If you're finding more and more knitting patterns omitting the traditional size labels you're not alone. From magazines to independent designers, patterns are dropping the S, M, L, labels and substituting them with sizes 1, 2, 3 or just the finished measurements 34, 38, 42".
If you're one of those knitters who "always wears a size ______ in sweaters" and just wants to knit that size, it's getting tougher to do just that.
When a pattern includes a size label, the designer has done all of the work for you. He or she has looked at the standard measurements, added the appropriate amount of ease based on the yarn weight, stitch pattern and intended look of the garment. If you want to knit a size Large sweater, it may be 40" finished chest circumference or it may be 50" depending on these factors, but if you wear a size large and you knit a size large, then you know the sweater will fit as intended.
When labels are removed, you as the knitter need to do some work. You need to know your own actual body measurements. You need to know how much ease to factor in. And you need to take into consideration the yarn weight, stitch pattern and intended look.
This is where one size does not always work. If you're a 34" bust and you like 2" positive ease, you can go about knitting sweaters marked 36". But a heavily cabled sweater in worsted weight wool which is intended to be worn with 6" of positive ease, will feel much the same as stockinette sweater in fingering weight wool with only 1" of positive ease. If you knit a fingering weight stockinette sweater in size 36" it may feel a little loose and look baggy in places. If you knit that Aran weight cabled pullover in a 36" you'll look like a stuffed sausage and it will feel very fitted.
If you find yourself without labels to guide you, consider the following:
Does the pattern tell you the amount of recommended ease?
Is the stitch pattern flat (like stockinette or lace), medium texture or heavily textured like brioche rib or cables?
Is the pattern for a summer tee or tank or outdoor winter cardigan?
What is the weight of the yarn?
Use this as a guide, but understand that ease and fit are very personal:
First look at ease:
(A) Body Hugging or Very Close Fit: -2 thru -4"
(B) Close Fitting: 0
(C) Normal or Classic Fit: +2 thru +4"
(D) Loose Fitting: +4 thru +6"
(E) Oversized: +6"
Now factor in the yarn and stitch pattern:
Top Row: Letters correspond to the desired fit.
2nd Row: Yarn weight 0-2= Lace, Fingering, Sport; 3-4 DK, Worsted, Aran; 5-7 Chunky, Bulky, Jumbo
3rd Row: Type of stitch pattern. Lace falls into the St st range. Brioche rib falls into the Cables range.
Bottom Row: Approximate Ease.
Each of these columns can vary. For example, oversized can be +10" of positive ease. There is no right or wrong answer. This serves a starting place when trying to figure out what finished measurement you should make. This also depends on the type of garment. A tank top or tee works well when it is fitted against the body. A baggy loose tank top with deep armhole isn't going to look or feel good on unless you wear it overtop of another garment.
I hope this helps you to select the best size when knitting your next project, or at least gives you some criteria to consider beyond actual body measurement and ease.