Sit down with your materials and take your pattern in hand. Go past the section that says "Sizes" and look for "Knitted Measurements." Don't be tempted to choose a size arbitrarily; one designer's medium is another designer's small. Instead, choose the size in the pattern that most closely matches the size you want your garment to measure. Choose according to the bust or chest measurement, or measure a sweater you love that fits you well and then find the closest match. If you're not sure how many inches around your sweater should be, check the sidebar, "Finding the perfect size," for help determining your perfect size for a given style.
Most patterns are written for more than one size. Generally, instructions for the smallest size are listed first, followed by those for the larger sizes. So a pattern that includes instructions for small, medium, large, and extra large sizes would present info in this form: S (M, L, XL). If the instructions say, "Cast on 100 (112, 120, 128) stitches," you cast on 100 stitches for a size small, 112 stitches for a size medium, 120 for a size large, and 128 for a size extra-large. Similarly, if the instructions say, "Repeat last 2 rows 8 (9, 11, 12) times" you know to knit these last 2 rows 8 times for a small sweater, 9 times for a medium sweater, and so on. Note: Many patterns give a size measurement in addition to an actual measurement: for example, "chest 32 (34 36), actual size 36 (38 40)."
If you're wondering whether 21 inches across the chest would fit better than 23 inches, there's an easy way to find out. There's a good chance that you've never measured your favorite sweater. Did you know that it measures 24 inches in width (48 inches in circumference) and 26 inches in length? Probably not. But now's the time to unfold it from the shelf (or dig it out of the pile on the chair), find your tape measure, and see what measurements feel good to you.
Obviously, if your most comfortable sweater is oversized and baggy and the sweater you're planning to knit is short and fitted, you shouldn't use your favorite sweater as a starting point. Look through your closet for something that fits the way you envision your future sweater will fit, measure it, and compare the measurements to those given in the pattern. Or pocket your tape measure along with your knitting notebook and a pen and head to your favorite sweater store. Fill your fitting room with sweaters, try them on, measure the ones that fit well, note the numbers in your knitting notebook, neatly refold the sweaters, and return them with a gracious smile to the salesperson. You'll know what sizes fit you best based on accurate measurements and styles.
What if you're knitting for someone else and you don't have that person's favorite sweater on hand to measure? Unless you're making a present for this person, call and ask. If it's a gift and the person is of average height and build, you're probably safe knitting a medium. Or if it's for your favorite guy, you can't go wrong with a large (or extra-large if he's tall).
One wonderful thing about knitted fabric is that it's forgiving. It stretches. In desperation, you can even block it out or block it in — to a point. (See Chapter 16 for information about blocking.) Width is really the only measurement you need to be concerned with when you start your sweater. Length can be adjusted fairly easily once you're underway. It's worth a little (or a lot of) investigation time upfront to ensure that, at the long-awaited moment when the sweater pieces have been knit and blocked and sewn together, you have a masterpiece that fits.
When you've determined which set of measurements to follow, get out a yellow highlighter or a pencil and carefully mark every number that refers to your size. If you've made a copy of your pattern as we recommend earlier, you won't have to mark on the original.
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