How to Choose a Size for a Backless Tee

Last week, Lisa talked about how to choose a size in an open-front cardigan. In that post, Lisa points out that for garments such as these, your back width (also known as the cross-back) measurement is the most important.

But what to do we do when designers go a little crazy (hey, I’m including myself in this category) and design pullover knitting patterns that don’t have a structured back? This garment construction is becoming a bit of a trend. The Spring/Summer issue of knit.purl featured Sachiko Burgin’s Open Back Bias Tank—and both Hannah and Louisa are knitting their own versions right now. I included two “backless” garments in Knitscene Summer 2015—my Green Apple Tank, and Beatrice Perron Dahlen’s Tisbury Pullover.

palmer 2 Perron Dahlen pullover 2

In my tank, the wearer’s back is covered, but not in an incredibly substantial way. Two “wings,” as I kept calling them while knitting the sample, cross over and form the back, making this tank fairly easy for anyone to wear without worrying about bra-style preferences. But this doesn’t help anyone choose what size to make! This sample was knit in the 16¾” size, and modeled on a woman with a 34½” bust. But technically, I can fit into this sample, and I’m about a 47″ bust.

This is the crux of the sizing question in backless garments. When I was grading the pattern sizes, I was basing them on a finished bust circumference, but that was just an ideal set of circumstances, based on how I would wear it. Your fit preferences may vary.

The best way to choose a size for a backless garment such as Green Apple is to measure your front bust first. It’s not quite enough to take your full bust measurement and divide it by half—you need a little more coverage up front, especially for those well-endowed ladies. Once you know what your front bust measurement is, determine which size in the pattern is closest to your measurement. I tried to design Green Apple to have a bit more coverage across the front shoulders and bust, so if your closest measurement is slightly smaller than your front bust measurement for a bit of negative ease, you should still be okay. When I have a chance to knit my own sample, I’m planning to make the 21¾” size, which will fit nicely in the bust and still flow prettily into the rest of the body.

twist - Palmer tank

For a sweater such as the Tisbury Pullover, the same principles apply. In these photos, the sweater was modeled with a bit of positive ease, allowing the fabric to drape beautifully.

As always, regardless of the sweater construction, be sure to check the schematics. You still need your knitted sweater to fit your shoulders, and can start to make more informed decisions about choosing the size with the more information you have.

The real trick to backless sweaters is deciding how to wear them! We’ll be back with a post on styling ideas soon. In the meantime, let us know how you’d style such a sweater in the comments below!

Happy knitting,


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