In knitting, "ease" refers to how a garment fits relative to body measurements. A garment with negative ease will measure smaller in circumference than the wearer's measurements, a garment with positive ease will measure larger in circumference than the wearer's measurements, and a garment with no ease will be about the same. Good patterns usually include notes about ease, how the garment is meant to be worn, how much positive or negative ease is present on the modeled shot, etc. Generally speaking, you need a little negative ease with socks and hat brims so they stay on without sliding around and driving you crazy. This is easy enough to figure out.

But sweaters? Here's where it gets a little tricky. Some sweaters are meant to be fitted, so they are written with negative ease. Some sweaters are meant to be boxy, or worn as outer layers, or made with bulky yarn, and thus have positive ease. Kids' sweaters usually have quite a lot of positive ease because kids need to move around. Plus, kids have a tendency to, you know, grow, so extra room built into a sweater helps keep up with those growth spurts. If you knit yourself a lot of sweaters, you figure out what sweaters look best on you, and much ink has been spilled in books and magazine articles about how to achieve the most flattering fit. Ysolda is particularly good at this, and I especially appreciate her attitude that we shouldn't view different body types as having certain flaws that should be hidden away, but rather attributes that are best accentuated in one way or another.

For myself, I've learned a few things about what works for my body type and what doesn't. I'm pretty small in stature and I'm not particularly curvy (re: 31" chest on a deep inhale). Sweaters with wide or plunging necklines or huge drapey collars or basically anything requiring an ample bosom to support don't look so good on me. I'm also not a fan of cropped anything because that would draw attention to my middle, and as a 33yo woman who has birthed two children, I like my middle safely hidden, thanks. I do like boat necklines and sweaters with length at least down to my hips, or even tunic-length. And when it comes to ease, because I am small, I need sweaters to fit me with little or no positive ease because otherwise I just get swallowed up in the fabric.

Lately I've been thinking about suggested ease and proportions to actual body measurements. It's interesting that patterns with a range of sizes suggest the same ease for everyone, whatever their bust size. But think about it - 4" of positive ease for someone with a 44" bust amounts to less than 10% of ease, while someone with a 30" bust would have roughly 13% ease. (You know what's really lame? I had to google that last one because I had a total brain fart with percentages. I swear my mind is starting to atrophy.) Anyway, that's a big difference from one bust size to another, and it goes the other way, too. 4" of negative ease for a 30" bust is a lot tighter than 4" of negative ease for someone with a 44" bust. This is probably why some patterns suggest a range, like '2-4" positive ease' or '1-3" negative ease'. All this is helpful, useful information, along with notes like "model shown wearing such-and-such size sweater with x inches of positive ease."

Enter my latest couple of projects, Goose and Gemini. Yes, I am selfish. Both of these sweaters are for ME...(assuming they fit, that is.)

Here's my Goose, so far:

I know it's just a blob of knitting, and the picture doesn't show much, but the intriguing thing about this sweater is its construction. You knit from the middle out, graft the seams up the center and down the sides, then pick up stitches around the neck and then the bottom for the ribbing. In other words, I won't really know if this fits me until it's basically done. The smallest size in the pattern is a finished chest circumference of 36". Since I'm not quite 32" around, this is a lot of ease, but I'm going for big comfy sweatshirt here, not flashy and fitted, so I hope it works and doesn't just look dumpy.

Next up, Gemini:

I'm in a bit of a conundrum with this one because the designer suggests a whopping 4" of negative ease! That seems awfully tight for a hand knit sweater, especially since it doesn't feature a stretchy stitch pattern like ribbing or allover lace...but I have to say the modeled shot on Knitty looks smashing and not at all, you know, tarty. As it is, I'll have to shoot for a size between XS and S to achieve the suggested ease, but that shouldn't be too hard since it's a top-down design and the increases are really quite straightforward. I won't know until I'm pretty far into the pattern whether it works or not, and I guess I can't be afraid to rip it out if there's a problem.

I have to say that Ravelry is extremely useful for sussing out these issues, at least with designs popular enough to have been knit by a lot of people. If more than 100 people have knit a particular sweater and they are all happy with the results, no matter what their body type, that design is usually a safe bet. If they all complain that the sweater is too tight, one can make a note and go up a size.


Anonymous said…
The Goose sweater looks really comfortable. The Gemini is interesting and pretty.
Jessi said…
I'm going to go completely off topic here for a moment: this is really great information even for non-knitters or crafters. I mean, knowing how things are made helps you to know what looks good on you. I learned all of this stuff about a million years ago, but since I don't sew much anymore and I don't knit and crochet usually isn't all that fitted, I had kind of forgotten it. Just got me thinking, maybe I'll write about this today.
Nicole said…
Your goose has such lovely colors!

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