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  • Kat Zimmermann

What is Ease and How Much Do I Need?


Illustration of a skirt pattern with the waist and hip lines marked. Additional space has been added at both side seams and labeled Ease.

Regardless of crafting context, you can think of ease as the amount of extra "wiggle room" in a garment. For a quick example, take a look at the clothing you're currently wearing and see if you can pinch some of the extra fabric off to one side. For loose garments, you should be able to grab a fist full! For most garments, you can grab a few inches at the waist and less at the chest or bust. The point here is to note that the actual dimensions of the garment are not the same as the dimensions of the wearer - that difference in dimension is called ease.


Importantly, ease is not to be confused with added fullness, which is extra fabric added throughout a garment piece to create volume in the garment but only at certain points. A good example of the difference is a puffed sleeve. The seam of the sleeve must fit well and with a bit of ease so the sleeve can be pulled on and off. However, there is added fullness throughout the rest of the sleeve which creates the puff.


So how much ease is needed? It depends on a few factors:

  • The type of garment being made

  • The type of fabric being used or created (stretch or woven)

  • The comfort needs of the wearer

  • The historical context of the garment, if applicable

Before we can discuss how these affect the amount of ease you'll need to include, we must first cover the two ways to apply ease: positive and negative. Let's begin with positive ease.



Click here to jump to the quick reference section!


 

Positive Ease


A stack of cotton fabrics in various colors with a pair of snips on top.

Positive ease is, I think, the easiest to understand. We call it positive ease because it is extra fabric added on to the pattern in order to make the garment fit and feel comfortable. Positive ease is needed for garments made with woven fabrics like cotton, linen, brocade, and satin.


For example, if my waist measures 30 inches, I would not want to make a cotton skirt with a 30 inch waist. While the skirt might fit while standing, it will be snug and certainly won't feel comfortable when I sit down, nevermind after eating a huge burrito. So instead of making a skirt with a 30 inch waist, I'll add a bit of positive ease and instead make a skirt with a 32 or 33 inch waist line.


The amount of fabric used for positive ease depends on the factors listed above, but can be generalized to the following to make garments that are fitted and comfortable:

  • Bust or chest: 2-3 inches

  • Waist: 1-3 inches

  • Hip: 2-3 inches

Importantly, note that commercial sewing patterns often include MORE ease than I've listed here which can lead to significant fitting issues - always check the table printed on the pattern tissue for finished garment dimensions!



What I recommend to determine how much ease you actually need is to use a flexible measuring tape. Hold the tape around your body at the point you're measuring for ease, let's say the waist for this example. Take your measurement. Now sit down and let the tape adjust to your seated waist measurement. Hold this in place and stand up again to check that this larger measure of fabric won't fall down your hips. The amount of positive ease is the difference between your standing and seated waist measurements. You can also use your seated waist measure to compare to the finished garment table on a commercial sewing pattern to find the right size.


If you want to make a garment that is loose fitting or baggy, be sure to add even more positive ease! I recommend at least 4 inches (or a bit more) to get that oversized look. If you have a garment that already fits the way you like, use that garment's measurements as a starting point.


 

Negative Ease

Negative ease is, as the name implies, the opposite of positive ease. Instead of adding fabric, we're taking it away. This means the finished garment will measure smaller than the body when not being stretched. Negative ease is needed for garments made from knitted stretch fabrics which are meant to be fitted to the body and stay in place like socks, bodycon dresses, and leggings.


How much negative ease to use in a pattern depends not only on those factors listed above, but also on the fabric itself. With stretch fabrics, you can calculate their "stretchiness" by grabbing a piece of fabric and seeing how far it can go, then calculating that difference as a percentage.


The pink piece of fabric has been stretched as far as it will go, expanding from 4 inches to 6 inches for the section held.
A piece of pink stretch fabric is placed on a cutting mat with a finger holding one side to isolate a 4 inch length.

For example, if I take a

4 inch length of this pink lyocell-spandex knit and stretch as far as it will go, I can stretch my 4 inch sample to 6 inches. That's an extra 2 inches of fabric and 2 over 4 is 50% stretch. The stretchier your fabric, the more negative ease you can include.



A circle skirt in blue dinosaur fossil fabric. One side is noticeably longer than the other from being stretched out.

The other fabric factor to consider is its recovery - how well it returns to its original shape and size after being stretched. This is an important factor to consider because, with time, garments made from fabrics with poor recovery can become permanently stretched out, like this dinosaur skirt I made a few years ago. You can see that the side where I kept my phone in the pocket is significantly longer than the other side of the skirt because the fabric has poor recovery.


To check recovery, grab a piece of your fabric, pull it as far as it will stretch and hold for about 30 seconds, then let go. High recovery fabrics will bounce right back into shape while low recovery fabrics may take longer or may not go back to their original size and shape at all. If the fabric has low recovery, use less negative ease.


So how much negative ease is the right amount to use? When it comes to negative ease, you can either calculate this as a number or as a percentage. I find percentages make more sense when dealing with negative ease since it ties back to the fabric stretch factor which is also a percentage.


If you're knitting, I generally advise somewhere between 10% and 20% negative ease to make a garment that will stay in place. For example, a sock that would have a cuff of 10 inches would be knit as either a 9 inch cuff (10% less) or as an 8 inch cuff (20% less).


For crochet, which stretches less than knitting, I like a 5% or 10% negative ease for most yarns and could go as high as 15% negative ease for a thinner yarn when making ribbing.


In sewing, the amount of negative ease is directly correlated to the stretch factor. I use the following when working on my own patterns:

Stretch Factor

Negative Ease

Negative Multiplication Factor

Positive Multiplication Factor

10%

0 - use body measurements

0

1

20 - 30%

10 - 20%

0.1 - 0.2

0.9 - 0.8

40 - 50%

20 - 30%

0.2 - 0.3

0.8 - 0.7

The negative multiplication factor will tell you how much fabric to REMOVE from the final pattern piece size. The positive multiplication factor is the number used to calculate the cut size of the fabric.



A pregnant white woman models a pair of pajama pants with a maternity belly band.

For example, when making a belly band for maternity pants, I used 20% negative ease. So for a 42 inch waist measurement:

  • The NEGATIVE multiplication factor would be 0.2

  • 42*0.2 = 8.4 inches LESS than the original waist size of 42 inches

  • 42 - 8.4 = 33.6 inches

  • The POSTIVE multiplication factor would be 0.8

  • 42*0.8 = 33.6 inches

  • Using either calculation, my final cut fabric measurement at the waist is 33.6 inches (distributed over my pieces) plus seam allowance.


Before making the final decision on how much negative ease to use, make the calculation, then grab that length of fabric and hold it around the body. It should be fitted, feel comfortable, and not stretch out the fabric.



 

Adjusting a Pattern for Ease

If you have already drafted a pattern based on your body measurements, you'll want to add ease (in either direction) before cutting out your fabric. A note that when drafting your own patterns, ease should be added AFTER the main pattern is finished - this lets you use the pattern for any type of fabric and adjust the amount of ease depending on what you're making.


To add ease to your pattern:

  1. Determine the amount of ease in inches to be added/subtracted at each key point in the pattern (e.g. bust, waist, hip, etc.). For negative ease, use the negative multiplication factor.

  2. Divide this number by the number of seams. Divide by 2. Call this the seam ease.

  3. Add the seam ease at every seam in the pattern.

  4. Connect the new measurements with smooth lines to blend into the pattern, making sure any corners meet at 90°.


(Example 1 - positive ease) A linen skirt being made for a 30 inch waistline. The wearer has used a measuring tape and decided that a 33 inch waistline will be the most comfortable while the skirt won't fall over the hips when standing. The skirt is made of 3 panels - 1 in the front and 2 in the back to allow for a zipper closure.

  1. 33 inches - 30 inches = 3 inches

  2. 3 inches / 3 seams = 1 inch per seam

  3. 1 inch per seam / 2 sides per seam = 0.5 inches at the seam for each fabric piece (seam ease)

  4. Add 0.5 inches at each waistline on the skirt pattern

Illustrated image of example 1 for positive ease.


(Example 2 - negative ease) A bodycon dress is being made to fit a wearer with a 40 inch hip. The fabric selected has 20% stretch and good recovery. The wearer wants the dress to be comfortable and not restrictive so a 10% NEGATIVE ease will be used. The dress is made of 2 pieces, a front and a back.

  1. 40 inches * 0.1 = 4 inches of NEGATIVE ease

  2. 4 inches / 2 seams = 2 inches per seam

  3. 2 inches per seam / 2 = 1 inch LESS at each seam for each fabric piece (seam ease)

  4. Subtract 1 inch at each hip line on the dress pattern

Illustration of example 2 for negative ease.

Note: In the examples above, I have only worked out the ease at one point in each of the patterns. Repeat these steps for each important line of the garment (e.g. bust or chest, waist, hip, bicep, etc.) and connect the ease markings with a smooth line to adjust the pattern.


 

Historical considerations

One of the factors I listed at the start is the historical context of the garment being made. Spandex was not invented until 1959 and elastic began being added to garments in the early 19th century although it was not popularized until the early 20th century (check out this Guardian article from 1929!). This means we are only dealing with woven fabrics in our historical context. This does not, however, mean that we only look at positive ease.


As a general statement, historical garments (and modern garments, really) fall into three categories:


A silk satin evening dress by Charles Worth circa 1881. The cream dress features a bustle in the back and a tight fitting bodice.

Zero ease garments were made to fit the body exactly. Think fine Victorian ladies dress.


The example shown here is from the collection at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. Notice the pulling of the fabric at the center front where the dress closes with a row of hooks and eyes. This shows the material fits the wearer's underpinnings exactly with no ease at all. It also means the wearer would have limited arm mobility, making the garment well-suited for tea parties and not at all for any type of physical labor.



Portrait of Ippolito de Porta circa 1550. He wears a loose white shirt where the shoulder seams are at the top of his bicep. The collar at the neck is held together with a tie and the waist is loose and gathered into his red breeches featuring black slashes.

Oversized garments were made with LOTS of positive ease to allow the wearer free movement. An example of this is men's shirts and shifts from the Tudor period. Gores would be added to provide additional positive ease at key points like under the arms.


The example shown here is a portrait of Ippolito de Porto painted by Giovanni Antonio Fasolo, c.1550, currently on display at the Museo Civico de Vicenza. Notice how the collar is tied into place but the rest of the shirt is loose and the shoulder seams sit several inches off what we would consider the modern armscye.



A section of the Birth of the Virgin from 1467. The ladies shown in the image wear a variety of garments. All dresses lace together at the front and several have voluminous secondary layers with wide gaps at the side held in place by belts.

Negative ease garments were made to fit the body and be laced into place. Laced garments also allow space for the body to expand or the garment to be worn by multiple people. The most obvious example here is stays and corsets, but also consider medieval garments which often laced up the front or sides.


The example shown is a close-up section of ladies from the Birth of the Virgin by Fra Carnevale (Bartolomeo di Giovanni Corradini), 1467, found at The Met. I highly recommend following the link and giving the painting a good zoom to see the lace-up details on the ladies' gowns.



My point here is this - if you're making a historical garment, pay close attention to surviving extant examples and portraiture. Look closely at the garments - is there extra space at key points like the shoulders or waist? Does the wearer look like they would need movement to perform daily tasks or labor? Is the garment laced into place or is there another closure being used to create a form-fitting garment like buttons or hooks and eyes?



 

Ease Quick Reference

I leave you with my own personal list of considerations and ease tables - happy making!


(Considerations for ease)

  • The type of garment being made

  • The type of fabric being used or created (stretch or woven)

  • The comfort needs of the wearer

  • The historical context of the garment, if applicable

  • Fabric stretch percentage (negative ease only)

  • Fabric recovery (negative ease only)


(Positive Ease) ADD to each measurement line:

  • Bust or chest: 2-3 inches

  • Waist: 1-3 inches

  • Hip: 2-3 inches

  • Oversized garments: 4+ inches


(Negative Ease) Use the table to adjust the measurements accordingly.

Stretch Factor

Negative Ease

Negative Multiplication Factor

Positive Multiplication Factor

10%

0 - use body measurements

0

1

20 - 30%

10 - 20%

0.1 - 0.2

0.9 - 0.8

40 - 50%

20 - 30%

0.2 - 0.3

0.8 - 0.7


(To add ease to your pattern)

  1. Determine the amount of ease in inches to be added/subtracted at each key point in the pattern (e.g. bust, waist, hip, etc.). For negative ease, use the negative multiplication factor.

  2. Divide this number by the number of seams. Divide by 2. Call this the seam ease.

  3. Add the seam ease at every seam in the pattern.

  4. Connect the new measurements with smooth lines to blend into the pattern, making sure any corners meet at 90°.



 

A white woman models a stretch knit dress which has clearly been made with far too much ease as it hangs off the body.

Ease is something I've personally struggled with, so I hope you find this post and the quick reference guide to be helpful! If you do, be sure to like the post and share out on social media - you can tag me @craftematics on TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook and also follow me for even more crafting content between posts!

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