How to Work With a Knitting Pattern, Part 2: Sizing


This post is part of our series on How To Work With A Knitting Pattern. Find all other parts here:

One of the most common frustrations with knitting is spending many hours and resources on a project only to find out that it doesn’t really fit once finished. Hands up if this happened to you, too? When finished measurements just aren’t quite right, this often has to do with your gauge. But even if you carefully swatched (more on swatching here) and got the correct gauge (more on why gauge is so very important here), there are a few things worth thinking about before casting on to make sure your finished handknits fits perfectly!

To get an idea of a design’s sizing, we highly recommend taking a close look at the schematic drawing and the finished measurements you’ll find in every well-written pattern. Here are two knitting pattern schematics for you to compare; the top one is our Ice Flowers, and the bottom one is our Highlander:

Ice Flowers.png

what’s there to learn from a schematic?

A schematic drawing is meant to show you what the finished piece will look like and how it is shaped. Either as part of the schematic drawing or somewhere in close proximity, you’ll also learn about the piece’s finished measurements (given that you work at the correct gauge). The measurements will be indicated for all available sizes, eight in this case, with the first number referring to size 1 and the numbers in brackets referring to sizes 2-8, unless they’re the same for all sizes, e.g. Side Length.

What’s very important to keep in mind is that the schematic will usually indicate finished measurements, meaning it tells you what the finished garment will measure at specific points, and not what the wearer’s body measurements should be. In other words, a finished size 4 Ice Flowers pullover (top schematic) measures 116.5 cm / 45.75” circumference at the bust. Some patterns might indicate the wearer’s measurement instead, but we believe that indicating finished measurements makes a lot more sense for knitters as it enables you to really find the right size for you.

When you compare the two schematics above, you’ll see that the bottom one includes two measurements that the top one doesn’t list: Waist Circumference and Hip Circumference. Why is that? As you can see, the pullover from the top schematic has a straight body, meaning there isn’t any shaping between hem and underarm, so the circumference around the bottom part of the body is the same as indicated close to the underarm, Bust Circumference. With our pullover on the bottom schematic, the body comes with waist and hip shaping, and you’ll therefore find three circumferences for different parts of the body, Bust Circumference, Waist Circumference and Hip Circumference. So whenever a section continues straight, without any additional measurements, it’s usually safe to assume that there isn’t any shaping.

And what if the pattern you’re planning to use doesn’t include a schematic or any measurements, or it does but you’re still looking a few details? It’s always a good idea to read the entire knitting pattern before casting on, not just to find the right size, but to also get a feel for what awaits you. If you come across stitch counts in a pattern that doesn’t specify measurements, you can divide them by the gauge per cm / inch to get the finished measurement at that point. An example: the pattern states a stitch count of 120 stitches and a gauge of 24 stitches per 10 cm (so 2.4 stitches per cm), the width of the part with 120 stitches is 120 / 2.4 = 50 cm.

how do i determine what size is best for me?

Like with all pieces of clothing, handmade or store-bought, knowing your body’s measurements and your fit preferences is key. To determine what size is the right one for you, let us very briefly talk about ease. Ease describes the difference between your nude body measurements and the garment’s measurements, with positive ease meaning that the garment’s measurements are larger than your body’s, and vice versa for negative ease. Patterns will usually include ease recommendations (“recommended to be worn with 0-10 cm / 0-4” of positive ease”), but you absolutely don’t need to follow those recommendations.

The most common measurement to base the sizing on, and what the ease recommendations usually refer to, is the bust circumference. So if a pattern recommends some positive ease, that would mean picking a size that is a little larger than your actual bust circumference. But it’s most certainly a good idea to take a look at some other key measurements, too!

But first, let’s go back to your actual body measurements and fit preferences for a minute. A good place to start is taking the measurements of that favourite sweater (or hat, or whatever it is that you’re planning to make) of yours that you reach for again and again, and comparing it to your body measurements. Let’s say your bust circumference is 100 cm / 39.25” and that sweater you really love on yourself measures 115 cm / 45.25” around the bust, so you’d ideally want to go with a size that allows for approx. 15 cm / 6” of positive ease. Or your bust circumference is 112 cm / 44” and your favourite sweater measures 117 cm / 46” around the bust, so ideally you’re looking for a size that allows for approx. 5 cm / 2” of positive ease. In both cases, this would be our size 4.

Something else you can always take a look at for guidance is the amount of ease the model(s) in the photos wear(s) the sample(s) with. Take our Ice Flowers pullover for instance: Reina wears it with 4.5 cm / 1.75” of positive ease at the bust, while Myoung, who was pregnant at the time, wears the same sample with 26 cm / 10.25” of positive ease at the bust.


what if some measurements work for me, but others don’t?

So now that we have a good idea of what we’re looking for in terms of ease, we’re ready to take another look at the design’s measurements, shall we? Just like store-bought clothing, patterns for handknits are based on a set measurements for each size. That means the designer will have to develop sizing guidelines that, in a nutshell, make assumptions about what other measurements a specific bust circumference, for instance, corresponds with. There are so called sizing standards out there to help with that, but in the end, many designers use their own sizing that they carefully developped and tweaked over time. Even though a lot of time and energy goes into creating those sizing guidelines, your body measurements are actually almost never exactly what a designer assumes the wearer of specific size to be. At least not all of them. And that’s prefectly fine - once again, the more you know about your own body measurements and your fit preferences, the better you can take them into account when making your next handknit garment!

To give you an example: Our adult garments come in 8 sizes, 1-8, and we have a huge sizing spreadsheet with ALL the body measurements of 8 fictional people, let’s call them Anna 1-8. When we design a new garment, we’ll always have an idea of how much ease it’ll ideally be worn with (that’s what you’ll find in our ease recommendations). So when it’s time to finalise the new design’s finished measurements and stitch counts, our sizing spreadsheet with Anna 1-8’s measurements is what we go back to, and if we’re designing a pullover that’s recommended to be worn with 0-10 cm / 0-4” of positive ease, we’ll add 5 cm / 2” to Anna 1-8’s body measurements and voilà, we have our ideal finished measurements for the pullover. Working with our own sizing guidelines ensures that our sizing is consinstent over various patterns and allows us to take the fit that we designed a specific piece with in mind into account. In other words: It means that our size 4 is designed to be a good fit for the same person across all Sustainablist designs, given that the person chooses to wear them with roughly the amount of ease we recommend, and that the finished measurements of size 4 garments can vary quite a bit across our patterns depending on how much ease they’re designed with. And it’s just the same with store-bought clothes: a size EU 40 shirt very rarely has exactly the same measurements as another size EU 40 shirt, and that’s because the fit they’re designed to have isn’t the same.

So much for theory, now onto your next knitting project! What we recommend doing before casting on is comparing a few other key measurements from the schematic to your own body measurements and preferences. You might find that the upper arm circumference for the size you chose based on your bust circumference is less than what you find comfortable to wear, or that the waist and hip shaping a pullover is designed with doesn’t really match the fit you like on yourself. And that’s where a few options come in!

Now not all designs are easy to customise, and as a general rule of thumb, you can keep in mind that the more detailed a design and the more seams it has, the harder it’ll be to modify. Parts of a project that are typically fairly easy to customise include the lower body shaping, for instance: Unless there are, say, complicated travelling cable panels, and if you’re open to doing a tiny bit of maths, you can improve your project’s fit with relatively little effort. If the body of the design you’re using is worked in a stitch pattern that can be worked over any number of stitches, you can simply omit or add waist and hip shaping by skipping or adding decreases and increases at the sides of the body, and if the stitch pattern is worked over a set number of stitches, be it a texture, cable or colourwork repeat, just make sure that your new total number of stitches is a multiple of the repeat, too.

If the upper arm circumference is what you want to modify, raglan and drop-shoulder pullovers are your friend, designs with set-in sleeves or yokes are less easy to customise. When working a top-down raglan, for instance, you can fairly easily do fewer or more increases for the sleeve sections than the pattern specifies, given the stitch pattern allows for it, and when working a drop shoulder pullover, you can work a few rows more or less for the armhole opening and make the sleeve a little wider or narrower. Designs with a yoke or set-in sleeves are absolutely customisable, too, it’ll just require a little more time (and maths!).

Almost always easy to change are side length and sleeve length (just space the decreases or increases evenly over your preferred sleeve lenght minus cuff length, taking pattern repeats into account), and we do hope we maybe encouraged some of you to make a little more time for choosing a size with your next project! We’re working on a more in-depth thingy on customising knitwear at the moment, and if you have any questions on the matter for us, we’d love if you could share them with us!