First off, we are not going to say anything about how long it’s been since my last post. I am not at all embarrassed about it.
Secondly, I can unfortunately make no promises about future posts. I just started school full time (I’m loving it, thank you!) and, unless I have some super pressing assignment or test to study for and I convince myself that writing a blog post is a good way to procrastinate*, I don’t how I will possibly find the time. That said, here is a little something.
I have stepped back from designing knitwear for the time being. While I was aspiring to be a designer, I could never quite get myself to knit a pattern that wasn’t my own. Since I have not been gifted with very many extra hours in the day, and have never been particularly swift in the designing process (God forbid I design something in just one size! If I’m going to design something, I had better give it graded sizing and have it ready for publication. Otherwise, why bother?), I have relatively little to show for my past few years of knitting (besides boxes of swatches and projects still waiting for me to finish the design). I am letting go of that. With school, I have little enough knitting time that I can’t afford to waste it on wringing knitting instructions out of my tired little brain. Still, I can make changes to existing patterns to make them just perfect for me. That is what this post is about.
*Today’s post is brought to you by Not Studying for Neuronatomy.
Tips for tweaking existing patterns.
I’ve made reference in the past to different kinds of knitters. There are those of us who knit for a challenge. There are those of us who knit to relax, those who knit because we are cold, those who knit for the having of a specific end product. Some knitters think of a thing and then just knit it; some knitters really want to be told each step of the process. There are various combinations of the above. I mention this because the following topic will be of no interest to certain of those knitters. If it doesn’t apply to you, sorry, I’ll get you next time.
Many knitters I know have a favorite sweater pattern – a basic, wearable sweater they can (and do) knit again and again. Sometimes, though, they want to change it up a bit; add some cables, maybe ribbing or lace, a button band instead of a zipper, a shawl collar instead of a v-neck. For some adventurous knitters, this sort of thing comes naturally. The fact is, though, that everyone is different, and there are many excellent knitters who are not comfortable leaping out into uncharted (knitting pun!) territory. This is just fine! Working at a knitting store, I encounter all of the wonderful varieties of knitter. This post is geared toward the knitter who can follow a pattern, is just adventurous enough to imagine the pattern with some other feature and just needs the groundwork to be able to add that feature themselves. Below, I have a couple of things to think about when making modifications to a knitting pattern. I hope they are helpful.
NOTE: The process I am about to describe is not the same as designing and IN NO WAY am I suggesting that anyone take a pattern published by someone else, slap a cable on it and call it their own design! These modifications should be for your own enjoyment.
Anyway…here are some questions to ask yourself as you embark on this little foray into playing with your knitting.
1. What kind of sweater are you going to modify?
Some basic sweater patterns lend themselves very well to modifications. A no-frills drop shoulder pullover (basically two squares and a couple of rectangles sewn into the shape of a sweater) is the perfect blank slate.
Personally, I enjoy starting with a top down sweater pattern. These are fun to modify because you can adjust the fit as you go (more on that later).
Warning, if you are looking to modify a sweater with interesting shaping (eg. side to side knit, circular yoke) there is going to be a lot more math!
2. How are you going to modify it?
While there are plenty of ways to modify a sweater, I am just going to talk about the basics of adding a stitch pattern. I find it helpful to start with a schematic.
So, here’s the scenario: You have a basic drop shoulder, stockinette stitch sweater pattern for chunky yarn, but you really want a drop shoulder sweater in Mistake Rib. I don’t blame. It’s a gooshy, delicious stitch pattern that is perfect for snuggling into next to the fire with a good book.
This is the schematic for the body (I’m too lazy to do the sleeves, too. Sorry) of a basic drop shoulder sweater. Hopefully, the pattern you are modifying will include a schematic, but if not, you can use the finished measurements in the pattern to draw one.
Next, knit a swatch of the stitch pattern you want to insert in the yarn you want to use. If you are feeling like a very good knitter, you could block your swatch too.
You find that, after blocking, your Mistake Rib gauge is 3.5 sts/in.
It’s time for Math. My sweater front is 22” (as is the back). Here’s what you do:
Gauge x measurement = Cast on…sort of.
3.5 x 22 = 77
OK, that’s a start. Now, let’s look at the stitch pattern in question.
Mistake Rib (mult 4+3)
Row 1: *K2, p2; rep from *, ending k2, p1.
Repeat Row 1.
(Incidentally, this is a great, super easy, stitch pattern for a scarf. It’s attractive, gooshy and doesn’t roll.)
Notice next to the name of the pattern, it says “Mult 4+3”. This means that your cast on has to be, well, a multiple of 4, plus 3. For example, 15 (4×3+3) or 47 (4×11+3). Now, let’s look at the cast on number we came up with. Is that a multiple of 4 + 3? Nope. So, we tweak the numbers a little. 76 is a multiple of 4, so let’s add 3 to it and call it good. Our cast on is 79. Easy. Now we just knit until it is the appropriate length.
3. Navigating Shaping
“Wait!” you say, “What about the neck shaping?!” Again, there is a little bit of math you are going to have to do. Notice that the back of the neck is 8”. With our gauge of 3.5 sts/in, the final neck width is going to be about 28 sts. Now, we don’t necessarily have to worry about stitch multiples at this point because you will have been knitting mistake rib for 15” or so and will probably have a good idea of how the stitches should be lining up. (Hint: You will have one column of knits, followed be a column that alternates, followed by a column of purls, followed be a column that alternates). Once you start your decreases, make sure to keep your stitches lining up appropriately, being aware that your row may no longer go “K2, p2; rep from *, end k1,p1”. Not everyone is visual person, but honestly, charts can be so helpful in navigating shaping within a stitch pattern. If you can chart your stitch pattern, you can draw in the decreases and then just follow the charts. Just saying.
You will also have to determine when to start your neck shaping. Notice on the schematic, that the neck shaping starts 2” from the top of the shoulder. This means that you will knit the entire length minus 2” before you start your decreases.
So, there is a start. If you are nervous about jumping in and designing a sweater, try starting with a scarf. Figure out the dimensions you want, make a gauge swatch and do the math. Make predictions about how it will turn out. And see if those predictions pan out? If they do, it will give you a little confidence boost going into bigger projects.
4. Small Sections of Pattern Change
Let’s say that Knitter wants, more or less, a simple drop shoulder sweater, but she wants a 20 stitch cable panel running down the one side of the front and a 20 st lace panel running down the other side of the front. It is tempting to just substitute the cable and lace panels for the 20 stitch sections on either side. Let’s look at it more closely, though. (I will use the schematic above).
If her stockinette stitch gauge is 5 st/in, she has 25 sts to work with on either side of neck. Here is what she is probably envisioning.
Now, remember when I said that it is important to do a gauge swatch of your pattern stitches? It turns out that cable patterns tend to “pull in” and lace tends to “open up”. This means that the overall gauge of a cable pattern is going to be less than the stockinette gauge with the same yarn (let’s say 6 sts/in), while the lace gauge is going to be bigger (let’s say 4 sts/in). This means that her 20 stitch cable and lace panels are actually going to measure 3.3″ and 5″, respectively. This is what she is going to end up with:
Notice that the 5 stitches of Stockinette on either side of the neck line still yield 1″ of fabric, but the stitch patterns take up more or less room than expected. This places the neckline off center by about an inch. Now, asymmetry has enjoyed bit of popularity recently, but I frequently find that asymmetry as subtle as this ends up reading as more of a mistake than a design element, as in this case it was. If Knitter is happy with her off center neckline, awesome. If she really wanted a centered neckline, here is what she could have done:
Knit swatches and measure the gauge of her cable and lace panels, finding that they measure 3.3″ and 5″, respectively when knit over 20 sts. If she really only wants a 4″ lace panel (as in the “What Knitter Wants” picture above), adjust the stitches in the lace panel. Adjust the number of Stockinette stiches on either side of the neckline to make up for the difference in the pattern stitch panels.
So that’s that.
5. Other kinds of sweater Patterns
I mentioned above that I like starting with a top down sweater pattern. I am a little less organized in my process when adjusting these patterns because, well, they allow me to be. With the drop shoulder sweater, you have to know your cast on beforehand. With a neck down raglan, you keep increasing until the sweater is the size you want.
Here’s how it works:
You cast on for the neck and place four markers in various places as specified by your pattern. These markers signify the boundaries of the raglan lines. What?
Cast on for the neck and place your markers (blue lines). Notice that these markers divide your knitting into 5 sections; the two fronts, the two sleeves, and the back.
Note, this is not my pattern. This is a modification of the Baby Sophisticate by Linden Down, available through Ravelry as a free pattern for one or two baby sizes or for sale, sized for baby through child. It’s a great pattern and has been wildly popular. I wanted to knit something fun and try out our new yarn, HiKoo Simpliworsted. The truth is, though, that I get a little bored with stockinette, so I made some adjustments. Let’s talk about my process.
On my baby sweater, I did a k4, p2 rib at the back.
I didn’t start the back section by knitting 4, though. The back section in the pattern starts out with 14 sts (that’s what’s between the back makers in the schematic above). I knew that I wanted one of the 4 stitch knit stripes in the center of the back.
OK, 14 – 4=10. That means that there will be 10 back stitches besides the 4 in the center. 10/2=5. There will be 5 stitches on either side of my center 4. Now, we work those into the pattern. We get:
For the fronts, I did something similar, with a slightly more complex pattern.
Wavy Rib (mult 6)
Rows 1, 3, 5: *p1, k4, p1; rep from *.
All even rows: Knit the knits and purl the purls.
Rows 7, 9, 11: * k2, p2, k2; rep from *.
Now, this pattern, as written, is just a starting point. If you were to make a straight scarf with this stitch pattern, you could follow the instructions above and be just fine. In this sweater, however, I am adding stitches at both sides of the fronts every other row (more or less). To have this stitch pattern work out, it is absolutely necessary that you understand how your stitches line up with each other.
This pattern is basically a K4, P2 rib. Work that for 6 rows, then shift it by 2 stitches so that your P2 is centered under the K4 of the previous section. Here is what it looks like.
This chart shows two repeats of the pattern. One way to work your increases into the stitch pattern is to look at the stitch from the previous row and figure out what your stitch needs to be, based on how the stitches line up. This requires a certain amount of abstract visualization. This is not everybody’s strong suit, which is totally OK. We all take in and work through information in different ways and none of those ways is bad, dumb or wrong! If you have a harder time predicting which stitch should go where, try drawing the increase lines on the chart.
For example, let’s say we are working on the right front of the sweater. This means that there will be an increase on the right edge of the chart every other row (there would also be intermittent increases on the left edge for the neck shaping, but I am choosing not to deal with those at the moment). Let’s also say that, on our first RS row (R1), we have 5 sts on our front. The red line on the chart below represents our Right Shoulder marker. Everything to the Left of the line is our Right Front. Everything to the right of the red line doesn’t exist yet.
A quick note on chart reading: Read Charts from Right to left (on the right side, and left to right on the wrong side) and bottom to top. Notice the placement of the row numbers in the chart below. Also, for the purposes of this description, you will only look at the stitches to the left of the red line. In other words, start at the red line and read from right to left. Take a moment to think about that. Look at some knitting. Think about it again. You encounter your stitches from right to left. If you are increasing on the right edge, you are adding stitches to the right of your existing stitches, meaning that the new stitches will be worked according to squares on the chart further to the right.
The marker stays in the same place for Rows 1 and 2, because we haven’t done any increases yet. On Row 3, we do one increase. While we don’t actually move the marker, we are adding a new stitch to the left of the marker. The red line corresponds to the placement of the marker with respect to the growing collection of Right Front stitches.
How are we doing? If it’s not quite clear yet, I suggest just giving it a try. Maybe knit a swatch where you increase on one side and work the new stitches into the pattern. Often in knitting, things make more sense when you do them, than when you read them.
(These are things I have been asked on several occasions while working at my LYS; they are all good and legitimate questions).
What if it doesn’t work?
Try again. For all our math, sometimes things just don’t work (it could have to do with the combination of fiber and stitch pattern or changes in your knitting gauge due to stress). The worst that can happen is that you have to start again. Since knitting is fun, that’s not such a bad thing. Any time you are making things up, you have to be prepared for the possibility that is won’t turn out the way you think.
What if I don’t want to do math or swatch?
Knit the pattern as written. Alternatively, you could wing it and be prepared to re-knit if it doesn’t work out. I know many wonderful, free-spirited knitters who work this way (sometimes I do). If that is you, go for it! If you want it to be perfect the first time and still don’t want to swatch or do math, you will just have to use your magical powers.
You can also ask your LYS employee to help, but if you do, please offer to pay them for their time. They may be happy to do it, but they are there to work and, chances are, there is some stocking, pricing, helping other customers they could be doing. Their time is valuable, just like yours, and they tend to appreciate when you are respectful of that.
What if I want to knit my sweater in a completely different yarn?
There is much more that goes into the selection of yarn than gauge. There is drape (how will it hang), memory (will the stitches grow over time), fiber (different fibers lend themselves to different projects). Also consider what you like about the original pattern. If it is a big, bulky, gooshy sweater, will knitting it out of a sport weight yarn retain the qualities you like? Once you have thought about these things, we go back to math. You can use the schematic approach and use the finished measurements multiplied by your gauge to figure out your numbers. Remember with length measurements to use the row gauge, rather than the stitch gauge.
The hardest part about converting between yarns is figuring out the yardage requirements. There are two ways to approach this:
1) Go by grams. I rarely use the grams required by the original pattern when converting between yarns of the same weight. In these cases, I use the yardage. If I have a worsted weight sweater pattern that calls for 500g of yarn, however, and I want to knit it in fingering, I will probably start out with 500g of fingering. This will be a lot more yardage, but that is what you would expect. Still, this is not precise, to get extra or make sure that there is extra available.
2) Find a similar pattern in your weight and see how much it used. Again, this is imprecise and should only be used as a starting point.
Figuring out the yardage you will need is the hardest part of this process. I, unfortunately, do not have any magic fixes for it. If you do, please feel free to let me know.
Thanks! Keep up the good knitting!