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How To Read A Knitting Pattern: Size, Measurements, and Ease

Liat Gat - Founder

December 10, 2010

Choosing the right size of garment to knit when you begin your pattern involves understanding how measurements and ease work in knitting. Here's how to understand the sizing section of your knitting pattern.

When I posted the article on the three reasons you’ve got to know how to read a knitting pattern, reader Jodi asked a great question: so how do you read a knitting pattern?

While the actual instructions for a pattern are written using standard abbreviations you can look up in your free Video Knitting Dictionary, there is a lot more to a knitting pattern than just abbreviations.

How To Read a Knitting Pattern

Anatomy of a Knitting Pattern – Part 1 of 2

Most of the time, knitting patterns follow a standardized format and use standardized abbreviations.

This isn’t always the case, especially if the pattern you are reading has been written down on a piece of scratch paper by a yarn shop employee or has been self-published (on Ravelry or on blogs).

That’s okay – you’ll learn how to read those too. The more you know about a language, the more easily you can spot, understand, and even appreciate slang.

The good news is, professionally published patterns definitely follow a general format that breaks the information down into logical sections.

It’s important to look over each section so you know what you’re getting into (just like you would look over a travel agent’s itinerary for your next vacation – you trust them, but you should check to see if you like what they’ve got planned).

The sections are (the order may vary slightly):

  • Pattern title and designer
  • Sizes available, with measurements
  • Yarn requirements (what kind, how thick, and how much)
  • Needle and/or gauge requirements
  • Special abbreviations or skills used
  • Pattern notes
  • Pattern instructions
  • About the designer/contact info

I’ll cover the first two sections in detail today. Think you know all about size and measurements? Don’t skip the explanation of ease.

Pattern Title And Designer

Pretty self-explanatory. An interesting trend is to name the pattern something that is hard to pronounce, confusing knitters everywhere.

So if you don’t know how to pronounce the name of the pattern (e.g. Clapotis), chances are other people don’t, either.

If you like the pattern, you may want to take note of the designer so you can look for other designs by him or her.

Sizes Available, With Measurements

Beatnik - pattern diagramAll patterns should indicate what sizes the project or garment comes in, and give corresponding measurements for those sizes.

Parentheses are used for larger sizes, for example:

  • Size: S(M,L)
  • Measurement (inches around bust): 28(36,42)

In this example, the medium size measures 36 inches around the bust.

Sometimes the designer will give the measurements of the body part the garment is designed to fit, sometimes he or she will give the actual measurements of the finished garment.

Any difference in these two measurements is called ease, and, when taken into account, determine the way the garment will fit your body.

Most patterns DO NOT mention ease (unfortunately), but it exists nonetheless, and you should know about it. Interweave Knits has done a beautiful job incorporating ease into their standard pattern format, and more designers may follow suit in the future.

What You Need To Know About Ease

All you need to know is how you like your garments to fit.

Which is actually easier said than done, since most of us don’t really know how big we are, what we look like, and what sizes fit us well.

Baggy Sweater
Oh, my. This sweater has a lot of ease.

Ask a friend who dresses well which of your sweaters fits you the best.

Is it skin-tight? Is is big and baggy? Is it fitted but casual?

The size of garment you chose to make should reflect the amount of ease you want in it – the difference between the size of sweater and the size of your body.

Most knitters make things too big, for fear of having their sweaters come out too small.

Get a friend’s help and pick a size that you know will fit you just right. If your bust size is 36 inches, and you like your sweaters to fit snugly, make a sweater that is 36 inches or fewer across – remember, yarn stretches.

Downloadable Resource: Video Knitting Dictionary

If you liked this article on how to read a knitting pattern, post in the comments!

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7 thoughts on “How To Read A Knitting Pattern: Size, Measurements, and Ease”

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  1. You are a font of wisdom. I never thought I would be blasé about picking up stitches. This has happened, thanks to your kind, clear instructions.
    I’m ready to join up. One question. When the pattern tells me to increase/decrease x# of stitches, and let’s say the stitches are diagonal, or even worse some exotic seed stitch, it is a HUGE struggle for me to read my knitting. Will your course cover this kind of stuff?

    1. Hi Jocelyn,
      Great to meet you and thank you for your question! Yes, actually, I have a challenge exercise in our Fearless Knitter course that teaches you to increase and decrease on seed stitch WITHOUT a pattern, simple from reading your work. This is such an important skill! Here’s the link:

      You won’t be able to watch the videos until you’re a member, but you can see that I teach this exact skill you are wondering about. Let me know what you think! I’m happy to answer any more questions you have.

  2. Right brain; left brain.

    Sometimes the “math” confuses me. Patterns sometimes use parentheses for repeats. Sometimes these escape my understanding. I can’t wait to see this section discussion.

  3. My bust is 37.5 but knit pattern sizes are 38 and 42. Really don’t need 4 inches ease cuz cardigan is fitted. Also, my waist is 32.5; pattern diagram shows 32.5 for size 38 and 36.5 for size 42.

    Is there a reasonable way to adjust the pattern? Sure will greatly appreciate some help.

  4. My pattern has two lines for measurements, eg, back of sweater. They are both in inches. Both have all sizes. I can’t understand why it has two lines and two measurments.Can you help?

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