(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!
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.