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Size Inclusivity in Knitting Patterns: Designer's Perspective

Size Inclusivity in Knitting Patterns: Designer's Perspective

Size inclusivity has been a hot topic in indie sewing and knitting patterns over the past year or so. The momentum has been so strong that it's now possible to look up size-inclusive patterns on Ravelry using the #sizeinclusive hashtag.

I've briefly touched on size inclusivity before but now I'm dedicating an entire three-part mini series on the subject. In this first part I'm focusing on size inclusivity from a designer's perspective. In the second part I'll take a look at the status quo of size-inclusive patterns on Ravelry.

For the third and final part I'm going to need your help. The third part focuses on size inclusivity from the knitter's perspective. What are you, the knitter, looking for in a size-inclusive pattern? How many sizes should there be? What's the upper limit of sizes... if there is one? I would truly appreciate it if you'd fill out this short survey!

But first: what is size inclusivity?

Defining Size Inclusivity

What makes size inclusivity difficult to approach from a designer's perspective is that there is no precise and actionable definition for the term. Each person has a slightly differing opinion of what a size-inclusive pattern should look like. It's also a moving target: what was considered size inclusive a year or two ago might not be that today.

I trawled through Ravelry forums to find some opinions on the matter. Here are a few illuminating quotes.

  • "Size inclusive, to me, would include a full range of adult sizes."

  • "My first thought on [size inclusivity] would be that it doesn’t skip sizes."

  • "To me size inclusive doesn’t just mean large sizes. It’s also small sizes."

  • "What I’m seeing a lot at the moment is patterns being advertised as 'size inclusive' and then they have something like 5 sizes in 10 inch increments."

  • "If a [largest size in a] pattern is 72 inches with 20 of ease, that isn’t size inclusive."

To summarize, there are (at least!) four interconnected aspects to size inclusivity:

1) Size range: the difference between the smallest and largest sizes offered (for example, XS to 5X)

2) Number of sizes: how many distinct sizes are offered in a pattern (say, 5 versus 15)

3) Size increment: how big the jumps are from one size to the next (for example, 2" versus 4")

4) Ease: how much larger the garment is compared to the intended wearer's actual body measurements

Finding unanimity on all four points is nigh-on impossible. But there is at least some form of agreement on one of the aspects: size range. And specifically the upper size. The general consensus today seems to be that a size inclusive pattern goes to at least size 5X or a 60" bust (not including ease), preferably even beyond.

So what does this mean for pattern designers?

Size Inclusivity and Standard Size Charts

Grading is the process of calculating different pattern sizes. It requires a lot of math but also creativity and intuition. But to get the numbers for different sizes you can't just simply scale up a pattern by applying a factor of increase (or decrease) to each measurement. If bust size from one size to another increases by 50% (which happens when you go from 32" to 48"), should sleeve length increase by the same amount? Absolutely not. Unless you're a sasquatch.

Here's where standard size charts come into play.

Pattern grading can only be as accurate as the standard sizing measurements you have. The Craft Yarn Council of America or CYC sizing charts have become the de facto standard for many knitting publications. Despite being the widely agreed-upon industry standard, the CYC sizing charts only go up to 5X (60–62" bust) for women and 2X (50–52" chest) for men. Not only that, they're are also quite widely criticized for being off in proportions or downright inaccurate in some aspects, especially in the larger sizes.

In my opinion, this is the biggest challenge facing pattern designers and size inclusivity today: the lack of reliable, readily available, widely accepted, and widely used size charts in larger sizes.

Luckily, CYC has (finally!) taken note of the criticism thrown their way and is working on revising the sizing charts. Nut it's not yet known when this work will be finished nor how they're taking the plea for size inclusivity on board.

And theirs is not the only size chart to use. I personally use Eileen Casey's excellent charts which are a combination of a number of sources: CYC, Ysolda Teague (who does fabulous work on size inclusivity), Faina Goberstein (who's an expert in grading), and Eileen herself. These charts only go up to a 64" bust but that's a step in the right direction.

Should You Make Your Patterns Size Inclusive?

There's an excellent blog post on SBCC Patterns on why size inclusivity is not always practiced. It's written from a ready-to-wear industry viewpoint but with obvious similarities to both indie sewing and knitting patterns.

The most commonly heard reason for the lack of size inclusivity is that it requires a lot of work, time, effort, money, and expertise that would raise pattern prices to exorbitant levels. It's definitely true that the more sizes you have, the more complex it becomes to ensure the design works in all sizes — not only mathematically but also aesthetically. But it's far from impossible and to not even try is a cop-out.

Setting up new sizes in your grading template will take a few hours of work and you may need to adjust your formulas to work in different "blocks" (or groups of sizes). Provided you've got a sound set of measurements as a basis and a good grading routine, calculating a couple or three or five sizes more doesn't have to be any more complicated than the grading work you're already doing. Dedicating those few extra hours now will pay dividends in subsequent patterns for years to come.

Knitwear designers Karie Westermann and Clare Mountain-Manipon have both written excellent and thoughtful blog posts full of practical tips for designers striving to make their patterns size inclusive. This quote from Clare summarizes my sentiments perfectly.

"With the right resources, you have no excuse not to make patterns for as many bodies as possible."

Any thoughts? Sound off in the comments.


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Size Inclusivity in Knitting Patterns: Designer's Perspective

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Susanna Winter is a knitwear designer, creating timeless and elegant pieces with clean lines. She has been knitting for over 20 years, knit blogging since 2007, and designing knitting patterns professionally since 2016.

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