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The Size Washing Manifesto

Size washing. Size baiting. Lying. Ignorance. Whatever you want to call it, lots of patterns are labeled ‘size inclusive’ that, frankly? Aren’t.

Today, I’m going to invite you to look at patterns with a more critical eye.

Are we post-size inclusion?

If you’re here, we probably share a passion for size inclusion. You’ve probably surrounded yourself with like-minded friends, follow like-minded designers, and filtered your Ravelry results so you don’t see designers who refuse to make patterns for fat knitters.

Every now and then, I start thinking ‘whew, good thing that’s mostly solved except for a few jerks.’ But I like a good reality check, so I do an exercise every year. I pull the top patterns from Ravelry’s Hot Right Now, and see how inclusive the day’s ‘hottest’ patterns really are.

This year, I’m sharing my analysis with you.

5 out of 44

Of the top patterns that fit on my computer screen (I evaluated 44), 12% are for a size inclusive range (that’s just looking at the top and bottom size, not considering any other points – and there are several other points I’m going to make below). That's just 5 patterns.

To look under the hood, download the analysis below. This isn’t edited or fancy, it's just my workpaper. I added a tab with notes and methodology so you can see what I did.


The range is too dang small

Yes, we need sweaters that fit at least a 60” bust. But if you’re getting there by chopping off the smallest sizes, that still ain’t it. Personally? I look for a range that covers at least 30” – 60”, and ideally covers 28” – 66”.

Small knitters already have so much – do we need to focus here?

Prioritizing fat inclusion is a social imperative. Fat knitters experience more marginalization in all parts of life and experience more difficulty finding clothes that fit well and are appropriate. Knitters in smaller sizes do experience more size privilege than fat knitters.

But as fat knitters know, being able to find clothes isn’t the same thing as being able to find clothes that are appropriate, that you like, and that express your identity. If you’re an adult professional woman and you can only find clothes that fit you in the teen section, you’re going to face even more stigma and marginalization in the workplace than you already do.

AND. We ALL need access to the ability to *make* our own clothes if we’re going to truly be able to turn our backs on fast fashion. Every knitter deserves to participate in the social aspects and joy of this art form. So while fat inclusion is yes, super critical, my definition of size inclusion includes those knitters at the bottom of the size chart too.

One more note if you’re thinking that I’m advocating for someone who is already over-served:

When we talk about a size 28 bust, that’s someone who is smaller than a size 00. That’s 4” smaller than a Lululemon XS. When we talk about who is being over-served in sizing? It’s not this knitter. If you clicked into my analysis, you saw that of the patterns surveyed, almost half will fit a 60” bust, but only about a quarter will fit a knitter with a 30” bust. Only half of those would be appropriate for someone with a 28” bust.

Hot tip: Grading is just grading. The rules are applied to a size chart. There is no special set of rules for a 28” or a 66” bust. With so many designers paying lip service to size inclusion by slapping on some shoddy sizes at the top of the range, excluding small sizes can be your clue that the designer has major cracks in their grading foundation. It's a red flag that the larger sizes are going to be poorly graded, and probably the middle sizes too.


The range is there, but it isn’t graded evenly

This shocks me every time I see it, but sometimes we’ll see the small end of the scale graded on a 2” grade (so, to fit 30”, 32”, 34”, etc) but the largest sizes on a 4” grade (so, to fit 40”, 44”, 48”).

Nothing says “I don’t care about the fit for fat bodies” quite like offering them fewer choices and assuming they won’t care or notice.


Shaping over fit

Ever seen a raglan where every size works the same exact increase round at the same exact rate? That will yield a DRAMATICALLY different fit for different sizes. While this shaping often will fit sizes 32” – 38”, the smallest sizes will be too shallow in the armhole and too narrow in the neck. The largest sizes will be far too deep in the armhole, and far too wide in the neck. No matter what construction, a pattern that’s designed to fit well WILL need variety in the shaping instructions to achieve a good fit.

Discriminatory testing practices

Not only do short test knits harm prospective knitters with physical limitations and budget constraints, but they also exclude or create a toxic environment for fat knitters. My peeviest pet peeve? Telling plus size knitters they only need to knit the yoke, or one sleeve. If a rule is good for one kind of knitter, it’s good for all kinds of knitters. If you care about fit, you need to see a finished, blocked garment on a human body. Finally, every tester deserves enough time to finish the garment and to be able to participate in a fun reveal as part of the test knitting community.

Fudging it with ease

If it says it can fit with 2-10” of ease, then no matter a knitter’s size they should be able to choose a pattern that fits them with 2-10” of ease.

So if a pattern has a finished measurement of 66”, subtract 10” to see who it will fit. That pattern is only going to fit bodies with busts up to 56”. Same thing on the other end – everyone should be able to wear it with 2” of ease. That means that if a designer wants to say that it can fit a 30” bust, the smallest size needs to have a finished measurement of just 32”.

Hot tip: Large ranges of ease are usually dishonest. Sweaters depend on an underarm that is reasonably close to the body to get a good fit. A range of 2-10" is an 8" swing, about three sizes (if I have a 44" bust, that means I could choose finished measurements 46", 50", or 54"). If all three of those sweaters will genuinely have a deep enough armhole for me, that usually means there's too much play in the underarm and that bad boy is going to slip down the back immediately.

What’s the obligation on older patterns?

It seems weird now that there was ever a standard that didn’t include the whole size range, that sm/m/l was considered acceptable. Plenty of designers have a back catalogue with patterns that no longer adhere to the standard they now consider non-negotiable.

There are a few approaches I’ve seen designers take to addressing this. Some pull down and retire non-inclusive patterns. Others are gradually updating their catalogue, either pulling patterns down in the meantime or leaving them. And some are incorporating the new standards for new patterns, but not going back.

Every knitter has to figure out how they feel supporting a designer that has things for sale that don’t include the whole community. In my opinion, there is nuance here.

Every pattern a designer stops to go back and regrade is design work they can’t do to generate new sales. And sure, updating an old pattern might result in a smattering of sales. But nothing like the release of a new pattern. If a designer is relying on their income to feed their family and pay for their homes and medical care, that’s a tough sell. Same for retiring swathes of their portfolio – sales on a single back catalogue pattern might be occasional, but on a whole portfolio? That can be a substantial part of income.

And also. If you’re a knitter who finds a sweater you want to knit and you get smacked in the face with the reality that the pattern isn’t made for you? That’s a brutal injustice that’s indifferent to the designer’s life.

My personal rule is to consider the designer. If the designer is making a good faith effort to upgrade their work and has an offer to custom grade for customers who can’t access the existing sizes, I might have a softer view on how they treat their back catalogue. On the other hand, if a designer has a celebrity status, experiences a great deal of privilege (especially racial, size, or health privilege), or otherwise has an outsized impact on the industry? I hold them to a higher standard.

Working with toxic stash

Ah, what if you already bought it? You bought the pattern, or you bought yarn from someone you no longer want to support. Whatever it is, you shouldn’t feel like you need to throw away your investment.

The best advice I’ve seen is to go ahead and use those supplies and materials but decline to showcase the source. “Oh this? This is from a designer / dyer I’m no longer supporting, so I’d rather not say.” To take it a step further, I’ll sometimes add “if I were going to buy the pattern / yarn today, I’d go for __________.”

There’s nothing sustainable about wasting money or yarn – so def get out there and use it if you buy it.

Who is responsible?

Every single one of us. I’ll be honest, I get frustrated when I see beloved dyers consistently creating samples that use patterns from designers who don’t create size-inclusive designs. It can make it feel like all of the responsibility is on the designer and on fat knitters. Social change requires critical thinking and responsibility from EVERYONE – in this case, from knitters, yarn stores, dyers, magazines, and designers. If you’d like to read more, I have an article here that outlines steps you can take based on your role in the community.

Caveat: Sometimes when we’re working with a stitch repeat, weird things can happen

All of the above assumes a clean slate with lots of stitches so we can carve up our sweater into lots of different sizes. But if you see a big stitch pattern, know that there could be something going on there.

For example, right now I’m working on a DK weight project that must be graded in increments of 24 stitches. Some sizes are duplicates in width. In this project, both the 28” and 32” round to the same stitch count, so the smallest size won’t look as small as my typical smallest size. It's on me, then, to craft sizing guidance that helps knitters understand the sizes and how to choose one.

Grading on a stitch repeat can also result in some odd grades. Maybe your sweater will be graded on a 3.25” grade instead of a 2" or 4" grade, for example. But you wouldn’t expect it to be 3.25” at the bottom of the range, and then jump to 6.5” at the top.


PS: I'm committed to paywall-free education for knitters AND designers. I believe in a world where we can ALL make clothes that reflect our identities, fit us perfectly, and give us the tools to give fast fashion the middle finger. This work is supported by tips and ongoing support on Ko-fi. If you found this useful and it's within your means, please consider supporting this work here. Thanks so much for being a part of the work!

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