Understanding Ease

Being a larger gal who's also quite short (5' 2"), I have to make adjustments to almost every sweater I knit. While the main tool in making those adjustments is the ever-important gauge swatch, there are lots of other little things that I pay attention to as well.

Emmanuelle Pullover by Mercedes Tarasovich-Clark. This sweater is designed to have positive ease. Mercedes thought out the design carefully so that it's loose-fitting, but not too big.

Ease is one of those "little things," and it was an elusive concept when I started knitting.

What is ease, exactly? Well, it's the extra width that allows free movement in a garment, and understanding how it works can be key to making a sweater that fits.

One thing about ease that I learned the hard way was to pay attention to the garment measurements in the pattern. Some sweaters are designed with what's known as negative ease, which sounds counter-intuitive, but it simply means the garment is supposed to stretch to be slightly (or totally!) form-fitting. So the finished piece will actually be smaller than your measurements. But it's supposed to be that way!

Many patterns list just the finished measurements of the actual sweater, but I love it when designers list the ease, too. This is the measurement listing for a sweater I knit a couple of years ago:

Sizes: To fit bust 32(36-40-44-48-52)"
Finished measurements: Bust—36.5(40-44.5-48-52.5-56)"

From reading these measurements and looking at the schematic for the pattern, I knew I could make the size 48 to fit my 50-inch bust. I would not normally ever make a size 48 without carefully studying the pattern and yarn choice to make sure the finished sweater would stretch appropriately (no gapping or over-stretched fabric) to fit my actual body. By showing the finished measurements right up front with the "to fit" sizes, I could tell at a glance that this sweater had quite a bit of ease built into the design, so I was okay knitting the pattern as written (for the most part).

The schematic for the Emmanuelle Pullover     

Now, don't panic. Even though most designers include only the finished garment measurements in that upfront info (the section that includes materials, gauge, etc.), you can look at the schematic and figure out how much ease you'll want by comparing the finished measurements with your own measurements.

Here are general guidelines for ease allowance: For a 32-inch bust: 34-inch standard ease; 36-inch roomy ease; 33-inch tight ease; and 30-inch form fitting (or negative ease). So, you'd take your bust measurement and add 2 inches for standard ease, 4 inches for roomy ease, 1 inch for tight ease, and subtract 2inches for form-fitting ease.

The Emmanuelle Pullover would be considered roomy, I think. That model has got to be about a size 34- to 35-inch bust, and the pattern says that the sweater shown is a 38-inch bust. So, you can see that this sweater is designed to be roomy. You should choose a size 2- to 3 inches larger than your bust size.

Keep these guidelines in mind when you're looking at the finished measurements for sweaters you want to knit; they'll really help you evaluate how a garment will fit.

And don't be afraid of knitting sweaters with negative ease! I try to knit my sweaters the same finished size as my bust or 1 or 2 inches larger than my bust. I've learned that wearing clothes that are too big doesn't hide anything, it accentuates it! Especially when you're vertically challenged, like I am.

One of my favorite moments was when I had my friends try on a bunch of Interweave sample sweaters, most of which were size 35 bust. Almost none of the ladies thought the sweaters would fit them, but when they tried them on, they were pleasantly surprised. The quote of the day was, "I think I've been knitting my sweaters too big!"

Understanding ease is just one of the elements that help you knit sweaters that fit. To learn more about knitting sweaters that fit perfectly, download Kate Atherley's web seminar, Knitting Designs with Custom Fit. Kate will show you how to study a pattern before you start knitting; explain the concepts of ease, fit, and styling; teach you how to measure yourself properly; and provide lots of tips for easy alterations to make your garment fit perfectly.


P.S. Have you knit a sweater with negative ease? Were you scared it wouldn't fit? Leave a comment and share your story!

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