Designing for all body types

I design patterns that are fun to knit, but my true goal in designing is to create clothing that makes women feel powerful and sexy, and those attributes belong to ALL women

Rachel Barish
Dec 12, 2018

As a new designer, sizing my patterns was intimidating. No one was there to teach me how to interpret the Craft Yarn Council standard sizing! I wasn’t sure how to approach a tech editor or grader---I wasn’t even familiar with grading itself! The process of sizing knitting patterns can all seem overwhelming at first, but there are a few things you can do to prep yourself to get your brand on track to being completely size inclusive.

Familiarizing yourself with Craft Yarn Council Standard Sizes

What is the Craft Yarn Council (CYC) The CYC represents various leaders in the fibre arts industry and works to promote education. They are a one stop shop for all things craft and provide a multitude of services to the fibre and needle arts community. The vast majority of designers base their sizes off of the CYC’s Yarn Standards Sizing to keep knitwear patterns consistent in sizing. For womens sizing, these are categorized by XS-5X and designers often use bust measurements as a starting point for creating their size range.

Using Bust Measurements as a Guide for Grading---oh yes and what even IS grading?!

Throughout the history of the fashion industry, the bust measurement has been used to do most of the grading for the science of building a size range. When I first entered the fashion industry, I wasn’t even really sure what the term meant. Pattern grading has been around since the 1800s, when the development of commercial sewing patterns first began along with the rise of fast fashion and mass production. Dressmakers needed a more streamlined way to make various sizes, thus the process of grading was developed to create multiple sizes based off of an initial measurement of bust, waist and hips. Over time this system became more technical and now is inclusive of variety of measurements from neck height to armhole depth and everything in between! The CYC offers the classic standards based specifically on information needed for knitwear patterns, or for patterns that have stretchy fabric that provides ease.

The CYC’s bust measurements based on size are presented in a two inch range, which is representative of ease. Ease is very important when designing and affects the grading process, because of the way it informs shape and style of a garment. Do you want a sweater that is draped and flowing against the body, or are you going for a vintage, cropped and tight-fitting look? This all concerns the ease of the pattern in its relationship to bust measurements. When I am categorizing the fit of a garment design, the first thing I think of is how the garment lays on the bust. If I want something form-fitting, I will design a pattern with 0-1 inch of negative ease, meaning I am basing all of my other measurements for grading off of the low end of the CYC’s bust range. If I’m designing a sweater that has more of a boxy feel, I will design it so it lays away from the bust, with 2-3 inches of positive ease, basing that off of the high end of the CYC’s bust sizing. These measurements vary by 2 inches but there are sizes that exist between each of the XS-5X sizes! Feeling a bit confused? I get it! There are some elements of grading your sizes that are missing from these standards.

Interpreting Sizing Information in Pattern Writing

Every woman’s body is SO different and is not going to completely mirror the standards the CYC has set, hence these sizes being called “standards”. This is why providing ease information is so important! Knitting patterns are meant to be flexible as the knitter is creating a stretchy fabric. The ease information helps women who exist between size ranges pick their size when knitting up a pattern. Let’s take some real world examples and apply them to the CYC standards!

For my Xtina Crop pattern, I know I wanted to make a yoke-based design that would be cropped and super flowy around the stomach. I don’t like it when fabric clings to my stomach with this kind of cropped top, so I know I needed there to be a lot of positive ease. However, extra fabric in the bust for the larger sizes wasn’t going to fly! It’s not a flattering look and my goal is to make everyone who wears my designs feel confident and more importantly---comfortable! My grader and tech editor Kristine and I, made it so that as the size increases, the positive ease becomes decreases. For someone with a size 28 inch bust, the Xtina Crop will be really loose around their bust line with nearly 16 inches of positive ease, allowing it to hang from the body with a cute flowing, almost pleated look. On someone with a 52 inch bust, the pattern is fitted along the bust, with only 1 inch of positive ease, and the positive ease grows as the pattern is worked down, keeping the same flowy look that the top has on an individual in the lower size ranges.

Grading is all about keeping the same style and feel of a garment throughout the entirety of the size range. Next week we’ll explore shorts rows, shoulder shaping and other techniques to get the perfect fit for a full range of sizes.

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