Monday, March 21, 2011

Adjusting a Pattern So It Fits You

Teaching a class yesterday, I was told of one knitter's frustration at trying to find patterns for garments her size.  I sympathized.  As nice as it would be if patterns said something like, "Liz, this will fit you perfectly if you just use a US 6 needle," they never do.  "Do you swatch?" I asked.

"Well, not if it doesn't come in my size."

If the pattern is only off by a size or two, this doesn't have to be a problem.  Grab a calculator, and adjust the gauge so that the pattern works for you.  We're not changing the number of stitches, just the size of the stitches.  Let's do a mitten pattern.  The pattern makes a women's large mitten, 8.5 inches around at a gauge of 7 stitches to the inch, and the pattern is 60 stitches around on worsted yarn. 

What size do you want?  Measure around your palm with a measuring tape.  Add a quarter to a half an inch for a normal mitten.  What's the total?  If you wear a women's small mitten, probably 7.5 inches total around for the mitten.  So let's do the math. 

60 stitches divided by 7.5 inches = 8 stitches to the inch.  So we either need smaller needles or smaller yarn.  Which one?

Look up the recommended yarn on the manufacturer web site.  Let's say the pattern says 7 stitches per inch on US 5 needles, and the website says the yarn is rated for 5 stitches per inch on US 7s.  This means the pattern is written for the yarn to be very compressed, making a denser fabric.  Compressing it further will make it hard to to work with.  So go down one yarn weight. Knit a gauge swatch with the recommended needles, and you'll be close.  Adjust needle size if necessary.  (Too many stitches per inch?  Go up a needle size.  Too few?  Go down a needle size.)  Within half an hour you'll be all set with the correct yarn weight and needle size.

If the yarn is rated for 6 stitches per inch on US 3 needles, then the original pattern is written for the stitches to be very loose.  Using the recommended yarn, go down in needle sizes until your gauge swatch gives you the proper gauge.

Make sure to count fractions of a stitch. (This is why you want swatches of at least 4" by 4".  Fractions of a stitch are easier to gauge when measured over several inches.)  On a garment with 100 stitches cast on, being off by a quarter stitch can mean several inches of extra or missing fabric. 

That's it.  Two minutes with a calculator and the internet and you'll be starting a project guaranteed to fit!

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