Bust Shaping for Hand Knits

For a long time, bust shaping was my 'monster under the bed.' Well, I've looked and there's no monster! Today I want to de-mystify short row shaping that makes room for your curves.

There's no wrong way to love your fit

First of all, my standard note that there's no wrong way to love what you make or how your clothes feel. We can have the same measurements and prefer different fits!

I made my sample with no bust shaping, and my grandmother would call it 'ill-fitting' because it tips up in the front. That look is in style right now, and there's a juicy boob-iness to it that I'm rather into. So don't let the knitting police tell you you HAVE to add bust shaping!

But maybe you DO want short row shaping?

Our bodies are not the same in the front and the back. They’re not the same right under the arms at and at the full bust. And they’re not the same as anyone else’s.

Without shaping for the bust, our sweaters will be shorter in the front, and more strained in the front than the back.

There are two ways to address this – one is to add width, and the other is to add length.

If adding width, you can add it just at the bust (increasing from the waist to the bust and then decreasing out again as you approach the neck), or you can make it wider from the bust all the way to the hem.

If adding length, you want to add it just in the center front, and right under the apex of the breast. The easiest way to do that is with short rows – working back and forth across just part of your row or round, adding length only in some places.

Visualize it

Imagine dropping a line from the inside of your neck, where it meets the body, straight back to your waist. Then imagine dropping a line from the same place to the front, over the curve of the breasts and to the waist. Which is longer?

Our garments do the same thing. If you want your hem parallel to the floor and you have breasts, you’ll want to add some short rows.

Caveat: Knitting stretches! Some knitters with breasts might find that the natural stretch and weight of their garment carries the hem right to where they need it. If you have a larger cup size, you are more likely to need short rows.

How much to add with short rows?

My general rule comes from Ysolda Teague’s book Little Red in the City: Measure from the inner neck to the underbust along the front and back. Subtract the back from the front. Subtract 2 inches from the difference (because knitting stretches, we don’t want to make up the whole difference). That’s the amount to add with bust darts.

If using a slippery fiber, you could subtract more than 2”. If you are also adding width in the front only, you might also subtract more than 2”. On the other hand, if you’re using a bouncy, lofty fabric, you might want to subtract less than 2”.

The Ruffle Addendum has four cup sizes

Of course, you can look for a pattern that includes short rows. You'll be missing out on the chance to tell your family "shh, I'm doing boob math," but you do you!

The base pattern for the Ruffle Addendum has equal ease in the front and back, and no bust shaping. However, I’ve included four sets of instructions for adding bust shaping, to add 1-4.75” of length to the center front only. The pattern includes instructions for measuring to choose a cup size, and notes on changing the location of the dart if you desire.

You can learn more about The Ruffle Addendum here!

Garment silhouette matters 

In a top with 15 inches of positive ease, you might not need bust shaping at all, the natural horizontal width with squoosh and squish to cover your curves. In a garment with an inch or two of positive ease, you are much more likely to find the front of your hem creeping higher and higher. 

Are short rows hard?

Yes. 😂😂

Unless you do German short rows, in which case they’re super easy 😉

Confession: I’ve always struggled with wrap and turn short rows. I’ve never once pulled off a smooth w&t, there is always a hole, or I get confused about the stitch count, or some other fussy thing happens. Then, I discovered German short rows. I have yet to find an application in which they are difficult or noticeable.

To work a German short row, you knit the specified number of stitches, stop, and flip the work over. You slip the last knit stitch over to the right-hand needle and give it a solid tug as you wrap it to the back, which makes it look like two stitches. Then you keep knitting. When you get to that double stitch on the other side, you just knit both legs of the double stitch together. Done. No wrapping, no wondering what you’re supposed to lift, and no holes. Works great flat, works great in the round, works great in weird textures.

Need some extra help?

Did you know I provide knitting coaching AND I can write your mods for you? Whether you want some extra help drafting your own modifications or whether you want a turnkey service, I can help you. To learn more about 1:1 sessions, click here!


Was this useful for you? Have you tried it? If yes, can you ever go back to not having bust darts (because frankly, I can't, and I'm embrassed it took me this long to overcome my heebie jeebies!). Let me know in the comments!

Bust Shaping for Hand Knits
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