Demystifying Ease in Garment Patterns, Part 2

26 October 2022
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In Part One of this series, we learned the definition of ease, talked about the different kinds of ease, and looked at some examples of how ease relates to garment fit. There are other factors that make a difference in how we feel in our clothing. All the formulas and charts in the world can’t take the place of free will and our individual preferences in our clothing.

Where Does Ease Go?

Ease guidelines in patterns are often given in relation to the full chest/bust for tops, sweaters, and dresses. If a garment pattern lists an ease guideline with no further statement about what body part it’s referring to, for example a statement like: “Intended to be worn with 5 cm/2 inches of ease,” you can assume the designer means in relation to the full chest/bust. For pants and skirts, you can assume that when not stated otherwise, the ease guidelines are in reference to the hip.

In my sweater patterns, I’ve started giving ease guidelines in relation to both the upper torso and the hip so that makers can determine whether the size range of the sweater will fit their whole body. Using your upper torso measurement as a starting point means your garment will fit better in the shoulders. Unless otherwise stated, standard garment patterns in women’s sizing are written for a 5-cm/2-inch difference between the upper torso and the full chest/bust, or a B-cup pattern size. It’s easier to obtain a better fit by using your upper torso measurement plus ease to determine chest/bust size, and then determining whether you need an additional bust adjustment. Knowing the hip measurement for each size means you can determine whether you will be making a single size or a hybrid of two or more sizes.

Finished Measurements Win

When it comes time to make the garment, looking at finished measurements is the best way to determine the right size to make. In crochet and knitting patterns, a schematic shows you the finished measurements, and sizing guidelines will give you a sense of the amount of ease the designer intends for the garment. The charts in Part 1 of this series  provide guidelines for you to use in cases where you’re still unsure. In sewing patterns, comparing the body measurement and finished garment measurement charts will give you an indication of eases intended by the designer. Further information can be gained by measuring between seamlines on the actual pattern pieces.

Should you always follow those guidelines? Look to your own clothing for guidance.

The Clues Are in Your Wardrobe

We can’t fully understand what ease means when applied to our bodies until we wear our clothes. The experience of wearing our clothing is the final piece of the fit puzzle. Since we don’t have a time machine to show us the finished garment for us to try on, we can turn to the clothing we already own and love to help us understand our ease preferences.

Look at the clothing you wear most often. Look at the pieces that make you feel good, confident, strong, powerful, feminine, masculine, quirky—however you want to feel on any given day.  Measure those pieces and compare them to your body measurements. The differences in these measurements become your ease preferences.

Be sure to make notes about the eases you prefer in different garment constructions. Set-in sleeves can tolerate a closer fit at the upper torso than drop shoulders which require more minimum-wearing ease to facilitate arm and shoulder movement.

If you don’t have a specific clothing style in your wardrobe, go shopping. Take your phone and a measuring tape and try on clothing with a range of fits. When you find a garment you like, take photos to remind you. Take a photo of you, a photo of the garment laid flat, and take measurements of the garment. Armed with this information, you can create a reference file that will help you in choosing ease for future handmade garments.

What about Height and Body Size?

When it comes to generous or oversized ease in a garment, height and body size matter. Look at the example of an oversized, drop shoulder, boxy top or sweater. It’s in the size recommendations for these types of garments that we often see what appears to be a ridiculously large range of ease recommendations, such as “Intended to be worn with between 5 and 51 cm/ 2 and 20 inches of ease.” But not everybody is comfortable with that entire range. A boxy sweater with 51 cm/20 inches of ease at the chest/bust (or, as we know, the upper torso) won’t look the same on every body type. In general, taller bodies are stunning in larger eases as height gives the body more space to display the dramatic drape of this kind of garment. Some design elements such as body or sleeve length can be lengthened and/or widened to increase this effect. Petite bodies often require scaling down of these design elements. A petite body can feel engulfed and hidden in a garment at the highest range of the ease scale. This can be mitigated by reducing sleeve and body length, as well as ease, to bring the garment to more comfortable proportions for the wearer while still keeping a relatively dramatic silhouette.

Body girth also matters when it comes to ease. Bodies with smaller circumferences can tolerate a wide range of eases. Oversized garments on bodies with smaller circumferences work well; the full drape and volume in these garments create silhouettes that make a dramatic statement. Bodies with larger circumferences, however, don’t need as much ease to create the same effect. Much of the effect created by garments with large amounts of ease—like our imaginary boxy sweater—is the physical manifestation of taking up space. Larger bodies don’t need as much ease in garments to make a dramatic statement. In fact, many larger bodies start to lose a sense of shape in boxy garments that don’t have shaping in them. But change the silhouette slightly, to one with fitted shoulders and a dramatically wide hem, and perspective changes. Shaping in a garment anchors the eye and guides it to find the shape and definition in all of us.

There are infinite combinations of height and girth amongst our bodies and therefore a wide range of eases that work. Remember that when we’re taking about large amounts of ease, we’re speaking about design ease: the vision of the designer. When you make your own clothing, you are a full participant in how you want your garments to look on your body. Design ease is a choice. Your choice.

Choosing a Size with Ease in Mind

So how do we choose which garment size to make, keeping ease in mind? The formula is simple:

your measurements + minimum wearing ease + design ease (or your choice of additional ease) = the size you choose

You can apply this formula to all aspects of a garment to truly refine your fit to your own preferences; however, it can often be overwhelming.

Here’s a chart that helps me whenever I’m trying to choose a size in a pattern.

Quick Guide to Choosing a Size

Image description: Image version of a blank table. PDF download available below.


Let’s look at this chart in action, and choose a size for Pattern Example 1:

  • A fitted sweater with set-in sleeves
  • Sizing recommendation: “Intended to be worn with 2.5 cm/ 1 inch of negative ease in bust”

Sizing recommendation is within the −2.5 to +2.5 cm/−1 to +1 inches Minimum Wearing Ease allowance for a set-in sleeve sweater.

Pattern Example 1 Schematic
Image description: Image version of a table containing data for ease calculation. PDF download available below.
Once I’ve calculated my target finished measurement I will look for the size or sizes in the pattern that most closely match my calculated finished measurements. In this case, Size #6 is the best-fitting size for my shoulders and upper torso. Because of the difference between my upper torso and my full chest, I will have to modify the front of the sweater to fit my bust. My waist and bust fit nicely into the numbers for Size #10. I will have to change the pattern to blend between #10 at my waist and #6 at the underarms of the pattern. And I will have to make a modification to the sleeve and sleeve cap of the pattern to accommodate my biceps.

Now let’s look at a pattern that recommends a larger range of ease.

Pattern Example 2:

  • an oversized “boxy” sweater with a drop shoulder construction and a straight body shape
  • sizing recommendation: “Intended to be worn with between 20-50 cm/8 and 20 inches of ease in bust”
  • sizing recommendation is outside the 10−15 cm/4−6 inches Minimum Wearing Ease allowance for a set-in sleeve sweater
  • design ease for this sweater is 5−41 cm/2−16 inches
Pattern Example 2 Schematic

Click to enlarge.

Image description: Image version of a table containing data for ease calculation. PDF download available below.

Because this sweater has a straight body shape, measurement L is the indicator I will use to determine my size for most of my measurements. Measurement U indicates the part of the sweater that represents my biceps + ease measurement. I’ve chosen not to add additional ease here, as my height, body girth, and personal preference all point towards a smaller sweater than indicated in the sizing instruction. My hips are larger than what I need, so I’ve opted to blend Size #4 with Size #3 and add some shaping at the side seams.

In all things, you are the anchor in your clothing. Think about what you want your clothes to say about you, and how you want to feel when wearing them. Build a library of ease preferences to help you make decisions when choosing your size in patterns and adjust it as your preferences change. Keep swatches of the fabrics you have in your collection (whether commercial fabric or hand knit/crocheted swatches) on hand to help you visualize what future garments will look and feel like on your body. With every garment you create, you’ll learn more about ease and what you prefer. Every make is an opportunity to learn and grow your best-fitting wardrobe.

Copyright © Kim McBrien Evans except as indicated.
Photo of Kim McBrien Evans

About Kim McBrien Evans

Curiosity and exploration are the name of the game for Canadian knitwear designer and indie hand dyer, Kim McBrien Evans. A lifelong love of colour, texture, and pattern prompted Kim to transition from working artist to textile maven. Her knitwear designs are known for their ability to turn an abstract idea into a textile reality while simultaneously fitting and complimenting a wide range of bodies. This design work has lead her to explore how home sewers and knitters can create clothing that fits, while showing professional designers the beauty of inclusive design. Her yarn company, indigodragonfly, is renowned for its vibrant colours, offbeat names, and ever expanding plan for world domination. Her work has appeared in Vogue Knitting, Knitscene, Knit.Wear, Knitting Magazine (UK), A Stash of One’s Own (ed. Clara Parkes), The Sewcialists and Uppercase. She is co-author of Custom Shawls for the Curious and Creative Knitter.

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