What’s Positive Ease?

One of Trudy’s patterns featured in our new book, She Made Them Her Own: The Best of Trudy Van Stralen, is Erin, a Guernsey-style unisex pullover knit in Gems Worsted. Erin is intended to be worn with positive ease, a phrase that mystifies many knitters. Today we’re going to explain exactly what positive ease is, and how to choose your ideal garment size based on your personal preferences for fit.

What is ease?

Ease is the difference between the finished garment measurement, and your actual bust measurement. And to be clear, your bra band size is not your bust size. To measure your bust size, you’ll need to measure around the fullest part of your bust. It’s best if you can get some help, and be sure to put your arms down, since we’re guessing you don’t wear your sweaters with your arms up in a T all the time!

Positive Ease vs. Negative Ease

Negative ease means that your finished garment is smaller than your actual bust measurement. Because knitted fabric stretches, a few inches of negative ease won’t mean that you can’t get your sweater over your head (unless your neck is much too small!). Negative ease will allow for a much more fitted look. Here are some examples of negative ease:

34″ actual bust, 33″ bust on finished sweater = 1″ negative ease

34″ actual bust, 32″ bust on finished sweater = 2″ negative ease

Please note, in our experience 1-3″ of negative ease is optimal for a fitted look, but any more than that and your sweater can get a little snug, especially in the upper arms. You can get away with more negative ease in a pullover than a cardigan, because with a cardigan you run the risk of your button band gaping when closed if you have too much negative ease. Nobody wants to look like the hulk bursting from his clothes!

If you’d like a more fitted version of Erin, you can choose wear it with negative ease; the model below is wearing Erin with 3/4″ negative ease.

31 1⁄4” sweater shown on 32" bust, with 3/4" negative ease

31 1⁄4” sweater shown on 32″ bust, with 3/4″ negative ease

Positive ease means your finished garment is larger than your actual bust measurement. This means that your sweater could be just a little loose, or baggy, depending on the amount of ease. Here are some examples:

34″ actual bust, 35″ bust on finished sweater = 1″ of positive ease

34″ actual bust, 39″ bust on finished sweater = 5″ of positive ease

And while we’re on the topic, zero ease is when your actual bust measurement and the the circumference of the finished bust on your sweater are the same.

The Erin below is shown with 2 1/3″ positive ease; it’s comfy but still fitted enough to wear a jacket over it.

36 1⁄3" sweater on 34" bust, with 2 1/3" positive ease

36 1⁄3″ sweater on 34″ bust, with 2 1/3″ positive ease

How to choose the right fit

Many people just look for the bust size that’s closest to their own when choosing what size sweater to knit, but to ensure that you’ll knit a sweater you love and will wear for years to come is to think about the style of the sweater, and how you’d like it to fit. Erin is intended to be a sweatshirt type sweater, something you want to practically live in, but much prettier! So when deciding on the size, choose a size that will fit like your favorite sweatshirt, by measuring one from your closet!

Let’s say you have a 38″ bust. When you go to your closet and measure your favorite sweatshirt that fits you just right, it has a bust circumference of 42″, which would mean your sweatshirt has 4″ of positive ease. Erin’s 41 1/2″ size would create a similar fit.

For a baggy, boyfriend style pullover go with a lot of positive ease, the Erin shown below is worn with more than 14″ of positive ease, and still looks great!

46 1⁄2" sweater shown on 32" bust, with 14 1/2" positive ease

46 1⁄2″ sweater shown on 32″ bust, with 14 1/2″ positive ease