Style Guide

How to Knit for Your Body Shape

I’ve long been a fan of TLC’s What Not to Wear and even watched the less PC version of the BBC show before it came to America. Back in Seattle, my girlfriends and I would get together over wine and stage our very own “What Not to Wear” sessions. Back then, I was a fan of a pair of hot pink tweed pants that I found at a shop in Munich. I loved them (sigh). Needless to say, they were gone after much laughter in that very first session. We all have our fashion mishaps.

So, when I started knitting, I thought I’d be just fine – I was reasonably fashionable (at least on the days I decided to get out of my yoga gear) and as long as I never combined hot pink and tweed again I’d survive. However, after trolling Ravelry for hours on end, I soon found that I was selecting patterns based on the love of the stitch vs. how the finished sweater would look on my body shape. I gave away a lot of sweaters – my friends loved me.

It took a couple of years to figure out that I needed to go back to the basics. I dusted off my old copy of the Stacy and Clinton book Dress Your Best to review the basic shapes. This was my first formula for success. However, I found myself wanting a book just for hand knit sweaters. Enter Amy Herzog’s Knit to Flatter.

Herzog’s book provides a good overview of how to customize knits so that they accentuate the body and play up whatever shape we are working with. There’s no shame, only a call to EMBRACE our bodies and knit to flatter. The book is all about having the knowledge to be successful before we start our next project. PLUS, it’s packed with very cute, modern patterns for each body shape.

While there are a lot of style guides, Herzog’s book is specifically for hand knitters. The book differs from other style guides in my library in two key ways: 1) it instructs the knitter to take a profile as well as a side view picture 2) it provides instructions on how to make modifications to patterns. I’ve done the profile picture before but the side view is critical because it allows us to see our front and back curves more clearly: shoulder shape (rounded or straight), bosom size, the curve of the back, and our backside. Once we take the profile picture, we are then instructed to draw lines above the armpit, at the widest point of the bust, at the narrowest point of the waist and at the widest point of the hip region (or below it if necessary). These horizontal lines will help us determine our general shape.
Proportional: the hip line length will be just a tiny bit wider than the widest top (bust or armpit) line length.
Top Heavy: the top line length (bust or armpit) will be the same length or longer than the hip line length.
Bottom Heavy: the hip line length will be substantially longer than the largest top line (bust or armpit).

Here’s an example of drawing the lines and determining your shape (remember, no shame!). You’ll notice that my photo has 5 lines as recommended in the book. This is because my widest point is below my hips at my thighs. In addition, my hips are almost parallel with my waist and my thighs are actually just a little wider than my hips. So, for me, I’m pretty boy shaped until we get to the top portion of my body which is where I have curves. These features make me fit nicely into the top heavy body shape (it now makes sense why I celebrated when shoulder pads went out of style after the 1980s).

Lines are drawn at the key points of your body as outlined in Herzog's book.

Lines are drawn at the key points of your body as outlined in Herzog’s book.

I don’t want to give away too much of the book as I think it’s a good read. Plus, there’s a little hidden gem in the very last chapter for the top heavy divas. Herzog outlines shaping for the bust (darts or to knitters short rows) that can be placed vertically or horizontally. So, below are some general guidelines for accentuating your shape from one of my favorite websites, The Joy of Clothes. You can check out the full guide at (also see the link in references below). I’m also taking tips from the What Not to Wear team’s book, Dress Your Best, which breaks down the three general shapes into 26 more detailed shapes.

Proportional: This is the classic feminine shape and is most flexible when it comes to wearing different styles and shapes in clothing. Balance details within the top and bottom portions (i.e. a hem detail combined with an oversized collar or a cowl paired with a flared sleeve).
Top Heavy: Keep anything that creates volume (i.e. ruffles, colorwork) to your lower half and keep your top half clean and uncluttered. Create the illusion of a waist with waist details (i.e. colorwork at waist, wide belt). You may have to extend the length of your garments if your bust is also curvy.
Bottom Heavy: Your tops need to finish either above or below the widest point of your hips and bottom. Balance the top with your fuller bottom half by layering on your top half. Wear volume, clutter, pattern, color on your top half, so hips and thighs will seem narrower. Wear fitted styles around your waist and always accentuate your waistline (i.e. empire line, wraps, fitted lines). Cap sleeves and boleros will make your shoulders look wider.

Herzog, Amy. Knit to Flatter. New York: Abrams, 2013.
London, Stacy & Kelly, Clinton. Dress Your Best: The Complete Guide to Finding the Style That’s Right for Your Body. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2005.
The Joy of Clothes.