Ease is the difference between the wearer’s measurement and the garment’s measurement, but knowing that doesn’t always help when it comes to choosing a size to knit if you struggle with visualizing that difference! There are three types of ease you’ll hear discussed with regard to knitting patterns, and they’re all based on a simple math equation: garment’s chest circumference – wearer’s chest circumference = ease.
Negative ease is created when the garment is smaller than the person wearing it, which makes a tight fit thanks to knitting’s natural stretch. Zero ease is created when the garment and wearer have the same chest measurement, which makes a snug but not tight fit. Positive ease is created when the garment is larger than the person wearing it, which is what’s currently most popular in hand knitting patterns and what we’re going to talk about here!
Positive ease can vary from 1” (2.5cm) to over 20” (51 cm) of ease, depending on the desired fit and style of the garment. That’s a huge range, so how do you figure out what you like best and how it will look? The best way to find out what different amounts of ease look like on your own body is to measure looser and tighter sweaters you already own. But when you don’t have sweaters to reference, the second best option is to look at the same sweater on multiple people with different amounts of positive ease!
We took photos of the Follow the Lines Cardigan by Vera Marcu on two Knit Picks team members in addition to the professional model to show you how the same sweater can look different with more or less ease. This pattern recommends 8” (20cm) positive ease, and all of these photos are showing the Follow the Lines Cardigan with more or less ease because none of us are perfect matches for the sizes, an experience that’s familiar for every sweater knitter!
The Follow the Lines Cardigan sample has a 44” (112cm) chest circumference, and Isabel has a 34” (86cm) chest circumference. Using the math outlined above to calculate the ease, 44” (112cm) sweater – 34” (86cm) wearer = 10” (26cm) positive ease. This gives a loose fit that’s perfect for layering and is close to the pattern’s recommended 8” (20cm) of positive ease.
The professional model has a 38.5” (98cm) chest circumference, so when she wears the Follow the Lines Cardigan sample that has a 44” (112cm) chest circumference, it has 5.5” (14cm) of positive ease. The sweater still has room for layers, but it’s not as loose looking when compared to how it looked on Isabel.
Andi has a 43” (109 cm) chest circumference, which gives the Follow the Lines Cardigan sample 1” (2.5cm) of positive ease on her. The pattern’s recommended ease is 8” (20cm) through the chest, so this is 1-2 sizes smaller than would be ideal for her. If you choose to ignore the pattern’s recommended ease, it’s important to check that other key measurements will still fit such as the neck opening, cross shoulder, upper arm circumference, and wrist circumference. Because this fit is so far from the recommended ease in the pattern, the sleeves are tight and have negative ease where you’d typically want positive ease, and the cardigan would be challenging to layer over pieces that are not also tight.
With this knowledge in mind, it’s easier to pick a size to knit. First take the wearer’s chest measurements, add the recommended ease amount, and then choose the size that matches, or if you’re between sizes, use this information to help you decide if you should go up or down. Using Andi as an example again, she’d add 8” (20cm) to her chest circumference of 43” (109 cm), giving the ideal measurement of 51” (129cm), which is not a size offered in the pattern. She’d have to choose between the 3rd and 4th sizes and decide if she’d like 5” (13cm) or 9” (23cm) of positive ease, and using the other examples within this blog post, she’d go with the 4th size giving 9” (23cm) of positive ease to get a fit that’s similar to the sample sweater on Isabel. Once you understand ease, it’s much easier to consistently create sweaters you’ll love!