Knitter’s Guide to Fit: Sleeveless Garments

Summertime = tank tops! Get the fit you want with Carol Sulcoski’s tips on sleeveless garments. Originally published in Love of Knitting, Summer 2016.

Warm weather inspires us to cast on a whole new category of garments: tanks, shells, and other sleeveless designs. Sleeveless garments are fast to knit and require less yarn than sleeved sweaters—two big advantages—but they can be tricky to fit.

This garment, knit in the round from the bottom up, uses increases and decreases for waist and armhole shaping. This top could be made with standard ease to fit over layers or with negative ease to fit snugly on its own. Wide edgings draw in the armholes for a close fit around underarms and bust. Canyon Lace Tank by Kristen TenDyke, Love of Knitting Spring 2016.

The most basic type of sleeveless garment can be constructed from two knitted squares. Seam shoulders and sides up to the base of the armhole and you’ve got a super-easy shell. Although the simplicity of this design appeals, remember that sweaters made from squares or rectangles will have a boxy fit. Humans are not shaped like squares but have curves, nipping in at the waist and sloping down along the shoulder line. A shell without shaping will have extra fabric that hides the body’s natural lines, often looking oversized and casual, maybe even a bit sloppy. Men and children generally find that extra fabric comfortable and don’t mind the loose fit. But women who want to make the most of their assets will prefer some shaping in their sleeveless tops.

Armhole shaping is the easiest way to neaten a sleeveless garment’s fit. The process is similar to knitting a sweater with set-in sleeves: bind off a few stitches at each underarm, then work decreases at each underarm side as you continue up the front and back. Keep in mind that you will not be sewing sleeves into the armhole, and this means you’ll need to work an edging around the armhole to give it a finished look. When you add the edging, the armhole opening will decrease in length; how much it will decrease depends on how thick the edging is and how tightly it is worked. Figure this out before you work your armholes, and make sure you allow enough extra length and width in the garment. Conversely, if you make the armholes too long or wide, you can fudge the fit with your edging: pick up more stitches, make a wider edging, or bind off more tightly than usual.

The schematic here shows armhole shaping but no waist shaping. If you want a more fitted waist, use increases and decreases in the stockinette panels next to the side seams. Lazy Daisy Tank by Ellen Liguori, Love of Knitting Spring 2016.

Another key factor to consider when deciding on garment size is ease. The more ease in a sweater, the looser it will fit. Decrease the amount of ease and you’ll get a more form-fitting top. How much ease to build in depends in part on the wearer’s preference, but you should also think about how she plans to wear the sleeveless top. For a layering piece over a tank or camisole, you can opt for more ease and a looser fit without exposing too much skin. A top worn on its own should have less ease and a closer fit. (See “A Beginner’s Guide to Ease,” Love of Knitting, Winter 2015 for more information.)

This tank, knit in the round from the top down, uses increases to shape armholes in the stockinette portion. Waist shaping happens in the eyelet portion, so it uses smaller and larger needle sizes, rather than increases and decreases that would change the stitch count. Choose a size with standard ease built in to layer this top over a tank or camisole—with negative ease, this tank will bunch up over any garment that covers the torso. Eyelet Tank by Kristen TenDyke, Love of Knitting Spring 2016.

Finally, don’t forget the waist! Waist shaping is easy to do and can greatly improve the fit of a finished garment, especially one worn close to the skin. Nip in an inch or two at each side of the natural waistline and you’ll create a silhouette that matches the body’s natural curves, instead of a boxy straight line. Waist shaping can be as easy as switching to needles one or two sizes smaller when working the area around the natural waist; you can also make a set of decreases from the hips to the waist, then increases from the waist to the bust, to create an hourglass-inspired line. Adjust the waist shaping to reflect the individual curves of the wearer’s body for a neater, more flattering fit.

Our header image is the Red Clay Top by Joan Forgione from knitscene Spring 2017.

Read more “Knitter’s Guide to Fit” articles from Love of Knitting


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