A picture of a partially knit grey sweater with a measuring tape on top.  There is also a cream gauge ruler in the image and the sweater is pinned with T pins to blocking mats

Episode 16, Easing into Ease

March 10th, 2022

Like a lot of things in knitting I’m not sure when I became aware of the term ‘ease’ but I think most people who have made more than a couple of jumpers and had varying degrees of luck with fit will know that there is ‘something’ there. 

When I started knitting garments, I measured myself and made the garment set out for my size. This is still often the case but you see more and more patterns that now include notes such as ‘designed to be worn with between x inches and y inches of positive ease’ or ‘this pattern has been designed to be worn with negative ease, for a positive ease make a size at least X inches above your chest size’ and so on.

To make sure that you are making the right size, it’s important to understand ease, what it is, how to calculate it and what impact it may have on the size you choose.

What is ease?

The best definition I found was in The Principles of Knitting by June Hemmons Hiatt – “Ease is the difference between the body measurements and the garment measurements”.*

I also liked I like Wikipedia’s simple definition: ‘ease is the amount of room a garment allows the wearer beyond the measurements of their body.

Positive, Negative and Neutral ease

Positive ease is where the garment finished measurements are larger than the part of the body that it is designed to fit. For example, if the finished measurement at the bust is 44 inches and the bust size of the wearer is 42 inches, there is 2 inches of positive ease in the bust of the sweater.

Negative ease is when the garment finished measurements are smaller than the part of the body that it is designed to fit. Negative ease is really common in mittens, socks and hats which are designed to fit closely. Julie Hemmons Hiatt indicates that a percentage of between 5 and 10% is common for negative ease and it’s the amount of ease I use for my sock patterns. I used to say fits like a glove for socks but actually socks should fit like socks!

Neutral ease is when there isn’t a difference between the finished measurement and the body measurement.

Calculating ease

Some patterns will tell you about the ease the garment ‘should’ be worn with, others won’t. Those that don’t however are often still telling you what the ease is. For example, in my Simply the Simplest Sock pattern, in one of the sizes, the To Fit size is 9 inches but the finished size of the sock is 8 inches. That means there is 1 inch of negative ease.

Of course, ease will vary across all parts of the body as well and understanding that is key to enjoying the garment that you make. When you have a garment, comparing the finished size of the garment against your own body measurements, rather than the To Fit measurements, can be really useful.

Knowing how to calculate the ease in different parts of the garment means that if you don’t like the amount of ease set out in a pattern you can work to change it.

I’m relatively even proportioned but I have relatively chunky arms. I vary in size A LOT but even at my smallest my arms are not as proportionately small. Human bodies, different shapes and sizes across bodies and within a single body!

Why does ease matter?

In summary it’s mostly about picking the right size to make so that it fits exactly how you want it to and not always how the designer envisaged it.

It’s also really important when substituting yarns because some yarns may not suit the amount of ease being specified in the pattern and it’s really important to consider that. 

What is the right amount of ease?

A question that designers wrangle with but making a decision for yourself is about comfort and how you want the garment to look and feel.

Not just a knitting concept

Ease is not just a knitting concept, it applies to sewing, crochet and I guess anything else where you are putting something on a body that is designed to fit or not fit it in some way. It is useful to understand that the fabric you use will have an impact on ease. So with sewing in a very ridged material, excluding ease makes for a very restricted movement whereas the same garment in the same size in a knit fabric would move more easily.

You won’t see ease on bed spreads but you might see ‘overhang’ or you might see ‘designed to fit a y size pillow insert loosely or snugly’

And now my dears, I must go and cast-on some negative ease socks.

I hope you have enjoyed this episode and I’ll be back in a couple of weeks to talk about the journey of knitting!

Take care lovelies,

Michelle x

*A note on the book – it’s a super reference book. It can be a bit heavy going at times but I wouldn’t be without it. I keep finding new things in it. It’s a good old-fashioned Encyclopaedia with the reassuring heft of one.

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