Modifying a Pattern Demystified

From time to time I'm asked how to alter a pattern to fit. I start off saying it's not difficult, and embark on my usual explanation. However, it only takes a few moments before it's obvious to me that the person I'm conversing with has suddenly acquired a glazed expression. In fact it gradually dawns that they don't understand a word I'm saying... and that's before I even get to the meaty bits!

So... it took a while, but eventually the penny's dropped that modifying a pattern is not that simple, certainly not for the majority of knitters who've never written a pattern.

However, it's not rocket science either. My approach to knit design is logical and mathematical, so it would be very rare for me to knit something and then try to write the pattern from the resulting piece. Too many years of working in the fashion industry, where time is money, mean that I've always designed my knits completely the other way round, and knitting the sweater would always be the last thing in the process.

I tread the same design path every time  - inspiration, drawing, spec sheet for measurements, decide on fabric (yarn, stitches, motif etc), create chart with colourways if appropriate, knit swatch, convert spec sheet measurements to stitches and rows using gauge from swatch, then write the pattern.
KOTO from In The Mood
This week I've been creating my handouts for VK Live, where one of the workshops I'll be teaching is Couture Knits. This is an all-day class on understanding the construction of knit garments and how to use this to make made-to-measure clothes. The first half of the class involves explaining how to modify a pattern. When I'd printed out the handouts it occurred to me that this would be helpful to anybody who's ever been frustrated when they find a pattern they love, then realise it doesn't come in their size.

So for all you knitters who've encountered this problem, here's the first page of the handout, the bare bones of how to modify a pattern.

1       SWATCH
Check your tension/gauge by knitting a small swatch from your pattern of at least 5in x 5in[12.75cm x 12.75cm].  Flatten or press lightly and measure carefully.

  1. For stitch gauge divide number of stitches by width of swatch
  2. For row gauge divide number of rows by length of swatch
For instance, if your swatch measures 6in x  6in and you cast on 30 sts and worked 42 rows, you would divide 30 sts by 6in to get 5 sts per inch, and divide 42 rows by 6in to get 7 rows per inch.
Therefore your gauge would be 5 sts and 7 rows to 1in or 20 sts and 28 rows per 4in.

  1. Enlist the help of a friend and tape measure to find the exact measurements for a perfect fit. 
  2. Remember that length measurements will be exact, but there is usually some ease on width measurements, and the amount will depend on whether you are making a skinny rib or an oversized sweater or something in between. 
  • For an oversized sweater add 4in [10cm] of ease to back and front
  • for a standard non-fitted sweater 2in [5cm] of ease to both pieces
  • for a fairly fitted style 1in[2.5cm] will suffice
  • for a slim-fitting sweater use the actual measurements of the intended wearer.

Fill in the Specification Sheet (download below) in pencil:    
  • Existing Pattern - I’ve given you the measurements of a standard long sleeved, crew neck sweater to use today. Normally you would enter the measurements of your pattern (get these from the schematic)
  • Your Measurements - enter your own measurements, ie the measurements that you have just taken that will give a perfect fit uniquely for you
  •  Difference - using the gauge from your swatch, calculate the difference (plus or minus) and enter in this column.
  • Convert the difference (using gauge from your swatch) to stitches (width x number of sts per inch) and rows (length x number of rows per inch) and enter in Stitches & Rows.
You now have the all-important information on the number of rows and stitches you need to make the changes.

If you'd like a more detailed account of the process, you can download the whole handout, plus a sample specification sheet.

Or better still come to one of my classes.  The next time I'll be teaching this is on our upcoming knitters' tour of Ireland, in May.  This is a thirteen-day jaunt of knitting, yarns, music and sites on the Emerald Isle, taking in The Burren, Galway, the Aran Islands, Connemara, Killarney & The Dingle.  There are a few places left, so why not come and join in the fun.

In future when someone asks me how to resize a pattern, I'll save myself an embarrassing moment and simply point them in this direction!


  1. Thank you for sharing this information Jean.
    I'd love to take the course, especially in Ireland!
    It's on the wish list for someday :-)


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