. Something. Anything.

Other than that: It's raining. The giant irises are in bloom. I'm going to clear my mind by working on a sock for a little while.

May your knitting help ease whatever stresses weigh on your mind this rainy day.

– Sandi

Sandi Wiseheart
is the founding editor of Knitting Daily. You can find her blogging here on Knitting Daily every Thursday. Want more? Visit Sandi's personal blog, wiseheart knits. Or, if you're on Twitter, you can follow her: sandiwiseheart.



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11 thoughts on “Knitting A Summer Top: Determining The Right Size

  1. Sandy – So WHAT happened???!! Was it just because of the lace that it “grew” so much?… or was it your calculations? You HAVE to tell us!

  2. i am sorry and feel your pain. thanks for writing about it though, it makes me feel better about my knitting mistakes. and i am very nervous about altering patterns, i really haven’t done that yet. my idea of altering is to knit a different size than what the model is wearing. i think its very helpful when you explain what you are doing, why you are doing it, and how you arrive at your calculations. even if you make a mistake, it helps that you explain it. i am sure it will go better now that you have such a great swatch!

  3. Hi Sandi!

    Many thanks for sharing your knitting adventures with us! I have a question for ya: You write, “However, if my cup size were a D or above, I would have chosen the size larger.” Why?

    I am a petite 36H and after knitting my first sweater (Under the Hoodie by Kristin Spurkland), I haven’t the courage to put in all that effort (and precious yarn) into another sweater. It fit my bust, but is way too big everywhere else, so I never wear it. I liked your Hot Tomato bust dart tutorial awhile back, but I’m afraid my shape requires A LOT of pattern tweaking, including in the arm hole region. Any tips would be greatly appreciated.

    Missed you last week,

  4. One of the many things I like about your blogging is that you share all kinds of knitting experiences – the good, the bad and the ugly! I loved your account of how you fixed all the problems with the stars baby blanket. I’m sure there is not an experienced knitter who hasn’t swatched and swatched and yet still ends up with a ridiculous fitting garment! So we all need to laugh and share.

    Thanks for helping us along. That yarn is a beautiful color – I’d focus on that and make sure what you make with it fits so you can enjoy wearing it! To practice what we preach, I should really get out that vest I made last year. I made it bigger at the last minute fearing that it would be too small and OF course, it’s done and too big. I love the yarn. I should fix it and wear it. I will! Thanks, Sandi!

  5. I’m knitting a tank that’s supposed to have a bit of negative ease at the bust, and positive ease at the hip. I’m not sure I’m getting gauge. I did some swatching, but my first attempt at the actual garment usually tells me that my swatches lied! So I’ll knit a bit more and then measure, just as you did.

    And it’s raining here, too.

  6. At least you spotted it before you got to the armscye? That was the point where I realized my all over cable pullover was going to have ten inches of ease when I had been aiming for two. And I’m tall, so that was about eighteen inches of knitting! I still haven’t restarted that one. When I do I will be sure to get out the longest cables for my interchangeable needles and spread it out before I get that far.

  7. Thanks for writing about this. I grapple with this issue all the time and, as a result, have never finished, let alone worn, a handknit sweater. You’ve given me the direction I need to go for it!

  8. Sandi,

    Thanks for sharing that “adventure”. I enjoy your blog so much because you don’t just show your finished garments, but share with us the decisions you make as you are starting, how you arrive at changes along the way, the occasional frogging,
    and then the “drumroll” finished and beautiful garment. It’s uplifting to know that even master knitters run into occasional problems. I look forward to your blog each week.
    Happy Knitting!
    PS I always have a pair of socks going too. They are relaxing and fit is so much easier to deal with.

  9. Oh so true. This happens whenever I make in the round tank tops, despite careful swatching and calculations. Doesn’t matter who designs them. And just as I’m getting into the groove, I keep thinking — I’m big but I’m not this big — and like you, I take it off the needles and realize I have made a car cover. It is a mysterious phenomena, like black holes or scissor/sock/car keys disappearance, and can only be dealt with, by, I don’t know, knitting in pieces? Good luck!

  10. Is it any consolation that the yarn is still a rich and gorgeous shade of purple? Does it comfort you to know that I think the lace at the hem being evocative of the heart motif on the sweater is the work of an absolute genius? How about remembering that if one loves to knit, re-knitting is a form of getting more bang for your yarn buck?

    If none of those things cheers you up, I could tap dance or sing. Appearing ridiculous is a small price to pay.