Ease is the difference between your body measurement and the sweater measurement.
While gauge is important to ensuring your finished project resembles the version in the pattern picture, ease is important to ensuring the finished project fits the way you want.
Positive ease is when the finished dimensions of the sweater are larger than your body. Negative ease is when the finished dimensions are smaller than your body.
Unfortunately, for me at least, ease is a much more nebulous concept than gauge. I attribute this to my poor spatial reasoning skills! haha!
Measuring is Important
The first step to getting comfortable with ease is to be honest with ourselves about our measurements. They change over time for a variety of reasons, so you should remeasure yourself on a regular basis. You’ll know what that is.
The Craft Yarn Council has a handy document indicating how to measure various key points of the body. For people who prefer offline resources, “Sweater Design in Plain English” by Maggie Righetti, “Knitwear Design Workshop” by Shirley Paden, and “The Ultimate Knitting Book” by Vogue Knitting all have charts and worksheets for recording your measurements. You should be able to pick those books up at your local yarn store.
You’ll notice that the Craft Yarn Council page also has a “fit chart” outlining how many inches are involved in a close (1″ to 2″), standard (2″ to 4″), or loose (4″ to 6″) fit.
Righetti points out that knit garments don’t need as much ease as fabric garments because knit fabric is more forgiving and with stretch and cling to accommodate the body.
Of course saying a standard fitting sweater has 2″ to 4″ of ease doesn’t mean much in isolation. It’s helpful to apply it to numbers.
Say you have a 36 inch chest. If you make a 34″ sweater it will have -2″ of ease and be very close fitting. If you make a 38″ sweater it will have +2″ of ease and be considered standard fitting. If you make a 46″ sweater it will have +10″ of ease and be over-sized.
And it’s not enough to know that +2″ of ease is a “standard” fit. You have to know what those 2″ of ease will mean on your body.
“Measure a Favorite Sweater”
In addition to being honest about our own bodies, we should have a good think about the fashions we like and the way we prefer our clothes to fit.
If you’ve been knitting or crocheting for a while you’ve probably heard the advice to determine the size of a project by “measuring a favorite sweater.” The idea is you’ll match the dimensions of your project to that favorite sweater and end up with a happy result.
I, however, have modified this advice to “measure a favorite sweater that fits the way you want your project to fit,” which is a little more specific.
A few years ago I wanted to knit a slightly over-sized sweater for lounging around on weekends. I measured a favorite sweater and carefully did my math. My new finished sweater was very close fitting. It’s a nice sweater and I wear it all the time, but it’s not what I had in mind. Since then I’ve come to terms with the fact that I like my knit sweaters to be close fitting.
If your wardrobe is full of tailored garments and you knit yourself and 80s style over-sized sweater you might not be happy with the results. At the same time, if you like to be able to breathe in your clothing knitting a corset style top out of pure silk might not be the best way to go.
If you keep knitting sweaters with which you are unhappy when you’re finished, maybe you should examine the style as well as your technique.
An issue with ease is that the patterns don’t always specify how much ease the designer intended. To a degree it’s a space issue because there is only so much information you can squeeze into a magazine or pattern.
In most cases you can guess at the way a sweater should fit based on the pictures and combine that knowledge with the measurements provided in the pattern.
By comparing the “to fit bust” measurements to the “finished garment” measurements you’ll be able to calculate how much ease is included in each size.
For instance, you can look at this Ushya Sweater pattern and tell it’s meant to be over-sized. Then when you look at the pattern for a 32-34″ chest the finished sweater will be 39 1/2″. That from +7″ to +5″ of ease.
The Nibberdale pattern from Mirasol book #22 is along the same lines. The finished sweater for a 32″ to 34″ chest is 47 1/2″. Now if someone with a 47″ chest made that smallest size the sweater might fit, but it will be a very different look!
On the other side of the scale is the Plotted & Pieced Blouse from the Juniper Moon Farm Findley Dappled book.You can see in the picture it’s a close fitting top and the pattern says it’s meant to be worn with 0″ of ease. You want it to be tight to open up the lace pattern.
The pattern for Ruca Multy top from Araucania says “This is a fitted top, select your usual size.” When you compare the bust size to the schematic you’ll see there is only about +1″ of ease for the various sizes.
Trying to figure out fit is an area where a resource like Ravelry comes in handy. You can see how a sweater will look on many different body types. Unfortunately, most people don’t include their personal measurements in their project notes, so you are still left guess to a degree.
There was a while when Interweave Knits was showing patterns from the magazine on different body types and they were including measurements. It took me a few minutes to find them, but if you look for the “galleries” on the Knitting Daily website you’ll find them. Here is the gallery for the Spring 2010 issue. You’ll need to log in to see it. It doesn’t look like they’ve kept it up, and of course it only helps with IK patterns, but it will help you start conceptualizing ease.
I thought I’ve seen similar galleries on the WEBS blog in the past, but I’m not sure how to find them now.
Another way to see how different sweaters will fit on different people is to check out the samples at your local yarn store. Ask first, of course, but the staff usually won’t mind if you try the sample sweaters on. Keep your eyes out for trunk shows, as well, since there is usually a launch party so lots of people will be trying the items on.
Even Accessories Have Ease
Oh, yes, I have scared you and you thought you’d avoid all this ease nonsense by not knitting sweaters. Well, enjoy all those scarves and shawls you’ll be making because ease is everywhere!
Hats have ease. Traditional watch cap style hats usually have no ease or maybe a little negative ease to give them a snug fit. Slouch hats have lots of positive ease to be, uh, slouchy.
Socks generally have negative ease, although there is debate about how much. I like -1″ of ease on my socks. Other people prefer less.
Gloves and mittens can be either close fitting or slightly over-sized, depending on your goal. For instance, I like to make my fingerless mitts with no or negative ease so they don’t get in my way when I’m typing. But I made the Top-Down Mittens for my friend with 1/2″ of positive ease so her fingers would have wiggle room.
As you can see, ease comes into play with most anything you’re going to knit or crochet. It’s an important concept to get your mind around, but once you do you’ll be much happier with your finished project.