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How to choose your size

October 12, 2018

This post is part of a multi-part series that covers the Strange Brew colourwork yoke sweater recipe! To get the Strange Brew recipe pattern (it’s written for 3 gauges, and includes 25 sizes from baby through women’s and men’s 4XL) click here.

This colourwork tutorial series will cover:

We’ve broken the colourwork sweater tutorial into 10 parts. Start at the beginning and work your way through – or just jump to the technique you need help with!

  1. Introduction
  2. How to choose your size: find the right size for you.
  3. Choosing yarn for colourwork: which yarns work best in colourwork.
  4. Swatching for colourwork: a few different ways to swatch specifically for colourwork.
  5. Developing your custom sweater concept: where to place that colourwork
  6. Gauge in a yoke sweater: understanding where it matters
  7. Using the FREE Anthology pattern: a great way to try out your concepts
  8. Applying colour to stranded motifs: time to experiment!
  9. How to design a Strange Brew yoke: using our Strange Brew recipe to turn your inspiration into a woolly work of art!
  10. How to plan a steek in a Strange Brew sweater: prefer a cardigan? Learn how to plan a steek.

And many other topics too! There will also be posts highlighting some great sweaters that were designed using the Strange Brew sweater recipe pattern.

The Big Question

One of the most common questions we get from knitters is ‘which size should I knit?’. Knitters often aren’t certain how to choose the size that is right for them. We’ll share with you how we do it.

Basic Method: Measure a sweater you love to wear

First of all, when knitting for yourself, the most useful and quick method for choosing a size is to begin with a sweater that you already love, and measure it up.

Lay the sweater flat on the floor, and measure 3 key dimensions:

  1. Chest measurement (measure across, then multiply that number by 2)
  2. Body length measured from underarm to hem
  3. Sleeve length from underarm to hem

Armed with these key dimensions, look at the pattern sizing table. Find the size with a finished chest measurement that most closely matches the dimension your beloved sweater, this is the size you will knit.

For example, I would usually choose to knit the adult M (37″), because I have a bust of about 38″, and I like to wear my sweaters with a bit of negative ease at the bust.

Adjusting Body Length

The body length in Strange Brew is easy to adjust. If you are making a non-shaped body, you can simply knit more or less inches in the body section.

If you are working waist shaping (an option which is included in this recipe pattern) then you should add or subtract length from the hem. This means when knitting top down, you will complete the waist shaping section, then knit a shorter or longer distance before working your hem ribbing. When knitting from the bottom up, you will work either more (or less) distance BEFORE beginning the waist shaping, so the length is adjusted in that section of the body, and the waist shaping will still sit in a suitable place relative to the underarm join.

Adjusting Sleeve Length

You can adjust sleeve length in much the same way as you would body length. Working from the top down, you will work more (or less) inches before beginning sleeve shaping decreases. Working from the bottom up, you’ll work the sleeve shaping increases to full sleeve stitch count, then simply knit to the total desired length. If you’re working a larger size, you may find it’s necessary to work sleeve increases or decreases more often than stated in the pattern if you’re shortening the sleeves. For example, you might increase every 4th round rather than every 5th round, so you reach the total stitch count sooner.

Important Note: If you adjust the body or sleeve lengths, it means you will require more (or less) yarn in these sections.

Understanding Ease

Ease describes how tightly or loosely a garment will fit on the body. It’s the difference, in inches (or cm), between actual body measurements and the finished garment measurement.

If the garment measurement is smaller than your body measurement, it has negative ease.

If the garment measurement is larger than your body measurement, it has positive ease.

Generally, the body measurement is most critical when sizing a sweater. It is the largest point of your torso; whatever that may be, belly, chest, or bust. Tin Can Knits patterns generally include a ‘sizing notes’ section that details the size of the model wearing the sweater in the pictures, and how the sweater sample fits that person. An example from the Almanac pattern: “John is wearing Men’s M (42.5″) with 3″ positive ease. Nina is wearing the same sweater with 5.5″ of positive ease.”

We include these details to help you decide how much ease YOU would like to have in your finished sweater. Generally, we don’t tell you how you should wear our designs. Everybody loves to wear their clothes differently, and sweaters are no exception.

Note: Alexa and I don’t wear our sweaters the same way!

I usually prefer my sweaters with a bit of negative ease at the bust, so I choose the sweater size a little smaller than my bust measurement.  Alexa usually prefers a bit of positive ease so she would choose a size a couple inches bigger than her bust measurement.

So this is why we list finished garment measurements (the size of the sweater itself assuming you knit it to the design gauge), and allow knitters to choose the size to knit based upon the amount of ease that they prefer.

If relaxed ‘slouchy’ sweaters make you feel cozy and trendy, you’ll choose a size with a few inches of positive ease. If a close body-hugging fit makes you feel your best, opt for a chest measurement with zero or negative ease.

Fabric Type Considerations

Stockinette is a stretchy fabric, but other stitch types like stranded colourwork can be less forgiving. So at times we will also include a suggestion of what level of ease is required to make the garment fit well. For example, the Moraine and Cartography sweaters include stranded colourwork throughout the garment. This makes for a fabric that is MUCH less stretchy than stockinette. Since this fabric will not stretch as readily, we recommend choosing a size with at least a little bit of positive ease. This would apply to the Marshland sweater too, as the stranded colourwork section extends down past the yoke separation into the chest area.

Why Gauge REALLY Matters

One final note I would make about choosing your sweater size, is that gauge REALLY matters. You went to all the trouble of measuring and carefully considering what size you want to knit….so you really want to make sure you knit that size! Not really sure what gauge means? Check out this post.

The process of choosing a size, then following the instructions for that size is only useful if, when you knit your sweater with your needles and your yarn, you achieve the stitch gauge given in the pattern. Any consideration of sizing will prove pointless if you fail to achieve the design gauge stated on the pattern. You may chose a size, but if your gauge is off you won’t be knitting that size!

Let me give you a little example. Say I were knitting a sweater for my 38” bust, and the goal was to achieve a close fit. I decided I would follow the sock weight instructions instructions in Strange Brew for a size ML, which would come to 39” finished dimension, just 1” positive ease, so probably quite comfortable. The stockinette gauge for the sock weight Strange Brew is 26 sts / 4” which is 6.5 sts per inch. However, perhaps I didn’t swatch carefully, or I didn’t block my swatch, and I ended up with 24 sts / 4”, or 6.0 sts per inch.

252 sts (the body stitch count) at the correct gauge (6.5) results in (252 / 6.5 = 38.77”)

At the gauge I actually got (6.0) the sweater would end up much larger (252 / 6 = 42”).

So instead of having about an inch of positive ease, I would ended up with 4” of positive ease at the bust. Major sad face!

Over the coming months, we will be filling in all of the pieces in the blog series mentioned above, Sign up for email updates to be reminded when these new tutorials become available!


We’ve just started a KAL focussed upon the Strange Brew collection! Join us for all the chat and colourwork inspiration in the Tin Can Knits Ravelry group. I can’t wait to share my epic Christmas sweater design process…

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Linda Cram permalink
    December 29, 2020 2:23 pm

    I am knitting your Bonny sweater in size medium and have finished knitting 46 rows of the 58 rows as stipulated in the pattern. The armhole measures 7.5 at this point but I only have 77 lace stitches and should have 97. Will the drape be affected without these 20 increase stitches? I’m thinking I might put the front on hold, knit the back and then try it on to see if the armhole is too big. Any suggestions? Thank you for a well written pattern. I have never knit a sweater bottom up !

    • December 31, 2020 12:35 pm

      Hi Linda – It sounds like your lace panel is not increasing at the right rate. Pattern support is best done by email, do you mind emailing us at with a picture of what you’ve got?

  2. Janice permalink
    March 13, 2019 11:37 am

    Hi there.
    Question: I looked at the chart. and my size was 54’5 under the DK weight, but the yarn I picked is a Aran weight. The nearest size is 56 in Aran weight, but that would be too big for me. What should I do?

    • March 13, 2019 4:38 pm

      Hi Janice – you might want to knit the smaller size, but work a few extra increases in the final increase round to add a couple of inches to the chest measurement

      • Janice permalink
        April 12, 2019 11:46 am

        Thank you I will try. – So how do I determine to amount of increases. I am a newbie. still trying to figure all this out.

      • April 15, 2019 10:55 am

        Hi Janice – if you are knitting the Flax sweater it has a gauge of 4.5 sts per 4″ so if you wanted to add an inch to the chest measurement you would want to add 1 increase round (to give you 4 extra sts at the body).

  3. October 13, 2018 6:11 am

    This is a very useful post. I did not know that there would be a difference in stretch between stockinette stitch and stranded colorwork, but this totally makes sense. Thank you for this.

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