My issues with garment sizing for crochet patterns

Here’s why I haven’t been publishing my garment patterns so far, both for crochet and Tunisian crochet. Do you have the same issues?

In this article, I write mostly about women’s garment sizing, but this applies to all AFAB (assigned female at birth) people who don’t use what are considered “men’s” patterns.

Why do I have problems with garment sizing?

You’ve seen them – pretty looking crochet or knit sweaters and cardigans on adolescents and really thin people. They look good on them, right? They have drape because there’s nothing interfering with the fabric falling from their bony shoulders.

But how often do you see a well-fitting sweater or cardigan on a person that doesn’t look like a really thin rectangle? Not often, I bet, because fitting a curvy body takes time and effort and skills. Fitting a tube – not so much.

I’ve been fighting an internal battle for about three years now about writing up my garment designs. I have a few, you’ve probably seen me wearing them on social media, I love them, really do, and I’d like people to be able to make their own versions.

But my main problem is grading. Not the actual process of it, as I haven’t started it yet because it fills me with dread, but making it so that people of different shapes and sizes can look good while wearing these designs. We’re not all the same shape, so why should we all wear the same shape of garment?

This is my conundrum – if I write down and grade what I have already, I’ll only be able to offer a mediocre pattern that will fit nobody. If I write instructions for fitting at each size, based on your shape, I will have to write a whole book for each pattern.

I’ve actually started writing a fitting guide for making your own sweaters fit nicely, but I stopped because COVID hit me and I haven’t yet recovered fully (mentally, physically I’m fine). Maybe if I finish that and offer it along with each copy of my sweater patterns, you’ll be able to use it to make a thing that you can actually wear and feel comfortable in.

A good fit

What do I mean by fit? Well, there are many aspects that influence how an upper garment will fit (I’m not even going into the whole pants situation):

  • length – your torso length, arm length, length from bust apex to collarbone, from collarbone to waist, waist to hip;
  • width – waist circumference, bust circumference, upper arm circumference, wrist circumference, neck circumference, shoulder circumference (around the whole top of the body, including the shoulders), front and back measurements at bust height;

We need all of these measurements for each person in order to make a garment that fits, doesn’t pull, is not too tight in places, doesn’t bulge in others, allows you to lift your arms freely, and also looks good, shows off the stitch pattern or the chosen yarn.

Those are a lot of factors to take into consideration when designing a garment!

There’s nothing that disappoints me more than seeing yet another pattern of an oversized round yoke sweater with armholes that start halfway down the arm.

Sure, this design looks good in photos where the arms are resting and shows off the pretty colorwok, but it’s completely impractical.

You can’t wear it while working or walking anywhere. You can’t lift your arms without the whole thing riding up to your bust, you can’t wear a coat because the sleeves won’t get in or you’ll get bunching and your arms will be completely bare under the coat.

If it’s way too large (no shaping means you need to choose the size based on your largest measurement), the garment will keep gaping every time you bend over and will fall over your head.

If the front and back don’t account for differences in size and shaping (usually the human back is flatter and smaller than the front), you’ll get weird gaping and bunching at the back.

A well-fitting garment will give you none of these problems because it is made keeping all of these issues in mind.

It also take a whole lot of effort on the part of each person who wants to make one.

Writing all of that variability in one pattern with multiple sizes is simply not possible. Not at my pattern-writing skill level, anyway.

Which sizes?

There’s no standard sizing for garments! There’s this shady table from the Craft Yarn Council of the USA (CYC), but I hate it. There, I said it. Here’s how you take those measurements, because they couldn’t put them on one page.

I viscerally dislike the American way of sizing things. There’s no logic to this sizing. First of all, who decides what’s small, medium or 5 extra large? Why are there 6 measurements on the “large” end, but only 2 on the small end?

Why is the “medium” actually not related to the real average size of women and AFAB people? The actual measurement for average female size in USA (I’m not talking worldwide because we just don’t have that data) was in 2016 about 90 cm waist (36″) and 115 cm bust (45″), which corresponds to size XL in the CYC.

How is the actual average extra large? And why are these “standards” not updated with the times? I understand the wish of some people that everyone should look the same, but that’s not realistic. If we make the current “XL” as the middle sizing, then we have 4 sizes on each side – 4 smaller and 4 larger.

The XS-5XL measurement “standard” needs to go. The labels are bad and represent nothing.

This is still not enough.

Each size in the CYC table has a 5cm or 2″ variability. That’s decent, even though a person with a 90 cm waist might have a completely different shape from someone with a 95 cm waist. But there’s also a gap of 5 cm between sizes.

So what size do you choose to make in a pattern when you’re in between sizes? Who knows, I haven’t yet found a solution. My measurements are all over this chart, for some I’m L, for some 2XL, for some M, for some below XS.

I once followed a Purl Soho pattern and had smaller gauge than recommended and ended up with an enormous, unwearable garment. I did choose the right size based on their measurements and the pattern did consist of rectangles, but it was still such a miss!

I have yet to unravel the whole thing and reuse the yarn for something decent.

This is why I started making my own sweater patterns. Yes, they might be boring (to you), but at least they fit my short torso and wide shoulders.

Also, this is why I won’t be using the CYC measurements. Leaves too many gaps (literally) that I don’t know how to bridge.

What do others think about garment sizing in crochet and knitting?

So I did go on a little search to see what other people have to say about this in video format (because I crochet while listening and the regular search results are full of clickbait) and did find two podcast episodes by Eli from Skeindeer Knits, you can watch one here (the size-inclusive stuff starts at about the middle).

It seems like the solution is to provide enough sizes that cover the whole range, keeping constant the 5 cm range for each size. That would give me 17 sizes in the range from CYC. A lot if you just think about it, but can be done. Somehow.

I also got my initial idea confirmed, that it would be nice to use the alphabet to name different sizes. I’ve already done this with my Manna cowl and headband set, they both have 9 sizes, labeled from A to I. Also with the Crimson Drop beanie pattern.

Lots and lots of brackets

My problem with having lots of sizes is the presence of sizes in brackets. I cannot for the life of me follow a pattern with all sizes written on each row.

If I have to read through 17 different numbers on each row of a pattern, then choose the one I need, I’ll get a seizure. Or at least a migraine. Or I’ll just quit from the beginning because I don’t need that headache.

Now just imagine having to write 17 numbers for each row of instructions…

I understand why magazines used to do this (some still do, hue hue), as they have physical limitations regarding how much text they can cram into a specific area of a page, but magazines are also notoriously limited in size ranges. So I wouldn’t use/recommend them anyway.

But nowadays we have no limitations, especially as independent designers who publish digital patterns online. We can make the patterns as long as we need to. So why do people still use the number sausages?

I will guess it’s because they believe they have no other choice. Or “that’s the standard”. As if standard can’t be changed when we get technological advances…

I want an alternative. I want to provide patterns that we can all follow. And here we’re not even talking about the folks who need to use screen-readers, for whom it is impossible to use the old way of writing sizes in patterns. But we should consider them because they also like to make things by hand.

But what is that alternative? Should I write out all the instructions for each size? Should I write the instructions in groups of 3 sizes?

No idea, but please let me know what you’d prefer.

I think, from a user perspective, having the option of reading the instructions for just my size would be the easiest.

But we are not all proportioned in the same way. So how do we reconcile that, if the instructions are written assuming that you are have “standard” proportions (keeping in mind that there is no such thing as a standard with regards to proportions and we are all different from the average…)?

I really don’t know and this has been bugging me for the past three years at least.

Then there’s the structure of the pattern.

Do I write each size in full, like front, back, sleeves for size A, then front, back, sleeves for size B, and so on, or do I have a section for the front, where I have all front instructions from size A to Q? Then back instructions and so on.

If I create a fitting guide that I send out along with the pattern written size by size in whichever fashion I choose, will that be enough for people to know when to veer off the pattern to make the garment fit and suit them?

Or do I have to make the pattern even longer by adding comments on where it’s appropriate to modify the pattern to fit?

Will my testers hate me for not sticking to the standard way of writing patterns, even though the standards suck?

I still have so many unanswered questions and no idea where to find the answers. I guess the only way I will find answers is to actually sit down, do the thing, make mistakes, learn, repeat.

It would help if I had someone with experience to help me with this. But I don’t know anyone with enough experience and time willing to help me, nor can I afford currently to pay someone to do this for me. They might just use the standards that I hate anyway, so what’s the point in doing that?

I’m just starting to build relationships with other designers in the community and I really appreciate them and their work, but most don’t do garment design, probably because they hit the same walls as myself.

How will we solve these garment sizing issues?

So what’s there to be done?

The best way to make sure something gets done is to have actionable objectives.

In this case, we have the following:

  • finish the fitting guide;
  • find/compile/make a good table of measurements with sketches of where they come from; a table without the sketch, for my brain, at least, is useless; there is this table from Ysolda, but I can’t visualize it and the cm measurements are not calculated correctly, as one inch isn’t 2.5 cm, but 2.54 and at larger sizes the difference adds up to one full inch of difference;
  • make a plain pattern with 17 sizes, written out one after the other;
  • make same pattern with each piece written out with 17 sizes;
  • find testers and see which version they prefer (majority vote).

This might take me months, but I’m willing to give it a try. It’s the only way I can see out of the situation, while still respecting all my principles.

I might get discouraged. In that case, please remind me why I’m doing this. Because you want to use my patterns (I mean, if you don’t want to use them, then this whole process is futile, but let’s not go there) to make yourself cute and quirky clothes. That fit!!!

If you’re a designer and want to join me on this journey (or provide a solution that works for you), please write to me using the contact form.

Since I mean to embark on this journey, I will not have as much time to dedicate to smaller projects like shawl and blanket patterns and such (besides what’s already in the works), but I thankfully have amassed quite a collection of patterns that you won’t get bored for a long while. Find them in the shop.

If you want to be kept up to date with the whole thing, good and bad, if you want to test my patterns or just get free stuff when I participate in events, pleases sign up to my emails, using the form below or the button in the menu. You’ll also get a free pattern as a thank you.

Hope to see you soon with more positive sentiments.

Hugs,

Andrea

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