Shopping for clothes can often be a challenge. Have you ever noticed that you fit a certain dress size in one store - say, a size 10 - but in another store you find yourself fitting a size 8 or 12? Obviously, your own body has not changed in between visiting different clothing stores. The difference lies in how the retailers and manufacturers use different sizing notations to represent the physical size of their garments. These dress size numbers reveal very little about the actual measurements of the garments, and do not follow a single standard. The result is that we may have to try on many different items of clothing before finding the one that fits us best.
What does this all have to do with knitting? Well, it is a good reminder that when we purchase garments from a store, we could easily do so without having a clear sense of our own body measurements. When we knit garments for ourselves, however, we don?t have the option of trying on garments before acquiring them, so we need to start with a true sense of the size and fit that we want, in real measurements.
One of the best ways to start this process is to enlist some help from a friend. It is a real challenge to get accurate measurements on your own! You can help each other out by measuring each other; likely doing this with a friend will feel more comfortable than with a stranger. The CYCA guidelines give some sense of the kinds of measurements knitting patterns will rely on, and are recommended body measurements to note for yourself. Among these some of the most crucial are: your bust circumference (body circumference at fullest part of the bust), cross-back (measurement across shoulders between the ideal placement of the shoulder seams), and the back-waist (length from base of neck to center of waist, along the spine - useful when making sweaters with waist shaping). There are several more measurements in their list that can help for all kinds of garments.
This wonderful post at Knitting Daily demonstrates how this measuring happens on your own body, with (clothed) photo examples of taking bust, hip, and waist (sometimes hard to find!) measurements. For best results, take these measurements while wearing nothing but your undergarments, and keep the measuring tape held at your body and not tight or loose. The key here is to get an accurate measurement of your body, so that you can decide what garment size to knit.
Once you know your true body measurements (which can change from year to year, if your weight or lifestyle changes), the next step is to ask yourself what the size of the garment you want to make should be. Choosing from the sizes in the written pattern should take into account both the style and your own preference. For example, a drop-shouldered classic pullover might be intended to be worn loosely, in which case you would be wise to choose a size with a bust circumference a few inches larger than your body. On the other hand, a more fitted cardigan with waist shaping and set-in sleeves could be more suited to a close fit, so you may want to choose a size that is the same or smaller than your bust size.
This is what knitters refer to as ease. A garment with positive ease is meant to have a loose fit (some sweaters, mittens, ponchos, shawls, capes), and a garment with negative ease is meant to have a snug or close fit (some sweaters, socks, hats). Once you know the kind of style and ease you prefer, you can begin to create the kind of knitted garments that will suit you best. To learn more about creating perfectly fitting knits, enjoy the Craftsy online knitting class Knit to Flatter.