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Ask Amanda: What’s the best way to measure my knitting?

One of my first design projects was a tank top knit with a beautiful blue bamboo yarn.  I happily planned out the design, then knitted it. Once it was finally finished, I could hardly wait to try it on, but when I took a look in the mirror, I noticed that the armholes went down almost to my waist!

One of bamboo’s most distinctive characteristics is its weight and drape, and I had failed to take that into consideration when measuring out the length of the armholes. I always measured the length of the armholes with the sweater lying on a flat surface, so the weight of the rest of the sweater wasn’t pulling on the straps in the same way. Once it was hanging on my shoulders, the weight of the rest of the garment naturally pulled on the straps, lengthening the armholes considerably. I had to rip out the shoulders and shorten the armholes by a couple of inches to correct the fit. I was extremely disappointed when I first tried on the sweater, but it taught me that there’s more to measuring knitting than I initially thought (Pulina, the sweater featured at the above left, is another example of a garment that will potentially stretch when it’s worn for the first time – see the notes in the pattern for more info).

The general rule of thumb for measuring is to do it on a flat surface like a table, or even the floor. In most cases, I still recommend this as the best way to measure your knitting. For most yarns, particularly ones with some elasticity like wool and acrylic, this is the most accurate way to measure.

If you have a very drapey or inelastic yarn with fibers like bamboo or alpaca, however, it’s important to determine whether the flat measuring method will be the most helpful. For small accessories, there isn’t really enough weight pulling on the item to make much of a difference, so flat measuring is still the best way to go. If the item is a garment, however, it might be a good idea to measure the length when it’s hanging in the same way it will when you wear it. A dress form is perfect for this, but if you don’t have access to one, you can also try pinning it onto one of your shirts while you wear it and ask a friend to measure it while you stand up straight.

As you keep knitting and experimenting with different fibers and yarns, you’ll learn to recognize which items might require some additional measurements to get the most accurate results!

7 thoughts on “Ask Amanda: What’s the best way to measure my knitting?

  1. LOVE your newsletters and the constant stream of such helpful information … Hope you don’t mind – sweaters don’t lie, they lay! 😄


    1. Actually, Amanda is correct – lie is an intransitive verb, doesn’t take an object; while lay is transitive and must have an object – you can lay a sweater on the table, and it will lie flat for measuring. Confusion results from people saying hillbilly things like “I was just laying in bed”. Hens can be laying because the eggs part is understood, people when horizontal are lying down. And sweaters.

  2. When I have no one to help me and I need to measure a slick or drape-y yarn swatch, I pin the top edge of swatch to the garment (usually a t-shirt) that I’ll wear under the finished item. Then I put the garment on a hangar. Easy for me to see how my knit item will actually hang, and very easy to measure!

  3. Just wanted to get a clear picture here, is a 4×4 gauge swatch (if that’s what you mean) to see how it would drape when pinned to a shirt? If so, where or should I say which part of the shirt should I pin it to, lower/bottom of the shirt, chest area or shoulder area?
    Thank you.

    1. That’s a good question! I’d recommend pinning it to the shoulder of the shirt since that’s where it will hang from.

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