SWEATERS THAT Fit & Flatter: PART 2: Sizing, Silhouette & Body Type.
Choosing a Sweater Size
Let's face it: commercial sizing schemes for women's clothing don't offer a lot of information, so they aren't helpful for much of anything. How can any woman understand her size with a single number? What if her bust is a size 6, her waist a size 10, and her hips a size 8? What do those numbers even mean? And why do men get to buy ready-made clothing according to inseam length, waist circumference, and chest circumference when they don't even have to worry about the size and shape of their breasts? The bust and hip areas change everything when it comes to the way clothing fits.
Your experiences shopping for clothes can't prepare you for the intricacies of handmade garments. That's why Part 1 of this series (published in Love of Knitting Fall 2017) explained how and where to measure yourself. Now let's examine the "why" of measurements--when you compare your measurements to pattern schematics, you can easily choose the proper size to knit.
Below are the body and sleeve schematics for the Lodge Pullover from Love of Knitting Winter 2016. This pullover is worked back and forth in separate pieces, so it's easy to see the dimensions of each piece.
The bust measurement, C, is the actual finished width of the sweater at the bust. Because this sweater is worked in pieces, this measurement is only half of the finished circumference; for the smallest size, the finished bust circumference would be 32". You'll also see this information in the Finished Size section at the top of the pattern, along with the amount of ease shown in the photo. You should select your size based on the garment's bust measurement, taking ease into account.
Ease is the difference between your measurements and the sweater's measurements. Depending on the sweater style, the knitted fabric's drape, and your fit preferences, you might select a size with more or less ease. For example, when making a heavy fitted sweater such as the Lodge Pullover, choose a size with a finished measurement 1-2" larger than your bust circumference. For a loose-fitting, drapey sweater, you could select a size considerably larger than your bust circumference. A tall woman might go up to 8" larger than her bust circumference; a woman of medium height might choose a finished size 6" larger than her bust circumference; a petite person could opt for 4-5" of ease without feeling overwhelmed by the garment. A lightweight lace sweater usually benefits from a bit of negative ease, so for those garments, select a size 0-2" smaller than your bust circumference.
The waist and hip measurements, B and A respectively, work the same way as the bust measurement: multiply each number by two to get the finished circumferences for the sweater. A little positive ease is always a good idea for the waist and hip sections; unless you're going for a super-fitted look, make these sections at least 1-2" larger than your measurements.
The sleeve schematic gives finished widths for the wrist and upper arm. Because the sleeve will be sewn into a tube, you don't have to do any math: the measurements on the schematic are the same as the finished wrist (I) and upper arm circumferences (M).The sleeve length from the wrist to the top of the shoulder is a combination of two measurements: the length to the underarm (J) and the length of the sleeve cap (K). Add those two measurements together for the total sleeve length.
These six measurements--bust, waist, hips, wrist, upper arm, and sleeve length--are the key measurements you want to check as you choose a sweater size. Once you've selected a size, check your gauge carefully with a generously sized swatch--if you don't match the pattern's stitch gauge, your garment won't match the pattern's schematics. For any garment knit from the bottom up or top down, it's usually simpler to customize length than width (or circumference for a seamless garment): just work more or fewer rows or rounds to reach your desired length. For garments knit side to side, it's the other way around; you must match row gauge for the sweater to fit properly, and the length can be adjusted by casting on more or fewer stitches.
Understanding a Garment's Silhouette
Schematics provide other information about a sweater besides its measurements: the diagram shows its silhouette, or basic shape. Compare the pattern schematics below for sweaters in this issue. Then consider silhouette along with fabric drape to get a clearer sense of how the sweater will hang on your body. Patterns recommend making a swatch to check your gauge, but a generously sized swatch can also help you anticipate how the knitted fabric will hang on your body.
Armed with these bits of information, you can better determine the ideal ease for your project. The Clare Pullover should have the snuggest fit, so choose a finished size that matches your bust measurement or allows for 1-2" positive ease. For all the A-line and straight-fit garments, the designers intended a standard fit of 2-4" positive ease, though you can opt for a loose fit of 4-6" positive ease if that's your preference.
Identifying Your Body Type
Now that you've examined sweater patterns to think about sizing, silhouette, and the right amount of ease, you're ready to identify your body type--a shape rather than a size. Deb first came across this concept years ago through the Figure Flattery icons on Vogue sewing patterns, and then fashion and fitting books for sewists further refined her thinking. You may know about body type from TV shows such as What Not to Wear. It's a simple idea: instead of dressing based on your body's size, dress to visually enhance or alter your body's proportions, always aiming for the Holy Grail of long, unbroken vertical lines. That goal is standard in every discussion of body types.
However, even the best fashion advice can get confusing, especially for knitters who want to create flattering sweaters. Terminology and the number of body types can vary a lot because fashion gurus come up with their own systems. The gurus often don't consider height as an element of body type: for example, their advice for Deb as a petite can conflict with their advice for her rectangle body type. Gurus also write about ready-to-wear clothing that women purchase, not that they make for themselves. Finally, when these writers advise alterations to clothing, they stick to sewn rather than knitted garments. (The two books listed in Resources section are the exception because they discuss handknitted garments.)
For all these reasons, we've established a system of body types that can get taller or shorter, wider or thinner, yet still help knitters make smart fitting decisions. We will use these terms as we continue talking about fit and flattering pattern modifications.
What does "wide" mean in these descriptions? It's not a measurement but a perception of width at key points. When you face another person squarely, with your body perfectly parallel to the viewer, they see the width of your shoulders, waist, and hips. Notice that it's shoulder width, not bust size, that is key; women generally have to stand in profile for their bust sizes to become apparent to viewers. Viewers don't see a set of measurements--they see these widths in relation to each other, which create one of the shapes named above. Imagine standing against a white wall with a lamp in front of you while someone else traces your body's shadow on the wall. Once you step away from the wall, you can draw lines that identify your shape. Or, easier still, have someone photograph you and draw the lines on a hard copy of the photo, as we've done here with six real-life women.
Notice how we're all different sizes--if we published a chart with all of our measurements, you'd see this immediately. But the lines added to these pictures tell a different story: some of us have the same body types, even when we differ in circumference measurements or height. Within the same body type, the vertical space between hipline, waistline, and shoulderline can vary, too, which will affect overall proportions.
To make a similar photo of yourself, dress in close-fitting clothing. Go for a T-shirt that fits your shoulders well and pants that fit your hips well. We tied a length of yarn snugly around each person's waist; the yarn will automatically roll to your narrowest point. Stand against a light-colored background, facing the photographer squarely. Back up against a wall if it will help you stay square. Create some space between your elbows and your waist. It's okay to put hands on your hipbones unless that's also the widest point below your waist. On the printed photo, find the spot where shoulder seam joins the top of the sleeve cap and draw vertical lines, then add horizontal lines at shoulderline and hipline.
Hold on to your body type photo for future reference because in Part 3, we'll explore sweater fit for different body types. Once you've determined your measurements and body type, you can more confidently knit sweaters that look great on you.
Amy Herzog, Knit to Flatter (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2013).
Sally Melville and Caddy Melville Ledbetter, Mother-Daughter Knits (Potter Craft, 2009).
HOURGLASS: Women with this shape have shoulders and hips of equal width and a clearly visible waist.
RECTANGLE: Shoulders, waist, and hips are all equal in width. (If the waist is visibly wider than shoulders and hips, that woman has an oval shape.)
TRIANGLE: These women have wider hips than shoulders.
INVERTED TRIANGLE: Here shoulders are wider than hips.
A: 17 1/4 (18 1/4, 20, 22 1/4, 24 1/2, 26 1/2, 28)"
B: 15 1/2 (16 1/2, 18 1/4, 20, 22 1/4, 24 1/2, 25 1/2)"
C: 16 (17 1/4, 19 1/2, 21 1/2, 23 1/2, 25 1/2, 27 1/2)"
D: 16 (17, 17 1/2, 17 1/2, 18, 18 1/2, 19)"
E: 7 (7 1/2, 8, 8 1/2, 9, 9 1/2, 10)"
F: 2 3/4 (3 1/4, 3 1/2, 4, 4, 4 1/4, 4)"
G: 8 (8 1/2, 9 1/4, 9 1/2, 9 1/2, 9 1/2, 10 1/4)"
H: 10(10 1/2, 11, 11 1/2, 12, 12 1/2, 13)"
I: 8 1/2 (9 1/4, 9 1/4, 9 1/2, 9 1/2, 10 1/4, 10 1/4)"
J: 16 1/2 (17, 17, 17 1/2, 17 1/2, 18, 18)"
K: 5 (5 1/2, 5 1/2, 5 1/2, 5 1/2, 5 1/2, 6 1/4)"
L: 2 1/2 (3 1/2, 3 1/2, 3 1/2, 4, 4, 4 1/2)"
M: 12 (12 1/2, 13 1/4, 14 1/4, 15 1/2, 17 1/2, 18 1/2)"
Caption: Louisa (left), Rachel (center), and Sarah (right) have all the attributes of hourglass body types: shoulderline and hipline of equal width and a clearly defined waist. Rachel's and Louisa's waistlines sit closer to their hiplines; Sarah's waistline is equidistant between shoulderline and hipline.
Caption: On Deb, all three lines are roughly equal in width, making her a rectangle. Like Sarah, she has a long torso, so her waistline is equidistant between shoulderline and hipline.
Caption: Susanna (left) and Laura (right) are triangles, with hiplines wider than shoulderlines. Susanna's waistline is closer to the ground than Laura's, partly because Susanna is shorter but also because Laura has a long torso relative to her height.
Project Name Schematic Silhouette Sandwick Pullover straight fit (no waist shaping) Bohuslan Sweater modified A-line (straight to the waist, then increasing to the hips) Kattegat Pullover straight fit Skellig Michael Sweater gentle A-line (decreasing from the hip to the bust) Clare Pullover fitted (decreasing from the hip to the waist, then increasing to the bust) Project Name Drape Sandwick Pullover worsted-weight yarn worked at tighter gauge = structured fabric with less give Bohuslan Sweater bulky yarn in stranded colorwork through bust and waist = heavier fabric with less give Kattegat Pullover sportweight yarn worked at tighter gauge = structured fabric with less give Skellig Michael Sweater worsted-weight yarn worked at looser gauge in the round = drapey fabric Clare Pullover worsted-weight yarn worked at a tighter gauge in the round = slightly clingy fabric