So you want to make a sweater or a blouse, a shirt or a jacket. You reluctantly measure your chest and waist and look at the pattern. You see that one of the sizes matches yours and get started. While you’re knitting/sewing you keep on thinking – that looks a little snug – but the pattern says that your size matches this size so you carry on regardless. You press it out, put it on, and stuff if straight into the charity shop bag – repeat this a few times and you eventually give up knitting or sewing garments.
The thing that stumps a lot of home knitters and sewers is ‘ease’ – this is the amount of extra inches or centimetres written into the pattern over and above the basic measurement. On a knitting pattern you’ll usually see it given as the ‘actual measurement’ of the finished products and sometimes a sewing pattern will do this too (though rarely). The thing is, your idea of what you want from ‘ease’ is seldom what the pattern designer has in mind. They appear to imagine a world full of slender, tall models dressed neatly in garments that fit like a glove – this, friends, is not the case.
And standard pattern sizes are not necessarily your friend either. Over the weekend I did a spot of sewing and measured myself all over – this was a mortifying experience. I usually wear a size 14 – going up to a size 16 up top if I want to give my ‘ladies’ a bit more room – I compared my measurements with the pattern size and sighed. According to them I was safely a size 16/18. I have no problems with a bit of curviness but I also know that if pattern designers think you have a capacious bosom or a generous ass, they will also assume that you are also taller and have wide shoulders. So make something that fits your ‘rack’ and it will be too big on the shoulders and the sleeves and body will be much too long.
These are the problems facing a maker – what is the solution? Measure yourself thoroughly first (I know, I know…) and then get a few things that you love from your wardrobe and find out how big they actually are. If they are around about the same size as you, you don’t much like ‘ease’ and you can use patterns pretty much as given. In my case it’s clear that I like snug jeans but very roomy tops: my favourites have as much as 6 inches of ‘ease’ (and today I am wearing something even baggier). So there is little point in using the pattern size recommended for my bust, even if the ‘actual measurement’ is a wee bit larger. To get the look I’m after I will have to go up multiple sizes.
But consider the point I made about pattern sizes above: if I go up to a size ‘ahem’ I will end up with something that has a bit of give around the chest, but is way too large everywhere else! So I will have to grade between sizes. This means that I will use the chest measurement of the pattern but the shoulder for a smaller size and the length for a smaller size too. With a sewing pattern this means drawing lines between the sizes given and altering the length, with a knitting pattern this means doing a bit of mixing and matching with the decreases, cast on’s and offs and the lengths.
Does all of this sound a bit like hard work? I guess, but if you spend hours and hours knitting a sweater, or a bank holiday sweating over a sewing pattern and the finished object goes straight in the charity bag, then it’s worth a bit of measuring and maths before you get started isn’t it?