Focus on Fit

We’re launching a series of blog posts about a topic that shouldn’t be touchy, but often is: sweater fit, or how to create garments that you love to wear because they make you feel beautiful. Good fit seems like such a positive concept, yet it can turn negative in a heartbeat. Just thinking about how your clothing fits can make you feel like you’ve undressed in front of a room full of critics, unless you love every single part of your body. If you’re that self-confident, I’d like to shake your hand in hopes that your magic will rub off on me. I tend to zoom in on my perceived flaws until they’re all I can see.

How, then, can discussions of fit emphasize the positive? Knowledge is power, people. Let’s start with some basic definitions and concepts, which I’m adapting from my favorite books on style (see the Resources section below).

  • Silhouette: the basic shape of a garment. Knitters and crocheters can see this silhouette, along with other important information, in the project schematic.
  • Fabric drape: also known as hand, drape indicates how a fabric hangs. If you’re a knitter or crocheter who checks gauge, you know about this concept already. Changing hook or needle sizes doesn’t only affect the size of your stitches; it also affects the fabric’s behavior because looser stitches drape differently from tighter stitches. Knitted or crocheted fabric can be stiff or flowing, dense or lacy, plain or textured, and so on, depending on the types of stitches and hook or needle sizes used.
  • Ease: related to drape, ease refers to how closely or loosely a garment fits on the body. Oversized sweaters have a lot of positive ease, while “sweater girl” garments rely on negative ease to highlight the wearer’s assets. In between these two extremes, clothing with standard ease is neither floppy nor tight.
    Proportion: how parts of an outfit relate to each other, often described by terms such long and short, tight and loose, or wide and narrow. Human bodies also have proportions (for instance, I’ve got short legs and a long torso, wide shoulders and narrow hips) but it’s easier to think of these proportions as a set, also known as body type.
  • Body type: not the same as body size. Think of all your proportions as they relate to each other— height in relation to width of shoulders, waist, and hips. Now imagine that set of proportions as a schematic or silhouette of you. Some fashion people use “shape” terms to name body types, such as hourglass, triangle, or rectangle; others use descriptive language, such as proportional, top-heavy, or bottom-heavy. Some writers have only three categories, while others go up to twelve. I’ll try to hit a happy medium when I discuss body types in a future installment of this series.
Deb (left) wears a too-big sweater while Laura models one that’s too small (right). Beyond the obvious problems of sizing, the silhouettes and ease of these sweaters do not flatter our body types and throw off our proportions.

Deb (left) wears a too-big sweater while Laura models one that’s too small (right). Beyond the obvious problems of sizing, the silhouettes and ease of these sweaters do not flatter our body types and throw off our proportions.

Recipes for good fit involve manipulating these elements to create the longest possible unbroken line down the body. It’s easiest to achieve this vertical line when garments skim the body without being too tight or too loose. Consider the first two photos, where Laura and I threw dignity to the wind and donned sweaters that did not fit us well because they were made for tall, thin models.

Deb’s sweater with drapey fabric and generous ease conceals her assets and throws off her proportions. Laura’s pullover looks far too small because of its negative ease and clingier fabric.

Deb’s sweater with drapey fabric and generous ease conceals her assets and throws off her proportions. Laura’s pullover looks far too small because of its negative ease and clingier fabric.

Now look at us after we swapped garments. Clothing that doesn’t cling or sag tends to be comfortable as well as attractive. We not only look better, we feel better! If that’s not positive, I don’t know what is.

Deb has magically grown a few inches compared to the previous photos: simply because the sweater is shorter, it’s in better proportion to her height. Negative ease works better on her rectangle body type. Laura is tall enough to handle the longer garment, and its A-line shape looks great on a triangle body type.

Deb has magically grown a few inches compared to the previous photos: simply because the sweater is shorter, it’s in better proportion to her height. Negative ease works better on her rectangle body type. Laura is tall enough to handle the longer garment, and its A-line shape looks great on a triangle body type.

If we were making these sweaters for ourselves, we would customize the patterns further to achieve better fit. We’ll reveal these secrets to you, passing the baton back and forth for the next five weeks:

  1. Accurate body measurements, hosted by Laura.
  2. Identifying five basic body shapes, with me.
  3. Breaking down sweater schematics, with Laura.
  4. Suitable pattern modifications for hourglass and rectangle body shapes—how I used to be an hourglass but have become a rectangle, on my way to being a circle.
  5. Suitable pattern modifications for triangle and inverted triangle shapes, with Laura.

I want to close this post with a favorite scene from a favorite show. Rick Castle and his mother Martha Rodgers are helping Alexis pick out a prom dress, and Rick worries that his mom’s criticisms of potential outfits will give Alexis body image issues.

Martha
Newsflash: She already has body image issues. It’s an intrinsic part of being a woman. Every woman in the world has some part of herself that she absolutely hates . . . . Nothing you can say can change how we feel. What men don’t understand is, the right clothes—the right shoes—the right makeup—it hides the flaws we think we have. They make us look beautiful, to ourselves. That’s what makes us look beautiful to others.

Castle
It used to be, all she needed to feel beautiful was a pink tutu and a plastic tiara.

Martha
We spend our whole lives trying to feel that way again.
—Castle, Season 1, Episode 10: “A Death in the Family”

Laura and I want you to feel that way all the time—especially when you’re wearing sweaters you’ve made!

—Deb Gerish
Editor, Love of Knitting

Resources
Amy Herzog, Knit to Flatter (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2013)
Trinny Woodall and Susanna Constantine, The Body Shape Bible (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2007)
Kendall Farr, The Pocket Stylist (Gotham Books, 2004)

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