Altering Published Knitting Patterns

I’ve wanted to make myself an oversized wrap cardigan for awhile. I looked through back issues of Vogue Knitting Magazine and found a design I wanted to alter, a cardigan from Vogue’s Spring/Summer 1987 issue. What I like about it is the broken rib stitch pattern, and the raglan sleeves, but I wanted to alter the shape a little and make some minor changes to the pattern instructions. Using my project I’ll show you how to alter a pattern, and knit a project that you really want. (I’m assuming you know how to calculate stitch and row numbers using your gauge test swatch).

The Idea

design from Vogue Knitting Magazine Spring/Summer 1987
Design 8
Vogue Knitting Magazine
Spring/Summer 1987
pattern instructions
Original pattern instructions

pattern instructions from Vogue

What changes do you want to make? 

I wanted to:

  • maintain the pattern stitch and raglan sleeves
  • no side shaping; straight from lower edge to beginning of armholes
  • no ribbing for borders, except for sleeve lower edge
  • no buttons
  • knit a belt
  • patch pockets – I’m still undecided, but I can add them later if desired

Draw a New Schematic

Choose the size, and make any desired adjustments to the measurements. My new schematic is drawn in the largest size, and the back and front side edges are straight to the armhole. The raglan sleeve style remains the same.

altered schematic

Yarn Choice

This is one of the most important steps. Being that this design was published quite some time ago, the yarn is unavailable, so a substitute is necessary. If you are after the same look and feel as the original design, the substitute yarn must be from the same weight category. This original pattern used a category 4 cotton yarn or worsted weight. I chose Cascade 220, a worsted wool yarn, one of my favorites. Wool will provide the stitch definition, warmth, firmness and durability that I want from the cardigan. 

It’s important to consider what you want to achieve or how the yarn will perform in the project. Most importantly, if you want the same look as the original, the yarn must be in the same weight category and texture. Changing the weight category of yarn will definitely affect the look and feel of the finished project. 

There are times when the best yarn choice is the original yarn used in the pattern. Novelty yarns tend to be unique in appearance and construction. This uniqueness makes it difficult to find a a substitute for these yarns. The types that are difficult to substitute include chenille, bouclé, and eyelash yarn. Specially dyed yarns may also be difficult to substitute if you want the exact color.

yarn and test swatch

Quantity of Yarn

Now that I have the appropriate yarn category, I need to calculate the amount of yarn to purchase. This is figured out based on the yardage/meterage per ball. The largest size in the original design of my project requires 7 balls, each at 182yds/163m. Cascade 220 is 220yds/200m per hank. Do the math: 7 balls x 163m each = 1141m of the original yarn. Cascade 220: 1141m required ÷ 200m per hank = 6. I need approximately 6 hanks of Cascade 220. It’s a good idea to buy an extra ball, in case you run out.

Gauge Swatch

This step is critical, because you need to compare your gauge to the one in the original instructions. You may obtain the exact gauge as in the original, but chances are your gauge won’t be exactly the same. For my project the gauge in the instructions is 24 stitches and 36 rows to 4 inches over rib pattern on 3 3/4mm needles. My test swatch turned out differently using the same needle size. My stitch gauge was the same at 24 stitches per 4 inches, but my row gauge was off at 32 rows per 4 inches, a difference of 1 row per inch. I liked the texture and look of the swatch, so I’m still going to use the Cascade 220 yarn, making the necessary changes to the pattern instructions.

Adjusting Stitch and Row Numbers

Because my stitch gauge is the same as in the instructions, the width measurements of the fabric will be accurate, or the same as for the largest size in the schematic. Read through the instructions, making any changes to the stitch and row numbers using your gauge from the test swatch.

Because I decided that the side edges are straight with no increases and no ribbing at lower edge, I casted on the extra stitches needed for the width at the beginning of the armhole. It wasn’t necessary to make any adjustments to the row count since there are no incremental increases to reach the armhole width. If I wanted to shape the sides of the back and front, I would need to change the number of rows between the increases.

The armhole is a different story. Raglan sleeves are shaped by decreasing every alternate row, with no leeway for adjustments. In this case, the armhole depth will be larger because my row gauge is different. Row gauge is important for raglan shaping. 82 rows are worked for the armhole in the original pattern, therefore, 82 ÷ 8rows/in (my row gauge) = 10.25in. The armhole will measure 10.25in instead of 9.5in in the original. I felt this measurement would be fine, because I wanted an oversized cardigan. The sleeve raglan shaping needs to be the same as for the fronts and back.

The point to remember is that if your stitch or row gauge is different, adjustments will need to be made to stitch numbers, and to the number of rows between increases or decreases.

Knit Pieces, Block, and Finish

Knit up the pieces according to the adjusted stitch and row numbers. Remember to block the completed pieces before seaming. I don’t need to add buttonholes to my project, but I’ll knit a belt for closing the cardigan. If I add patch pockets, I will use the method of picking up stitches along the placement row for the lower edge of the pocket, work the desired length, and sew side edges in place. The front facing will need to be stitched in place on the wrong side after knitting the back neck facing.

Making minor alterations to a knitting pattern is not that difficult. First you need to decide on the changes you want to make, and draw out a new schematic. If you want the same look and feel as the design choose the yarn based on its weight category in the original instructions. Calculate the yarn quantity using the amount in yardage or meterage. Your gauge swatch is critical, and may not be the same as in the instructions. Make any adjustments for stitch and row numbers. Knit up the pieces, finish and voila; you’ve successfully altered the pattern!