#KnitPetiteProject: Shoulders, back and arms; what are the issues, and how do they line up against sizing charts?

Our last post where we compared the same knitted garments on a petite and non-petite person.
The #KnitPetiteProject plan.

All other #KnitPetiteProject posts.

The #KnitPetiteProject now has a Ravelry group. Join us!

The rest of May and June will be filled with very practical posts that will focus on:

  • comparing petite measurements to “regular” CYC charts
  • “diagnosing” fit issues
  • helping us decide how we feel about fit
  • determining tools to alter fit to our liking
  • learning to identify patterns that work for our taste and/or are easily modifiable
  • and very importantly, considering how we differ from a general sizing chart so we have a set of general rules to consider before we begin knitting a pattern1

For some of you this information may be old news, and for others, it may be brand new. If you read this and believe something should be added or changed, please let me know in the comments! It’s important that we make the #KnitPetiteProject as comprehensive, accurate, and inclusive as possible.

…the design of the upper bodice areas of a garment – the shoulder, armhole, and sleeve – which are without question the most challenging aspects of a pattern.2

A few things before we jump in to this week’s topic:

I know if something doesn’t fit me! Why should we look at “diagnosing” fit?!

I want to share my own story with you about learning to really see the way something fits me in the hopes that it may be helpful or interesting to you.

My interest in fit was awakened a few years ago when I really started making a lot of my own clothes, both knitted and sewn. I would finish a project, happily try it on, and immediately notice all the places where it “looked weird”.

The result of this with my first few projects was a tedious and frustrating re-doing of things in a vain attempt to correct my “mistakes”. Because clearly I had made mistakes! The clothes I made looked weird and didn’t fit right!

It wasn’t until I decided to try on store-bought clothes I had owned and worn for years and compare them to my own finished projects that I realized something: the weird looking “mistakes” I had made in my own handmade clothes appeared in my store bought ones as well! It was a big revelation to me that the weird fit I didn’t like in my own handmade clothes wasn’t from my mistakes in making the pattern, it was representative of consistent issues I experience, even in store-bought clothes.

All my life I had ignored or innately accepted the fit of store bought clothes; but when the same issues came up with my handmade clothes, I only really “saw” them because I was being self-critical of my own product!

Once I had that realization, I focused on figuring out why those consistent “weird fit” things kept happening. And let me tell you, the answer wasn’t as easy to find, or figure out, or “diagnose”, as I thought it would be. It took a lot of digging and reading and looking at illustrations to even start to get there.

What I really want for these next few posts, and for the #KnitPetiteProject in general, is to save YOU from such a struggle to diagnose and alter those fit issues you may want to change. I want to share what I’ve read and learned, AND draw on the expertise of all you kind readers, to create this resource we as petite knitters can all go to. I think it would be amazing if those of us with experience in looking at and diagnosing fit can advise other who may not know or can’t figure out what their fit issues is.

Please consider joining the #KnitPetiteProject Ravelry group so we can enable this knowledge sharing and help each other to diagnose fit issues!

Remember, Fit is a moving target!

We’ve already touched on this in previous posts, but fit is incredibly complex, and is made more so by the fact that it is both subjective to your own tastes, and dependent on the style of the garment. In the examples below, please keep that in mind (particularly style considerations).

Over the next four posts, you may see a bunch of repetition

I hope that these posts will be able to stand on their own AND fit together, so that readers can take as comprehensive an amount of information from each post as possible. Please excuse the repetition!

Body Positivity

This is worth repeating: looking at the shape of your body and measuring it is not a contest, and it’s not a judgement on your worth as a human being. This is intended to empower you to get what YOU want out of your knits.

The next 4 weeks we’re looking at diagnosing fit, and seeing how our numbers and general “petite” numbers compare to the “regular” numbers of the much-used CYC charts.

Let’s get started.

Shoulders, back and arms; what are the issues, and how do they line up against sizing charts?

What Are the Issues?


Sweaters “hang” from your shoulders, and so achieving the sort of fit you want in that part of the body is important, and effects the way the rest of the look of the sweater on your body.

Petite people have shoulders of all different shapes and widths and heights and slopes. Every person’s body is different, and you’ll likely have other fit aspects to consider.

Taking shoulders alone, though, how can you diagnose fit issues?3


Square Shoulders

You might have shoulders that are more square than the pattern assumes if:

  • any existing sleeve cap seam doesn’t sit on your shoulder’s protruding bone (it may be pulled closer to your neck), or looks different on you than the images in the pattern photo4
  • the sweater feels tight across your upper back and upper chest; you may see pulling lines across the back of your shoulders

Sloping Shoulders

You might have shoulders that are more sloping than the pattern assumes if:

  • any existing sleeve cap seam doesn’t sit on your shoulder’s protruding bone (it may dip down lower than your shoulder bone)

Uneven Shoulders

You might have shoulders that are more uneven than the pattern assumes if:

  • the fit effects mentioned above happen on one side of your body but not the other
  • looking at yourself in the mirror, the lower shoulder might make that arm appear a bit longer than the higher shoulder

Broad Shoulders

You might have shoulders that are more broad than the pattern assumes if:

  • any seams on the shoulders appear to be pulling in towards each other across your upper chest

Narrow Shoulders

You might have shoulders that are more narrow than the pattern assumes if:

  • any seams on the shoulders fall down off your shoulders
  • the sweater has extra fabric bagging around your armpits, across your upper chest and back

Forward Shoulders

You might have shoulders that are more forward than the pattern assumes if:

  • the shoulder seam line sits angled toward your back instead of toward the tip of your shoulder bone

As you’ve probably already seen, determining the fit of shoulders and back are connected. Everyone will have their own unique collection of shapes in their body, some of which will interact directly with others. But, taking shoulders alone, what are a number of ways your back can be shaped differently from a pattern, and how can you tell what that shape is?


Broad Back

You might have a back that is broader than the pattern assumes if:

  • when you reach forward, there is tightness across the front of the upper sleeve area
  • any seams for the armhole don’t reach to your actual arm
  • you may have tightness across your back that shows up as pull lines; this might be confused for broad shoulders, but THOSE pull lines will be higher on your back, closer to the top of your shoulders. In knitting those pull lines will show up as the fabric stretching, because knitted fabric generally has a degree of elasticity


Narrow Back

You might have a back that is narrower than the pattern assumes if:

  • there’s excess material in the back of your sweater, which may appear as vertical lines running down your back; this issue might be familiar to full busted women who choose a size based on their bust, but have a narrow back
  • any armhole seams might dip out onto your arm
  • it may be easy to confuse a narrow back for narrow shoulders and vice versa; diagnose narrow back by looking at what the fabric is doing nearer to your armpits rather than up at the top of your shoulders

Round Back

Your back can be round in a variety of ways, including slightly rounded, rounded high, or very round. You might have a back that is rounder than the pattern assumes if:

  • there’s gaping at your back armhole; you might have a slightly rounded back
  • there’s gaping at your back neckline; you might have a high round back
  • there’s large gaping holes at the arms and the front neckline might be riding up against your neck; you might have a very round back

Sway or Flat Back

We all have different postures and shapes to our spine, which will affect the way a sweater sits on our body. You might have a back that is more swayed or flatter than the pattern assumes if:

  • you have excess fabric pooling in folds at the small of your back (this would be your back waist); you might have a sway back
  • your hem is longer in the back than in the front; you might have a flat back

This is one area that many people have responded on the #KnitPetiteProject fit survey as something they alter. Making sleeves shorter may seem a simple modification, but there are lots of different things to consider. Just because you’re petite doesn’t mean you have short arms! Taking arms alone, what are a number of ways you can be shaped differently from a pattern, and how can you tell what that shape is?

Comparing an imaginary pattern’s yoke depth with how that pattern might look on a petite person
  • if the sleeve is tight around your arm, then you may have full arms
  • if the sleeve is loose around your arm, you may have thin arms
  • if the sleeve is a different length on your arm versus the pattern photo, you may have longer or shorter arms (depending on the info in the photo)
  • if yoke details extend down onto your bust, and/or the armpit of the sleeve is significantly lower on your body than the modeled images, you may have a shorter armhole depth than the pattern assumes

How do the issues line up against sizing charts?

CYC Sizing Charts

We’ve talked a bit about the CYC sizing charts here on the #KnitPetiteProject before, and I’d like to use them again here to illustrate some differences and act as a bit of a base level from which to operate.

We can’t assume EVERY knitting pattern we come across uses CYC! But many do, and if you find that you experience similar fit issues across knitting pattern designs then looking at the CYC charts may be helpful.5

CYC Woman Size Charts

As Palmer and Alto point out, going solely by measurement numbers can misrepresent fit; they note that you could pick a size that has the same measurements as your body, but you may still experience excess fabric, tight pull lines, or other fit issues because of the complexity of our body’s shape. For our learning exercise here, let’s take these numbers as a starting point as we put together the puzzle of fit and try to determine what general fit alterations we can consider for knitting patterns before we start knitting them!

You’ll notice that these CYC charts have nine different points of measurement, but they don’t include certain things like shoulder depth or information on figuring out slope. They do have information about cross back width, armhole depth, upper arm circumference, center back neck-to-cuff and sleeve length to underarms.

All these numbers can help you in estimating the shape of your body and the shape of the body in patterns designed using these charts. Remember: not ALL patterns use these charts, but many do.


Here, you have limited information. Some designers may use Ysolda’s charts, which are more detailed, particularly for the shoulders. This is a great example of how you might not have the information on the schematic that you need to estimate fit before you begin, and this may be where some experimentation (or a trip to your FOs to examine their fit!) will help.


Look at the cross back number, and compare it to your own. We went over taking measurements back in February, but there is no shortage of places where you can find good, reliable information on taking measurements including the incredibly comprehensive Principles of Knitting by June Hemmons Hiatt, especially in Chapter 24, Measurements and Schematics.

Is there a difference between your numbers, and can you see evidence of this in your FOs? Do you feel confident in “diagnosing” this fit?


Many respondents to the #KnitPetiteProject survey noted that they make sleeve alterations, particularly that they make them shorter.

One thing I’ve always thought was interesting was the amount of difference across the CYC chart in sleeve length from the smallest to the largest size. Also note, of course, that this chart assumes that if you have a 28″ bust your sleeve length will be 16.5″, whereas if you have a 56″ bust your sleeve length will be 18.5″. Do arms grow longer as bust size increases? This is indicative of the length issue we petite folks face, particularly petite plus knitters.

In her article for Vogue Knitting, Anne Marie Soto writes that many petite fit issues come down to length, but that:

In trying to translate standard knitting instructions for your size, you may be tempted simply to knit everything shorter, but this seldom really solves the problem. The reason is that length adjustments must be made in proportion to the total garment.6

She also notes some of the ways in which petite sizes differ from corresponding Misses sizes in back, shoulders, and arms (this is within the long established sizing charts for the home sewing industry):

  • the sleeve length for petites is 1.25″ shorter
  • the shoulder (from the back of the neck to the joint where the shoulder and upper arm meet) is 1/8″ narrower

In June we’ll be going over the details of tactics to petite your knits. For now, let’s all look at those numbers and pull those FOs out and see what evidence of fit we have. Ask yourself these questions:

  1. What information do my numbers compared to the CYC numbers tell me?
  2. Is that information supported in the fit of my handknits?
  3. Is that information supported in the fit of my store-bought clothes?


In the sewing book referenced in this post, “Fit for Real People”, the authors Palmer and Alto demonstrate how to make a “body graph” to help you be objective in determining your body’s shape.

A read-along for the #KnitPetiteProject might be fun, and we could include this book on the list.

My question is: would you be interested in creating a “body graph” in order to help you determine your shape? Should we add this to a possible read-along list?

You can “meet” Palmer and Alto in the video below.


1 Amy Herzog refers to this as well in her excellent Craftsy class, Knit to Flatter. She clarifies and defines “Miss Average”, and states that while you will differ from Miss Average, you’ll “always differ in the same way”, so getting your numbers is a big and important first step.

2 June Hemmons Hiatt. Principles of Knitting. Touchstone Publishing, 2012, pg 481.

3 Information on diagnosing fit in this section is taken from “Fit for Real People“, pages 160 – 164. Back section is pages 117 – 128. Arms section is pages 166 – 176.

4 Important caveat: check out last week’s post and the ambiguity of basing your idea of fit on the pattern model! Because, not all pattern models will perfectly demonstrate the intended shape/style/fit of the design. This goes for all fit diagnoses.

5 I take that this is a good piece of advice because author Anne Marie Soto gives very similar instruction in her article “Petite Pizzaz” from Vogue Knitting Winter 92-93: “In patterns for home sewing…both Miss and Miss Petite sizes have been standardized. Thus, the measurements in home-sewing patterns can serve as useful guidelines for altering Misses knitting instructions to suit your smaller frame.” pg 16.

6 Anne Marie Soto. Petite Pizzaz. Vogue Knitting. Winter 92-93, pg 16.


#KnitPetiteProject: Shoulders, back and arms; what are the issues, and how do they line up against sizing charts?

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