Waist Shaping: An Overview

I'm noticing that the very mention of the term "shaping," let alone "waist shaping," seems to provoke some spirited discussions amongst knitters. Some folks want it, but don't know how to do it. Some folks might want it, but are shy, thinking that it is only for the young and slender. Some folks would rather wear a live snake draped about their person than wear something that shows off their waist.

And some folks are still just trying to find their waist.

So, let's first figure out how to incorporate waist shaping into a simple sweater. You might be surprised to find out what a little bit of shaping does for even the most ample of curves.

Waist shaping for Bertha

Assuming you are working in the round, and working from the hem upwards, you can pretty much sum up waist shaping like this: Make a tube big enough for your hips, tummy, and backside. Start decreasing down to give yourself a nice bit o' the hourglass treatment. Work even for a bit so you can breathe. Then start increasing up so you will have enough fabric to cover The Ladies. Voila: Waist Shaping!

That's really the whole idea. Not complicated at all, see? Take a look at the sketch provided, which is a rough schematic of Bertha (yes, to scale!). As you read the steps below, compare them to the schematic, and see if that helps you visualize the process a bit better.

We're going to walk through the steps—WITHOUT ANY NUMBERS—to give you a nice little mental picture of how you would go about putting waist shaping in an otherwise no-shape, hem-up, boxy sweater. (We'll do the numbers later, I promise.)

1. Cast on enough stitches at the hem to fit comfortably over your hips/behind/belly, plus whatever ease you prefer. The sweater needs to go over your widest bits, remember, so if you widest bit is your belly, make sure there are enough stitches to fit over your belly-plus-ease.

2. Knit upwards from the hem in whatever pattern pleases you until you reach the widest part of your lower torso, whatever that part may be: hips, waist, belly, or perhaps a bodacious combination of the above.

3. At the part of your body where things start to get a little smaller, start your decreases. This might be the top of your hips, the rolling landscape over your belly, or the generous curves of your backside.

4. Work decreases gradually—a couple of stitches every few rows/rounds—in order to get the stitch count down to a number that more closely resembles what you need to go around your waist (plus ease).

5. Work even for a short section, because your waist is usually not a deep V; it's usually more like the bottom of a valley. This also allows you to breathe, which in my family is a popular sport.

6. Start increasing gradually at the same rate as you decreased earlier until you have enough stitches to comfortably fit over your bust area (plus ease).

7. Continue working the rest of the garment as written.

That's it. (Well, some numbers would help, but we'll get to that.) It really is that simple! From here, then, it's not a long leap to "designing" your own well-fitting sweater!


Sandi Wiseheart is the founding editor of Knitting Daily. She is now the author of the popular Knitting Daily blog: What's on Sandi's Needles.


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31 thoughts on “Waist Shaping: An Overview

  1. Will you cover how to handle waist shaping when your smallest measurement is not your waist? Please?

    Waist shaping makes me nervous because while there’s an 8 inch difference between my hips (with belly and butt) and my waist (still with belly 😛 ) my smallest measurement is actually right under my bust. My waist to bust difference is four inches, but my under bust to bust is six. I kinda want to show off the bust now that I finally got a bra that fits. 😀

  2. You know, I’ve been trying to find my waist for a couple of years now, but it seems I’ve misplaced it. I do know where it used to be, though. 🙂

    While I’m here I just wanted to share some totally unrelated news. I’ve been knitting for nearly four (ahem) decades – since the age of twelve, actually. Last month, I made my first ever pair of socks – used worsted weight yarn, size 6 needles and a really simple pattern. A couple days later, I made another pair – Cascades Fixation yarn, in their Dayflower pattern. Now I am going to try knitting two socks at once, as a gift for a friend I’m visiting later this month! This is so much fun!!!! Thank you for all that sock inspiration over the holidays…

  3. A couple of BTWs:

    * You can put in some “gentle” (not very tight) waist shaping to get rid of bulk, same way you shape armholes partly to get rid of bulk fabric under the arms. When you’re wearing the sweater, it doesn’t scream “shaped” — it just fits a bit better than if it didn’t have it.
    * Ann Budd’s basic sweater pattern book has a great waist shaping formula I use all the time. Check it out if you want to see some numbers.

  4. FYI: Your construction blogs have added to my confidence. I’m teaching knitting and coaching my students to have the courage to alter the patterns to flatter their shape.

    Here’s to knitting out of the Box!!
    Denise in MT

  5. My smallest measurement is not my waist, it’s my bust. I know it shouldn’t matter but every time I read another article claiming that waist shaping works the same way for everyone, I feel like I’ve been declared not human. At least I save on buying patterns, since I don’t buy any of the patterns that involve a decrease at the waist. (If mentioning a competitor’s book is allowed, Big Girl Knits does address fit issues for women who don’t have an indentation in the middle of their torso.)

  6. I just read some of the comments and mine. I think what I’m trying to ask is, do I increase at the edge or 2″ in or half way??? Sandi you are my hero, I love knitting daily.

  7. I have recently discovered that a little 2 x 2 ribbing in the side panels works great to add waist shaping w/o having to increase and decrease. It’s very subtle but seems just right for me.

  8. Ok. What’d I miss? A live SNAKE? Oh, dear.
    I’m really enjoying the conversations & delighting in everyone’s comments. This is a good one. Jennifer

  9. Cool. Sandi, I hope you know you trying on Sylph, as well as it’s gallery, and the recent fitting plus older fitting posts, but especially the recent weeks’ ones, have encouraged me that that may be the sweater for me, though I’ll have to size it up. All of your comments in it’s gallery really helped me to see changes I’d make for my own self who is differently and upwardly sized of those in the gallery.

    Anyhoo. Great post, Thankee! Oh, PLUS (ha ha) the v-neck of it, to further draw one’s eye upward, which I need, would be perfect for say, one Afternoon Tea necklace that will help me use some lampwork beads that have stumped me for awhile, perhaps, and be just the ticket to set off the sweater. Or whatever, some necklace that’s not too busy!

  10. To Tephra, who said “my smallest measurement is actually right under my bust.” I say that an empire design is perfect for you! You make the fitted part of the sweater fit you just under the bustline and then slightly flare out to softly cover the waistline and the hip. Many of the sweaters in the gallery can easily be adapted to fit this way. Just adjust the shaping to fit you under the bust instead of at the waist.

  11. Dear Sandi,
    thank you sooo much for this post! I think I might get the courage to make a sweater for myself (not for the kids, no socks or whatsoever). But, my hips are definitely wider than my bust: there’s a difference of 7.5 inch between them. Which size should I use when working from a pattern? Hip size or bust size?
    With the best wishes from Germany, Simone

  12. I have been knitting for over 50 years and it has often been a satisfying if lonely pursuit. I now feel like I finally have some friends to explore this wonderful hobby with. Sandi, I love to read your columns – you feel like a friend.Your no nonsense use of terminology – I hooted out loud at you mention of “the ladies”. That’s just the way my friends would have put it. Thanks for two things – the great knitting lessons aand the feeling of having friends out there in yarn land.

  13. Sandi, this was great. I wondered what ever happened to your instructions for bust shaping (after hot tomato you were going to do major calculations for us full figured girls)? I read your site almost every day and have checked archives..did i miss it?

  14. I have had a hard time with you site. It keeps asking me to enter or join your site. I have done that, many times.

    All I wanted was to see what you were about as I am mostly a crocheter now.

    Also I wanted to download the free pattern that you showed in the Winter 2007 Interweave Crochet Magazine. It is shown on page 45.

    Thank you for your time. Judy

  15. I love doing traditional Fair Isle sweaters and also Classic fishermen’s sweaters, so reducing stitches (waist shaping)would be problematic in keeping the design accurate (easy). I “just” reduce my needle size (2 sizes) starting just below my “narrowest” point and switch back to regular needle just above that point. Find that gives just the right amount of shaping.

  16. I have a question about yesterday’s hat pattern. How many times are the lace chart pattern to be repeated? I will read the pattern closely. About shaping, I haven’t worked up the courage to actually knit a sweater. It is complicated with too much measuring. For now, I will stick to knitting scarves and blankets. A fellow knitter

  17. Thank you very much for the continued greatness of this column Sandi. I continue to learn so much and truly appreciate your encouragement and enthusiasm.

    Someone asked how to figure out how much to decrease and increase. I use Barbara Walker’s Knitting from the Top to help me with that. Her instructions are clear, concise and easy.

  18. I really like the look of the Dragon Skin Wrap that was emailed today. What’s the chance of learning how to enlarge the pattern to fit an adult? – it’s now sized for babies.

  19. Hi! This was a very helpful post! I would really like to make some sweaters for myself. Unfortunately, I am too fluffy for most of the patterns I see. It is very sad. I sure would love it if you would have some posts on how to size-up some patterns. Thanks and keep up the great work! 🙂

  20. I’m shaped like my friend Stef Maruch, who commented above, but I’ve found that adding a little negative ease around the waist zone – with a few inches of 2×2 ribbing, for instance – gives me a sweater that looks a little more finished without being constrictive or stretching out over my belly. There’s no real point in my adding bust increases, because that would just give me a loose sweater or a gaping neckline.

    But all these cute little tailored sweaters, while very pretty on the young models who wear them, just aren’t my style. I’m more of tunics-and-comfy-cardigans knitter, myself.

  21. ssayne@roadrunner.com
    I know I’m late with this because of a back surgery I had, got behind with my e-mails. However, I have read articles in the past that said you could change the size of your needles to a smaller size in the area that you wanted smaller (one or two sizes according to how much you needed to take it in at waist area) and then change back to your larger needles (the ones that you were using for your sweater to begin with, or larger if you needed more bustline room) which kept your stitch count the same and is especially important if you have an all-over design. You didn’t mention this at all and I wondered if this was not a good method to use. Thank you.