One of the most frustrating things
in knitting is finishing a garment and finding
that it doesn’t fit. There
are a few really simple things that you can
do before you even get started on your next
sweater to make sure that it fits the way
you want it to.
1. Swatch. This may seem obvious, and it’s
my hope that to most of you it IS obvious. To the rest
of you fair readers, SWATCH! The reason that swatching
is so important is that the gauge swatch
is the basis for the math of the entire sweater. If your gauge
is off, the fit of your sweater will be off. There’s
no way around it, you must make sure that
your gauge matches that of the sweater pattern.
Here’s an example:
Let’s say you want a sweater with a finished bust
measurement of 38 inches, at a gauge of
5 stitches per inch, for a total of 190 stitches at bust.
If you swatch and get 5.25 stitches per
inch, your sweater will actually measure
just 34.5 inches at the bust and will be
way too small. Even that seemingly minute
difference in gauge [1/4 of a stitch per
inch] will drastically change the outcome
of your finished sweater.
2. Take your honest figure
you do, don’t choose a size based on your off-the-rack
clothing size, or on the notion that you’re an XS, M,
or XXL. Measure yourself and believe the
measuring tape. I’m
guilty of this, too. I always think I’m an XL. When
I go to the store, I always grab the XL
to try on, no matter what. In knitting, we
have the luxury of controlling every single
stage of the production of our garments.
not buying clothing from a factory, you’re taking the
time to make yourself what could be a totally
custom-fit garment, and you deserve to have
it fit YOU.
In addition to the common horizontal
measurements, also take the following vertical
You know where
to take your horizontal measurements; now
measure the distances between them height-wise
on your body.
3. Assess the pattern before you get
Before you even
pick up the needles, pick up a pencil and
paper and grab a calculator. (This is easy,
trust me!) You can tell a lot about the
potential fit of the garment from the schematic. You’ll
know what the bust, waist, and hip measurement
are going to be, how long the sleeves are,
sometimes even how long the body is and
how wide the neckline will be. On really great schematics,
you’ll even know
how deep the armholes will be. These are
all very important things to note, and absolutely essential
to use in deciding which size to knit, and what adjustments
in stitch counts you’ll
have to make. BUT what you often won’t see in the schematic
is where the bust, waist, and hip will fall
on your body in vertical space. Will the
bust of the sweater hit you at YOUR bust?
Will the waistline hit you at YOUR waist?
What I want you to do is take a closer look at the pattern,
make sure that the shaping of the pattern will line up with
the shaping of your body.
Bust height: If the vertical distance from your shoulder to
the fullest part of your bust is 10 inches, count the pattern
rows from bust to shoulder (or shoulder to bust if working
from the top down), divide by your row gauge, and make sure
that this equals 10 inches. If you’re having trouble
determining where this is in the pattern, look for the row
just above the start of the waist shaping, or the last row
of “straight knitting” between armhole and waist
shaping. This is typically the row that a designer will
consider “bust height.”
Waist length: Count the number of pattern rows from shoulder
to waist. Divide by your row gauge and compare this number
to your waist height (shoulder-to-bust plus bust-to-waist).
[Be careful here, because you don’t want to know how
far below the pattern’s bust the pattern’s waist
is...you want to know where it falls from the shoulder. Since
you might be changing the bust height, it’s not really
fixed in space the way that the shoulder is. The shoulder
is your anchor.]
Hip height: Find the point in the pattern where the
hip shaping stops (if working top-down. Where it starts if
working bottom-up) and compare this to your own high-hip-height.
4. Make alterations to the pattern if
you need to.
alterations to the placement in vertical
space of the bust, waist, and hip can make
a night-and-day transformation in the fit
of your garments. This is the tricky part,
probably less tricky than you think it will
be comparing the pattern’s bust, waist, and hip placement
to your own, and deciding what if any changes
you need to make. This is easier to do on
a less textural sweater, or one with side
shaping, where the shaping isn’t an
integral part of the overall stitch-patterning.
If the shaping is an integral part of the sweater,
you might not be able to unobtrusively alter
If the pattern’s bust is too high, lengthen
the region of straight knitting between
armhole and bust.
If the pattern’s bust is too low,
shorten the region of straight knitting between armhole and
NOTE: If you change the location of the bust by lengthening
or shortening the sweater at this point, you’re also
lowering or raising the position of the waist. Add or
subtract this number of rows to / from the sweater’s
If the pattern’s waist is too high or too low, you’ll
have to move it up or down so that it hits
your body at the right spot. This means that
to create your own rate of decrease from
bust to waist, and use that in place of the
original shaping. This takes a little math,
not bad! (If the math below blows your
worry! There are lots of great resources
that you can use to walk through it in more
detail, like the books of Ysolda
Teague and Amy
Herzog as well as online classes like my Fit
Bird’s Curvy Knits: Plus-Sized Knitting)
Here’s an example:
Example Gauge: 5 sts and 7 rows per
Bust measurement in inches: 38 ( x
stitch gauge =190 stitches)
in inches: 34 ( x stitch gauge = 170 stitches)
from bust to waist: 6 inches ( x row gauge
= 42 rows)
So, you have 42 rows over which you’ll decrease 20
stitches to get you from your desired bust measurement to
your desired waist measurement.
Typically, waist shaping is worked in sets of 4 decreases
per round: two decreases at 2 side markers.
(If working flat, 2 stitches per decrease
row, on both front and back pieces.)
Divide the total number of stitches to be decreased by 4
to get the number of decrease rows / rounds
need to work.
20 divided by 4 is 5, meaning 5 total decrease rounds.
Because there are 42 total rows from bust to waist, divide
42 by 5 to see how often you need to work
a decrease row. 42 divided by 5 is 8, with
a remainder of two. This means that you’d work a
decrease row every 8th row, with two rows (the remainder)
on which you just work straight (no increases or decreases.
NOTE: These calculations also allow you to substitute your
desired waist circumference for that of the pattern and make
any changes to that at the same time. In the example above,
if you’d prefer a waist measurement of 35 inches, you
could substitute that number in, change the number of stitches
that you’ll decrease from bust to waist and calculate
a new number of decrease rows.
Changing distance from waist to hip:
This math is exactlty the same as what we’ve done above,
except that instead of calculating the number of stitches to
decrease from bust to waist, and the associated number and
placement of the decrease rows, you’re calculating increases
and increase rows.
Here’s a quick example:
Example Gauge: 5 sts and 7 rows
Waist measurement in inches: 34
( x stitch gauge = 170 stitches)
in inches: 40 ( x stitch gauge = 200 stitches)
from bust to waist: 4 inches ( x row gauge
= 28 rows)
So, you have 28 rows over which you’ll increase 30
stitches to get you from your desired waist measurement to
your desired hip measurement.
Typically increases are worked in sets of 4, so divide 30
by 4 = about 7, meaning 7 total increase
The total number of rows (28) divided by 7 (number of increase
rounds) = 4. SO, every 4th row from waist to hip is an
Making these simple adjustments can dramatically improve
the fit of any garment, and it’s really worth it to take
the time to look at your pattern before you
start knitting to see if you need to make
5. Add in Bust Darts
There are so many great sources of information
on bust darts that I’m not going to go into them in
too much detail here. (Be sure to read Big
Girl Knits by Jillian Moreno
and Amy Singer, and Knitty articles
as well as the Ravelry group “The
BustLine” which is just full of helpful knitters
and great resources.
If you notice that your sweaters tend to ride up in front,
you’ll probably benefit from adding darts to future knits. As
I said above, there’s lots of information out there as
to how to work bust darts in the round. You simply measure
how much your sweaters ride up (the difference between back
length and front length) and how wide you want each dart to
be, and then figure out how many rows you need to add in order
to bring the front of that sweater down where you want it to
be, and how to fit them in at the side of the bust. Then,
when knitting a pullover, you work back and forth across the
front of the sweater until you’ve essentially crated
a little pocket for your chest.
Working bust darts in a cardigan is no more difficult than
working them in a pullover, but in case you haven’t done
them before, here’s a bit of insight into how the process
Start out by performing your standard bust dart calculations.
a quick example of how to do the math, but
again, if this looks like mud you may need
to investigate a little bit further [see
the recommended links above] for some more
in-depth background and explanation
as to how bust darts function.
Example Gauge: 5 sts and 7 rows per inch
Length to add to front (depth of dart):
by row gauge = 14 total rows, 7 sets of
short rows. Each set of short rows is
worked over two total rows, so we can divide
our total number by 2 to determine the
number of wrap and turns at each side.
Width of bust dart: 4” multiplied by stitch gauge
= 20 stitches.
20 divided by 7 = about 3. So we work a
wrap & turn
every 3rd stitch. Dividing the number of
stitches in the dart’s width
by the number of wrap & turns at each side gives us the
number of stitches between each wrap & turn.
Let’s assume that you’re knitting a cardigan (like
my Shapely Boyfriend in this issue of Knitty)
and want to add in some darts. You’d do the math above,
subbing in your own gauge and measurements.
After you work the “Separate
the sleeves from the Body” section of the pattern, There
are a few inches of straight knitting before
the waist shaping starts. This is the perfect
spot in which to insert your darts. If this
straight area is 4 inches long in your size,
and your dart is 2 inches high, knit for
2 inches, then start your dart. (If this
straight area is 4 inches long in your size,
and your dart is 4 inches high, start your
dart right away.)
The main difference in how a set of darts is worked in a top-down
cardigan as compared to how they’re worked in a pullover
is that you’ll work one whole dart first on one front
of of the sweater, and then work the second whole dart
on the other front of the sweater.
Working the first dart:
Start knitting a right side row, and knit
all the way over to the point at which you’ll make
your first wrap & turn. Wrap & turn, and then
purl all the way back to the front edge. Turn, and
knit over to the second wrap & turn. Wrap & turn,
and then purl all the way back to the front edge. Keep
going until you’ve done all your wrap & turns,
then knit all the way around to the opposite front edge.
Working the second dart:
The second dart may be a bit intimidating
because you’re ready to start on a WS row. All
you do is repeat the process for the first
dart, only now you purl all the way over
to the point at which you’ll
make your first wrap & turn. Wrap & turn, and
then knit all the way back to the front
edge. Turn, and purl over to the second
wrap & turn.
Wrap & turn,
and then knitall the way back to the front
edge. Keep going until you’ve done all your wrap & turns.
ready to carry on with the pattern instructions
for the rest of the sweater.
If you’ve done bust darts in a pullover before and are
hesitating to try them in a cardigan, just give it a shot. It
will make sense as soon as you do that first wrap and turn.
I hope that my five simple-yet-somewhat-verbose tips to creating
great-fitting sweaters have helped to take some of the mystery
out of getting a great fit from your sweaters.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Stefanie Japel has been part of the online
knitting community since she started blogging
as "Glampyre" in 1999 while working
on a PhD in Geology. Now, Stefanie has turned
crafting into a career and has joined the team
at Craftsy.com where
she not only teaches knitting classes but also
works on the Marketing team.
To read about Stefanie's crafty adventures,