Plus Sizes and Gauge, Shape, and Sizing

I've been working on the Eyelet Corset Pullover from Knitscene Fall 2009, and wanted to talk about gauge, sizing, and construction a little bit, especially as they relate to plus-sized knitters.

This sweater is worked in an unusual yarn–a wool/nylon woven tape that creates a papery, sculptural fabric. Loop-d-Loop Fern goes a long way on big needles–I'm making this sweater on size 15s. Some designers don't recommend chunky and/or bulky yarns for plus-sized knitters. I agree in some cases, but I also think some women can pull off a big gauge. If you have a funky, dramatic personal style, big stitches on your curves can really fit your look. If the garment is shaped just right, with design elements in the right places, a chunky fabric shouldn't be any less flattering than a fine gauge. Look for yarns that have drape and give–this yarn is an airy tape, for instance. But a bulky roving yarn will obscure your shape and add bulk. Work chunky and bulky yarns in body-skimming knits, so there's no pooling or excess fabric in unwanted places. Cables are probably not a good idea, but stockinette and simple lace look really cool at this gauge.

The model in Knitscene wore this sweater with zero ease; the garment measured the same as her bust circumference. I would actually recommend 1 to 2 inches of negative ease, so the bodice can really hug your top portion. Even if you're plus-sized, negative ease can be a good thing.

As I mentioned last time, the juxtaposition of increases at the bodice (the yarnovers) and central decreases at the waist creates a kind of pocket of excess fabric across the bust. This makes the sweater ideal for curvy women who need a little more room, and a little more definition, at the bustline. These photos show the sample sweater laid flat, and then with the pouch pointing up.

Plus-Size Accommodations in the Pattern
The first three sizes, including the sample shown in size 32", feature modified drop shoulder construction. At the underarm, there is a straight span of stitches to bridge the front and back, but there is no further armhole shaping. For size 41 1/2" and up, there is armhole shaping, creating a kind of set-in sleeve construction. Why do this?

For plus-sized women, the width needed at the bustline is very different from the width needed across the shoulders (i.e., you need more width at the bust, less across the shoulders). However, in a drop shoulder sweater, the width across the shoulders is not much different than the width across the bust, since there is little to no armhole shaping to narrow the upper body. For smaller-busted women, this usually works out, as the difference in their relevant measurements is not great.

So to make this pattern successful for larger women, the larger sizes feature armhole shaping for gradual tapering from underarm to shoulder. The bust will fit you, but the shoulders won't be too wide. The upper body fabric won't hang down the upper arm like a sweatshirt.

Make your own!
I'm making the size 41 1/2" for myself. Here's the back of my Eyelet Corset Pullover.

I've rearranged the waist shaping from the original, customizing the fit for my body. You'll see I worked the decreases, below the underarm (this piece is worked top-down) in quick succession, then only worked a couple rows at the narrowest span, then gradually increased again for the hips. This creates a higher waist and more of a pear shape, which works for me. Likewise on the front, I'm shifting the waist shaping up a bit, and working fewer rows at the narrowest span.

How do you choose a size for yourself? Choose a size with 1 to 2 inches of negative ease at the bust, waist, and hip. With this is mind, the sizes in the pattern–32 (35, 38, 41 1/2, 44 1/2, 47 1/2, 50 1/2)" bust–should fit women with actual bust measurements of 33-34 (36-37, 39-40, 421/2-431/2, 451/2-461/2, 481/2-491/2, 511/2-521/2)". Don't slack off here; measure yourself. Don't blame your knitting or your plus-sized build if something doesn't fit or look good on you–you've got to take the time to make your knitting work for you!

What if one size fits you at the bust, but not the other places? Choose the size that's right for your bust, then use side shaping to customize the lower body for yourself, as I've done. At three stitches to the inch, an increase or decrease of two stitches makes a big difference, so work your shaping either quickly or gradually, depending on how drastically your body changes shape from one spot to the next.

I think I may finish my Eyelet Corset Pullover in time for next Tuesday's blog post…check in then!

Let's knit for us,


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About LisaShroyer

Lisa Shroyer is Content Strategist for the Knitting group at F+W. She is the former editor of knitscene and Interweave Knits magazines.

4 thoughts on “Plus Sizes and Gauge, Shape, and Sizing

  1. I think its wonderful that you’re posting more about the ways you alter and tweak things to fit you. So much of the fashion world is concentrated on styles and ideas for very thin women, and the additional posts and garments for more amply sized women are greatly needed and much appreciated. Keep up the good work, and please make your posts more often than once a week!

  2. Hooray, plus size posts! I get really intimidated by altering patterns – and it’s pretty much a necessity for me, since there are usually only one or two patterns per magazine in my 53″ bust size. Thanks for helping out us big girls!

  3. I really appreciate the ideas of how and where to work bulky knits for larger sizes. Every rule has its way it can be “broken” and it’s great to get this specific info! It’ll lead to much more successful and flattering knits for me – thank you!

    ~ hb33 ~

  4. I’ld love to see other bulky yarns that would work for this pattern. I’m a 48″ chest and I’m learning to show off my curves. I also LOVE to knit with chunky yarns–usually bags or gifts for others. Please show me more on how I can combine my lust for yarns that knit to a bigger gauge to emphasize my full figure!