Understanding Ease in Knitting

Sizing Ease When you learn to knit and make that garter stitch scarf, it is guaranteed to fit someone. When you're ready to up your game to wearable garments, things like gauge and ease become much more important factors.

When you learn to knit and make that garter stitch scarf, it is guaranteed to fit someone. When you're ready to up your game to wearable garments, things like gauge and ease become much more important factors. More and more published patterns are including the amount of recommended ease in a garment. So what do we mean by ease?

Louet Sweater                with Positive Ease
If you look at any knitting or crochet garment pattern, near the top you will find a section about sizing. Most patterns say "Finished Bust” followed by a list of sizes. You find your bust size, say 40", and that is the size you knit... right? The issue of ease comes to play when thinking about HOW you want that sweater to fit your body. Do you want it to be oversized, like a sweatshirt? Do you want it to be formfitting? Do you want it to skim your curves or hide them? These are the questions the right amount of ease will answer. Louet has an excellent blog post with some pictures that help define this topic.

Here are some quick guidelines for understanding what type of ease you might like in a garment (remember that your actual bust measurement is measured at the fullest point of your bust - it is not your bra size):

  • Negative ease: Actual bust measures 40" and finished sweater measurement is 38" - this will result in a very snug, formfitting sweater.
  • Neutral or Zero ease: Actual bust measures 40" and finished sweater measurement is 40" - this will result in a fitted sweater.
  • Positive ease: Actual bust measures 40" and finished sweater measurement is 42" - this will result in a loose fitting sweater.

Most patterns also list a "To Fit Bust" measurement. The "To Fit Bust" is a range of measurements for each size. It is not the actual "finished measurement" of the garment. The "To Fit Bust" size will correspond to the finished size with the amount of ease the designer believes the garment should be made with. For example:

To Fit Bust Size: 32-34 (36-38, 40-42, 44-46, 48-50)"
Finished Bust Measurement: 35 (39, 43, 47, 51)"
Depending on your size the intended ease for this pattern will give you 1-3" of positive ease.

Using both the "To Fit Bust" and "Finished Bust" measurements you can pick the size that will both fit and contain the amount of ease you prefer, as shown below from the Twist Collective Blog.

Sizing Ease

One other thing to consider when thinking about ease is gauge. The finished measurements of a garment depend on getting exact gauge. Here is an example from a blog post by Marie Greene of Olive Knits that exemplifies the potential problems:

These formulas are all well and good until you discover that your gauge has gone astray. A sweater with an intended 2″ of ease can very easily morph into a sweater with 5″ of ease or 2″ negative ease because of a slight discrepancy in gauge. Let me show you how this works:

Sample Sweater:

  1. 216 stitches at the bust
  2. Gauge: 24 stitches over 4″ (6 st per inch)
    Result: 36″ bust

If your gauge varies, the gauge changes. Check out these examples (Same number of stitches = 216. The only difference is the gauge):

  1. Gauge: 23 stitches over 4″ (5.75 st per inch)
    Result: 37.5″ bust
  2. Gauge: 25 stitches over 4″ (6.25 st per inch)
    Result: 35.5″ bust
  3. Gauge: 26 stitches over 4″ (6.5 st per inch)
    Result: 33″ bust
  4. Gauge: 22 stitches over 4″ (5.5 st per inch)
    Result: 39″ bust

- Marie Greene

As you can see, even a quarter of a stitch per inch can have a significant impact when you are working on a garment! Read Marie’s original blog post for more great information about ease.


Here are some more resources for understanding ease, and knitting garments that fit!
Knit to Flatter
Knit to Flatter
Knit Wear Love
Knit Wear Love
You Can Knit That
You Can Knit That
  • Elaine Deckelman

    Another excellent article.