#KnitPetiteProject: How to identify your petite fit needs

Our last post discussing petite women and national demographics.
The #KnitPetiteProject plan.

All other #KnitPetiteProject posts.

We’ve defined petite, and talked about how many women may fall into that category. So now, let’s focus on identifying our petite fit needs.

As I hinted in earlier #KnitPetiteProject posts, having petite fit issues is something that extends beyond the boundaries of women who are 5’4″ and shorter. There are many interacting factors at play for any one person’s ideal fit. We’re going to focus on vertical fit issues, but getting something to fit YOU perfectly will be an interplay of vertical and horizontal modifications. Ultimately, please keep in mind that fit preferences are complex and are an interplay of subjective assessments and objective evaluations.1


It’s important to me to touch on a few things before we move forward with looking at and measuring our bodies. I am passionate about body postitivity: I want us all to work together to demystify sizing systems to make it work for us. The #KnitPetiteProject is about uncovering the assumptions that standard sizing make so we have the knowledge and tools to modify things to our own tastes. The #KPP is a safe space, without judgement or preconceived notions of how you want to look. I want us to create clothing for our joy, instead of creating clothing to cover our “flaws”. I will not dictate style and taste. Believe me, I’ve had enough of that garbage in my life!

Is that something you’re down with? Let’s move forward together.

An Under-served Market

In the chapter “Sizing systems, fit models and target markets”, J. Bourgourd explains that research into numerous target markets showed that the three groups who were dissatisfied with fit were petite, plus size, and pregnant women:

The extra small petite consumers were the group least satisfied with garments at the neck and shoulder width…(s)imilar issues were identified by the petite plus sizes…2

This is significant  because, as many knitwear design experts will tell you, getting a good fit in the shoulders is crucial to the overall fit of the sweater.3 So, how do we do this? Let’s talk about the important body measurements and how to take them so that moving forward, we have a base of information that we can use to compare our own numbers to standardized sizing systems.4

Taking your Measurements

By the end of this post, we’ll have the following measurements taken and ready to be compared to sizing standard charts in the coming weeks:


  • Upper torso
  • Bust
  • Waist
  • Hips
  • Cross Back
  • Upper Arm


  • Armhole Depth
  • Back Waist
Upper Torso

In her CustomFit software, Amy Herzog has produced a tool to help knitters create bespoke items by plugging in their measurements and generating a pattern unique to those numbers. Part of the process is, of course, taking good and careful measurements of your own body. This CustomFit pdf outlines the ways you can take those measurements.

Your upper torso measurement (also called high bust) is the number that Herzog says is important for selecting your “base size”. This number will reflect your body’s frame and better fit your shoulders than relying solely on the bust measurement would.

Here is how Herzog describes you should take your upper torso measurement: “Place the measuring tape all the way up in your armpits, as high as it will go. Some bust tissue is included, but not very much (especially important for busty figures). Pull snugly, breathe, and measure with arms down at your sides.”

A bit more about relying on that bust measurement: in her detailed and very informative book Little Red in the City, Ysolda Teague advises the knitter on how to choose a size, underlining the importance of gaining an understanding of sizing standards and how YOU may (will!) differ from a standard sizing system:

The main thing, which doesn’t seem to be talked about much in the knitting world despite being common information in dressmaking resources, is that sizing charts are generally based on the proportions of a fit model with a B cup… Clearly if the bust measurement given as the size in a pattern is based on a B cup and you’re an E cup your full bust measurement is going to be much larger in proportion to the rest of your measurements.5

Though this is a horizontal measurement, the torso (or high bust) measurement is distinctly important in deconstructing and demystifying how sizing standards work and their implicitly accepted “truth” and rule over our clothing choices and options (even within the world of makers and customization!)

Bust, Waist, Hips, Cross Back, and Upper Arm

These three horizontal measurements and how to take them are described here at the Craft Yarn Council’s (CYC) Standard Body Measurements/Sizing. This link is significant, and we’ll be referring back to it rather frequently in the #KnitPetiteProject, because this is the source of sizing standards very often referred to (in my experience) for knitwear design (including publications and independent designers). There are other sources designer use, but that’s a discussion for a future post!

And, as outlined by the quote from Ysolda above, it’s important to identify your bust measurement as THIS is the number set as determining your size in knitwear (and other areas of standardized sizing).

Armhole Depth

Here, the CYC says you should “Measure from the top outside edge of the shoulder down to the armpit.” That, you may well be thinking, is going to be tricky to determine. In my personal experience it’s been frustrating to take vertical measurements because these lengths seem less clear and distinct than finding the widest part of your bust or determining where your waist is.

You can refer to videos where people take these sorts of measurements to get a live-action version: here you can see Amy Herzog taking someone’s armhole depth measurement (with some valuable advice for sweater fit as well).

Back Waist

Have you ever even bothered to take this measurement? I know I never did until I got into knitwear design. It’s easily overlooked, but it has a great effect on how your knits look on your body. I will tell you right now that sizing standards for regular size clothing very likely assume your waist is in a different place than it is (depending on what kind of petite you are! More on that below).

And as a knitwear designer I can tell you that it matters very much to me and the math I do where your waist is (or rather, where I assume your waist is based on standardized sizing). Waist shaping happening in a place other than your waist may not be the look you’re going for, and so it is important to know your back waist length and what the pattern assumes your back waist length is!

This is how the CYC says you should take your back waist length: “Measure from the most prominent bone at base of neck to the natural waistline.” FROM that most prominent bone isn’t super clear; and in some cases, when looking at a schematic, you’ll see the vertical measurements broken up into segments including armhole depth, and then armhole to waist, and then waist to bottom hem.

So, another way to have a look at your back waist length is to measure it that way: take your armhole depth and then measure downward to your waist. Amy Herzog demonstrates taking this measurement in this video.

And how to find your waist? The general advice is the smallest part of your torso, but that isn’t clear or applicable to all people. A helpful tip is to bend to the side, and see where that crease is when you bend. Tie a string around that part of your torso. That helps to clarify the waist for this measurement.

Ways you can be petite

With our numbers in hand, let’s take a wee look at a recent study6 and what it has to say about different ways a person can be petite.

This paper used data from SizeUSA, a bank of information gathered using 3D body scanning technology. The significance of this study is that it’s the first to analyze the clothing industry petite sizing system using population data. They took SizeUSA measurements from 18-35 year old petite women and compared them to both regular size women and over a dozen apparel companies. Immediately, I’m sure you can see that this study is limited: they only used measurements from a total of 2,714 women (1, 618 who were petite), and all those women were aged 18-35. Nonetheless, it reveals some interesting information for us in the #KnitPetiteProject.

The study found that the industry sizing system does not represent the average petite woman except for their stature. They also identified four different body types within the petite women’s data: top petite, bottom petite, regular petite, and plus size petite.

Top Petite

This group represented 30% of the population the study examined and had the shortest torso and relatively average limbs. The authors also discovered that this petite body type is generally represented within the ASTM D7878 sizing, which I swear will make sense and become VERY interesting in a few weeks’ time. For now, just know that the top petite folks are the ones who are represented in the voluntary sizing standards put out by ASTM.

Bottom Petite

This group represented 30.8 % of the population the study examined and had the shortest limbs and an average torso length. These would be the individuals who would be more likely to need shorter pants and sleeve lengths, for example.

Regular Petite

This group represented 23.6% of the population the study examined and had relatively longer torso and long limbs.

Plus Size Petite

This group represented 15.4% of the population the study examined and had larger body volume.

And just how do you determine which of these petite body shapes you may fall under? It’s all about comparing YOUR body measurements to standard sizing charts (or a detailed knitwear garment schematic!)

Here are some numbers to reflect on: the chart pictured below is from the study and gives numbers comparing the 4 petite body types, ASTM petite, industry standards from 14 different companies, and the ASTM regular sizing standard. The ASTM standards are behind a paywall, but you can get some of the size info through Wikipedia.


A few interesting takeaway quotes from the paper:

Because the petite size proportion does have different dimensions from sizes for children or smaller adults of regular height, petite clothing should not simply become smaller in its aspects of length and circumferences. pg 49

So, that seems to say that our knitwear modifications may indeed be more involved than simply making things shorter!

Little research has addressed petite women’s body proportions and shapes…No study has analyzed petite size women’s body proportions and figure types using the recent and larger amount of anthropometric data now available. pg 49 – 50

We’ll get more into the challenges of this sort of data collection next month, but for now it’s worth remembering that the standards we have now are outdated and inherently flawed.

The petite group showed significantly lower mean values than the regular group for all the vertical measurements…[the petites] also had significantly shorter lengths than the regular group by 0.14″ at shoulder length, 0.82″ at the back waist, and 1.52″ shorter for arm length. pg 55

Fun Fact

Remember how I mentioned above that many knitwear design takes the CYC’s standards in order to create their sizes? Not all do! Another popular source of sizing information are the charts created by Ysolda Teague. A number of years ago she removed the charts she had created in order to update them, and the new charts came out earlier this month! Timely for us here at the #KnitPetiteProject! You can read the charts (and more about Ysolda’s thoughts on them and sizing) here; I’d suggest giving it a look before we dive into comparing different sizing systems at the end of March.


Have you ever used a standard sizing chart to create clothing? Which chart did you use?


1 J. Bougourd, “Sizing systems, fit models and target markets”, Sizing in clothing: developing effective sizing systems for ready-to-wear clothing. S. P. Ashdown, Textile Institute (Manchester, England) Woodhead Publishing in association with The Textile Institute, Apr 20, 2007. pg 130.

2 Ibid, pg 127.

3 You can find this refrain fairly commonly throughout the knitwear design world, but two people I return to again and again for their fit expertise is Ysolda and Amy Herzog. In particular, Amy Herzog’s Knit to Flatter Craftsy class (and book) outline the importance of determining your base size through the shoulders in order to achieve a good fit, and modifying the rest of your sweater from there.

4 As the year goes on, the measurements might change. That’s ok! We want these numbers so that we can get an idea how sizing standards deviate from our own body.

5 Ysolda Teague. Little Red in the City. April, 2011. pg 34.
Note: Ysolda also makes note for those who may have proportionally smaller busts on pg 38: “In terms of sweater sizing the range of sizes below a B cup isn’t going to have a very significant effect on the fit of your sweater. You can probably get a pretty good fit working with your full bust measurement… It’s still a good idea to compare your other measurements to the standard though, if you have a small bust and broad shoulders you may find that the rest of your measurements indicate going up a size. A good fit in the shoulders is crucial and the resulting positive ease at the bust can actually be quite flattering to smaller busts.” (emphasis mine, not Ysolda’s).

6 Youngsook Kim , Hwa Kyung Song , Susan P. Ashdown , (2016) “Women’s petite and regular body measurements compared to current retail sizing conventions“, International Journal of Clothing Science and Technology, Vol. 28 Iss: 1, pp.47 – 64

#KnitPetiteProject: How to identify your petite fit needs

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