Waist Shaping (yes, you need some)

Waist shaping is one of the single most important things you can do to get a fabulous-looking sweater. Whatever your shape.

Done the traditional way, decreases and increases are worked at the side edges of your body pieces, creating a garment with hourglass-shaped sides:


(Typical decrease row: Knit 1, ssk, knit to last 3 stitches, k2tog, knit 1.)

This kind of sweater looks great on a table, and kind of works if you have a curvy-shaped waist (that is, you look hourglassy from the front). But for many of us, this kind of waist shaping is problematic: It removes fabric from a place where we don’t get smaller. (I’m quite straight in the waist, for example:)


But that doesn’t mean that we should skip the waist shaping! In fact, the opposite is true. Hand-knit fabric is thicker and more substantial than what we’re used to in the store, while at the same time it’s typically less dense for the size of the yarn. (After all, you’re generally not willing to knit as tightly as a machine can.) So while store-bought knits might move and float around you in a wonderfully figure-enhancing way, your hand-knits typically will not. In fact, your body takes on the shape of that sweater, not the other way around.

So if you don’t want to look like a box, you need waist shaping. The solution?

Take advantage of the fact that knitting is sculptural, and create a 3-d piece of fabric by working your waist shaping in the center of the piece. This kind of waist shaping is no harder to work – you’re working the same kinds of shaping, just in different locations:


(Typical decrease row: Knit to 2 stitches before first marker, ssk, slip marker, knit to next marker, slip marker, k2tog, knit to end.)

Voila! Shaping that removes fabric where you get smaller, resulting in a gorgeous and flattering fit. (Bonus: Since the decreases used slant inward towards those markers, the stitches in the center stay nice and straight, and you get lovely subtle hourglass lines on the sides. Very nice!)

Shaping this way comes with another big advantage, too:

Since the shaping is away from the side seams, the front and back of your sweater don’t need to match.

Need extra width for a bust? No problem! More increases on the front of your sweater than on the back. Have a bodaciously awesome backside? No problem! More decreases on the back of your sweater than the front. Carry more weight in your front? Shape the back, and leave the front straight to the armholes!

In fact, you could make your stitch counts at the hip, waist, and bust totally different on the front and the back, with no result other than a fabulous sweater.

harrogate-final-8 tucci-second-pass-10 courant-final-6 aislinn-second-pass-9

To give this method of waist shaping a try, you have a couple of different options:

  • If your pattern already has waist shaping written near the side seams, you can work it at the same rate as specified in the pattern, but in a different place:
    • On the back, place two markers each 1/3 of the way in from the sides (1/3 of the stitches in between the markers).
    • On the front, place two markers each 1/4 of the way in from the sides (1/2 of the stitches in between the markers).
    • Each time a shaping row is specified in your pattern, work it as written – except work the shaping at the markers, as above.
  • If your pattern is written with no waist shaping at all, the first thing to do is decide how many stitches you’d like to remove. You’ll work half as many decrease rows as you have stitches to remove.
    • Calculate the number of rows you have for shaping by taking the sweater length to your waist, removing the height of any trim, and multiplying by your row gauge.
    • Divide the total number of rows by the number of shaping rows. This is how often you’ll work your shaping.
  • Once you know your rate of shaping, place markers and shape as directed above.

Of course, CustomFit always uses this method of waist shaping, exactly the way you need it. So if you’re working from a CustomFit pattern, you don’t need to worry about any of this.

Regardless of what pattern you’re using for your next sweater, though, I hope you’ll give this method of shaping a shot! It’s super simple, and makes a world of difference.

12 thoughts on “Waist Shaping (yes, you need some)

  1. Thank you…so easy yet I needed to “see it”

  2. I appreciate different kinds of shaping, and why you might shift decreases to centre front and back, but I can never understand claims that regular shaping doesn’t fit anybody’s waist. When looked at front-on, my waist has very clear indents which look pretty much exactly like a garment with conventional waist shaping. There is definitely more of a clear increase-decrease in shape compared to the side-on view.

    1. Yes – basically nothing in clothing is universal – we’re all different!

      So you’re right – if you have an hourglassy waist when viewed front-on, the side seam waist shaping will fit your waist. Shaping this way should also fit your waist, though, and sets you up for further mods like changing the shaping on the front and back to be different, or bust darts, or etc.

      However, as I always say in my classes: If you’ve got something that works great for you, stick with it!

  3. Thank you so much for that little tutorial, this one is a keeper. You explained that in a way that I completely understood. It’s very frustrating to spend precious time knitting a beautiful sweater, that does not look beautiful on your body. I had given up knitting for myself and was just knitting for the more “normal” bodies in my family. Thanks again!

  4. I like this suggestion–and have followed your instructions in a few patterns. I’m wondering why the increases/decreases are made outside the markers rather than inside the markers? You can see pretty clearly in the third sweater pictured that the lines of the decreases are pointing away from the waist and the lines of the increases are pointing in towards the bust-instead of doing what “traditional” princess shaping does (which this is version of, yes?) and have the shaping lines follow the body’s curves. This isn’t an original insight, but one I picked up from another knitting blog. Just wondering if you have a reason for doing it this way, since doing the shaping inside the markers would solve the problem. That is…the lines of the increases would follow the curves of the body.

    1. I’m not sure I see what you mean, Jennifer – the K2togs slant in toward the middle of the piece, and the m1Ls slant away from the middle, so the stitches on the sides of the garment slant in, then out, from the waist.

      Whether you do them just outside the markers or just inside the markers actually wouldn’t make too much of a different, since the shaping is slanted inward, and then outward, in either case. (Does that make more sense?)

  5. Brilliant! This makes so much sense!

  6. Hi Amy, For a top-down sweater, what order do I knit the decrease to waist (K2tog, ssk – or the other way round) and which to increase to hip (MIL, M1R or the other way round)? Thank you! Adrianne

  7. This seem like a good option for shaping the garment. But I donĀ“t quite understand. Quote: “Calculate the number of rows you have for shaping by taking the sweater length to your waist, removing the height of any trim, and multiplying by your row gauge.” The sweater length, is that from top to waist? Removing the height of any trim, what do you mean by that? I would be happy if you could clarify this.

  8. What about a cardigan in fair-isle: In your experience can I get a shaped waist by changing to a smaller needle size? With those patterns it is inconvenient to change the number of stitches.

  9. What is the pattern for the beautiful blue/orange garment pictured above please? I can’t se to find it on your website and I’d live to purchase that pattern. Thanks for your help!!

    1. That pattern is the Tucci sweater! It can be found in the store here: https://amyherzogdesigns.com/product/tucci/

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