Last week I released a new adult pattern (yay!), My Favourite. This pattern is the adult version of Granny's Favourite. Of all my children's patterns, this is the one that I had a continuous stream of requests for to convert to an adult pattern.
But rather than talk just about that pattern, I wanted to delve a little bit deeper into the world of adult garments and talk a little bit about choosing the right size. The answer to that seems like a pretty obvious one, you use your bust size, right? No.
Just for a minute lets think about a 36" bust, a size I've selected completely at random. If it's hard to visualise, get your measuring tape out or feel free to just substitute with your own bust size. Let's think about that bust circumference measurement of 36". Let's visualise it on a lean bustier woman. Got it. Now let's just expand the girth of that woman a bit to make her a more stockier built woman where the bust is not so prominent; expand her everywhere except in the bust region. If you're visualising on yourself, here you need to take the leap of imagining your body as a different size; smaller or larger everywhere but in your bust area. Imagine your skeleton either shrinking or expanding.
What's going to be pretty obvious to you is that while these two women may be the same size around their bust, their body size, shape and measurements are going to possibly vary greatly in other parts of their body. Their whole skeletal system is probably a completely different size. Given this, why are we given the advice to choose size based on our bust size when in reality it may not be the best reflection of our overall body size? Think about the mass area a jumper/jersey/sweater covers on your body. How much of that space is actually your boobs?
One of the things I've learn about getting a garment to fit properly is to ensure that it fits around the shoulders. Garments that fit the shoulders are more flattering and look much much nicer on. If you can envisage our two imaginary friends again and their different body sizes you can see how a jumper that measures 36" around the bust area is going to fit quite differently around the shoulders on these two women. For the smaller framed woman, the garment is obviously going to have a lot more ease around the shoulders.
So what do we measure? How do we choose the perfect size?
While being aware of what your bust measurement is, I suggest using your upper chest measurement to guide your size selection. This will give you a much truer indication of your body size than your bust measurement will. This is the figure that you should use to choose your base size. From there know the amount of ease you want in your garment; for a close fit: 0-1"/0-2.5cm ease, average fit: 1-2"/2.5-5cm, and a roomier fit 2-3"/7.5-10cm. This is the ease you want in your upper chest NOT your bust area. Compare these measurements to the schematic or finished measurements in the pattern and select the appropriate size accordingly.
Be aware that current trends in clothing are towards a more roomier fit, and knitwear patterns are beginning to reflect this. Over the last decade many patterns have been quite form and close fitting, so this change in direction will be interesting to follow. The sample I knit for My Favourite reflects this new direction and has a more roomier fit than I perhaps would traditionally have knit myself with a couple of inches of positive ease in the upper chest area. This extra ease gives me an inch of positive ease at the chest.
One of the most common pieces of advice I hear is to measure a store bought sweater that you like the fit of to give you an idea of what is your ideal finished measurement. I'd go a step further than that and try on a number of jumpers and don't just think about the fit of them but look critically at the way they sit on your shoulders and fit around that area of your body. Critically assess a range of different styles; raglans, set in sleeves, circular yokes, and see if you arrive at any conclusions about fit and certain styles. Think about not just your shoulders but also how it fits around your upper arms. Are there areas where you've not always been happy with the fit?
I've found that quite often set-in sleeves sit too wide on my shoulders, which tells me that when I'm looking at the size of a garment for a set-in sleeve I need to also be aware of the back width of the finished piece.
There is so much more to getting the best fit in a garment, and learning how to modify a pattern to suit your needs but for today, I just wanted to introduce the concept of finding the correct base size to begin with. So many knitters get that wrong.
The thing with knitting patterns is that they are written to a general standard sizing...most of the time. The reality of course, as most of us know, is that not everyone is a standard size. Your arms circumference may be bigger, your hips may be larger, maybe armholes are always too big or the sleeves are always too short. If you've been constantly frustrated with the inability to not quite get the perfect fit, it's a good idea to learn what little changes you can make yourself to a pattern to create a better fit. I'd suggest the following books as a good starting place:
Little Red in the City by Ysolda Teague
Knit to Flatter by Amy Herzog
Oh, and swatch! Swatch, wash and weight. When you're knitting an adult garment it is so important to know how the yarn is going to behave when it does indeed become an adult garment. As well as choosing the wrong size, this is one of the most common reasons why an adult garment doesn't fit as you had anticipated. If you're knitting with superwash be particularly aware of this, superwash has a bad habit of growing like crazy and the bigger the garment the more potential for issues. All too often that 36" that you intended on ending up with, can end up being a whole lot bigger than you anticipated!
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Textile artist, knitwear designer and teacher.
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