In the knitting industry, the current body measurement standard is the Craft Yarn Council’s Body Sizing Standards (CYC). It’s an excellent guide for sweater designers, including information about where and how to measure, and ease guidelines for knit and crochet garments. However, as someone who has had a larger than average full chest and biceps, I have not been able to use their standards to make a sweater in a single size that fits my shoulders, full chest and biceps. As my body has changed over time, the disparity between my body and the body that patterns are generally written for has grown—especially when the sizing chart used to draft the patterns is based on the CYC measurement charts.
I thought it was me, and so I learned how to modify sweater patterns for a better fit on my body.
When I started attending yarn shows and retreats, I began to notice that more and more women and non-binary makers had similar complaints. As I observed them trying on sweater samples based on standard sizing charts, trends started to emerge, primarily in bodies with a 101.6 cm/40-inch or larger chest. Sleeves were too tight in the biceps. Sweaters that fit in the shoulders were too tight in the chest, but if they fit in the chest they were too loose in the shoulders. The ratio of chest to waist and hip measurements in the sweater was often much different than the ratio of body measurements. While this was not the case with every maker trying on sweaters, it happened often enough that I wondered whether we need a change.
I conducted an online survey between July, 2019, and September, 2021, and received 848 responses. Although patterns emerged that supported my theories, this is not enough data to confidently and irrefutably build a new size chart. I turned to established sources for more information, and to compare measurement charts and information to see if I could build a chart based a variety of sources. (Download the resulting chart at the end of this article.)
Craft Yarn Council (CYC)
As this is considered the industry standard, it is important to consider these measurements in my research. There are many legends about how the CYC body sizing standards were established, so for the real story, I contacted the CYC and spoke with Sarah Guenther-Moore, Public Relations Co-ordinator, about their body sizing standards, which were established in 2003. “The data for these standards was gathered from input from the editors of the major consumer yarn magazines at the time, along with input from yarn company members who were responsible for pattern writing and sizing for their respective companies,” she told me. The standards are periodically updated, in consultation with editors of magazines and CYC member yarn companies. The process takes about two years, with the most recent update completed in 2018.
American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM International)
ASTM International regularly publishes body measurements for a variety of body types, ranging from babies to adults, petite, plus and husky sizes. For my comparison, I used their current charts for Misses range 00–20 and Women (2021), Plus-Size range 14W–40W (2018).
Other Designers’ Surveys
I’m not the first to think of changing the sizing chart used by yarn craft designers. At least two other designers have conducted extensive surveys: Ysolda Teague, and Jacqueline Cieslak. While their raw data are not available, Jacqueline’s size charts are available in her book, Embody (Pom Pom Press, 2021) and Ysolda Teague’s size chart for yarn craft designers that she has used for her garment patterns and has adjusted based on feedback from makers, is available for free here.
Indie Sewing Pattern Designers
- Cashmerette is a leader in size expansion for patterns for makers; their chart includes a size range of 0–30 (84–157 cm/33–62 inch full chest and 89–157 cm/35–62 inch hip).
- Muna and Broad, a leader in designing patterns that, according to their website, “take the shape and size of large bodies into consideration.” Half of Muna and Broad is located in Canada. Size range: 102–162 cm/40–64 inch chest and 105–182 cm/41.5–71.5 inch hip).
- Canadian company Closet Core offers most of their patterns in a size range of 0–32 (79–152.5 cm/31–60 inch full chest and 84–160 cm/33–63 inch hip).
- Canadian company Helen’s Closet offers their patterns in either a 0–30 or 0–34 size range (78.5–157.5 cm/31–62 inch full chest and 84–157.5 cm/33–62 inch hip).
Plus Size Clothing Stores
I used size charts published by Torrid, Additionelle and Loft Plus in my comparison.
I’ve compared all of these sources side by side, and built a new size chart using the following methodology:
I recorded the median and mean values of each measurement across my comparison charts, and I noted the highest and lowest numbers for each size. If the difference between the median and mean was less than 0.5 cm/0.25 inch, I chose the number that appeared most commonly across the size charts. In cases where the difference was 1.25 cm/0.5 inch to 2.5 cm/1 inch, I chose a number half way between the mean and median, rounded to the nearest 0.5 cm/0.25 inch.
Finalizing the chart and committing to the final numbers brings art into the science. When the numbers don’t reflect my experience as a larger size person, as a person who teaches fit classes, and as a designer who works extensively with a wide range of bodies, I adjust them. And I will keep adjusting them based on further learning. You will have an opportunity to provide your feedback at the end of this article.
For the largest two sizes in my size chart, there is absolutely no data available, from any source. However, due to demand for sweater patterns that fit up to a 183 cm/72” full chest and hip, I wanted to be sure to include those sizes. I extrapolated the data to satisfy this demand, and to give designers a common place to start from.
Once the size chart was finished, I compared the data collected in my 2019–2021 measurements survey to make sure that those numbers had their place in the sizing framework.
The Chart in Detail
The body circumferences in this size chart are the most important ones to consider when designing garments. Understanding the relationship between upper torso and shoulder fit, upper torso and full chest measurements, and how those relationships change as sizes increase is crucial to helping makers create garments that fit well.
Makers: You may find your actual body circumferences fall into more than one size in a garment pattern. This is completely normal. Learning to transition between sizes within a sweater pattern will enable you to make a sweater that fits you better everywhere.
This measurement is at the highest part of the upper torso, above any breast tissue, with shoulders relaxed and arms at your side.
It provides important information that affects shoulder fit in sweaters. It provides the basis upon which “cup” size is determined for pattern cup sizes (NOT bra cup sizes). The industry standard is a “B cup” pattern size, which occurs when the upper torso is 2 inches smaller than the full chest measurement. I suggest using the upper torso circumference as the primary measurement for determining size, as this will improve the sweater’s fit in the shoulders.
This measurement represents body circumference at the fullest part of the chest. For people with breasts, this has commonly been referred to as the bust measurement.
In my research, I found that as body sizes increase, so does the cup size. For this reason, I have provided three pattern cup sizes for each upper torso circumference:
- B, which covers up to a 5 cm/2 inch difference between upper torso and full chest;
- D, which covers a 5.5–10 cm/2.25–4 inch difference;
- and F, which covers an 11–15 cm/4.25–6 inch difference.
I have highlighted the ideal full chest size for each upper torso measurement. This is different from what the CYC chart suggests—CYC shows a B cup for all sizes in their women’s size chart. I’ve based this on my survey results, which very clearly show a pattern of growth in cup size as body sizes increase. This finding is backed up by ASTM size charts, as well as the pattern of change represented in most indie sewing pattern designer size charts. I’ve rounded up to the closest even-number difference, as it allows the size chart to include a smaller amount of numbers while staying within the inherent ease of hand-knit/crocheted fabric: a minimum of 2.5–5 cm/1–2 inches ease.
This measurement is taken at the natural waist. When you bend your torso to one side, the natural waist is located at the deepest point of the bend in your side. I have found that many makers (including myself) prefer using a point slightly above the natural waist. I call this the preferred waist measurement, and on many people, this is a slightly smaller measurement, and helps to align waist shaping with a more comfortable place on our bodies. Makers can replace natural waist with preferred waist measurement if desired.
This measurement represents the low hip measurement, and incorporates the buttocks (called the “hip/seat” in ASTM tables). If this is not your largest measurement in the hip area, compare your largest area circumference with this measurement.
The biceps circumference is taken around the largest part of your upper arm. This measurement, across the board, is larger in my size chart than in CYC. Sleeves that are tight in the biceps is the second most common fit issue reported in my classes. ASTM recommendations for biceps measurements are also higher than CYC. I’ve used values for biceps measurements that are an average of CYC, Ysolda Teague’s chart, ASTM, and my previous size chart.
I’ve based the lengths in my size chart on an average height of 165 cm/5 ft. 5 inches. This aligns with ASTM charts, but is slightly taller than the U.S. Centers for Disease Control average.
Lengths vary considerably from person to person, as proportions vary greatly. In order to provide data for designers to work with, I’ve used both CYC and ASTM as reference points for all lengths in my size chart.
When changing body measurement lengths in your own work, I suggest keeping the following patterns in mind:
Waist to Armhole
Waist to armhole lengths get longer, size to size, until you reach about 101.5 cm/40 inch full chest, the overlap between smaller sizes and plus sizes. At that point, the length starts to get smaller again. We can surmise that this occurs because of increased waist tissue in plus sizes.
Waist to Hip
Waist to hip length assumes hemlines will end at low hip, and is measured from natural waist to hip joint (where your body bends when you bring your knee up to hip level).
Arm length is measured from armhole to wrist. This measurement is a guideline, rather than an absolute. Arm length varies greatly between ASTM, Ysolda and CYC, so I’ve taken the average of these three to provide a baseline.
Cross chest is a width measurement, measured on top of the torso across the front of the body, aligned with the top of the crease formed between your body and your arm (arms at sides).
This measurement is essential for calculating armhole placement and determining the amount of fabric to be removed from the underarm of a sweater to accommodate well fitting armholes.
I prefer cross front as a measurement for design, as a replacement for cross back. It’s generally a smaller measurement, which can help design armhole seams that are better aligned with our shoulder joints. The difference between cross front and cross back is usually within the range of inherent ease in hand-knit/crocheted fabric (minimum of 2.5–5 cm/1–2 inches ease).
The primary issue with any sizing “standard” is that in an attempt to create sizing that fits most people, we often end up with sizing charts that fit almost no one. I would like this new chart to be different. The numbers listed here represent actual body measurements. I would like to see this sizing chart match circumferences of as many people as possible across two sizes, within a maximum of 5 cm/2 inches. Outliers are expected, of course, however I will commit to using any information you sent through this feedback form to improve this chart. Please consider taking a few minutes to help me make this chart as robust and representative as possible.