Friday, May 7, 2021

Frankenstein, or a little bit about sizing

I noticed that lately designers started producing patterns with many more sizes than before. Apparently, some knitters couldn't choose from the traditional pattern sizes (XS, S, M, and L) because they didn't fit them well and needed more detailed sizing.

Now, get ready, I am going to tell you something that you probably won't like. If you want a pattern in your exact size so you can knit it without changes and it would fit you like a glove, you'd better forget about it and stick with blankets and/or dishcloths. Because even with hats and socks sizing is important. And individual!

Ok, if by trial and error, you found your designer and his/her clothes fit you, good for you. This post is for the knitters who still have a problem with sizing of their finished projects.

Since at the time when I learned how to knit, there weren't many patterns around (with different sizes or not,) and sometimes I would make a garment just by looking at a picture in a magazine, I am used to starting with my own body and its measurements that I know by heart.

If you don't, I highly recommend you to measure yourself or at least measure your favorite sweater/shirt/t-shirt.

What kind of measurements do you need?

1. Hip circumference (you better have two - the one at the very beginning, where your hips just start getting larger, and the other one, at the largest point).

2. Hip to armhole length (from the point where the hips start increasing).

3. Arm length (from wrist to armhole).

4. Wrist circumference.

5. Chest circumference (pretty standard).

Write them down on a piece of paper and laminate it, they all will come handy when you pick a size that you are going to knit. Just look at the schematics in the pattern and compare its numbers with yours. If there are no technical drawings in your pattern, beware! You might get in trouble with your chosen size. And then check your gauge. If it is different from the one in your pattern, do not despair. I'll explain later how to recalculate all the numbers of your size for your particular gauge.

The next question is: how roomy do you want your future garment to be? In "knitters parlance", how much "ease" will you need (to feel easy enough in your clothes)?
And this is the trickiest question of all. Even after years of knitting, I spend a considerable amount of time before deciding on my future "ease". In most cases, I try to find a finished garment of a similar gauge (not necessarily knitted, just as thick or thin as my yarn of choice), measure it, and then visualize my future garment. Yes, it is a hit or miss process, but after several misses, you start getting more and more hits, trust me.

Now, look at the sizes that designer gives you in your chosen pattern. Pick the one closest to your measurements. Keep in mind the garment's construction. Seamless top-downs fit and wear differently than seamed knits. They don't have any shape of their own, and will cling to every curvature on your body. If you have at least one curvature too many you'd better pick a much bigger size. You'll have something very oversized, but then you can always say that it was the goal. Some people prefer to drown in their clothes to make something with seams. I understand and respect this choice even though I myself always pick another option.

No matter how close the pattern's measurements are to yours, you'll need modifications.

Why? Our bodies have… well, for the lack of better word, "protuberances" everywhere (some of us have big chests, some - accumulated belly fat, some are stooped, etc.).
For example, when knitting clothes for myself I've been regularly adding two more rows to the fronts just before the armhole decreases to accommodate for my chest. It is still easy to seam front and back together - two more rows don't make much difference but they certainly help with the fit.

When knitting jackets for my husband, I made fronts bigger than backs (used different sizes from the same pattern). The final fit is perfect, not too tight upfront, where he keeps some accumulated… muscles:)))

Yesterday I finished a jacket for myself. While making it, I used several different sizes from the same pattern and heavily modified sleeves. The result reminds me a bit of Frankenstein - a full wearable garment made from bits and pieces of a pattern. I am going to explain here the whole process so you can see why I did it and how it works. Maybe it will help someone, who knows.

For this project I picked a design from an old Phildar for men (I've been attracted to masculin designs lately, don't know why). I liked this jacket because it wasn't knit in one color, there are thin fair isle stripes (I picked white and copper). It would break the grey monotony of my last projects (three of them grey).
The yarn was bought on the island of Skye a couple of years ago. I've already tried to make something out of it (twice), the tags were long gone, and I had no idea what kind of wool it was and how much yarn I had.


The original pattern's gauge is 18 sts x 21 rs in 10 cm. My gauge on size 3.75 mm/ US 5 was 22 sts x 27 rs in 10 cm. To pick my size I had to make some minimal calculations.
The back's width had to be 52 cm (my favorite amount of ease for the moment). There are 22 sts in 10 cm. How many sts would there be in 52 cm? Here is the proportion:

X = (52x22):10 = 114.4.

Now let's look at the numbers of stitches to pick up for the back in different sizes. Size 1 - 104 sts, size 2 - 110 sts, size 3 - 118 sts, and size 4 - 124 sts. Actually, in the pattern you are supposed to pick up less sts for the ribbing, and add more in the first row of stockinette, but I don't like a big discrepancy between rib sts and stockinette, especially since I use much smaller needles for ribbing and do the ribbing through the back loops all around which makes it tighter. So usually, while making an old pattern, I pick up all the sts from the beginning. I decided to go with the third size for the back to make it roomier - 118 sts.


While knitting the back, I picked the smallest number for the armhole openings - 26 cm (because I was going to make smaller sleeves).
When the back was finished, I started ruminating about the pockets. There are no pockets in the pattern but adding them is no brainer, it just requires more yarn. And I didn't know how much yarn I had, remember? That is why I decided to make sleeves first to see if there will be enough yarn at the end for pockets.


I have short arms and have to shorten my sleeves all the time, it's a given. Here I was using a man's pattern and sleeves were designed quite long and large. I looked at the numbers of sleeve sts after all the increases: 96 sts for the first size, 100, 102, and 106. Of course I picked the first number. This is how many sts eventually I'll have at the widest place of my sleeve. Remember, my back armhole openings were already the smallest size, so fitting sleeves into the armholes wouldn't be difficult.
According to the pattern I was supposed to pick up 42 sts for the first size. That would have been too few. I wrapped the back ribbing around my wrist to find out the right number and came up with 54 sts, then calculated the length of the sleeve and the number of rows I'd need till the armhole decreases. Again, going through the same steps: 
21 rows - 10 cm, x - 36 cm

X = (36x21):10 = 75.6

I'll need approximately 76 rows. In the pattern directions there are 21 increases for the first size: 1 in the second row, and 20 in every 4th row in order to get 96 sts. It means 82 rows altogether. I needed less rows and more stitches to start with (54, remember?).
After some calculations, these were my numbers:
For a sleeve - pick up 56 sts, rib for 12 rows, change for bigger needles and add 10 sts in the first row of stockinette plus one increase on both sides in the next row. Then increase 14 times in every 5th row. Last increase in row 72.
Yet, when I got there, I figured that my sleeve would be shorter than I planned because of the whole cardigan construction. The upper sleeve part is rather short (only 8 cm, instead of regular 13-14 cm, so the sleeve had to be longer. I added 10 more rows and started decreasing following directions for the first size.
To be honest, this was the moment when I felt confused. I wasn't sure my sleeve was the right length and I couldn't try it on because of its form. In this cardigan shoulders are lowered and become parts of sleeves. I needed to know how low the lowered shoulder would go. For this I needed to make at least one front.


For the front I picked up 60 stitches - the biggest size. I want to be comfortable in this cardigan and wear it over other warm clothes. Yet, I needed the front to match the back at the armholes and shoulders (especially shoulders).
There were 33 sts left for each shoulder on the back, decreased 3 times in every second row (11 sts each time). Therefore, I had to get to 33 sts at the end of each front.
Keeping the decreases for the armholes the same as for the back (1 time 3 sts, 1 time 2 sts, and 3 times 1 st in every second row = 8 sts altogether) I had 60 sts - 33 sts - 8 sts = 19 sts to decrease for the neck opening.

In the pattern for the biggest size the neckline decreases go like this:
4 times 1 st in every second row, and 11 times 1 st in every 4th row = 15 sts
19 sts - 15 sts = 4 sts.
More than in the pattern. Therefore, I needed to start decreasing earlier to incorporate 4 more decreases. In the pattern neckline opening decreases start after the armhole, I started them 10 rs before the first armhole decrease. Et voila! I got the exact amount of stitches for a shoulder at the end!
Now, my back, one front part, and a sleeve were finished. I pinned them together to see if the sleeve was the right length. Fortunately, it was (no, before that moment, I wasn't sure, and was ready to unravel the sleeve and start it all over). So I made the second sleeve and second front with the same changes.


The last thing to make in this pattern - two ribbed borders for buttons and buttonholes that are sewn to the fronts by hand. It took me 3 tries to get the right size borders. The biggest size in the pattern needs 158 sts for each border. When I made it on the smallest size needles used for the ribbing all over the cardigan, it was way too tight. So I unraveled and knit a longer one (178 sts) with the same needles - still not enough. My third try was done on the bigger needles and it worked. So I made the second one the same plus the buttonholes.
Why, would you ask, couldn't I just pick up stitches along the borders? This way I could start with a tubular cast on that makes such a neat finish, and the insides look tidier.
In the end pockets didn't happen. I couldn't see them on this cardigan even though I love pockets and always add them everywhere.
Blocking and seaming the parts of this cardigan was easy - I had the same amount for shoulders, made the same number of rows for each side, and my sleeve cups fit perfectly in the smallest size armholes.
Mistakes? Yes, there are some. For example, I used the same size needles for the fairisle and plain stockinette parts (fairisle is usually done on bigger needles).
The stripes on the body and sleeves don't match. Actually, they don't match on the original cardigan from Phildar magazine. And it is not really noticeable, at least it is not distracting.
What I am trying to say here is this. You can figure out the numbers that you need for a garment that fit you from the numbers already given in a pattern of your choice. You don't need the exact stitch or row gauge, and you definitely don't need to use the same yarn. 

Just remember these two formulas:

X = (your sts gauge x number of sts for your size in the pattern) : pattern's sts gauge

X - number of sts to pick up for your size

Y = (your row gauge x number of rows for your size in the pattern) : pattern's row gauge

Y - number of rows you'll need to knit for your size

Now you can Frankenstein any pattern, or several patterns together. No one will know:)


  1. Excellent article and very informative even to this old knitter. Love the sweater and I definitely wish I had kept my old Phildar pattern booklets.

  2. Thank you, I am glad it is useful:)) Now, not everything is lost - you can still buy hard copies of old Phildars or Pingouins on Etsy and eBay for a fraction of their original price (just be persistent and vigilant!), or you can buy PDFs from this French site -

  3. Like your blog. Informative well written. I have a few copies of Pingouin. I'm now inspired to try to recalculate to make the garment less roomy. Thanks! :)

  4. You are welcome:) Good luck with Pingouin patterns! I love old Pingouins and have several of their patterns in my queue. Let me know, if you have any questions.