What is ease?
Ease is the amount of room in a garment versus the body. Positive ease is the amount a garment is largerthan the body. Negative ease is the amount a garment is smaller than the body. Zero ease is the term used to describe garments sized exactly to the body. Ease is usually measured at the widest point on the body where the garment sits; the chest for upper body garments and the hip for lower body garments.
The garments you buy in the shops are usually sized by standard measurements and do not include ease. A man’s shirt sold with a 15-inch neck will not necessarily measure 15 inches around the neck – the actual measurement will include the necessary positive ease to allow for movement and comfort.
Knitting and crochet patterns are usually given as finished garment sizes including the ease. This is not always the case, and you may be directed to choose a size based on your actual measurements where a standard amount of ease is desired to ensure the fit. For example, as a designer I usually give sweater sizes as finished sizes, but size socks based on actual foot sizes. This is because a wearer can choose how tight they like a sweater, but socks should always be worn with a standard amount of negative ease to ensure that they fit to foot snugly. For this reason, you should always read a pattern carefully to understand how the pattern handles ease.
It is important to note that ease is not necessarily consistent across a whole garment. For example, Vertical ease (the measurements for armhole depth for example) may be different to horizontal ease (e.g. chest measurements).
The uses of positive ease
Growth: Positive ease gives increased room for growth in children’s garments.
Movement and layering: positive ease is essential in garments made in woven fabrics to allow freedom of movement. This is less of a concern given the stretch provided by most knitted fabrics, but can be an important consideration in crochet fabrics, many of which are less elastic than knitting, and knitting in very firm stitch patterns. Having additional ease in a piece also allows for layers to be worn underneath comfortably, and thus is often a feature of winter sweaters or outer garments such as coats and jackets.
The uses of negative ease
Negative ease is usually used to form garments tightly to the body. Socks and slippers, hats and headbands, gloves and mitts usually feature fairly extreme negative ease for this reason.
How much ease?
The chart below shows a traditional rule of thumb for choosing and is the standard quoted by most authorities including the Craft Yarn Council. This method is widely used and has stood the test of time. The ease allowances within each style permit for differences that need to be allowed to achieve the same effect with different weights of fabric and garment sizes, namely:
- The smallest adult sizes will need to allow the lower limit of each bracket whilst larger sizes will graduate towards the upper limit to ensure that they both have the same percentage allowance of ease. Smaller children’s and baby sizes will need even less ease than suggested below.
- Light fabrics need less ease in either direction to achieve the same effect than heavier fabrics. This is because the inner circumference of a thinner tube is greater than that of a thicker tube with the same outer circumference. This effect is magnified by the size of the tube itself – you’ll need less additional ease in absolute terms on a bulky weight mitt than you would on a bulky sweater because the difference in circumference on the smaller tube adds up to less inches/cm.
|Style/amount of ease||Inches||CM|
|Negative ease: very close fitting||-2 to -4||-5 to -10|
|Zero ease: close fitting||0||0|
|Positive ease: classic fit||+2 to +4||+5 to +10|
|Generous positive ease: loose fit||+4 to +6||+ 10 to + 15|
|Exaggerated positive ease: oversized, flowing||+6 upwards||+15 upwards|
With all the allowances that need to be made for sizing and fabric weight it can give a more accurate result to calculate ease based on percentages. This does require a little more math than simply deducting a given measurement, but has the advantage of universal applicability to all sizes of garments from tiny baby hats to large adult sweaters. The table below is my personal rule of thumb based on percentages for average knitted fabrics (you may need to add a little more for crochet that is not very stretchy or very dense knitting):
|Style/amount of ease||Light yarn (yarn categories 1-3)*||Medium yarn|
(yarn categories 3-4)*
(yarn categories 5-7)*
|Negative ease: very close fitting**||-10% to -5%||-5% to 0%||0 to +5%|
|Zero ease: close fitting||0||0 to +5%||+5% to +10%|
|Positive ease: classic fit||+10% to +12 %||+12 to + 15%||+15 to +17%|
|Generous positive ease: loose fit||+12% to +15%||+15 to +17%||+17 to +20%|
|Exaggerated positive ease: oversized, flowing||20% or more||25% or more||27% or more|
*cyc standard yarn categories – see https://www.craftyarncouncil.com/standards/yarn-weight-system
**5-10% more negative ease may be required for garments such as socks and hats that need to resist the effects of gravity.
Sunday Best Vest is a close, almost classic fitting baby vest. To get this fit in a tiny baby size in a DK yarn the designer suggests 0.5-0.75 of an inch positive ease. This is around +5% of standard baby sizes. If you were working from an actual baby’s measurements to create a similar garment from scratch, the percentage guidelines with the added granularity of yarn weight differences would give you a better steer than the absolute ease allowances.
The designer of the Geeky Pullover allowed 3-5 inches of positive ease in this worsted weight yarn and crochet fabric to create a classic to slightly form-fitting silhouette
Adapting ease to your taste and body
Whilst the tables above can be useful as a quick reference, there is no substitute for developing your own personalised set of guidelines. There are three simple steps to being confident to choosing and adapting ease:
- Know your own key measurements (chest size, cross-back measurement, hip measurement upper arm, armhole depth and wrist, as a minimum)
- Measure a few garments you own in different fabric weights (ideally one heavy, one medium and one light) and styles (ideally one tight, one classic and one oversized) that fit in ways you like.
- Compare the two and work out the amount of ease (as a percentage or actual measurement or both).
This simple activity will tell you how much ease you like on each measurement in each weight of yarn and for each style. You are then empowered to interrogate the schematics of patterns that you plan to make and adapt as you desire for the best fit.
About the Author: Elizabeth Felgate
Elizabeth Felgate is an independent designer living in a stone cottage in the UK in rural Wiltshire with eight walnut trees in the garden.
She likes designing from first principles. Many of her patterns feature custom-designed lace patterns or unusual construction methods. She loves aran weight jumpers and airy lace; but is not averse to chunky lace and lightweight sweaters either.
When not knitting, she is a marketing consultant and mother of two.