Sunday, 30 March 2014

Modifying a Sweater, Part I

In my last post, I said I was going to rip out the sweater I had started because I didn't like how the pattern wasn't lining up at the sides and that I was going to play with the gauge and ease to see if I could come up with some numbers that would make this pattern work for my size. I was talking about this yesterday at a knitting group and someone expressed some surprise that you could do such a thing. With that in mind, I decided to tell you how I modify a sweater pattern.

The first thing I do once I have a pattern I like is select my yarn. I try to stick to the same weight (fingering, DK, etc) as the original but I certainly don't go out of my way to find the exact yarn that was used in the model. I prefer to "shop" from my stash and frankly, there is no shortage, but I digress.

Once I have yarn, I knit at least one gauge swatch. Yes, probably more than one. No, you can't skip this part. Really, it only takes 45 minutes for me to make one - do it while watching TV. I start with knitting a 4 inch square in plain stockinette (or whatever pattern I'm trying to measure against) in the manufacture's recommended needle size for that yarn. Then sit back and look at the swatch you just made. Do you like the density of the fabric? The drape or hand of it? If you have even a whiff of "maybe this should be lighter/denser/something other than it is" then make another swatch to correct for what you don't like. Keep doing this until you are happy with the swatch 'cause I can guarantee that if something bugs you in the swatch, it will definitely bug you in the finished item.

This is the first swatch I made on a 4 mm needle, and my initial thought was that it's too loose so I made another using a 3.75 mm needle.  This one is visibly denser and I like it more for a summer top.

If you want something denser, go down one needle size. If you want to open up the fabric a bit, then go up. When you have a selection of swatches - remember two is the minimum for this - then go ahead and wash them the way you would the final garment according to the directions on the ball band or tag. For the swatches I'm doing, the ball band says to machine wash in cold water. So I dropped the swatches in the laundry. To tell them apart, I tied one knot on the tail of the first one (4 mm), and two knots in the tail of the second (3.75 mm). I won't make a final decision about needle size or gauge until they are washed and dry but right now, I'm leaning towards the second swatch.

While these are in the wash, consider how and where you are going to wear this and then measure yourself (or better yet, get someone to measure you) according to the schematic provided in the pattern. What I mean is, if the pattern only gives a bust measurement then measure yourself there. Don't worry about hip and waist measurements - the garment won't have any shaping. If you want to put that shaping in, that's another subject. While I'm on the subject of measuring your bust, make sure you're wearing the "right" bra. If this is something you're going to wear to work, don't take a measurement in your running bra which compresses everything, or your "slop around the house bra" which really doesn't to anything at all. You need a real number so measure while wearing your good, workday bra. Don't worry about what that number is and don't go off on a tangent about how you have to lose weight before you can make anything for yourself.  You're beautiful and deserve to have nice things.

Stay tuned - when the swatches are out of the wash, I'll continue with the next steps.


  1. This is really useful - thank you. I have only just started knitting garments, but really love it and see lots more in my future!

  2. Hi Lucy, so glad you enjoyed this! As luck would have it, I've been travelling for work for about a week now and haven't been able to post the next steps for what I do. Stay tuned - it's coming!