In February, we looked at who petite women are. In March, we studied some sizing standards history. And now in April, we’ll be asking a valuable question: is there even a point in considering petite fit in knitwear? Should we even care?
“…height should not increase with size.”1
Right off the bat, let’s clarify a couple of things.
I know I’ve personally been a bit tripped up by the concept of a “sizing standard”, and the concept of individual “sizing systems”. For this week’s post in particular, it’s going to be important to underline the fact that there is NO compulsory sizing standard that clothing designers or manufacturers must adhere to.
Instead, there are complex and in some cases very specifically targeted sizing systems that are developed by any number of industry groups, specific manufacturers, and even individual creators.
For the purposes of this post, we’re going to use the CYC standards (which are widely used by knitwear designers) and ASTM’s Petite Misses’ Body Measurement chart, also touching on Kathleen Cheetham’s Petite Plus chart.
I regret to say that I simply have not found an in depth petite body measurements chart for sizes above a 46″ bust. Please let me know of any resources that fit this description!
As always when looking at charts, I do not want you to feel you are measuring your worth with these numbers! These are just body measurements; averaged out, flawed, and attempting to create a system wherein individuals can be served through the smallest number of different sizes despite the enormous number of ways our bodies differ from each other.
The purpose of this post is to give you an idea as to how shorter vertical (and some horizontal) body measurements can impact the fit of your knitted garments.
What is regular?
We looked a bit at CYC’s body measurement chart last week, and even talked a bit about some weaknesses this chart includes. Nevertheless, it is widely applied by knitwear designers for a number of reasons, including its size range, number of body measurements, and the fact that it’s freely available.
Please keep in mind that not all designers use CYC!
- To note: bust size range goes from 28″ – 62″
- Vertical measurements included are Back Waist Length, Sleeve Length to Underarm, Armhole depth
- Cross Back measurement is important to determining shoulder sizing and body frame, which is important to selecting size and achieving good fit.
What is petite?
We’ve talked a bit about ASTM in the past, but to recap: this source is worth using in our post today because they are a leading source of body measurement data. They base their numbers on a variety of sources (both old and new), and revisit their charts through specialized committees every few years. That said, it is limited in that it does not include a wide range of larger sizes, and has been shown to skew towards individuals who are more “top petite” than bottom petite.
I can’t say that is is an exact complement, usage-wise, to CYC within the knitwear design community. Generally, as we’ve seen, knitwear design hasn’t focused on petite sizing and the chart very frequently relied upon is CYC (as seen above) and is without petite sizing.
The ASTM Petite Misses’ Chart is not freely available online, so I can’t post all its measurements here.
But what I can do is share a bit about what they have to say about these body measurements, and give a comparison for a select number of measurements for 3 different sizes.
In the standard table, ASTM states that although the information included are body measurements, “… they can be used as a baseline in designing apparel for Misses’ Petite in this size range when considering such factors as fabric type, ease for body movement, styling, and fit.”
I’ve selected the sizes listed here because they are the closest comparisons to what exists with CYC.
And since ASTM’s petite charts do not include bust sizes above 46″, let’s also take a peek at Kathleen Cheetham’s chart:
On Cheetham’s chart, note that:
- the bust range is from 38″ – 50″. This is still not a direct comparison to the size range in CYC, which extends up to 62″
- she also has Back Shoulder Width and Center Back Waist Length, which we can now compare against our regular measurements from CYC.
- her charts are very specialized to the petite plus body size, with narrow shoulders, D-cup bust, and a tummy.
Where do the differences lay?
The number of measurements all these charts share is limited, but I’ll pick a few here to demonstrate the point.
There are certainly other numbers that would be helpful in demonstrating the value and significance of the petite/regular difference, but as we are limited by the charts and their copyright availability, I’ll limit our discussion to just three examples.
All three of these numbers are significant to good fit. As we’ve learned earlier this year, fitting your frame is important, and determining the size of your frame rests on accurate shoulder measurements and fit. (Also important to this is a high chest / upper bust measurement, but as this isn’t a shared number through all three of our charts here, I’ll have to omit it from our analysis today).
The smallest sizes seem to agree here, with 14″ as the cross back measurement. But if you take a look at our mid-range size of 36″ bust, we see that the petite body numbers say 15″, where the regular body numbers say 16″ – 16.5″. The 46″ bust size give a petite number of 16″ 5/8, versus the regular number of 17.5″. And from Cheetham’s chart, which is designed specifically for petite plus women with narrow shoulders, the difference is even starker: the 50″ bust on her chart is 15″ 3/4, whereas the regular chart says 18″.
Center Back Waist Length
The smallest size in petite 15″ 3/8, versus 16.5″ in the regular chart. A mid-range size of 36″ bust gives a petite number of 15″ 3/8, versus 17″ 1/4 in the regular chart. And the largest size we can compare, a 50″ bust, measures 14″ 7/8 on Cheetham’s chart versus 18″ on the CYC.
You’ll start to notice that Cheetham’s chart is not a total complement to the ASTM numbers. Through this disparity we can see the plurality of sizing systems; Cheetham’s chart is for a highly targeted market of petite plus sized women. I’ve contacted Cheetham for an interview. I hope to be able to share more info with you on how she created her charts when she responds.
The smallest sizes in petite gives this number as 5.5″ versus 6.5″ in the regular chart. Our medium range size of 36″ bust gives a petite armhole depth of 5″ 7/8, versus a regular armhole depth of 7.5″. And our largest comparable size, the 46″ bust, gives a petite number of 6″ 5/8 versus 8.5″.
How does this affect hand knits?
Next week we’ll hear feedback from REAL knitters on the fit sacrifices they make when dealing with regular sizing for their petite bodies. For today, let’s touch on the topic of the importance and value of petite body measurements and regular sized hand knit patterns.
Cross Back, Back Waist, Armhole Depth: Why do these discrepancies matter?
The cross back number plays a role in where your shoulder seams are going to lay (for set-in sleeved sweaters), and determine the amount of room built into anything that’s going around/across that part of the body. For example, I’ve used the cross back measurement to determine how far apart arm openings have to be in items like simple shrugs. If I as a designer have calculated an extra 1.5″ into that number, you’ll have droopy sleeves and/or ripples of too much fabric across your back. This could ruin the look of a garment.
The centre back waist measurement is important to fit because it determines the length of your sweater from shoulders to waist. As knitters, you know that some sweaters require significant waist shaping. This is functional, but can also be an important, decorative element of the sweater. If that waist shaping is happening even 1.5″ away from your actual waist, it will sit oddly on your body and you may have too much fabric in some areas, and then too little in others. You could get folds of fabric at the small of your back and weird-looking bunching. This also cascades length issues above and below the waist point.
Armholes that are big and a bit saggy might indeed be your stylistic choice, but if you want to achieve the designer’s intended look for the garment, then this measurement deserves attention.
Materials are one of the critical factors that affect garment fit, and therefore an understanding of material properties has an important place in the development of garment sizing.2
There are certainly some stitches, gauges, and other factors that will tighten up hand-knitted fabric, but in general many hand knits can be said to have a good degree of stretch.
I’ve personally made much use of this in my own hand knits and designs; this stretch means you can use negative ease and create a garment or accessory that is snug to your skin. As we touched on last week, that is sometimes a matter of taste (tight sweaters that hug your body, think 1940s “sweater girls”), and it is sometimes a matter of function (hats and socks have negative ease so they stay on your body, where they’re meant to be!)
That stretchy quality also makes knitted fabric more “forgiving” for fit, but of course, it does not mean that it erases fit concerns entirely. As D.H. Branson and J. Nam state in their chapter on materials and sizing in “Sizing in Clothing”:
“The fitting process can be simplified in the use of stretch materials as the stretch can potentially compensate for individual body variation that would require greater attention if the design were executed in a woven fabric. Yet, it is erroneous to assume that a stretch fabric garment will automatically fit in all the right places and provide ease of movement.”3
One such way a sewing pattern may pay more attention to fit than a knitting pattern would is the sleeve cap shaping. Sewing patterns may make the slope of the front of the cap a different shape than the slope of the back of the cap. Knitting patterns rarely do this.
Knitting legend Shirley Paden also makes note, “…because woven fabric do not have the stretch of knitted fabrics, they are generally 1″ – 2″ (2.5 to 5 cm) larger than their knitted counterparts. Keep in mind that cable and twist-stitch patterns will make dense, narrow fabrics while openwork and lace patterns will make very stretchy fabrics…Typically, you’ll want to add 1/2″ to 1″ (1.3 to 2.5 cm) of ease to the knitted fabric to attain a similar drape to [a woven counterpart]”.4
Weight of Fabric
Yarn comes in many thicknesses and fibres. These factors exert their inherent properties on fit in a number of ways.
For example, a super bulky knit sweater will not only be heavier than a DK weight sweater, the actual thickness of the yarn will consume part of the body space measurements. This is an aspect that a good designer would certainly take into account.
A heavy weight of yarn thickness or fibre will also exert more physical weight on the garment. This may be compensated for within the design, but there are repercussions if the wearer’s body isn’t the length the design assumes it is. The intended drape of the design may be incorrect, the lengths may drag down. And we may get that dreaded (unintended) super low neckline.
As Maggie Righetti says in her excellent book Sweater Design in Plain English, “Most home-knit fabrics stretch a great deal lengthwise. They do not stretch so much crosswise…Blocking the sweater will NOT stop the lengthwise stretch. No thing yet devised by man stops gravity!”5
If you already have too much vertical length in your knits, and as Righetti assures us, it WILL stretch over time, the length issue is compounded by the weight/stretch of hand knit fabric.
#KnitPetiteProject Wants to Know…
In May, we’re going to start looking at the nitty-gritty of different petite mods for knitwear. The first post of the month is going to give some real-life examples of knits that have been modified for petite bodies.
Want to help out? Please let me know your experience with making petite mods to your knits. What modification did you make? Which pattern did you choose? Are you happy with the results? Contact me by replying to this post, or email me at canaryknitsdesigns at gmail dot com.
Thanks for your help!
The Second #KnitPetiteProject Survey!
In February and March we’ve laid a foundation for WHY we may encounter petite fit issues. This month we’ll be looking in depth at what those petite fit issues are. I’m asking for YOUR HELP, and sharing the results of the survey at the end of April.
Please lend a hand to the #KnitPetiteProject and answer this brief survey!
“The three vertical measurements from underarm level to waist derived from the anthropometric survey actually decrease for each larger size up to bust circumference of 39 inches (99 cm). For sizes larger than 39 inches, the vertical increases are positive, but very small. None is incremental.”6
“Currently, ‘trial and error’ has been used to modify patterns for knit fabrics and to determine grading rules to create a set of sizes.”7
What petite modifications do you make to your handknits?
- Craft Yarn Council. Standard Body Measurements/Sizing. Accessed April 2, 2017.
- ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) D7878: Standard Tables for Body Measurements for Adult Female Misses Petite Figure Type, Size Range 00P – 20P. Accessed April 2, 2017.
- Kathleen Cheetham. Petite Plus Patterns: Sizing Information. Accessed April 2, 2017.
- 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.
- Shirley Paden. “Knitwear Design Workshop: A comprehensive guide to handknits.” Interweave Press, 2009.
- Maggie Righetti. Sweater Design in Plain English. St Martin’s Press. 1990.
1 N. A. Scholfield, “Pattern Grading”, 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 180.
2 D.H. Branson and J. Nam, “Materials and Sizing”, 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 264.
3 Ibid, pg 269.
4 Shirley Paden. Knitwear Design Workshop: A comprehensive guide to handknits. Interweave Press, 2009. pg 20.
5 Maggie Righetti. Sweater Design in Plain English. St Martin’s Press. 1990. pg 24.
6 N. A. Scholfield, “Pattern Grading”, 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 180.
7 D.H. Branson and J. Nam, “Materials and Sizing”, 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 269.