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Published on January 7th, 2017 | by Merion

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How to present size information by Kate Atherley

It’s infuriating when patterns don’t show sizes clearly. Kate Atherley shows you how to present size information in your knitting patterns with relative ease.

Presenting sizing information

Every knitting pattern needs size information – even if there’s only one version in the instructions. After all, everything has a size!

There are really two pieces of information that a pattern needs to communicate: the size and the measurements.

Size is, effectively, an identifier – a label, what the tag on your t-shirt says. It might say “one size”, or “small”, “medium” and “large”. Sometimes this is labelled as “To Fit”.

Measurements – sometimes listed as “Actual” or “Finished Measurements” give, well… the actual measurements of the knitted piece.

Kate Atherley sketches

The size information should indicate how many different ‘versions’ are presented in the pattern. That is, is there only one – e.g. a tea cozy or a scarf might only come in one size – or are there multiple sizes – e.g. small, medium and large.

And in the case of garments and fitted accessories like socks, hats or mittens, the size information should give knitters a solid sense of who is to wear it, who the piece is for. For example, a hat pattern that list small, medium and large options isn’t really all that helpful: is that small for babies, medium for children and large for adults? Or is that three adult sizes? Better to add an extra word or two, to make it clear, e.g. Adult Small (Medium, Large) or Baby (Child, Adult). Although it seems to have fallen out of favour, I like the usage of “To Fit” for this information, as it’s a nice reminder to me of what sort of things I need to include, and conveys a bit more to the knitter.

(Personally, I avoid using numbers/measurements for this information, as that can cause confusion. Many knitters don’t really feel all that confident about reading sizing details, and a lack of standards in how it’s presented can make the situation worse. When presented with a pattern that lists 40 inches as the “bust size”, some knitters will read that as the “to fit” and some will read it as the “finished”.)

But size on its own isn’t enough. When I’m teaching classes to knitters on garment fit, I explain it this way: if you’ve ever shopped for a T-shirt, you’ll know that there’s a fairly significant difference in the large size offered at a shop like H&M that caters to teens and young adults, and the large size offered at a shop that caters to an older crowd.

This is why we also should include the measurement information. The measurements tell the knitter how big the thing will be, once it’s been knitted. Include a few key numbers in the pattern information up front, and then use the schematic to communicate more detail. With a garment, for example, you would typically list length from shoulder to lower edge, and circumference taken just under the arms – known as the bust/chest circumference. These are the measurements a knitter uses to visualize the garment, in essence. For a sock, for example, you need foot and/or ankle circumference. For a hat, head circumference; for a mitten, hand length and circumference.

Looking at sizing

The schematic provides an easy way to communicate more detail – cuff length for a hat, for example, or the full depth, length and width of any ear-flaps. For a garment, sleeve length, armscye depth, neck opening and depth, shoulder width are all helpful.

(And yes, even an item that only comes in one size or doesn’t really have a “fit” should still list the finished measurements: If I’m making a shawl, I want to get a sense of whether it’s going to be a kerchief or a big enveloping wrap. And I can’t always tell that from the photos.)

Rosetta Tharpe by Kate Atherley

The key measurements should be available to knitters who are browsing the patterns before they buy, and I actually think it’s a good idea to make the schematic available, too, so a knitter can see the details of the garment shape and size before they commit to the purchase.

But even that’s not enough. After all, different types of garments fit different ways. A beanie-style hat should be worn tighter than a beret. A heavy cardigan should be worn larger than a sleek little sleeveless top.

That’s why, for patterns where fit matters, we should also give information about how to wear the garment, about how to choose the size to make – that is, an ease recommendation. After all, you had a specific fit in mind when you designed the garment: help the knitters make the best choice by telling them about that fit. Be detailed and specific.

For example:
Sock should stretch to fit; choose the size with about 2-2.5cm smaller than the circumference of your foot, measured around the ball of the foot.
Garment is intended to be worn oversized: choose a size with 4-6 inches/10-15cm larger than your own actual chest measurement, taken just under the arms.

(I personally tend to avoid the word ease, as I’ve found that it’s not broadly understood, especially by the newer knitters my patterns are typically aimed at. Consider whether your audience is comfortable with the term.)

It is also helpful to annotate the photographs to provide information about how the garment is being modelled: how is it being worn? List both the size being worn and the model’s measurements, or give the ease. For example, “model is wearing size M, worn with about 5cm of positive ease”. (Just telling me the model is wearing the M isn’t very helpful if I don’t know how big the model is!)

The more information you give here, the better the knitter’s chances of producing a flattering and well-fitting garment. It’s true that older patterns didn’t give the same amount of detail, but that doesn’t mean it was a good strategy! Digital publishing allows us to offer more guidance to the knitter, so that they can make a better choice. After all, if the knitter is going to go to this much cost and trouble to buy your pattern, buy yarn and knit the thing, you want them to be successful. A major component of garment knitting success is being happy with how the garment fits.

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About the Author

Merion admits that her stash is wildly out of control, but has many projects in dream-form! She loves knitting, crochet, Shire horses, cake and garden swing-seats.


Last updated: February 7th, 2017.

One Response to How to present size information by Kate Atherley

  1. Lateisha says:

    Thanks for shignar. What a pleasure to read!

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