What Makes A Medium?

Sizing makes me nuts.

Women’s dress sizes (4, 6, 8, 10, 12, etc.) mean quite a different thing from manufacturer to manufacturer – and even from decade to decade! [Image from devoted2vintage.co.uk]

For instance, the standard size 6 waist measurement in 1984 was 23 inches. The Gap’s size 6 waist measurement in 2002 was 29 inches.

When I hear a woman describe herself as a “Zero” it makes me sad (why would ANYONE want to be a zero? It’s part of the not-so-subtle message from society that a woman should take as little space as possible, and a man as much space as possible… But I digress…) Vanity Sizing is insane.

There, I’ve said it.

I’ve felt for years that the best way to size something is BY THE ACTUAL SIZE. I know, inconceivable, right?

Men’s pants are sized to the waist and inseam. Men’s jackets are sized to the SIZE OF THE MAN!

Some women’s jeans sized for waist / hip measurement, too, but most women’s pants are sized either in Missus (6, 8, 10) or Juniors (7, 9, 11) and every manufacturer has a different idea of what an “8” or a “7” actually is.

I once overheard a woman say, “I was a size 16, but now I’m an 8 – I’m HALF my original size!”

Wrong. She would have gone down about 6-7″ in her bust. Unless her bust was 14″ to begin with, she did NOT halve her size.

But this is an insidious way for the one-ups-womanship among us to continue, a way to compare ourselves using an impossibly flawed scale.

I’m not crazy about S/M/L/XL either, but for many articles of clothing with elastic waists or loose fit, they work fine. However, if we – especially as knitters! – have a chance to be more exact in our measurements, why not do it? Why rely on S/M/L when 34″ / 37″ / 40″ bust measurements are available?

I size my patterns and usually provide a “to fit bust” size, AND a “finished bust” size. For instance, on a garment with about** 5″ of ease, the measurements might be:

To Fit Bust: 31 (34, 37, 40, 43, 46, 49, 52) ” /
79.5 (87.2, 94.9, 102.6, 110.3, 117.9, 125.6, 133.3) cm

Finished Bust: 36 (40, 44, 48, 52, 58, 62, 66) ” / 92.3 (102.6, 112.8, 123.1, 133.3, 148.7, 159, 169.2) cm

And I count on the knitter measuring her bust, determining which size she’s closest to, and working up that size.

**The actual measurements change from one of my designs to another depending on the number of stitches I use, which in turn depends on the stitch pattern repeat. I also need to make the pattern ‘size-able’ up and down, and throw in some aesthetic choices which may differ from size to size.

I just received an email from a magazine which asked to run one of my patterns. They want to take the seven sizes I’ve provided and telescope them down to five sizes(!)

And they want to remove the numbered size designation and replace it with S / M / L / XL, etc.


I just can’t come to terms with an editorial “consistency” that would make a pattern weaker.

And this, my friends, is why I don’t like to design for magazines very much. They change a lot of the designer’s input, they put the text in their own verbiage, and the designer is the one who will be answering the questions for the next 10 years. I just got a question yesterday on a piece that was published 6 years ago.

Here’s what I wrote to the mag:

I would very much prefer that you DID NOT change the measurements to sizes (SML) but would prefer you keep them as the size numbers.

Size numbers are a more exact way to determine which size a knitter should make, and will ultimately lead to happier knitters and readers. S/M|/L is an unhelpful and VERY inexact way of determining fit.

A knitter can quibble about whether she’s a M or an L, but she can’t argue about her bust size. Most knitters have a measuring tape available to them, and measuring their bust is the first step in getting a sweater that actually fits.

Serious minded knit magazines that are interested in a good FIT for their readers are moving toward representing patterns in measured bust sizes.

I, myself, refuse to use S M L any longer in my sizing as it allows so much room for fudging and miscommunication.

I feel very strongly about this. As I teach around the country I bring this subject up with knitters in almost every class I conduct, and I have yet to find one knitter who prefers S/M/L sizing over instructions that are written to specific bust sizes.

It’s not a good policy to allow an editorial format to supersede good fit in a knitted pattern. It may seem easier at the outset, but the follow up to correct knitter’s misunderstanding of THEIR size is time consuming and heartbreaking for the knitter who miscalculated and thought she was a “S” when she’s actually an “M”.

I haven’t heard back yet, but I’m not hopeful that the pattern will be running with size numbers. Dang.

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