The Knitting Tools That Lurk In Your Closet

(This is not MY closet, Mom!)

Did you know? Inside your closet are some great tools to help you knit to fit. They're called "the clothes you already own." (Yes, I know, that's a very technical term, but we'll muddle through together somehow.)

You already have a collection of tops, tanks, sweaters, cardigans, and jackets, all of which can tell you a LOT about what size sweater to knit for yourself. Some of these tops are ones you adore, some are OK, and some you do not (or cannot) wear for some reason. The ones you love are probably comfortable and fit you well; the ones you don't like to wear probably do not fit or are uncomfortable. See: You are already an expert in fit!

Using Your Clothing To Find Out What Fits You

You'll need a measuring tape, notebook, pen, scotch tape, and a full-length mirror.

Measure yourself. If you have not recently taken your actual body measurements, now is a good time to do that, as we'll need your full bust, waist, and hip stats. Here are some links which will help you make sure you are not only measuring accurately, but measuring the right things!

Understanding Those Pesky Measurements

How To Measure Yourself

Measuring flat

Try stuff on. Pull out a tee shirt, a blouse, or a sweater from your closet. (For this exercise, it's best to use clothes made of knitted fabrics, such as tees, rather than those made of woven (stiff) fabrics. Avoid clothing made with lycra—you don't want anything that has to do an extreme stretchy act to be worn.) Try it on, look in the mirror, and ask yourself: How does it fit in the bust area? How does it fit at the waist? How does it fit around the lower torso? Maybe you love how it fits at the bust, but you think it is too baggy in the hips; maybe the waist is too tight but it is fine everywhere else. Make an entry in your notebook like this: "Blue cardi with yellow duckies on it: Bust—too tight; waist—OK; hips—too tight, because I always wear the last 2 buttons undone."

Mark the top while you're wearing it. Place a small bit of scotch tape on the front of the top where it sits at the fullest part of your bust, at your waist, and the widest part of your lower body (hips, belly, backside—whatever is the biggest around overall).

Measure the top. Change clothes, and lay the top (or sweater) out on a flat surface. Pat it smooth, making sure nothing is bunched-up or stretched-out. Then, measure it in the three places you marked with tape: across the bust, waist, and lower body. Double each flat measurement to get the full measurement around your body; then write the results down in your notebook.

Zoe makes sure I measure correctly

Compare. How do the measurements of the top compare to your actual body measurements? If they are bigger than your actual measurements, then that is positive ease. If the top's measurements are smaller than your body measurements, then that is negative ease. If they are close (half-inch or less) then that is zero or minimal ease. Which ones do you prefer?

Repeat this with as many tops as you have patience for, and you will begin to notice a pattern: Perhaps your beloved party or dress-up tops all have 2 inches of negative east at the bust; but your favorite sweatshirts have 5 inches of positive ease at the bust. Different styles will give you different information because sometimes we like to hang loose and sometimes we like to show off what we've got! The same is true for the different styles of sweater patterns: Some you will want to be loose-fitting (positive ease) and some you will want to be close-fitting (minimal or negative ease).

Be sure to double your laid-flat measurements!

Use your closet info to make informed knitting decisions. Get a knitting magazine (bonus points if it is from Interweave, of course), and open it to a sweater pattern that is a similar shape and style to the top you have laid flat on your bed. Take a look at the schematic; compare the measurements of your top to those of the schematic for that sweater. Look for a set that are a close-enough match to the ease-at-bust-measurements you prefer for that style of top. Compare the waist and hip measurements of the schematic to what you know you prefer for that style; see where you might have to make adjustments.

Once you've learned how to do this little closet trick with the basics of bust, waist, and hip, you'll quickly see that you can apply it to other measurements as well: sleeve length, armhole depth, neckline, and so on.

Sandi Wiseheart is the editor of Knitting Daily.

What's on Sandi's needles? Secret Project Sleeves…well, the first one, anyway.

Other Things You May Like to Check Out:


Knitting Daily Blog, Knitting Tools, Supplies & Resources

51 thoughts on “The Knitting Tools That Lurk In Your Closet

  1. This post really helped recharge my passion for knitting and my fear of making something more complicated than scarves is gone! Thank you so much. Awesome, awesome, awesome information!

  2. I got so sick of knitting things I didn’t like on me, that I did this – and it helped sooo much! I even take my measuring tape *sh* into the department store fitting rooms. When I find something that fits–but I don’t like for some other reason–I measure and record 🙂

    Thank you for this post! I really hope all knitters try this.

  3. On the subject of fit, the Hexacomb cardigan does not mention how much ease is shown on the model. I am making this for my daughter, who has a 32 inch bust, and I am planning on the 32.5 size, but if there is significant ease, then I probably need to go up a size. She (my daughter) is so tiny, I have a hard time envisioning she would need anything but the smallest size.

  4. Sandi,

    Thank you so much for this post. I have dozens of manufactured sweaters that I absolutely love to wear and could never figure out why I couldn’t knit a sweater to fit me …even though I was the one making it…the way those sweaters do. This is an awesome tip and will give me a better idea of not only how to knit a sweater that fits, but also what style I should be looking to knit.

    You’re the best…thanks!

  5. Thank you thank you thank you for this idea. I feel like smacking myself on the forehead, but I think this will help me. 🙂
    I’ve also had a really hard time figuring out all the positive/negative ease stuff, but this puts it into a slightly different light, and I think I get it. I’m glad I’m about to head home for a relaxing evening of knitting, what great timing!

  6. Sandi,
    I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoy your posts. I am a university professor and I get millions of emails from my students each day, but no matter how busy I am, I always find time to read your post in its entirety because I so enjoy your humor and perspective about this addiction we all share. Plus as a relatively new knitter, I learn things from your helpful advice. Please keep up the good work!

  7. Thank you for the great post. As a person that sews, I’m used to doing this. Duh, carry it over into knitting.

    Something else to think about. I’m not that busty. But, I’m very wide across the back so sometimes my side seams aren’t actually on my side but about 1/4 to 1/2 inch toward the front. When I sew, I know this and make my back slightly larger.

    I’m making my first sweater this year so I’m very excited about everything that you’ve written.

  8. What an excellent resource! I would never have thought of this in dozens, well, never in a million years.
    This is just a wonderful idea, and I thank you for opening up my eyes.
    I frequently shop at Sam’s Club and Costco. I have found that this measurement system will allow me to buy clothing that will fit, because the designer clothing there tends to be smaller. They forget that a large should be large and not the standard ‘medium’, even though the designer lable will say ‘large’. Now I will have a tool, not only for knitting, but buying clothing also. I always have a notebook in handbag, and a tape measure will not add much to the handbag weight.

    Thank you for this astounding idea!

  9. Now THIS is extremely helpful information!! Wow. Where have you been all my knitting life? I’ve learned more since you started “Knitting Daily” than I had in the previous 10 years. Now I’m off to go through my closet…

  10. Thanks so much for this post. I hope it will be really helpful for me. I love to knit, but am afraid of conquering a sweater, because of not being sure how it will fit. Thanks so much! This newsletter is great!

  11. Great post!

    Our LYS had a class on this very topic- planning your project. It was very helpful and has helped me a lot. I found out I am broadbacked- no wonder I have a tough time with jackets!

    I have measured a number of things already and have a good idea of what works and doesn’t. It’s also helpful for store bought items- when I remember, I carry a measuring tape and measure before I try on!

    I picked up a couple new tips from your post. I recommend doing the body measurements with a friend- helpful for some of those hard to measure areas!

  12. Sandy, Bless You! I work in a LYS, and this is exactly what I tell my customers. Choosing the right size and getting gauge are the two biggest problems I see in sweater projects. And you’re right, most women don’t know their measurements, and don’t realize that knitting patterns frequently don’t match up to RTW “small”, “med”, and “large”. Please also do a post on checking cross-back (shoulder width) and sleeve width measurements. I have seen way too many patterns, especially with the bust over 40″, where the shoulders and sleeves are outrageously over-sized. What’s up with that? By the way, I’m Fiftysomething, love IK and recommend it to everyone. Keep up the good work.

  13. I was reviewing IK Spring issue last night… is there a schematic for Eunny Jang’s gorgeous lace vest? I’m having a little difficult time in translating the verbiage into a chart.
    Fran Rickenbach

  14. Sandy, I’ve learned so much from you these last few months, especially about making knits that fit perfectly! Thank you so much! And thank you to you and the lovely girls in the sweater galleries also for being brave and honest about what really fits!

  15. I must say that these posts have really made a difference to me in understanding knitting better as I have only been knitting for a year and a half now and am largely a solitary self-taught knitter. Most sites don’t give much indepth information on anything other than the very basics. For those of us ready to leave scarves behind, there is a big girl sized gap between basics and detailed info to get us into and comfortable with the next level ‘advanced’ projects.
    Thanks to this site, I am now finally beginning to understanding Pos. and Neg. ease! I’m just not completely sure how to neatly increase and decrease when I’ve added a ton more stitches to make something bigger since my current shape is usually larger than what most patterns include info on. Sigh… And I’m sort of intimidated by just fudging it after so much time and effort, but you’ve even talked about that!
    Thanks again.

  16. I have yet to attempt a tank, sweater, cardigan, … anything beyond gloves that have to actually end up fittttttting me, but I’m definitely keeping this info handing for my future endeavours. Thanx 🙂

  17. While you are measuring, take the flat measurement from the center back to the cuff edge of the sleeve. Then when you finish knitting the back & front of your garmet,(and press it) measure from center back to armhole edge. TADA, by simple subtractions you will now know how long to make the sleeves!!

  18. I think it would be helpful to also measure neck to waist length and shoulder to bust length while you are wearing your favorite sweater. I think these measurements will help with how many rows to decrease or increase so that the sweater that you choose to knit will fit in the length also. Great post. Now what about those bust darts? I hope that is coming up soon. Those would really help with these fitted little cardigans.

  19. Oh my gosh Sandi! I design closets for Container store for a living and I could barely read the article today because I was too distracted by the closet! I’m itching to organize it!!!!–Lizzie

  20. Wow! This is just one of the best articles you have put out yet! Sad to say that I ended up not liking ANY of the clothes in my closet!!!! LoL. Time to go shopping? Anyway, Thank you for the wealth of information. 😀

  21. This was creepy… Here I sat, wearing a thin fleece jacket thinking that it fit the way I’d like sweaters to fit across the bust and sleeves. As it is not shaped, the waist is too big, but on the hips it was exactly correct too. I was also thinking about taking it off, and getting the tape measurer out and take some notes… after I’d read my e-mails and what is the first thing to make it into my inbox??? This newsletter…
    Now I finally have a ‘tutorial’ on how to take the correct measurements and I’ll finally be able to make use of several of my knitting books on how to make a sweater that fits (EZ, Ann Budd, Priscilla A. Gibson-Roberts, Beth Brown-Reinsel and several others)
    Cheers Eva

  22. This really is great advice. I once designed my own vest based on doing just this. I used a vest that I loved wearing and made my new vest to the same measurements. The result, another vest that I love wearing! It is my most favourite thing that I have knitted for myself.

  23. I love that you left in the zoe picture 🙂 I can’t tell you how many times my cat Dashel — who looks a lot like Zoe — ends up right on top of a project just like that. He’s helping, right? :)I had to hide the alpaca blend sweater I was making for my husband this christmas because he decided it was his and camped out on it any chance he could get. Sorry to bore you if you’re not a cat person, but they sure make knitting more of an adventure 🙂

  24. Wow…I’ve done this for sewing, but it never occured to me I could do the same thing for knitting…and I didn’t even think about the tape. Brilliant! I think I’m going to start dragging a measuring tape around with me.Thanks!

  25. Thanks so much for this simple, practical tutorial. I’ve learned so much about knitting to fit, and clothing fit in general, from your posts on this subject. I’ll apply this not only to the garments I make for me (if I ever get past the gift knitting queue, that is) but also to those I make for others.

    I can send this advice to family memebers & have them email me back their measurements; it’s not quite as good as being there myself to take their measurements, but it’ll have to do.

    Thanks once again.

  26. It’s a little embarrassing to admit what a revelation this article was to someone (me) who has been sewing and knitting for decades. Although I have measured some parts of store-bought sweaters in the past, my brain had never really made the connection between “knitting” and “clothes.” (Which is probably why fit has always been an issue for me.) I feel so empowered!

  27. As a sew-er I’m used to making things to measurements, so since I’m just learning to knit from patterns, I compare the finished measurements to a tissue pattern I know fits me well. Somehow the ease, length, etc., seems to click for me when I use my sewing skills as a bridge to knitting.

    Also, seeing that dirty laundry basket in the closet photo reminds me to mention that I keep an AirWick Freshmatic Mini in my closet. Although there’s no laundry in the closet, the rubber on all my sneakers STINKS! The Mini sprays straight up, so I keep it loaded with lavender and place it on the top shelf. No more stinky rubber clothes. 🙂

  28. The best sweater I ever made was my first. I knit it for my sister, who is tiny and has a hard time buying clothes that she doesn’t swim in, but found a sweater that fit her well that she wore all the time and wanted in gray wool. I knit the new sweater using the measurements from the store-bought sweater, and wouldn’t you know, now she wears the new one all the time.

    I don’t know why it never occurred to me to do the same for myself. Duh.

  29. Loved this post. I thought about measuring some of my sweaters to determine what size to choose, and didn’t know if that was kosher in the world of knitting – why did I second guess myself? Anything’s possible in knitting!

    This came at a perfect time too, I’ve been wanting to tackle a couple pullover sweaters for myself after making several cardigans as gifts. I love “Cactus Blossom” from the Fall ’07 Knitscene and “Simply Marilyn” from the Interweave Knits book, but what size? I realized I have the perfect store-bought sweaters with similar silhouettes to measure and use to choose. YAY! Sweaters for me, here I come!

  30. I <3 you guys SOOOO much! As I have said in times past - being big busted chest measurements are elusive and foreign to me. This also because I am a new knitter and sometimes dont always immediately understand why something I just made looks WAY so not like its suppoesed to :)
    In my short time here on knitting daily I have learned oodles of details that are drastically changing the face of my knitting skill set!

  31. Sandi,

    Thanks so much for the clear explanation of ‘using what we already know’ about how our clothes fit us.

    I was so tickled to see the picture of Zoe helping you to measure. Don’t cats just love tape measures? I’ve never known a cat who could leave one alone! (Did you adopt a new cat? If so, congratulations!)

  32. This was really helpful and I’m looking forward to hearing more about the mysterious secret project sleeves that are going on! Also, I just wanted to let you guys know that the mesh gloves link is not working. I tried to access it several times over a period of several days and it displayed this error message: Forbidden
    You do not have permission to access /freepatterns/gloves_mittens/Mesh-Gloves-341-1.html on this server.
    Thank you!!

  33. Reading the posts on Knitting Daily it has occurred to me more than once that knitting a well fitting garment is so much more than following a pattern. You need to understand the shape of your body, and, most importantly,how to make the amendments necessary to fit your own body. So why make knitting clothes seem easy? I am short with narrow shoulders but with a bust larger than my size, so garments that fit across the chest tend to have shoulders that are too wide (and sleeves that are too long). I happened to see in a sewing book – about how you change patterns to fit your body – that you should trim a bit off from the armhole to the point of your shoulder. There is no need to change the top of the sleeve. I will try this with the next knitting pattern – the good thing is that you can measure when you’ve finished the decreases according to the pattern, and work out how many more you need to do to fit your own shoulder. Although this doesn’t deal with the second problem – that armholes are too deep.

  34. Dear Sandi,

    I think I basically get the ideas of ease and sizing and gauge (not to say things always turn out perfectly), but in terms of measurements, things like armhole depth, sleeve length, neckline, neck-to-waist length, etc., are difficult. I’m somewhere between petite and regular, so when I buy dresses off the rack, the neck-to-waist length is nearly always wrong and the dress either bunches at my waist, or the waist is around my hips (and so it hangs really goofy). If I buy petite dresses, they look too short , as do petite jeans (although I have no problems with petite suits). I never know whether to make the petite or regular of a sewing pattern (I think my neck-to-waist length is 17″, and the range is always 14″-17″ for petite, and for regular it’s 17″-19″). With knitting it’s a little easier – you just stop knitting once it’s the same size as your favorite shirt! But what if I need to plan ahead or am trying to make the pattern fit me? I would LOVE it if you could address the less obvious sizing challenges in one of the future KDs.

    I really love Knitting Daily! Thanks so much!


  35. Thank you! I did just this to alter the sleeves to 3/4 length on my Mirabella cardigan, and this is also how I decided to knit it with a bit of negative ease in the bust. LOVE IT!

  36. What a great post. I just finished the Bonsai Tunic and the armhole depth is way too large. Wish that I would have known about measuring some things in my closet.
    Thanks, Sandi

  37. Thank you so much for these instructional links and you useful comments and tips! I have been staggering in the dark, unable and afraid to make a real garment, but now, with the right instruction, I think I can forge ahead.
    Thanks, Sandi

  38. As this is an older post and I just finished posting my survey comments that contained a request regarding sizing, I’m thinking you specifically sent this to me today . . . hmmmm? Hey, thanks — as you know, just what I needed!
    I am just learning how very helpful this site is going to be, not only the posts by the editor but the readers’ comments as well. A very good find!

  39. I thought you were going to say “take out all of your knitted garments that you no longer wear and unravel them then make something new out of the unraveled yarn!”

  40. Nice article. I know that the things I wear most often certainly don’t measure what I think they do? But then again, neither do I! Thanks for the info!

    Charlene Anderson

  41. I am not sure how to word this.

    I am so glad that you used real people to do the measurements on. Not the sickly thin model types. Real people rarely have figures like that. And if they did it was when they were 13.

    Thank you,