Designing Knits To Fit

One of the most challenging aspects of designing knit clothing is learning how to make the garment fit the body. The goal is to coordinate the garment’s style and structure with the body to get the best fit. Nothing looks more fabulous than well-fitting clothes, no matter what size or shape the body. 

If you’ve knit for some time, you understand that the gauge of the knit fabric determines whether or not you obtain measurements given in a pattern, but this is only one aspect of fit. When designing your garment you need the body measurements of the wearer to write the pattern, but more importantly to achieve the proper fit. Other factors affect fit including the garment’s silhouette, its structure and function, the type of knit fabric, and the amount of ease incorporated for comfort’s sake. The good news is hand knits are much easier to fit than woven clothing.

Establishing Silhouette

A silhouette is the outline or shape of a garment. It reveals the shape of a sweater, cardigan, skirt, dress or whatever it is you want to make. There are many sources of interesting silhouettes for you to consider, from fashion magazines to favourite garments in your closet. Schematics in pattern instructions are shapes or silhouettes that have been professionally designed and reveal other important information required to knit the item. The basic silhouettes can be very close fitting, close fitting, classic fit, loose fitting, and oversized. A close fitting knit has more ease of movement than a similarly styled woven garment, because of a knit fabric’s innate stretchiness. 

Taking Body Measurements

Once you’ve established the silhouette for your design, there are key body measurements required for each style of garment to ensure that it will fit properly. The Craft Yarn Council (CYC), as well other sources have created standard sizing charts for knit and crochet items. These are similar to the sizing systems created by the garment industry, which vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. It’s important to note that these standards serve only as a guideline, and are helpful when beginning to design. There are so many different body types and shapes, that taking accurate body measurements is key to a great fit. 

For accuracy, measurements should be taken over undergarments rather than loose clothing, and wear shoes for a skirt or dress design. Hold the tape taut, but not tight against the body.

A. Bust/Chest – This is the most important measurement for sizing the majority of knit garment designs. Measure around the fullest part of the bust.

B. Back Shoulder Width – Measure across the back from the tip of one shoulder bone to the other. This is an important measurement for close and classic fitting garments with set-in sleeves.

C. Neck Width – Measure around the neck. The neck width of a finished garment is larger than this measurement to accommodate the head size.

D. Armhole Depth – Measure from top of shoulder bone to the underarm.

E. Back Waist Length – Measure from bone at base of back neck to the waist. Add in the measurement from waist to below hips, depending on the length desired and style of garment.

F. Sleeve Length – With the elbow slightly bent, measure along inside of arm from the underarm to the wrist bone.

G.Wrist – Measure around the wrist just above the hand.

H. Upper Arm (Bicep) – Measure around the fullest area in the middle of the upper arm.

I. Waist – Measure loosely around narrowest area. To find the natural waistline, tie a piece of string around the waist and let it fall, and measure at this point.

J. Hip – Measure circumference at fullest area below the waist.

K. Skirt Length – The point on the leg of desired length.

The bust/chest measurement is the most important, and is used to determine the size to make in pattern instructions. Remember this is not the finished size. Waist and hip measurements are more important for shaped or cropped sweaters, and skirt or dress designs. Note: When drawing schematics, the circumference measurements are divided in half when flat knitting the pieces. Men’s and children’s body measurements are pretty much made in the same areas.

key body measurements


Taking Garment Measurements

When beginning to design projects, it’s helpful to take measurements of a simple garment that fits the wearer well. These measurements are the finished measurements of your design, and not the actual body measurements.

To measure a knit garment from your wardrobe, lay the garment on a flat surface like a blocking board, and smooth out any wrinkles. Carefully measure the areas indicated by the arrowed lines in the diagram below. Garment measurements do not include the circumference for bust/chest, neck or wrist; they are half of this measurement.

taking garment measurements

Garment Styles and Function

Novice designers should begin by designing basic garment shapes. The garment shape often influences the function, and fits the body loose enough to allow for movement during activities. Where and when it will be worn? What style, sweater, cardigan, vest, skirt, sleeves, neck edgings?

Knit Fabric

Swatching is important at the outset of the design process. The knit fabric is meant to support the garment silhouette and structure. Remember that the yarn, fibers, and pattern stitches, work together to determine a fabric’s characteristics. A soft, stretchy fabric is suitable for close fitting garments and ones that drape. A stiff, inflexible linen fabric will not drape, and would be unsuitable if drape is a quality you want. A 3/4 jacket made with a flared hemline requires a firm, structured fabric in a fiber like wool, and not one that is so soft it sags. A garment made with bulky or fuzzy yarns like mohair will have an inner measurement that is smaller than the outer measurement, and will affect how it looks on the body.


A sweater made exactly to your body measurements would be extremely uncomfortable to wear, and you probably won’t be able to get it on. To make the perfect fitting garment, you need to determine the amount of “ease” or extra fullness (inches/centimeters) added to the body measurements so it fits comfortably. There are two types of ease, wearing and design. Wearing ease allows for body movement. Design ease is fullness beyond the wearing ease to create a specific style.

As indicated in establishing silhouette, the fit of a garment can vary from a very close fit to oversized. It’s possible to have “negative ease”. Negative ease is a measurement smaller than your body measurement. It creates a tight fitting garment, such as a rib knit sweater that skims the body. Negative ease works well with knit garments because of their stretchiness.

Standard ease allowance charts suggest the amount of ease to add for the type of fit expected. Charts are just guidelines and not absolute.

Fit and Ease Chart

Very Close Fitting/Negative Ease – A garment that is very tight, fits smaller than the actual bust/chest measurement. The amount is about 2-4In(5-10cm) less than the actual bust/chest measurement.

Close Fitting/Zero Ease – These garments have a body skimming effect, and are often the actual bust/chest size.

Classic Fit/Some Positive Ease – Garment is slightly larger than the actual bust/chest size, and around 2-4in(5-10cm) are added to this measurement.

Loose Fitting/Extra Positive Ease  – A loosely fitted garment is larger than bust/chest, adding about 4-6in(10-15cm) of extra fullness.

Oversized/Extreme Positive Ease – Much larger than the actual bust/chest measurement, adding 6in(15cm) or more of extra fullness.

Designing knits to fit properly include choosing a style according to its function and personal preferences. Do you like your garment to fit loose, tight or somewhere in between? Will it be worn next to the skin or over clothing? Take into account the type of yarn and fibers that make up the knit fabric. Wool has more elasticity than cotton, and holds its shape differently in a similar pattern. Take accurate body measurements and decide on the amount of ease to incorporate into the design. Other garments can be used to help with measurements, but remember the ease is already built in. Once you’ve established the silhouette and type of fit you want, you can move confidently to the next stage of the design process, calculating gauge and knitting it up.

I’ve always preferred knitting to sewing for its forgiving nature, but also for the fact that a knit’s innate stretchiness makes it easier to fit than a woven garment.