Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Pattern Drafting for Hand Knits - Part I

Designers are under a lot of pressure to produce a much larger size range for the patterns that they write. I'm currently working on both a cardigan and a pullover design and I've spent a lot of time comparing various sizing standards. If you give me a set of measurements for an specific individual I can easily draft a garment that will fit well and be comfortable, especially if the intended wearer provided me with some details with regard to their ease preferences. When I try to do this across a large range of sizes that would accommodate many more women it quickly becomes problematic. Additional weight changes body shapes in a different way than the changes that occur due to larger or smaller underlying bone structures. Age also has an impact on body shape due to hormonal changes in women.

In ready to wear this problem is solved by a number of different size ranges that target a more narrow range of body types. Most of us figure out what size range fits us by trial and error when shopping for clothing. Yet knitters are asking that patterns somehow cover all of these size ranges in a single pattern. To do this designers are grading patterns up in unusual ways that don't really work for everyone, but the goal is to provide as many options as possible. Grading a pattern refers to making the incremental size changes from, for example size 2 through to 16.

I'm going to go through each of the current retail ranges and explain what body type is being targeted and what fit assumptions that the pattern graders make. I hope that this will help knitters to understand more clearly why they run into so many fit issues with knitting patterns. I also hope that it will help in your understanding of what modifications you should make to your patterns. While the size ranges have certain heights indicated as their target, there is also an underlying assumption that the smaller sizes are for shorter women and the larger sizes will fit taller women. The size increases are based on bone structure, not weight gain which tends to create different body shapes. Therefore shoulders get wider with each size in a way which does not happen when we gain weight. Another common assumption is that the wearer will have a B cup bra size for the Misses and the Petite sizes. Every designer and clothing manufacturer starts with their own unique set of assumptions about their target customer.

This will be a three part post as there is a lot of info to cover.

The main difference between size ranges is in the body shape that the clothes are cut to fit. A Junior size is cut to fit a young body with fewer curves, smaller bust and less definition between waist and hips. Junior sizes come in odd numbers, from 1 to 15. The styles are often casual, on trend, and suitable more for students, for casual occasions and they focus on a younger wearer. They are for girls 5'4"–5'5" (162.5–165 cm) tall, that have a higher bust and a shorter back.

Misses sizes are fitted to accommodate a more developed figure with a more womanly shape with a few more curves. There is usually an eight to ten inch difference between waist and hips. Misses sizes are sold as even numbers, from 0 to 16. The target wearer is mid-twenties and up. The styles range from casual to formal and include classic office wear. Misses sizes are designed for a well proportioned and developed figure; about 5'5" to 5'6" (1.65m to 1.68m) tall.They have an average bust and an average back.

Petites are cut for a shorter body. It does not mean that the wearer is very thin or has a smaller bone structure. Petite ranges also turn up in junior sizes from 1P to 13P and in misses sizes from 2P to 14P More recently we also have Petite plus sizes, which are 14P to 26P. Petite plus sizes are for women who are short and full figured. Petite sizes in general are for women who are 5'–5'3" (157.5–160 cm) tall, with an average bust and, a shorter back. 

Tall size ranges assume a height of 5'8" to 5'11" and include longer sleeves as well as other proportional length changes. I've not included a tall version in my drawings below, as it is not available in the drafting software package that I use.

In the image above I've layered a Misses (black dotted line) a Petite (red line) and a Junior size (black solid line) all three have a bust measurement of 39. I was able to do this across these three ranges. Some ranges do not line up in the same way with equal bust measurements. Keep in mind I have not addressed waist shaping at all, which varies a lot from Junior to Misses sizes. As well it changes with height and at every size increment.

In knitting patterns it has become standard for lengths to increase at much greater increments than in ready to wear clothing as sizes increase. This is a way of eliminating the need for petite, average and tall size categories.

It is not unusual for one woman to be able to wear items from more than one range. As an example, I'm 5'2", so I generally shop in the petites section, however as I have a straight torso with little waist definition, I often buy casual pants in the juniors section. The tops there generally won't fit my upper body because I have more womanly curves on top.

Next time I'll be covering woman's, half and plus sizes in detail.


  1. Robin, I've always been afraid to design patterns that would require grading for exactly the reasons you are writing about. Is there a good grading information source or software out there that you can direct us to? Or is it really something that I need to chart out on a case by case basis? I'd love your insight on how to best approach this issue. LOVE your Blog!!!

  2. Thanks, Robin. Very interesting. Looking forward to the next two installments!