Shapely straight sweaters: The lowdown

I’ve been touting the virtues of waist shaping for years now, and I stand by what I’ve said: No matter who you are or what your shape, if you want to look shapely in a sweater, waist shaping is your friend.

…but with the inclusion of straight designs in CustomFit, I’ve been getting a lot of questions – about why one would want to make a straight sweater, how to make a straight sweater that gives a “curvy” visual impression, and whether straight sweaters look better on some shapes than others.

So I’ve collected my thoughts and my camera, and today let’s talk about

Straight sweaters and un-straight bodies

There are a few different things to consider when approaching a straight-sided garment.

Is a straight-shaped look what you’re going for?

Before we talk about looking shapely in straight sweaters, it’s important to say that not everyone is interested in getting that hourglass look in every single sweater they knit. And that’s okay!

If a boxier silhouette makes you happy, then go for it. Fashion is full of these shapes, especially right now, and many of the most classic sweater designs are boxy.

boxy-sweater-2 boxy-sweater-5 boxy-sweater-1 boxy-sweater-4
(From left to right: Burberry wool-alpaca pullover, Franziska by Galina Carol, Garnet Hill pullover, Oshima by Brooklyn Tweed. All gorgeous sweaters.)

Remember: If you like wearing your sweater, you win. Whether or not someone else would feel the same. So if straight is what you’re going for with this particular garment, dive in!

But sometimes the boxier look isn’t what you want, and for whatever reason (often an all-over stitch pattern) you don’t want to add waist shaping to the pattern you’re knitting.

If you want to knit a straight-sided sweater and still look shapely when you’re wearing it, I have a few tips and strategies for you.

Some people get lucky.

First of all, you might be lucky in your measurements. Here’s the scoop on looking shapely: If you ‘fill out’ the bust and hips of your sweater, and the waist is looser, you’ll look shapely even if the garment has no shaping.

So if your bust circumference is more or less the same as your hip circumference, and your waist is at least a few inches smaller, you can wear a closer-fitting straight sweater and still look fairly shapely.

Here I am in my Drumlin cardigan, which has shaping, and my recent Copper Mountain cardi, which does not:

drumlin-finals-web-3 copper-mountain-4

I look more shapely in Drumlin, but I don’t look particularly boxy in Copper Mountain – because my hips and bust are within a couple of inches of one another, and my waist is a good bit smaller (about 6-8” depending on the season).

So if your bust is more or less the same as your hips, and your waist is somewhat smaller, you’ll look shapely in a straight sweater, especially if it’s a fairly close fit to your body.

What if that’s not you?

Of course, this profile – bust and hips roughly equal, waist at least a few inches smaller – may not describe you. And if so, I have two main tips:

Choose a looser-fitting size.

If a garment looks larger than you everywhere, it’s tough to tell how much more your hips fill out than your bust. So if the garment has some positive ease everywhere through the torso, any differences in your hip & bust measurements will be less noticeable.

My friend Beth is wearing the Copper Mountain sample with what I’d call an ‘oversized’ fit:


This isn’t as figure-conscious a look as when I wear the sweater, but it’s still attractive and comfortable looking, and Beth’s figure still does come through a bit.

Check out the back – you can see that her shoulders fill out the sweater a bit more than her hips do, but since they both fill out the sweater more than her waist, the visual impression is of a curvy body:


So (ironically) a garment with a bit more ease through the torso can help you get a slightly more shapely and balanced look in a straight garment because the ease minimizes the differences between your hip and bust measurement.

There’s one more really important thing to consider:

Make your sweater from a fluid fabric.

The more drapey, fluid fibers present in your yarn, the more drapey and fluid your fabric will be – and drapey, fluid fabric is what you want if you’d like to look shapely in boxy sweaters.

(Want to see an example? In my sweater fabric video, the structure test will show that moving one part of your fabric won’t necessarily move the rest.)


Drapey, fluid fabrics – especially if they’re nice and heavy, like a high-silk-content yarn knit fairly tightly – will move and swish around you, and let your own curves peek through your sweater as you move your body.

Fabrics like this are a great match for boxier shapes and lots of positive ease, when a shapely look is what you want. (Eileen Fisher’s empire is basically built on this combination of boxy shape + fluid fabric.)

And there you have it!

A primer on bending not-shaped sweaters to your fashion will. Either on Facebook or here in the comments, please share what boxy sweaters you like best, and any thoughts you have about knitting them for yourself.

Until next time, happy knitting!

2 thoughts on “Shapely straight sweaters: The lowdown

  1. Thank you for the wonderful information. I have “knit a sweater” for one of my knitting goals this year. I have only knit hats, cowls and baby blankets so far, but I think I can do it.

    Is there a pattern of yours that you could recommend for a first sweater?


  2. Amy, can you please design an Eileen Fisher type cardigan? I have yet to find one published that has a similar flow-y type shape to it 🙂

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