Ease & the All-Important Bust Measurement

Did you know Interweave now publishes Love of Knitting? For beginners, we provide plenty of how-to information on yarn selection, techniques, and stitch patterns. Knitters at any level can easily follow our patterns for toys, accessories that can be made in a weekend, or garments that can be made in a month.

Here’s a sample from the Winter 2015 issue.


A Beginner’s Guide to Ease
by Carol J. Sulcoski

If your knitted garments don’t fit the way you’d like, perhaps it’s time for a refresher course in ease.

Ease is the extra wiggle room that’s built into a garment—or to put it more formally, it’s the difference between the size of an actual finished garment and the size of the body wearing it.

An example of standard ease in a knit vest. In this blog, learn how your bust measurement is important to guide your size choice.
Standard ease

Take a look at the shirt or sweater you’re wearing. Raise your arms and you’ll probably notice that there is extra fabric, particularly under the arms and along the sides, to give you room to move around. That extra fabric is the garment’s ease. Most garments contain at least a minimal amount of ease for comfort and freedom of movement. When selecting a size to make, you must consider not only your actual body measurements, but also how much ease you’d like to build into the garment.

Let’s look at a concrete example: a knitter whose actual bust measurement is 40 inches. Now look at the sweater patterns in this issue. You’ll see a box titled “Finished Measurements” in each pattern. Don’t automatically assume you should make the size that’s closest to 40 inches—you may end up with a sweater that doesn’t fit the way you thought it would. You must start with your actual bust measurement, but modify it by adding or subtracting the amount of ease you’d like.

The standard amount of ease built into a sweater is two to four inches. A standard amount of ease means that sweater will have a classic fit, neither too loose and floppy, nor tightly clinging. If you’re looking for this type of fit, you will begin with your actual bust measurement (40 inches) then add another two to four inches for ease. That means you should select the pattern size that has a finished measurement of between 42 and 44 inches.

An example of positive ease in a knit pullover. In this blog, learn how your bust measurement is important to guide your size choice.
Positive ease

Sometimes sweaters are meant to be worn with more than the standard amount of ease. A sweater intended to be oversized and very drapey, say a kimono top or a sweater inspired by 1980s silhouettes, might require a greater amount of ease—6 inches, say, instead of the usual 2 to 4 inches.

An example of negative ease in a knit pullover. In this blog, learn how your bust measurement is important to guide your size choice.
Negative ease

Alternatively, a top may be styled to hug your curves, fitting closely to your body (perhaps evoking a 1940s sweater girl sensibility). In that case, you’d select a size that is exactly equal to your body measurement (adding zero ease) or even an inch or two smaller than your actual bust size (subtracting an inch or two for “negative ease”).

If you aren’t sure how much ease you prefer, try measuring several sweaters that fit you well, and compare the bust circumference of each garment with your actual bust measurement. You may find that you tend to favor a particular amount of ease. Use your newfound knowledge to help you pick the perfect size sweater for your next project!

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Fitting & Measuring, Love of Knitting

9 thoughts on “Ease & the All-Important Bust Measurement

  1. HI and thank you for an informative article on “ease.” I do have a question regarding when to make adjustments to ease. For example, in a garment with designed positive ease, do I just follow the design or still add inches to make for positive ease. Seems to me I will have a very big giant garment at the end of it all. What if I only want to add ease around the bust line or hip? How do I do that without ruining the style of the garment? Thank you very much for considering my question (or two).

    Best regards, Ragathnor

    1. Ragathnor, if the pattern was written to include positive ease, just follow it. The designer did all the math for you already! Love of Knitting patterns now indicate the size of the sample we photographed and how much ease it involved on that particular model. (Yes, models are used to telling the world their bust measurements.)

      If you’re talking about resizing rather than re-easing, that’s a related but different situation. Our Fall 2016 issue of KnitScene has a story on Amy Herzog’s latest book, called You Can Knit That. I highly recommend any of Amy’s books for modifications that show off our best assets.

  2. I knit the most beautiful purple Einstein coat based on the pattern by Sally Melville, and the buttons are a beautiful abalone shell type. I used a back button for stability as I used a mohair blend (Lion Brand Moonlight Mohair). That said, I don’t like the appearance of the back button on the top buttons when the sides are folded back. Is there any guide I could consult for the best way to put buttons on a knitted garment? I’ve got another sweater finished except for the buttons, and haven’t put the buttons on as I’m not confident I know how.

    1. Mysticcowgirl, button methods will change depending on the garment’s needs–as you discovered on your coat, stability is sometimes desirable. There’s a good discussion of basic methods in Judith Swartz’s Hip to Knit: http://www.interweavestore.com/hip-to-knit-ebook

      I share your pain over stabilizing back buttons. My new favorite method with heavy buttons involves grosgrain ribbon: I machine-sew a ribbon in a matching or contrasting color to the wrong side of the button band, then sew buttons on the right side. While the ribbon is visible, it’s continuous and I’m starting to use it as a design element.

  3. Thank you for reposting this article on Knitting Daily. The explanation of all types of ease is particularly clear and straightforward. Although I thought I “knew”about ease, this article has given me some clearer insights and guidelines.

  4. You picked a really bad example for negative ease. As a matter of fact, the yellow sweater has positive ease, just like the previous one. A sweater with negative ease would be very close-fitting, some would say “tight.”

  5. The yellow sweater pictured above does, in fact, have negative ease, but only at the bust. Its A-line shape doesn’t cling to the model’s waist. Nor were the sleeves intended to be tight fitting–they don’t taper much at all.

    You’re right that the picture doesn’t show this negative ease very well, for which I apologize. A different view might have made it more apparent.

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