Understanding the Factors that Influence How Knit Clothing is Sized.

Selecting the correct knit size for clothing is dependant upon many factors

by Sharon Nani, owner of The Knit Tree

Selecting the correct knit size for clothing is dependant upon many factors such as: the designer’s interpretation of their knitwear fashion line – which would include the ‘ease factor’, yarn characteristics, the shape of the body style, fabric construction, and personal taste. Understanding how these factors interrelate with each other will give the consumer confidence in selecting the correct size of knitwear for their personal taste. It will also enlighten the hand knitter, machine knitter, and the sewer about important things to consider in creating their knit project.

A Discussion about the Factors in Sizing Knit Clothing

History of Regulating the Garment Industry in Sizing the Clothing

Every wearing apparel designer in the clothing industry has a basis to help them create and select the correct size for their clothing to meet the sizing measurements of the consumer. This basis is a series of actual body measurement charts established in 1971 by the United States Bureau of Standards. (Note: now the NBS is known as National Institute of Standards and Technology – NIST) These measurement charts are known as the NBS Voluntary Product Standard Sizing for Patterns & Apparel. This has always been a ‘voluntary’ method for keeping some consistency in clothing sizes. You can read a lot more on the history of the Standardization of Women's Clothing Sizes. and actually see the 1927 Commercial Standard Charts and rules by following this Link http://ts.nist.gov/ts/htdocs/210/ncsci/docs/womens-ps42-70.pdf (note not all browsers will open this link do to the punctuation in the file name - but you should be able to access it through the history link).

You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to open this file. If you do not have it you may click here to go to the adobe site to download the free version.

At that time, Four categories in ladies clothing had been established:

  • JUNIOR Sizes: for heights of 5”2” to 5”6” and body builds of smaller waist, higher busts, and a shorter measurement from the back neck to waist measurement.
  • MISSES sizes: for heights of 5’3” to 5’7” and average proportions of body build.
  • WOMEN sizes: for heights of 5’4” to 5’6.5” and fuller more mature figures.
  • HALF SIZES: for 5’3.5” and shorter with medium to heavier body build and having a shorter measurement from the back neck to waist.

But as history tells us at the NIST Museum web site:
“However, with the passage of time, the standard became outdated. Both American men and women were becoming heavier. Whereas the average woman's figure once came a little closer to approaching the hourglass shape of the fashion magazines, she was now becoming more pear-shaped, with a thicker waist and fuller hips. At the same time that the average woman's body was changing shape, manufacturers

“The Department of Commerce officially withdrew the commercial standard for the sizing of women's apparel on January 20, 1983. Currently, only pattern companies continue to use the traditional sizing standards.”
“NIST began work once again on the problem in the 1990s," However, no new standard has been released yet. “

This leads us to the fact, that designers market their clothing with sizing appropriate to the market that they are trying to reach. In the knitwear clothing market, several factors are considered in choosing how to size the knit wear for this specialized market.

Selecting the correct knit size for clothing is dependant upon many factors.

Many examples and slight variations of these voluntary sizing charts can be seen on the back of sewing patterns by various pattern manufacturers. In addition, each designer places the size of the clothing on a clothing size label. An explanation of the knit designer’s ‘sizing labels’ is given to the store or sales representative to help in marketing the knit items. But this size, from different designers and clothing manufacturers, has variance dependant upon several factors and all of these factors interplay with each other. Therefore, the knit size can not be dependant upon any one of these factors alone. It would be very helpful for the consumer to be aware of these factors to help them select their knit clothing sizes with confidence.

  • Knit designers interpretation of their fashion knitwear line
  • The Ease Factor
  • Yarn Characteristics
  • Shape of Body Style
  • Fabric Construction
  • Personal Taste

Knit Designers Have Their Own Interpretation
of How Their Designs Should Fit Their Consumers

A knit clothing designer selects the yarns, colors, fabric construction, and the body shapes for his / her fashion line dependant upon the product and cliental they wish to market to. For example, a designer who wished to knit fitted sweaters for petite women might have size labels for pullover sweaters of a small, medium, large with finished sweater bust measurements of 30”, 34”, and 38”. Whereas, a knit designer targeting the larger women, might also have size labels of small, medium, large with finished sweater bust measurements of 42”, 48”, 52”. For these designers, it is helpful that they use the classification of one of the 4 categories established by the NBS: Juniors, Misses, Women, or Half Sizes along with the actual measurement charts for these categories.

The Knit Tree specialize in Unique Knits marketed in an online store. Therefore, each product contains its sizing description within the product information. Notice in the two Knit Camouflage examples below, a medium in a pullover sweater has a smaller finished chest measurement than a medium in a cardi jacket.

Knit Camo pullover sweater with a crew neckline
knit camouflage pullover sweater
Knit Camo Classic Cardi Jacket
knit camouflage cardi jacket.

Left: This knit camouflage pullover in a size Medium has a finished chest measurement of 42 inches. see the full sizing chart in the online store product description.

Right: This knit camouflage cardi jacket with zipper front in a size Medium has a finished chest measurement of 44 inches. See the full sizing chart in the online store product description.

This chest measurement difference has to do with the Ease Factor and Style factor. See more below.

Ease Factor and Personal Taste

he Ease factor is the difference between a person’s actual measurement and the finished measurement of the knit garment. For tops the measurement is usually the fullest part of chest or bust and for bottoms the measurement is usually the fullest part of the hip. The ease factor could be a positive (larger) or negative (smaller) number. Again the ease factor inter relates with yarn characteristics and fabric construction (how a fabric drapes or stretches), the body style and probably most important is personal taste!

A good example of this is The Knit Tree’s cotton pink camouflage camisole

  • Size: Small (to fit actual chest measurements: 29"-33" dependant upon the amount of ease that you like) - finished measurement 31”
  • Size: Medium (to fit actual chest measurements: 32"-36" dependant upon the amount of ease that you like) finished measurement 34”
  • Size: Large (to fit actual chest measurements: 36"-40" dependant upon the amount of ease that you like) finished measurement 38”
  • Size: X Large (to fit actual chest measurements: 40"-44" dependant upon the amount of ease that you like) finished measurement 42”

knit camouflage cami sleeveless top
knit camouflage cami sleeveless top.
Knit camo lined with sherpa Cardi Jacket
Knit camo lined with sherpa Cardi Jacket

This cami was designed to have a negative ease factor of -2, because it is made to be fitted and ‘stretch to fit.’ Personal taste would definitely come into play here. Take two people who’s actual measurement was 33”. Person 1 likes a very fitted look, that ‘stretches’ to fit. She would order a ‘small’. Person 2 likes a comfortable fit, not stretched. She would order a medium.

The Camouflage Pullover Jacket is another example and has an ease factor of positive 6” to 8”.  Read the sizing tips which give more information on ease factor for this ‘body style’ of garment. By comparing these totally different garments, you can see the importance of understanding ‘ease factor’ and how it relates to your personal taste and the body shape of the knitted garment.

Here’s a tip for how you can determine what your personal ease factor is for the body shapes that you like.

  • Measure the fullest part of your chest / bust in our undergarments.
  • Go to your closet and find a top you like and measure it at the spot about 2” below the armhole
  • Subtract measurement 2 from measurement 1. This is the ease factor for that body style.
  • Repeat the procedure for other kinds of garments: sweaters, cardi’s etc.

or those of you that machine knit, hand knit, or sew your own garments – this is a great way for you to know ‘how much ease’ to put into your own creations!

Yarn Characteristics and Shape of the Body Style

In depth information on different yarn characteristics will be written about in other articles for The Knit Tree’s web site. But it is important to address here as it relates to the ease factor and the body style or shape of the different pieces that make up the knit clothing. The Knit Tree has unique knit accessories or knit clothing hand loomed from several different yarn fibers each with different yarn characteristics.

Rayon or its blends are a great yarn to knit with. Since a characteristic of rayon is that the relative density or weight of the fibers gives great ‘hang’ or drape, it is used in clothing that you want to ‘swing and sway with you. Also, viscose rayon is one of the most absorbent of all textile fibres as well as being a good conductor of heat, so it is a great fiber for summer wear. The rayon fiber is an excellent fiber to hand paint on leading to even more creativity. The Knit Tree has lots of scarves knit with rayon.

Cotton is a good conductor of heat so it is also good for summer wear. Read why cotton is great to use in baby clothes.   Then go to our online catalog in The Babies Corner to see all the ways cotton is used in knit baby clothes. Cotton has very little natural elasticity so it makes a very stable fabric. Sizing Cotton clothing is more like the sewing fabrics. Therefore, all cotton garments are sized with a closer ease factor to fit the actual measurements.

Read about The Knit Tree’s special blend of merino wool and acrylic yarn fibres and why these yarns were combined for their special yarn properties and characteristics to make fabric for camouflage clothing.

Camouflage Cargo Pants are sized with this stable fabric.

Fabric Construction

Knit fabric construction plays a big role in determining how to size knit clothing. Sharon Nani wrote a series of articles on fabric construction for Machine Knitters Source Magazine. These articles will be posted on The Knit Tree’s web site soon. So come back to check for this information. Highlights: There are three types of knit stitches that form the construction of knit fabric. Each have their own properties that would effect how to size clothing knit from these fabrications.

  • Knit Stitch which would include lace is a stable fabric. Its ease factor would be based on the yarn and body shape. It would have some stretch, so could be used in a variety of ways from fitted garments to loose and drapey. The Knit Tree has several examples of knit stitch (stockinet or lace) in several different yarns. The cotton baby sweaters with the autism heart puzzle painted on it is knit stockinette.
  • Tuck Stitches are stretchy. Therefore, if they were used in knit clothing, you would use less of an ease factor when determining the correct size to knit or purchase as it would easily stretch to fit many sizes.  This is why tuck stitches are often used in baby clothes, because it would stretch more to the baby as he / she grows and be able to be worn for a longer age period.
  • Slip Stitches which would also include fairisle have the least amount of stretch, so a larger ease factor would be used in selecting the size for the knit clothing.

In summary, understanding how all these factors effect how to select the correct size for knitting or purchasing knit clothing will give you confidence in your choices!

  • Knit designers interpretation of their fashion knitwear line
  • The Ease Factor
  • Yarn Characteristics
  • Shape of Body Style
  • Fabric Construction
  • Personal Taste

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