Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Ease to please

Ever since I started this blog, I've been worrying about ease. Ease isn't so easy, unfortunately.

Let's start with a definition of ease: the difference between your body measurements and your apparel measurements, usually and particularly the width of the body or sleeves.

Ease determines the extra room you need to move. Remember in high school when you wore those skin-tight jeans that left marks at your waist? Or maybe that's just me. I could have used a little ease back in the day. Now I'm grateful for the lycra they put in mom jeans. I get all the comfort I need to accommodate lumpiness and eliminate bagginess. Best of all, no uncomfortable zippers either! Thank God for elastic waistlines. (I'm sure three-quarters of the female population would cringe at this proclamation, but I don't care. It's my truth.)

Ease also determines the room you have to layer garments. For example, if you want to wear a T-shirt under a sweater, you don't need a lot of ease. But if you're going to wear a coat over a bulky sweater, you want lots of ease. We all remember poor Randy from "A Christmas Story." (I just spied his cool mittens - I'd love to make a pair of those.)

Speaking of bagginess, it is also related to ease. While we may love wearing a big sweatshirt on a blustry day, it's probably not our most becoming look. But if we're laying around the house, we really don't care, do we?

So what does this all mean for knitting? The Craft Yarn Council defines ease as follows:
So, if you have a 50-inch bust measurement and want to make a sweater with standard ease, you should make the sweater 52 to 54 inches wide. In contrast, your baggy sweatshirt may have 12 inches of ease or even more.

Let's talk a moment about negative ease. Designers often make sweaters with zero ease or even negative ease if they want the garment to be very form fitting. One example: the Peyton Cardigan by Connie Chang Chinchio. This sweater just wouldn't work without negative ease; the gaping at the front openings is integral to the design.

Pullovers also come with negative ease. One example: Ysolda's Snow White. She looks lovely in this design, doesn't she?

Negative ease for larger figures often breaks down along generational lines, I suspect. Younger women, regardless of size, wear much more revealing clothing now than in the past. As an example, look at this dress from Forever 21. Even when I was thinner, even when I was younger, I wouldn't have worn something this fitting or short. I just wouldn't. But most young women seem to be comfortable with this look and good for them.

Maybe it's because I'm old, but I want positive ease and I believe it's important for larger figures. I've long suspected that ease on a skinny gal works differently than ease on an ample one. If we were talking about height instead of weight, an extra few inches would make a big difference between a tall and a petite woman, right? Wouldn't the same be true for wider women?

My bottom line? My bottom needs more ease than a thin woman's. My knitting friend, Dottie once suggested that ease should expand proportionally as the sweater increases. She's right! Let me give you a real-world example.

Assume a designer creates a sweater pattern for a 36-inch bust with two inches of ease for a finished bust size of 38 inches. If we divide the ease by the finished bust size, we discover that ease is 6% (2 / 38 = .06 or 6%).

Now, let's assume I want to make this sweater for my 56-inch bust. The problem is, if I only add two inches, it means I'm only adding 4% of ease, as shown in this little spreadsheet.

What I really need to do is add at least 6% ease to my 56-inch bust size -  or 3.5 inches, not just 2 inches. The additional ease assures that my sweater fits the same as the smaller version. Makes sense - if you can get past the math anyway. :-)

But I still wonder if ample women need even more ease - or at least different ease. Perhaps the bodice should only have two inches of ease, but the hips (or my hips anyway) should have six? I suspect this would work better for me, but I don't have any empirical evidence other than that my last sweater, the Under Toad, has this ease and it fits me really well.

So, I'm still worrying about ease. I'll keep experimenting and cogitating and will share the results of my research when I have more to report.


  1. You seem to be the voice in the wilderness on this topic. Every article I read on 'fit' indicates that negative ease over the bust is what we all want.

    But I'm with you. I think it makes me look bigger than I want to look. There isn't enough room for me to move freely. It's all very personal as usual.

  2. I just discovered your blog via Ravelry and am LOVING it. I have a really funky figure (as I expect most women do, really), and as a knitter starting to tackle a sweater, your posts are incredibly helpful. Thanks for being a voice for us!

    (Also: love the Garp reference. Hearted!)

  3. Tight is not my style!
    So I do a lot of worrying about ease. I like the fact that knitting patterns now have a FINISHED size listed. That way I can determine which size to make by adding my 4 to 6 inches and know it should come out right.
    Yes, larger people do need more ease and I'm glad you did the math, Julie! I hadn't thought of it in terms of percentages, I just knew it was true. (see, you DO need to write a book!)

    You made my day with the mention of elastic waist jeans. When I was younger, I thought I'd NEVER wear those 'old lady' pants. Well guess what! here I am, loving those darn things!!! You get to a place in life where comfort is more important than style. I've been at that place for a good long while now....

  4. I forgot to mention that when I made my two most recent sweaters, I added four inches of ease around the hips and when I blocked, maybe added an inch. They fit perfectly, my button placket lays flat and there is no pull at all between the buttons. If I had used the standard 2-4 it would have been too tight. Even with 4-5 inches ease, it is not 'loose fitting'. It's just right!

  5. Well, Julie, you did it again ... you got the dusty cogs of my mind going on the topic of ease. I never thought of ease as a percentage of the garment over actual measurements, but you are so RIGHT! We larger gals really need a percentage vs. a number of inches to be in line with what is comfortable and becoming. BRAVO! for bringing this unheralded truth out into the light of day. Oh, and I'm with you on wishing that designers would post a schematic of a sweater BEFORE one plunks down the cash for a pattern. Same topic, different issue, but it's all good. ;-)


  6. You know, you may just have hit on why, despite all my math and all my re-knitting, I am still a little unhappy with the way my Folklore fits. Too little ease at the underarm. I mean I knew that right off, but I never figured out why my calculations were so far off. This is the most likely explanation yet. I won't be knitting another for me sweater for a while, but after Christmas, I'm going to put it to the test.

    And all these years I have been complaining about how large sizes are upsized completely by percentages without regard to anything else. Whodda thunk it.

  7. So good to read this, Julie! I've been so busy lately that I haven't been keeping up, so am playing catch-up today. And this post is just great. I'm o glad to read all the work you're doing on this.

    I used percentages when I reworked my Braids cardigan years back, because I wanted to keep the look of the original (its proportions) while knitting at a significantly smaller gauge.

    I actually like math, and your explanation above is simple and elegant. Well done! I'll be interested to see what you come up with next.

  8. aww, I just saw this, and you thought of me!!! I'm glad that my one little A-HA!! moment helped so much... Dottie

  9. My problem is, the top of me is a 22-24 and the bottom of me is at least a 26, so I'm forever having to "negatively ease" the top of patterns if I want them to fit good. Your pic makes me suspect that although your size is larger, it is a bit more proportionately so. I am thinking you'd look great in an aran, and wouldn't that be a fun "easing" project to try? Would love to see where you went with it