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Knit Basics: Know Before You Sew - Fitting Knit Tops

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Knit Basics:  Know Before You Sew - Fitting Knit Tops

Many think that all you need to do to fit a knit is get it over your body. Well, depending upon your comfort level, that may not cut it.  I find it is more of an art when fitting a knit as opposed to following a set of strict rules.   It depends on many factors including the amount of stretch in the knit fabric, finished garment measurements (relating to the amount of ease), the style of the garment, and of course your personal preference. 

In the picture below, the garment on the left has had no alterations while the garment on the right is altered to fit.   Notice there is no pulling between the bust points and no extra fluff showing on the altered tank top.  The overall look is much more slenderizing even though I would consider the coral an advancing colour.

Tank no alterations  Fitted Tank

                 No alterations                                        Altered to Fit

The place to start is the right sized pattern.   Palmer/Pletsch recommends taking your high bust measurement and using the bustline on the measurement chart when determining your size.   I find that works great with the big commercial pattern companies (Vogue, McCall’s, Butterick, Burda etc.) due to the way that they grade the patterns.    If there is a significant grading difference in the shoulders, and if you selected by your full bust measurement, this typically would result in too large a size.

High bust measurement

This may not hold true for Independent Pattern companies so I would follow how they recommend selecting sizes.   Tissue fitting will help to eliminate any problems.  Once you appreciate how the designers grade their patterns, that will help with future size selection.   I know that Pamela Leggett of Pamela’s Patterns recommends selecting a size for her patterns by the high bust measurement.  

As in the photo above, if you have a 31.5” high bust measurement, using the bustline on the sizing chart, you would select size 8 pattern to start.

Size Chart

Next, I would check the finished garment measurements (FGM) to determine the amount of ease.  The FGM may be printed on the pattern envelope or at a minimum on the pattern.    If you compare the FGM to the bust measurement on the pattern this will give you the amount of ease at the bustline. 

Let’s use the example of McCall’s 8145.  This is a cute top but difficult to judge the amount of ease.   If you look at online pattern reviews, other sewists have mentioned that there was a lot of ease.   So how much?   If you look at the photo it doesn’t look that much.  Unfortunately, there isn’t any FGM on the envelope or on the McCall’s website. 

M8145 Pattern Envelop Line Art M8145

 If you open the pattern, the FGM is printed on the bodice front at the apex or bust point.  The bust point is referenced by a circle with a cross through it.   Under this symbol you will see measurements (FGM) for each size.   If we selected size 8 then the FGM would be 39”.  

Finished Garment Measurements

This would give you 7.5” of design ease as the designer intended (39” FGM – 31.5” Pattern Bust).   You can’t just stop here because you haven’t taken into consideration your full bust measurement.   If your full bust measurement was 34” then the amount of ease available for you would be 5” of ease (39” FGM – 34” Your Full Bust).   At that point, you can decide if you like the amount of ease, and if so, it would be a good pattern size to select.   Ease is really a personal preference, and we will talk more about that later. 

We now have a good starting point so the next step is tissue fitting.   This is where you try on the tissue to determine how it fits.   I still like to tissue fit knit tops as this allows me to validate the changes required as well as to test drive the design.  Below, I am tissue fitting the raglan sleeve dress McCall’s  M7574.  I had decided that I needed a small full bust adjustment (FBA).  Here is where your fit preference and type of fabric comes in.   I like my knits to fit smoothly through the bust and just skim over my tummy.     

Tissue fitting M7574 Line Art M7574

Normally when I tissue fit a woven top or a stable knit, I fit the centre front (CF) of the pattern to my CF.   However, in a drapey jersey knit (rayon or bamboo) I like to fit them anywhere from ½” to ¾” from CF.   The give in the fabric will allow a smooth fit over the bustline without any pulling.   One lesson I learned from this fitting was with the raglan sleeve. I could not get the tissue on, so I added additional circumference to the sleeve.  Although, I found that I ended up removing this addition when I was fabric fitting. 

What I learned from this experience is, if you like your knit sleeves to fit without any ease then you likely will not be able to get the tissue pulled up.   A ½” gap between seam allowance under the arm would have been fine in this case.  Once again it depends on the fabric and your fit preferences.   Ponte knit garments (stable knits) can be fitted more like a woven.  

The fabric fitting stage helps to validate some of your fit assumptions with your fabric.   Below I am fabric fitting the tunic version McCall’s M7574.  This is where I confirmed the FBA was correct.   I decided that I didn’t want to sew the dart, so I eased the dart into the back.   This works extremely well when you have a small dart (1” or less) and good stretch in your fabric.   I also discovered that the additional circumference I added to the sleeve wasn’t needed for my fit preference.   This wasn’t an issue as there was a seam down the arm that I was able to take in. 

Fabric fitting M7574

Also, I have learned valuable insights when fitting wrapped tops.   A lot of time we tend to overfit, meaning they are too large, and this was what happened on my first knit wrapped top.   I fit it like a typically knit top ~ ½” from CF.   This resulted in a small full bust adjustment (FBA).  However, with the drape of the bamboo, the neckline was too low and I ended up taking it in several times.   In hindsight, I didn’t need to FBA at all.  I must wear a camisole with the top otherwise it is too revealing.   The lesson I learned was to fit wrapped tops ¾” to 1” from CF depending upon how drapey the fabric is.   Bamboo is very drapey as you can see from the picture below.  

Bamboo Wrapped Top

Over the years, I have learned how knit fabrics impact fit as well as fine-tuned my personal preferences, so you can as well.   Here are some guidelines that I have learned along the way.

Fit Guidelines:

Type of Knit

Centre Front /Back

Stable Knits (Ponte)

Fit to CF or CB

Drapey Knits (Bamboo)

½” to ¾” from CF or CB

Wrapped Styles

¾” to 1” from CF or CB


You will learn as you go, just keep notes of your experiences, preferences, and you will be able to hone your fitting skills with knit tops.  

If you are looking for additional information on how to tissue fit knits and the adjustments to make, I would once again point you towards Knits for Real People from Palmer/Pletsch, a fabulous book that should be in every sewists’ library or you can always join me for a workshop in my Calgary based studio.


Knit Basics:  Know Before You Sew

Part 1:  Selecting the Right Fabric 

Part 3:  Fitting Knit Pants (coming soon)

Part 4:  Layout, cutting and marking (coming soon)

1 Response

Cheryl Sutherland
Cheryl Sutherland

March 23, 2022

Great information Janice. Thanks.

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