I’ve talked a lot about the concept of positive ease and how it works when deciding on what size to knit. If you are brand new to this term and concept, I suggest first reading my beginner blog post here about the topic. What makes “ease” a tricky concept for new garment knitters is the fact that we just haven’t been accustomed to picking a sweater size based upon the amount of ease it has. But even when buying a sweater in store, the concept of ease is very much present – it’s just more hidden from you as the consumer. But I think understanding a bit more about how ease works in store-bought sweaters can help in demystifying the concept of ease in general and thus, help you as a garment knitter. So that is what this blog post is all about – let’s dive in!
Sweater Shopping In-Store
So picture this – you walk into a clothing store and see a display of sweaters. Unlike a knitting pattern, there is no signage that says “pick a size whose finished measurement is 6-10” larger than your actual bust circumference”, right? You just see a stack of sweaters all sized, say, XS – 4X. But the ease is there, you just don’t know how much the designer/manufacturer has added in.
You may grab your typical size and then maybe a size smaller or larger and try them on to see which size you prefer the fit of. This trying-on process is you actually determining the amount of ease you prefer on your body for this particular style of sweater!
Let me show you an example. Below are 2 store-bought sweaters, both labeled as size medium from the same company. Let’s call the green turtleneck sweater #1 and the brown is sweater #2. According to the store’s website, a woman’s medium is meant to fit a bust of approx. 37”.
When I measure across the width of sweater #1, it measures just about 22”. I multiple that by 2 to get the full circumference of 44”. Compare that with the “to fit bust size” measurement of a medium and that means this sweater has 7” of positive ease built into it (again, based upon what this store considers a medium bust).
When I measure across the width of sweater #2, it measures just about 19”. I multiple that by 2 to get the full circumference of 38”. Compare that with the “to fit bust size” measurement of the medium and that means this sweater has just 1” of positive ease.
So both sweaters are made by the same manufacturer, both are labeled as mediums, but they have applied a very different amount of positive ease to each. This is why it’s always good to try on multiple sizes when buying a store-bought sweater because you don’t know how much ease they have decided to add to each size. And this is why your trying-on process is actually you determining the amount of positive ease you prefer for this style and cut of sweater.
So just like in knitting patterns, store-bought sweaters utilize positive ease in the same way, but it’s just more hidden. It’s not labeled anywhere on the sizing label – you only discover it when you go to try it on. But just looking at ease from this perspective I think can help to demystify the concept!
How this relates to picking a size in knitting patterns
Of course with knitting patterns and deciding what size to knit, you don’t have the opportunity to try on multiple samples like you would when buying a sweater in-store. So you need to apply the designer’s suggested ease amount to your actual measurements and then look for a finished size that is close to this amount. But just like store-bought sweaters, sometimes the knitting designer may have a particular vision for the fit and this impacts the suggested ease range they provide. This is why it’s good to learn what amount of ease you tend to prefer on your body. Just like you may buy a size large instead of a medium in a store if the cut of the sweater is tighter, you may want to knit a different size than the knitting designer may suggest in order to get the fit you prefer. Over time and experience you will learn what your particular preferred fit is. I provide additional tips about how to determine your preferred fit in this blog post.
I hope looking at ease from this different perspective helps to demystify the concept a bit more and helps to make your sweater-size-picking-process just a little easier!