Sunday, May 15, 2011

Waistline placement for larger sizes

Much beloved by ample women everywhere, empire waistlines give the appearance of a waistline when one may not be apparent. The designs also eliminate extraneous baggy fabric around the bust and waist which automatically gives a better fit and a more hourglass appearance. For many women, their underbust measurement is the narrowest part of their body as well.

That's the good news about empire garments. The bad news is that most larger-sized empire sweaters are often upsized versions of "standard-sized" garments that increase the length and width of the sweater - but don't move the waistline.

A perfect example is Hey Teach, designed by Hélène Rush and published in the Knitty. This free pattern, much beloved and made by more than 2000 people on Ravelry, features a lace bodice and stockinette skirt.

It's a cute design. But Hey Teach has a real fit problem for larger women: the bodice below the armholes is always exactly the same length regardless of the size, and the length from the waist to the hem doesn't change either.

Take a look at the schematic and you'll see what I mean. The pattern calls for a different armhole depth depending on size. But the area beneath the armhole does not vary whether you're making the 32.5-inch size or the 55-inch size.

And why is an issue? Because at the smaller sizes, the ribbing beneath the lace panel falls a little beneath the bustline and just slightly above the waist, as shown in the pattern's sample sweater.

However, on an ample woman, that bodice ends smack dab at the nipple line and the hemline ends in the middle of the stomach. The photo below shows what I'm talking about. Unmodified, Hey Teach's bodice ends below the bust of the thinner woman and across the bust of the larger one. Similarly, the hemline hits the smaller woman at the hip and the larger woman at her belly.

This doesn't mean that larger women shouldn't make Hey Teach or similar designs. It just means that mods will lead to a better fit. If I were going to make this, I'd measure to figure out exactly where the empire waist should begin, making sure that the ribbing hit a couple of inches below my bust. 

Hey Teach is knit from the bottom up for eight inches. Then you knit about 1.5 inches of ribbing and switch to the lace pattern. The pattern tells you to knit until the piece measures 13 inches and then start the sleeve shaping. If I were making this sweater, I'd lengthen the stockinette portion of the skirt by an inch or two, add the ribbing, and  then knit the lace section until it was deep enough to cover the space between my armhole and empire waist - about nine or ten inches instead of the four inches called for in the pattern. Mind you, this is for my body - your mileage will vary.

These considerations apply to empire waists that are designed to fall below the bustline. Some sweaters are designed for that line to hit at the nipple line, such as Marly Bird's Sweetheart Tunic.

And some, like the ubiquitous February Lady Sweater, are designed to hit above the bustline.

Regardless, the moral of this story is: when you make an empire sweater, make sure you figure out exactly where the waistline should hit on your body and modify the sweater accordingly. You'll get a much better, more becoming fit if you do. Ensure that your sweater fits your body as the designer originally intended - even if they don't provide you with the specific directions to do so.


  1. This is perfectly timed! I am about 5 inches into the stockinette of Hey Teach. I hope it is ok, I linked to this post on my project page on ravelry so I would be sure to remember what adjustments to make.

  2. What a great article! Love the visual of the back-to-back ladies - really does show how much of a difference there can be between bodies.

  3. And thank you for posting a person built like me in the illustration. It was very helpful for me to see the comparison.

  4. Oh my, this was a wonderful post! I had just about dismissed the idea of ever making either HT or FL because of these very issues. You know, this would make a wonderful KAL. A pattern familiar to many and the focus is on making the adjustments. It takes the pattern out of forbidden territory.

  5. Excellent post!
    Thanks for pointing out these pitfalls that I wouldn't normally think about before starting knitting.
    Nothing more discouraging that getting a sweater almost finished and finding that the shaping is all wrong!!!

  6. exactly right: I have coached a number of my curvy friends in "waistline" placement. Now I have a post to point them to. Thanks!

  7. i love the explanations that you are giving. Being a Home Economist who has tailoring in her background, someone has to explain that not everyone's boob line lands where the pattern is meant to land. It makes me crazy. You are such a great advocate for women of all sizes in helping the to understand. Thank you for being there for us. I am one of those people who fall into a pocket on sizes. If I make one part fit sometimes another part is too big or too small, depending on the designer. You are doing a great job pointing this out, keep it up.
    Congrats on the pattern in the magazine, now if I can find it I will definitely buy it. I support you whole heartedly. Yeah for you, you are great.

  8. What a great visual of the two women in their undies. While words are good, something like that is gold!

  9. My problem with empire waistlines is that if not properly placed, they can make me look pregnant. No, thanks!!! As for the nipple-bisecting designs ... why? I don't think this flatters anyone at all, regardless of bust size.

  10. Thanks, everyone. The looking-pregnant thing is a real problem. They can also make an ample woman look like a little girl in a whatever-happened-to-baby-Jane way.

    I like empire waists though... just want them to fit properly!