Sweater sizing is a topic that has come up again recently on social media, and I thought it would be a good time to address the way I recommend choosing your sweater size for my designs. Generally in my sweater designs I recommend choosing the size with a certain amount of ease in the upper chest – this is measured around your chest just under the armpits and above the bust (if you have one). Because the armhole and shoulders of a sweater are the most difficult to alter, you want to choose a size that will fit best in that area and make any needed alterations elsewhere. And, since people with the same shoulder size will vary in the size of their full bust, it makes sense to fit the shoulder area according to the upper chest measurement.*
Now, you’re probably wondering how this will work if you, like me, have a small frame and a large bust. My measurements are as follows: upper chest – 34, underbust (this is the measurement generally taken for a bra band) – 30, full bust – 38. In the photo at the top of this post, I am wearing the Composure Cardigan in the 40 inch/ 113 cm size , which gives me 6 inches of positive ease in the upper chest, and just 2 inches of ease in the full bust. This gives me a nice relaxed, slightly oversized fit.
As a rule of thumb, the size you choose can have up to around 2 inches/ 5cm of negative ease in the full bust – knitted fabric will stretch to accommodate it without making any adjustments in the length or width of the fabric. With the oversized styles that are currently popular, most people will have enough room to fit their full bust. If you’re working with a more fitted style, you may need to add bust darts to get the best fit.
There are a couple of other measurements you can use to help choose your size. One is the cross-back measurement, which on a drop-shoulder sweater like the Composure Cardigan or the Suora Tee, is simply half the chest circumference minus any stitches bound off at the underarm (for a modified drop-shoulder). This is measurement C on the example schematic above. You can measure across your shoulders where you want the shoulder seam to fall, and compare that to the measurements given on the pattern schematic. It’s also a good idea to check the neck width on your pattern to make sure it’s a comfortable width for the size you’re considering.
If you are working with a pattern that specifies ease in the full bust, or you’re not sure which it specifies, a good trick is to take your upper chest measurement plus 2 inches/ 5 cm. That’s because ‘average’ sizing in the women’s clothing industry has generally been based on a 2-inch difference between the upper chest and the full bust, or about a B-cup. In the example above, I would choose my size based on a 36 inch bust, so if I wanted 4-6 inches of ease for a relaxed fit, I would again choose the 40 inch size.
I hope this answers some questions you may have about choosing a size. Drop your other questions about sizing in the comments, and maybe I’ll answer them in a future post.
**Amy Herzog has some great resources on this topic. Here is a tutorial she wrote on choosing a size for her patterns: https://amyherzogdesigns.com/tutorials/choosing-a-size-set-in-sleeve/.
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This past weekend I had a chance to listen to a panel on ‘Sustainability in the Crafting Community’ during the virtual NY Sheep and Wool Festival. The panel was presented by Merritt Bookstore and included Kathy Hattori, Clara Parkes, Sonya Philip, Katrina Rodabaugh, Adrienne Rodriguez, Hannah Thiessen, and Kristine Vejar. A wide range of approaches was discussed, and I thought this would be a good time to reflect further on my thoughts around this topic, which is one of my core values as a crafter and business owner.
Topics on the panel ranged from mending to mindful use of materials to thrifting and natural dyeing. Here are some ways I personally try to be more sustainable in both my crafting and my design work:
- Being mindful about what I make and how much material I purchase and use. I love to make (and design) sweaters, but honestly I’m not sure how many sweaters I personally need right now. So maybe this year I will make other things that I need or that I can gift. I also don’t stash a lot of yarn, and I try to buy a project quantity of yarn so that I don’t have all those odd single skeins no one knows what to do with. I generally have at least an idea whether I might actually make socks with that yarn I’m eyeing or whether I will need a sweater or shawl quantity, and I purchase accordingly.
- Designing and knitting things I will wear for a long time. This means being less trendy and more timeless in my style choices, and choosing details and finishing techniques that will help a garment to wear well. For me it also often means knitting with finer yarn on smaller needles. Not everyone enjoys knitting sweaters with fingering weight yarn on US #3 needles, but it has the added benefits of giving me more hours of knitting enjoyment per project and is often more economical as well, since finer yarns contain more yardage per skein.
- Using (mostly) good quality, natural fiber materials. This is probably one of the first aspects most people think about when they think about sustainability. Not only do these materials last a long time, but when they’ve reached the end of their life they can be more easily broken down. That doesn’t mean I never use sock yarn that contains nylon, or superwash yarn for a gift meant for someone who throws everything in the wash. (My sister-in-law is notorious for shrinking sweaters.) And I won’t judge you for using acrylic yarn if it’s what you’re going to wear for a long time. If there was one main takeaway from the panel, it’s that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to sustainability. It’s about making mindful choices. I personally happen to love wool and linen especially, so that is what I use.
- Using local and breed-specific yarn. This is something I am really passionate about – there is an astonishing variety of wool textures and natural colors available if you look beyond large scale commercial processors, and as a designer it keeps me endlessly inspired. I can find some really nice yarn from farms that are local to me, and buying yarn from different sheep breeds helps keep those breeds from dying out, maintaining genetic diversity. It also means I can find wools that are suited to a variety of purposes! There are definitely supply chain issues with producing these yarns affordably, as was discussed in the panel, and and I encourage you to read Clara Parkes’ book Vanishing Fleece to learn more. It can be a challenge to design with yarns that aren’t widely distributed and may vary from year to year, but despite these issues I am hoping to design more with local yarns in the near future.
What are your favorite tips for being more sustainable with your crafting?
My latest design, the Composure Cardigan, is now available on Ravelry and Etsy. Sweaters are, of course, my favorite thing to knit, and this one lived in my head for several years until I figured out how to make it just right.
My first knitting project that I can remember was an (unfinished) doll sweater, and when I first picked up knitting again after a 20-ish year hiatus, sweaters were what I wanted to knit. I still have a picture in my scrapbook of a RTW advertisement that had the perfect cozy sweater: all-over texture, an easy fit, and that perfect shade of oatmeal gray. The sweater that will go with everything. I wanted to create my own version of that sweater. And so the Composure Cardigan was born.
Composure features a relaxed, drop shoulder fit and a slight A-line shape. The shoulders are shaped with short rows mainly at the back, so that the neckline fits close to keep the sweater on your shoulders, and the front hem angles slightly upward for an easy, flattering shape. It’s sized to fit up to a 61-inch chest circumference with approximately 4-6 inches of positive ease. Here I’m modeling the size 40 1/2; my upper chest is 34 inches and my full bust is 38 inches.
For this sweater I’ve used Echoview Fiber Mill’s Ranger DK in the colorway Chickadee, which has exactly the heathered gray look I was going for. I think it would look equally stunning in Bunting Blue (faded denim anyone?) or a soft shade like Cedar Waxwing or Robin’s Egg. The 10% Rambouillet gives this yarn a lot of bounce and it has a lofty, almost cotton-like feel in the hands.
I hope you enjoy knitting and wearing this design as much as I have, and please share your finished sweaters on social media (#ComposureCardigan).
My newest pattern is now available on Ravelry. It was inspired by a technique for knitting a heel-less sock that first appeared in the 1938 edition of Mary Thomas’ Knitting Book. It involves knitting a staggered 3×3 rib, such that the fabric biases to form a helical structure. While knitting up my new socks it occurred to me that this would also be a great technique for a cowl – it would stretch to fit over the head but then twist up for a cozy close fit around the neck. And so the Helical Cowl was born. Unstretched, the cowl measures about 17″, but it stretches to around 28″, so one size can really fit nearly anybody! Being a ribbed structure, the cowl is also completely reversible, and is perfect for tucking in your bag or pocket for those chilly spring or fall mornings!