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Cracking the (Pattern) Code, Part 2: Sizes & Finished Measurements

Technical editor and yarncrafting expert Kj Hay joins us for a series on understanding the different elements of patterns. Read the first installment here.

Sizes and Finished Measurements

Cracking the (Pattern) Code: Size & Measurement | Lion Brand Notebook

It is important to know whether a throw will barely cover your lap or could easily cover a compact car. It is even more important to know whether a sweater will actually fit you. Most patterns include Size and/or Finished Measurement sections to indicate the expected dimensions of the finished piece.

Sizes are specified in very general terms, such as S (small), 1X (extra large), and 0-6 months. Finished measurements are more specific and should be carefully considered. A garment could have an oversized, relaxed, standard, tight, or very tight fit. An oversized garment has a finished chest measurement 6 or more inches larger than the actual chest measurement of the wearer. For a relaxed fit, the finished chest measurement is 4 to 6 inches larger. For a standard fit, the finished chest measurement is 2 to 4 inches larger, for a tight fit the finished chest measurement is 0-2 inches larger, and for a very tight fit the finished chest measurement can be the same or less than the actual chest measurement.

The designer of a garment intends a certain fit and indicates this through the combination of size and finished measurements. The actual chest measurement for a S (small) woman is 32-34 in. and for a M (medium) woman is 36-38 in. If a designer specifies size S (small) and the finished chest measurement is 40 in., because the finished measurement is 6 in. or more larger than the actual chest measurement, the intended fit is oversized. On the other hand, if a designer specifies size M (medium) and the finished chest measurement is 40 in., the intended fit is standard.

Instructions for many items, especially garments, are given for multiple sizes. This means that the instructions including the stitch counts must be given for all sizes at the same time. To do this, parentheses and commas are used to group and separate the instructions for the different sizes. For example, if instructions are provided for the three sizes S (M, L) then whenever you see numbers within the written instructions such as 9 (12, 15) sts, the first number applies to the S size, the 2nd number applies to the M size, and the 3rd number applies to the L size. Many people find it useful to circle or highlight all the numbers for the size they are making, or if a digital version of the instructions is available the numbers for all other sizes except the size being made can be deleted.

Pro Tips

Finished measurements or a garment are the measurements of the piece itself, NOT the measurement of your body.

You may want a fit that differs from the intended fit. For example, perhaps the designer’s intended fit is standard. You love the look of the garment, but would like it in a more relaxed “lounge around the house” fit. To do this, ignore the instructions for your usual size (e.g. S, M, L) and make the size that is 4 to 6 inches larger than your actual chest measurement.

Achieving the indicated finished measurement depends entirely on achieving the indicated gauge (the number of stitches and rows worked in a piece fabric of a certain size).

It can be surprisingly difficult to visualize a specific measurement. Get out a ruler, yard stick, or tape measure and look at the finished measurements to ensure that the teddy bear you plan to knit isn’t so large it will completely fill your baby's crib or so small your dog could eat it in one gulp.

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  • msF

    Thanks for this great article. I am working on my first ever sweater and wish I had read this first. I picked a size according to the measurements and it made sense in terms of the size that I usually buy. Fingers crossed it will come out okay - but I just wish I had know about the types of fit before making the size decision.


  • Gracie

    I have a pattern for child 4-10 and need to make a size 3T. How do I downsize that low.
    It is for a jacket type cardi. So can be loose.

  • lynnmdy

    What a fantastic article. I have been making sweaters for years, but it has always been hit or miss and I have fortunately been very lucky. Now I have actual guidelines. thank you so much for such valuable information

  • Arline B. Meyer

    Great article. In the previous article Expert Tips on Measuring Yourself, the shoulder to shoulder measurement is shown taken from the inside edge of the shoulders. In this article the measurement appears to be from the outer edges. How does one know which measurement the designer of a pattern has chosen from the schematic?

  • Kit

    Thanks. Very useful article. Usually I can sort of guess from the picture if there is one and I am not that fussy about the fit of sweaters. But I will very much appreciate less guess work.

    Socks are another matter. I would love an article about getting to make socks fit the way you want. Socks was the thing I most hoped to learn and still have not mastered. Most articles I read talk about how to make a heel, which is tricky, but I can do that part. Fitting the correct length and width and shape of the toes is much harder for me. My toes are all about the same length, big toe only a little longer than my littlest toe and all toes reasonably wide and straight but most socks are designed with an almost pointy front, so they never fit any better than the store bought ones which I haven't worn for years because they are so uncomfortable. I wish someone would write a book or an article about designing the toe section of socks to fit different shaped toe area, including hammer toes and bunions. Or does that information already exist?