I recently helped a customer who did not understand the concept of ease. "I used to knit a lot," she confided, "but I stopped because I didn't like the way my sweaters fit." I tried, readers, oh how hard I tried, to explain the concept of ease to her, but she persisted in her lack of understanding. I just couldn't convince her that a sweater which measured 38 inches around would not create a hugely oversized and boxy garment for a woman with a 36-inch chest. "But my bust size is 36," she insisted. "The pattern is 38. That's going to be huge on me. I just lost a lot of weight and I want something that isn't oversized." I explained ease and I explained it again, and I urged her to go home and measure some of her own sweaters, the ones that fit her well, to prove my point. She refused. "That's why none of your sweaters fit you right," I thought. "You don't understand ease."
So that I can spare you the shame and embarassment of her state of dis-ease, I will now tell you what I told her. However, I hope that you, unlike this poor knitter who clung to her lack of understanding like I clung to the four blue-toned miniskeins of Koigu I snatched out of the bottom of a stall at the last Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival, will heed my words.
There are two different measurements that are relevant when you are thinking about making a sweater. I will call them "body measurement" and "finished garment measurement." Keep these two separate in your mind at all times and you will always be the master of your fit.
Body measurement is the actual size of the physical body of the person who is to wear the garment. When talking about sweaters, body measurement tends be bust or chest size, and we're talking about the number you get when you wind the tape measure around the wearer's chest, right under the armpits. Say I am going to make Polly Purl a sweater and I measure her chest size at the widest part of her bust. The number I get is 36 inches. Patterns often indicate the body measurement with language like "To fit bust: 34 (36, 38, 40) inches."
Finished measurement is, as the name suggests, the measurement of the finished garment. The pattern may say "Finished size" or "Finished circumference" or you may just have to look at the schematic (remember those?) and see how wide the sweater is (remember that if the schematic shows only the front width, multiply by two to get the total circumference).
Warning: finished measurement is rarely the same as actual measurement. Did you hear me? Finished measurement is RARELY the same as body measurement. If Polly Purl is having me knit her a sweater that will fit her well, the size of the sweater, measured across the chest, will usually be LARGER than the body measurement size.
Why is this? A little thing called "ease." Ease is, as the name suggests, the amount of extra fabric that is built into a garment in order to give you freedom and comfort of movement (or "ease of movement" -- get it?). You know your chest size; now go and measure three or four of your favorite sweaters or shirts across the chest/bust. I guarantee that unless you are a ballet dancer who spends her entire life in leotards, or a Victoria's Secret model wearing lingerie two sizes too small, you are bound to find that most of these garments have circumferences that are at least a little larger than your body's chest or bust size. Go on; I'll wait.
[Hmm-hmm-hmm, la-di-da, hmm-hmm-hmm.]
Okay, now you believe me about ease. How much ease is typical? you ask. How do I know how much ease to build into a garment?
C'mon, you know my favorite answer: It depends. The most important thing it depends on is what kind of fit you want. For most people, ease of around four inches is considered classic, traditional fit, neither hugely baggy nor tight-fitting. Two inches is close-fitting. Zero ease (making the garment the same size as the body measurement) is possible for a body-hugging garment, and is seen more often now than it was in the past, since the current trend is to cut sweaters more snugly. Negative ease (the garment is smaller than the body measurement) is rare, but theoretically possible (I'm thinking tube top?). Where your ease is small or nonexistent, you have to make sure that the fabric is suitable (something with elastic or Lycra that will have some bounce would be good, and the yarn shouldn't be too bulky) and that the garment won't be so close-fitting that it chafes. For oversized, boxy fits, six or more inches is necessary, maybe even as much as ten or fifteen for something hugely baggy.
The amount of ease also depends on your size. The smaller the person, the less ease is required. A petite woman might need only two inches of ease for a traditional fit, while a taller or more curvy woman might want more, maybe five or six inches. They would end up with the same fit; but the amount of ease necessary to achieve that fit might differ.
And the weight of the fabric also plays a role. The thinner and lighter the fabric, the less ease you can get away with; conversely, thick and bulky yarns will require more extra room because the inside of the garment is noticeably smaller than the outside due to the thickness of the yarn. You have to build in extra space for the thicker yarns.
Ease is also used in other kinds of garments, like hats. Most of the time, you measure the circumference of your head, and you subtract an inch or two to get the finished size of your hat. Why? Because if you build in extra inches, the hat will be too loose and slide down your head, covering your eyes and making you look like that Fat Albert character. You want your hat to be snug so it stays put on top of your head. Subtracting an inch or two from your actual head size makes sure you get a snug and proper fit. Ditto for socks; make 'em the same size or little smaller than your foot for a snug fit. Otherwise, they may droop.
When you're looking at patterns, make sure you understand which measurement the pattern is talking about. A dear friend of mine made her first sweater from a book that didn't clearly delineate between body size and actual finished garment size. Laura did a phenomenal job on her sweater, in a gorgeous shade of Manos, only to find it was way too snug. She belatedly discovered that the measurements given were finished garment size rather than body measurement sizes. A 34-inch finished garment was just too snug for her 34-inch bust. A cruel lesson to learn indeed. (I am pleased to report, however, that it hasn't put her off knitting. She's come over to the dark side in a big way. Heh.)
Oh, Go-Knit-In-Your-Hat Lady, you sigh, all this talk of "it depends" gives me the vapors! Tell me exactly how to know how much ease I need in my sweaters! Okay, my personal experience is that the most reliable way to figure this out is to ask the intended wearer of what you're making to give you a sweater that fits the way they want the sweater you're making to fit. Then measure the sweater. This works particularly well with children, who can't always articulate what feels comfortable to them, but is an easy way to get right to the heart of the matter, finding a fit that looks and feels the way you want it to.
Two thumbs up for Curious George
Curious George did not go to a brothel, or a speakeasy, or even an Irish wake, but the movie was very charming. Although the animation was not done in the identical style of the book illustrations, which put me off when I first saw the ads, it won me over, as the movie managed to capture the spirit of the book perfectly. I appreciated that the movie did not try to create sly double-entendres to try to keep the adults in the audience amused. The "voice talent" was excellent and the movie integrated many scenes from the original books seamlessly. I think my favorite part was the explanation of the Man in the Yellow Hat's yellow attire: two disreputable clerks in a Banana Republic-like store (the 80s version, when they still sold safari gear) get a shipment in of yellow jungle duds and sucker the Man into buying them, telling him "Yellow is the new khaki!" It becomes a running joke with The Man as he undergoes his various adventures.
And Shameless Commerce
I was very excited yesterday when two customers walked out of Rosie's happily clutching two balls of my handpainted laceweight yarn. To make it even more serendipitous, the first woman to buy the first ball was named "Shirley" -- which is my dear mother's name. And so Carol's Kute N Kozy Kountry Kottage Full O' Yarny Goodness -- wait, that's not it -- I mean, Black Bunny Fibers is officially up and running. Feeding and clothing three young 'uns isn't cheap, and none of us want me to go back to practicing law, do we? (Let me appeal (no pun intended) to your self-interest: I will be so stressed out and time-crunched if I ever have to practice law again, that my posts here will become very rare...) Visit my Etsy shop (http://www.blackbunnyfibers.etsy.com) and tell me what you think.