I love tweaking patterns. Even the most basic ones. It gets me garments that fit and flatter, and frees me from the Tyranny of the Gauge Swatch. I read lamentations about knitters changing needles a million times to ‘get gauge’ and I think, Hah! that world is not my world!
My world is a little more complicated – it requires more effort in the beginning – but then sets you free to do exactly what you like. Like, ummm, finding a recipe for egg sandwiches, realising that eggs give you hives, and deciding to make cucumber sandwiches instead. Simple enough, except that cucumbers are more watery than eggs, so you’ll have to adjust for that – perhaps butter the bread so that the water doesn’t soak through? Salt the cucumbers beforehand to dehydrate them a little? See, it’s not complicated, but it does require a little more thought than following the recipe step by step, mindlessly.
Enough blathering about food. Let’s take my Climbing Vines Pullover as an example.
First of all, decide what is flattering on you. The Fit to Flatter series is a wonderful resource for this, and critically analysing clothes you love really helps. Try not to look at the garment as a whole; rather, break it down into components. What exactly is flattering about it? The colour? Shape? Neckline? Sleeves? Looking at the pattern, I see that the deep scooped neck will be flattering for me, but the waist shaping won’t. I’m relatively busty and if I follow the usual decrease-X-stitches-for-waist, knit-waist-straight, increase-X-stitches-for-bust formula of most patterns, I end up with a bulge of fabric along the sides. Egg sandwich alert!
I need waist shaping, yes, but very gentle ones, combined with dramatic bust increases. So I keep that in mind. Cucumbers.
Next, I knit a gauge swatch. Wait, I said this method liberates me from the tyranny of gauge swatches, not from gauge swatches themselves! I use needles which I think will work well with my chosen yarn weight (which can be quite different from the yarn weight of the pattern… see, we’re liberating ourselves already!), make a largish swatch and then wash and block it. Yes, everytime. I don’t want nasty surprises later, when I wash the sweater.
When the swatch is dry, I measure and calculate my rows per inch and stitches per inch. And then I’m free to knit! I decide how wide the cast on row will be, I decide how many stitches to be decreased for waist shaping and where; the sweater is now my sandwich, perfect for me!
If you’re very new to this, use clothes you own already to calculate the numbers. Love the hem width of a bought sweater? Measure it and multiply by your number of stitches/inch – this is the number to cast on. Converting a sweater to a tunic? Measure the length of a flattering tunic you own and plug in your rows/inch.
Here’s a step-by-step of what I did, using much thinner yarn than specified in the pattern:
My gauge: 5.625 sts and 8.25 rows per inch
- CO with 3mm. Did (k2, p2) rib for 2”, making sure that there were k2’s at each edge when seen from RS
- Changed to 3.5mm and st st for 10 rows
- Attached 4 markers to sts 4” and 5” from each end
- Decreased at all 4 markers every 8th row 3 times, then only at 2 inner markers every 8th row 2 times. Did a few rows plain
- Increased at inner markers only every 8th row 3 times.
- Did arm shaping.
- Worked straight for armhole depth. Shaped neck and shoulders as written, adapting st counts to my gauge
- Because of the distortion caused by the lace pattern, the CO for front should be approx 10% more than that of back. The lace panel should be placed about 40-45% of the front width away from the right seam (as worn).
- Adjusted ribbing to make sure the beg and end had 2 knit sts, just as for back
- Placed markers as before.
- Decreased at all 4 markers every 8 rows 5 times. Since one of the markers was in the lace section, I staggered this particular decrease point across the lace panel, placing it wherever there were a lot a purl sts in a decrease row.
- After doing some rows plain, did bust increases and about 1” of short rows.
- Made arms as for back, and started scoop neck about 1” after arm BOs
- Since one leaf lay where I’d have to do BOs to shape neck, I just didn’t do those BOs and continued making the leaf in pattern. Once the BOs moved beyond the leaf, started doing them after putting the live leaf sts on holder.
- Added leaf to one sleeve, adjusting the ribbing so that the ‘stalk’ comes out of a single k rib
- Made full length
- Approx 8” at cuff, increased to 12” by underarm BO row
- Sleeve cap is 5″ deep
Pattern: Climbing Vines Pullover
Yarn: Filatura di Crosa Zara
Needles: 3.5mm and 3.0mm
The best part about this is you don’t even need to do all your calculations beforehand – just do them section by section. Implement all the brilliant modification ideas you get. See – freedom!