#KnitPetiteProject: Are there general rules we can follow for patterns we want to modify to our personal petite-ness?

Our last post where we looked at hallmarks of a design you can modify.
The #KnitPetiteProject plan.

All other #KnitPetiteProject posts.

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

Get out those sweater patterns again, because it’s week 2 of our very practical look at modifying for our personal petite-ness!

In June, we’re focusing on tactics to petite your knits, always keeping in mind:

  • comparing petite measurements to “regular” CYC charts
  • “diagnosing” fit issues (posts in May)
  • deciding how we feel about fit (post from June 6)
  • 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

I’ve selected Winter Doldrums from Knitty to act as my example for this set of practical posts; I suggest that you follow along with your own selected pattern, and talk about it in the #KnitPetiteProject Ravelry group here.

General Modification Rules

By now in the #KnitPetiteProject you should have a good idea of your body shape + size (using tools like a body graph, measuring our bodies, looking at sizing charts) and fit preferences.

As each of us (and each pattern we select) will be different and offer up so many variables, we have to be thoughtful about determining any general modification rules for our knitting patterns.

To arrive at this individual list of modification rules, you need to do the following:

  • have your accurate body measurements
  • compare your measurements to the major sizing charts used by knitting designers
  • understand (at least in a general way) different sweater constructions
  • check out what some general lists of petiteing tactics suggest
  • be willing to learn through doing!

Below, I’ll go over each of these steps using my selected pattern for this exercise, Winter Doldrums.

Accurate Body Measurements

We’ve gone over this a bit in the #KnitPetiteProject, particularly in February. Recently, we also discussed the value in creating a body graph.

I certainly understand the desire to have the internet hand you a perfect list of what you need to do each time you assess a sweater to knit (and I’ll give a small one below!), but I’ve noted accurate body measurements first on this list because a rundown of general rules for petites may actually set you on the wrong track and cause frustration if you aren’t already aware of your own body’s shapes and sizes.

Imagine if I had a broad back, but a short armscye depth. A “general rules for petites” might suggest something quite helpful in shortening my armscye, but would also tell me to narrow the back – that would cause some big time frogging when I realized it was super tight around my shoulders/upper back!

Comparing your Measurements to Major Sizing Charts used by Knitting Designers

This advice will give you a general sense of how your body is shaped vs. how many (but not all) patterns will assume it’s shaped.

Knitting designers use all sorts of different sizing charts; some develop their own unique charts, some purchase (relatively expensive) charts, and some use free and accessible charts that anyone can take a look at online.

If you know what chart the designer used, then that’s going to give you the most accurate info. But sometimes you just don’t have this information at hand. My suggestion is to take a peek at two of the most common (and freely accessible) charts that knitting designers use, and that we’ve talked about a lot here on the #KPP: the CYC charts, and Ysolda’s charts.

Let’s do that together using myself as an example.

Taken from CYC’s Body Measurement Chart

Here is the CYC chart, with my own measurements circled (or added in). What I hope this shows you is that any one person can have measurements spread across the sizing chart. If I were to pick the size that reflects my bust circumference (which is how patterns are most often selected), then I would be sacrificing fit in several places in my sweater, particularly around the shoulders and upper back (as I think you can see from the numbers!)

Follow the CYC’s guidelines for measuring and compare your own measurements to their chart to create your own sizing layout like I’ve done here.

Here’s Ysolda’s chart, which as you can immediately see is much more detailed than CYC’s. I’ve filled in most of my measurements, so you can see that Ysolda’s and CYC’s are both different from each other, AND different from me.

Taken from Ysolda’s Sizing Chart for Knitwear Designers

It’s with this information that I can start to form my general modification rules. From this I can learn that:

  • selecting a size based on bust means I’ll likely have to consider modifying different parts of my sweater (ie: no one size is going to fit me very well)
  • both these charts don’t go small/short enough for me in the upper back/shoulder area
  • both these charts don’t go short enough in the back waist length (though Ysolda’s is only 1″ longer, whereas CYC’s is 2″ longer)
  • there are other sizing issues I’ll have to consider that aren’t necessarily petite concerns, including bust adjustments and hip circumference adjustments
Understand (at least in a general way) different sweater constructions

We touched on this last week. Hop on over to that post for a more detailed look at some examples of different sweater and sleeve constructions.

Here I want to bring your attention to the fact that with general modification rules, you have to keep in mind that some sweater constructions function in a particular way to give you the style/shape and freedom of movement you see in the photo.

For example, with the information I’ve gleaned from the charts above, I can have a general modification rule that I need to shorten the sleeve depths on my sweaters. But, if I applied this to a set-in sleeve cap without considering that I have to equally adjust the body of the sweater itself, I’d end up with a sleeve cap that’s too small and incredible frustration all around.

To use the lovely Winter Doldrums as another example: this bottom-up, in the round yoked sweater. If I wanted to achieve the relaxed look of the sweater in the pattern photo, I’d have to consider the fact that while my body measurement tells me my sleeve depth is 6″, I’ll want to add some length to that. Otherwise, the yoke will sit further up in my armpit (possibly in an uncomfortable way!) and restrain my freedom of movement.

The garment schematic of Winter Doldrums tells me that the size I chose based on my bust has a depth of 9.25″ in the yoke. Decisions! How much length do I reduce, if any at all? How will that reduction in length cascade issues throughout the rest of the yoke?

Changing the rate of shaping will effectively change the angle of the shaping, which can conform to the angles of the body of be used to create a particular silhouette. In a pattern that is written to be shaped to the natural waistline there will often be quite rapid shaping between hip and waist and more gradual shaping toward the bust. If you want to move the waistline up you will probably want to work the more gradual shaping on the bottom half. 2

In this particular case, let’s say I want to take 1.25″ from the yoke depth. I’ve picked the size based on my bust measurement; I’m happy with the 35.5″ because I’ve decided I want a bit of a relaxed fit. Because of my own personal tastes, I’d considering making the waist about 3″ smaller. But that means I have to read through the pattern and see where the waist goes; the charts above tell me that the CYC sizing chart (which I know Knitty uses!) assumes my waist is 2″ away from where it actually is on my body. That’s a BIG difference when it comes to how a sweater sits on your body!

When I make those decisions and move up to the yoke, I now have to really consider how I’ll take out that 1.25″. The gauge says it’s 6 rounds/1″. So, I need to remove about 7 rounds. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but don’t forget about the beautiful colourwork! I could try to sprinkle those removed rounds up the chart, avoiding the decrease rounds, but it would be a good idea to draw out on knitter’s graph paper what the chart will look like if I do that. I might decide it interrupts the flow too much.

Another consideration I would have to make (and one common to petites) is narrowing of the shoulders/upper back. I might be tempted to just take out one whole repeat of the colourwork, but in this gauge that ends up being almost 4″. Taking those 4″ away at the base of the colourwork, around the upper arms and shoulders, would be something you’d have to consider even before approaching the bust measurement; I’d have to think about it way down at the waist, and before I even start the sleeves!

Remember: I picked a colourwork yoke sweater to show a complicated example. Please don’t let this keep you from looking at one for yourself! This is certainly something you can work out with some math and patience. We’ll be looking more at that next week when we talk about math, (im)modifiable design features, and your own personal taste.

General lists of petiteing tactics

Warning: PLEASE read above in Accurate Body Measurements! Here, I’ve listed a few very general suggestions of what petites can consider in regards to modifying fit.

First up, a source we’ve looked at in the past, Anne Marie Soto’s article in Vogue Knitting Winter 92-93, “Petite Pizzaz”. Note: Soto is coming from a homesewing point of view (we’ll be talking more about what the world of sewing can teach knitters next month). She writes:

  • petites should consider shortening the back waist length by 1″ (2.5 cm)
  • the fullest part of the hip is 2″ (5 cm) higher, which means it’s only 7″ (18 cm) below the waist as compared to the 9″ (23 cm) for regular sizes
  • sleeves for petites should be 1.25″ (3 cm) shorter
  • the shoulder length for petites is 1/8″ (3 mm) narrower (this measurement is from the back of the neck to the protruding bone on your shoulder)

She also suggests points of style and proportion. Please note that some of the suggestions below make me uncomfortable, but I’m posting them here in the spirit of sharing and learning together, as I think it’s important to take a look at the “conventional wisdom” for petites and take it apart together:

  • avoid bulky yarns, distracting fibers, and complex patterns because they can easily “downplay” a smaller figure
  • oversized dolman sleeves, extended shoulders, wide lapels, and large patch pockets are “inherently unflattering to a diminutive figure”
  • she warns to beware of “cutesy” details that are better suited for little girls, as these details are “too frequently considered the province of petites”
  • Soto instead suggests slim silhouettes, uncluttered sweaters with long vertical lines

I hope that by now, you know the philosophy behind the #KnitPetiteProject is that this is a body positive, non-judgemental community that accepts and supports the individual tastes, styles, and fit preferences of each #KPP person. So you understand why I’ve hesitated to include that last section of suggestions from the Soto article.

Twiggy - on blog photo twiggy017.jpg
Bulky yarn sweater: a mistake for petite folks?

What do YOU think of this list? I know I’ve played with bulky yarn in the past. Here’s a photo and 2008 blog post as proof. Was that a mistake? Does it “downplay” my figure as a petite woman? I think that’s entirely a subjective point of taste.

Let’s move on to another set of guidelines, again from an expert in the sewing world.

This general list for petiteing tactics comes from the the website Madalynne, created by lingerie designer, sewing teacher, and personal stylist Maddie. She’s kindly shared this handy chart that shows how, in the sewing world, petite sizing is different from regular sizing.

Every petite woman is petite in her own, unique way and these are standard reductions but I’ve used them as guidelines when working on my own patterns or helping petite women who email me with questions.3

Here is Madalynne’s chart.

This chart is property of the website Madalynne. Please note that the author herself says these are just general guidelines, and that “some critical thinking must be done when using this chart – what applies to you and where?”

And here is important information she’s shared about creating and using this chart for yourself:

  • petite clothing is designed to fit women around 5′ 3″ – 5’4″
  • Regular women’s clothing won’t fit petites because vertical measurements are shorter and would have to be altered to fit
  • Usually, changing a pattern for petites requires width reductions as well as vertical reductions, but of course that’s not always the case

Keep this chart in mind, as we’ll be talking more in depth with what the world of sewing can teach us knitters. For now, consider: does this chart reflect the comparison between your own measurements and the CYC standards?

Be willing to learn through doing

This is not the quick advice you might have been looking for! Mathematics and knowledge of your own shape and numbers is important, but also important is testing out some modifications with your own two needles, and understanding that this may require trial and error.

For example: swatching. Many folks don’t care for swatching. But it’s going to give you a lot of information. And, if you treat it as more than a gauge swatch, you can even learn things like:

  • if this is the right fibre/weight/colour for you to use
  • will stacking these decreases this close together look weird?
  • do I really dislike this technique? Am I going to really dread knitting this pattern?
  • are these needles and this yarn a good pairing?
  • what happens when I block it?
  • (and particularly for my example of Winter Doldrums): will this truncation of the colourwork look ok? How do I feel about the look?

As always, the #KnitPetiteProject is here to be as accurate, inclusive, and collaborative as possible.

Do you have some advice? Know of a source we should add to this post? Please reply here or, better yet, continue the conversation over on the #KnitPetiteProject Ravelry Group.


What general list of petite modifications have you seen? Please share it on the #KnitPetiteProject Ravelry group!


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 Ysolda Teague. Little Red in the City. April, 2011. pg 61

This quote is inserted here because it is a great demonstration of the information and detail given to you as a petite knitter in Ysolda’s Little Red in the City book. While there’s no specific “petite-centric” discussion, you can absolutely find many bits of information that will help you understand design-important details for modifying the fit of your sweaters. You will have to understand what you need to alter, but once you do know that (through measuring, looking at charts, and your lifetime of buying and making clothes!) Little Red is an excellent source of fitting for petite folks.

3 Madalynne. How to make a pattern Petite. July 1, 2013.

#KnitPetiteProject: Are there general rules we can follow for patterns we want to modify to our personal petite-ness?

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