Close up on a blue cardigan with set-in sleeves, draped on a dress form.

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Understanding Ease in Handknit Garments

When we talk about ‘suggested ease’ in a sweater pattern, we’re usually referring to the chest circumference. But there are other fit points where ease is important. In this post I’ll cover what ease is and how to determine the right amount of ease at various fit points.

I’ve already covered how to take your key measurment in another post, so I’ll summarize briefly here. Sweaters are typically sized according to their finished chest circumference. If you are a person with breasts, I suggest choosing your size based on your upper chest circumference, measured above your bust and just below your armpits. The reason for this is that the key fit points at the shoulder and neck are determined in relationship to this measurement. Some designers suggest choosing your size based on the upper chest + 2 inches, the reason being that most industry size charts are based on a 2-inch difference between upper chest and full bust, or a B cup (this is starting to change, however). Either way, using your upper chest measurement will give you the best starting point for choosing your size.

Defining Ease

Now, when you compare your meaurement(s) to the pattern schematic, this is where ease comes in. Ease is simply defined as the difference between your body measurement and the finished garment measurement. Positive ease is when the finished garment measurement is larger than the body measurement (for example, the Composure Cardigan shown below right), and negative ease is when the finished garment measurement is smaller than the body measurement at that point (the Tilework Cardigan shown below left).

There are two types of ease: wearing ease and design ease. Wearing ease is the amount of ease you need to move comfortably in a garment, and this varies at different points on the body. Design ease is the additional ease added to the garment for style reasons.

Ease at Other Fit Points

As I said above, you need different amounts of ease at different points in the body, for comfort reasons. The needed ease will depend on the sweater construction and intended fit. Here are some additional fit points you’ll want to consider:

  • Hip – If you are wearing a classic fitted sweater that you want to stay anchored when you lift your arms, you’ll want anywhere from 2 inches (5 cm) of negative ease to 1 inch (2.5 cm) of positive ease. If you’re wearing an A-line sweater or one with generous ease overall, you can have any amount of positive ease.
  • Waist – You’ll want a good amount of positive ease – at least 3 inches (7.5 cm) – at the waist, so you don’t feel constricted.
  • Upper arm/ Bicep – You’ll need at least 1 inch (2.5 cm) positive ease for comfortable movement. Drop shoulder and raglan sweaters will have more ease than a set-in sleeve sweater, unless it’s a very boxy drop shoulder with a lot of positive ease (10+ inches or 25+ cm) in the chest.

Ease in Accessories

Certain accessories, such as socks and hats, can benefit from a small amount of negative ease. A finished measurement of around 10% less than the foot circumference helps socks to stay put and not bunch up when worn. For hats, the brim should have around 10-15% negative ease. Woolly Wormhead has a a great guide to fitting hats.

I hope this clears up any confusion you may have had about ease in knitted garments. Drop a comment below if you have other questions about ease, and I’ll try to answer them in another post.

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