Waist Shaping: Choose Your Curves

In the last post, we worked out the math to get us from hem to hip on a pullover worked in the round from the bottom up.

Now that we are ready to actually dive into the waist shaping, there is a decision to be made: subtle shaping or curvy shaping?

Gentle curves: Dovetail Pullover (Spring 2008)

Remember, you are in control of the shaping, and there is no rule that says you have to do dramatic decreases that give you a totally hourglass attitude when all you want is a bit of a nipping in at the waist. You can decide how much shaping you prefer in a given garment. Too much waist shaping, and you're going to show e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g you've got—not good, not unless you are Beyonce. Too little waist shaping, and we're back to the box again. In general, if you have a rectangular figure (thick or thin), you'll want to go for the gentle waist curves; if you have any amount of hourglass tendencies, play them up a bit more with more pronounced curves.

Subtle shaping

Here, I thought we could turn to one of the experts in sweater construction and design, Ann Budd. In her book Knitter's Handy Book of Sweater Patterns, Ann has the following instructions for gentle waist shaping:

Sometimes a little shaping at the waist is all that's needed to turn a casual boxy sweater into a sleek and slimming dressy sweater. Waist shaping allows you to custom-fit a sweater to a bottom-heavy or top-heavy figure. If the wearer's hips are broader than her bust (or his chest), you may want to have more stitches at the hips, decrease for the waist, then increase fewer stitches than were decreased to reach the bust circumference. Conversely, if the wearer's bust is larger than her hips, you may want to increase extra stitches above the waist.

Decreases and increases should be evenly spaces to make a gentle curve inward followed by a gentle curve outward. Typically, the narrowest circumference is maintained for about an inch between the last decrease and the first increase.

The easiest way to draw in the waist is to work a series of decreases at the side seams of the front(s) and back of a sweater. For balance, work on decrease at the beginning of the row and one at the end of the row—there will be a total of 2 stitches decreased. *Work even until the piece measures 1" from the decrease, then repeat the decrease row. Repeat from * until the number of stitches decreases at each side represents about an inch in width (i.e., total width of back is 2" narrower). *Work even for about an inch, then increase one stitch at the beginning of the row and one at the end of the row; there will be a total of 2 stitches increases. Repeat from * until you have the same number of stitches you began with (before the first decrease).

Excerpted with permission from Knitter's Handy Book of Sweater Patterns by Ann Budd. Thanks Ann! And please note that while our warehouse is out of stock until mid-April on this popular book, you can still purchase it at your local yarn shop.


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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15 thoughts on “Waist Shaping: Choose Your Curves

  1. Sandi, thank you so much for these extremely helpful posts! I have a suggestion for a future post. I’ve noticed a large number of patterns with empire waists (I want to try the Eyelet Chemise and the Lotus Tank), and if you look on Ravelry, there’s a large variation in where that empire waist actually ends up on people. Any chance you’d do a tutorial on how to determine the place in your knitting so that the empire waist will fall where you want it to – right below the bust? Thanks again!

  2. I am wondering, is it always best to decrease and increase on the right side (public side) of the garment?

    How about if the row gauge is ample? Lets say 3 rows per inch. Would it be better to use wrong side rows so that the decreases are still 1 inch apart?

  3. To Felicity, I’ve found that with empire waists, it’s important to know the length from your shoulder to where your bust ends. I made the lotus tank and made sure the lace ended at the right spot by figuring out the length from the neckline to underbust and added a couple of rows so that it fit me. I also think it would have benefitted from bust darts for an even better fit but haven’t gotten up the nerve to frog it all and do it again so I just wear it loose.

  4. I’m excited by all of this. While I have yet to actually KNIT a whole sweater, I’m soaking everything up in preparation! Excitement builds. Jennifer

  5. Yes, this is all very helpful and exciting. Now I may be able to do waist shaping! Also, I think I need to purchasee Ann Budd’s book mentioned above.

    Thanks, Sandi! Keep up the good work!

  6. Thanks Laura 🙂

    You’re right – I had been thinking that it had to be some combination of shoulder-to-underbust length and perhaps a little negative ease (and/or bust darts). But how to find the right balance?

  7. Hi Laura and Felicity, —– my dressmaker experience has taught me that decreases and increases for average-to-full curves can benefit from two moderate areas of shaping, not from just one. So, yeah, Felicity, you might need the darts, and you are sooo right to be aware of the balance needed. SO, put on a T-shirt that fits the way you want the sweater to over the bust, (yeah, negative ease?) and see if it needs side bust darts achieved by short rows, or underbust darts or maybe just some soft fullness that can be eased in with a few K2togs that disappear in the eye of the viewer.
    This isn’t going to be definitive, but you can get an idea of the balance of shaping that you need.
    Good Luck!

  8. What about boobs?

    I have them, and I don’t just want to increase all around (Both of mine are in the front, you see)

    What tips do you have for “Frontal” shaping???

  9. Thank you Sandi! This is definitely the year I’m trying to knit fearlessly. I frogged my first sweater… which was large enough for two of me (and I’m pretty big) and I’m ready to start on another sweater…Tubey from Knitty- BUT! I’m reading what you’ve said and what people on Ravelry have said about it and I’m making it to fit the smaller top part of me as well as the bigger bottom part of me. Without all this great advice and giving me the math I need, I don’t think I could do it. I’m also starting on my first lace project: a lace and beaded shawl. Thank you for giving me the courage to face my knitting fears and then to overcome them! You’re awesome and if all these wonderful directions become a book, I’m buying it as well.

  10. I’m finding these posts wonderful as well. I have yet to make my first sweater, but I’m feeling a bit better armed for when I do; I’m beginning to understand the why behind the way things work in sweaterland.

    Big apologies for this, but although I searched the archives, I either missed it, or there was no archived item for the poetry contest. Does receiving this

    The Knitting Daily poetry contest will close at 5 p.m. MT on Monday, March 17. Please get your entries in and thanks for your interest!


    The Knitting Daily team

    mean that your entry was received, or does it mean you put in too many extraneous comments into the body of the email and need to resubmit? :

    (I tend to be an extraneous typist…sigh)

  11. Whoops. Had I been thinking (bit hard after getting up before 5 a.m. to take my son to the airport, sorry) I would have used Contact Us to ask that last question (where’s a blushing emoty when you need it?!?!).

    Apols, and we now return you to your regularly scheduled waist shaping comments…

  12. This conversation solves my dilema of not wanting to knit a sweater for fear of it looking boxy. Being a “newbie” it didn’t occur to me you could shape it. I’m going to “fearlessly” knit MYSELF a sweater this year!

  13. Sweeping gentle curves are wonderful if you are properly proportioned, but I am long-waisted, (thanks for clearing up the confusion about that definition), so the distance between my underbust and my waist is long and the distance from my waist to my hips is relatively short. Its all well and good to recommend spacing shaping proportionally above an below the waist – not to mention convenient for doing the math – but by the time I get two, sometimes three if I am lucky, decreases from the hips to the waist its time to start increasing again so that I end up with hardly any shaping. How do you suggest creating a disproportionate curve for the waist-shaping that doesn’t look like its disproportionate? (BTW – I tried the obvious by spacing the hip to waist decreases closer together, but ended up giving the sweater a goofy triangle shape from the waist down.

  14. To Jennifer G: I have the same problem sometimes. For extra waist decreases I add some princess line decreases as well as the seamline decreases. Hopefully Sandi will address where best to put princess decreases, but I just tend to eyeball it.