Sometimes, you may have the perfect yarn for a sweater, and the perfect sweater pattern in mind, but the two don’t quite match up in terms of gauge. If you’re willing to venture a little ways outside the comforting zone of following a pattern exactly, many designs are flexible enough to allow adjustment for gauge.
I wouldn’t suggest, for example, trying to knit an aran-weight pattern in lace-weight, but going one step up or down a yarn weight is often possible, although of course it will result in a different sort of finished object than that shown in the pattern photos, and require a different amount of yardage than the pattern states (so be sure to have plenty of yarn on hand!).
how to knit a garment at a different gauge than the pattern specifies
Using the example of the Peanut Vest that I recently knit for Max, I’ll take you step-by-step through the process of determining how to knit a garment at a different gauge than the pattern calls for.
The Peanut Vest, from Max & Bodhi’s Wardrobe, is designed in DK weight yarn, at 22 sts & 28 rounds in 4″ (that’s 5.5 sts & 7 rounds per inch). My plan was to knit it in aran weight yarn at a gauge of 18 sts & 24 rounds / 4″ (that’s 4.5 sts & 6 rounds per inch).
first determine the finished size you’re aiming for
Max was 18 months at Christmas, and I planned for this cute little vest to fit for at least a year, so I decided I would aim to achieve the finished measurements of the 2-4 yr size: 24″ around at the chest, 10″ from hem to underarm, and 5″ armhole depth.
The first question was which instructions to follow in order to achieve the 24″ chest measurement. Gauge (review our tutorial here to learn more) is the key to determining the finished size of knits, and the formula is simple:
number of stitches per inch x number of inches desired = total number of stitches required
So since my chosen yarn knit to 4.5 stitches per inch, and I was aiming for a finished chest measurement of 24″, I multiplied the two numbers: 4.5 sts/inch x 24″ = 108 sts. 108 sts was the EXACT number needed to achieve 24″ (how convenient!). So the next step was to look at the pattern instructions.
As it happens, the second size of the Peanut vest (3-6mo) is exactly 108 sts around, so I knew that would be the one I would follow. I went through the pattern, and highlighted all the 2nd size stitch counts. At the design gauge (5.5 sts / inch), these instructions result in a 3-6 mo size, but with my larger gauge (4.5 sts / inch), the same stitch counts would result in the 2-4 yr size I was aiming for.
follow the stitch counts of your ‘adjusted size’, but follow length instructions of your ‘desired size’
While following the STITCH counts for the ‘adjusted (3-6 mo) size’, I would at the same time follow the LENGTH instructions for the ‘desired (2-4 yr) size’. This means the garment would come out the correct dimension around, and also the correct length.
If I were adjusting a very simple pattern, for example the Flax Pullover or Antler Cardigan, this would likely be all the calculation required, and it would be possible to simply knit the pattern following the ‘adjusted size’ instructions per the calculation above, while knitting to desired lengths at sleeves and body.
However, because the Peanut vest features a lovely panel of fair-isle pattern on the chest, I needed to determine how my different ROUND gauge would affect the placement of this fixed-length element, so that I didn’t end up knitting too short or too long in the body, or have an odd placement of the pattern section.
The fair-isle pattern in this design is 25 rounds tall. First, I calculated how tall the pattern would be at the design gauge (5.5 sts & 7 rounds per inch).
25 rounds / 7 rounds per inch = 3.57″ tall at design gauge
Then I calculated how tall the pattern would be at my new adjusted gauge (4.5 sts & 6 rounds per inch).
25 rounds / 6 rounds per inch = 4.16″ tall at adjusted gauge
So I knew that the pattern section, knit in my heavier yarn choice, would require at least an extra 0.6″ in height. So where the pattern called for knitting to 4.5″ before starting the pattern (this is the length instruction for the 2-4 yr size), I instead knit to 3.75″ and then started working the colourwork pattern at that point. Once the pattern section was complete, I simply followed the pattern as written, knitting to the specified length to underarm for the 2-4 yr size.
Throughout the rest of the pattern, I simply continued in the same vein, always using the ADJUSTED stitch count numbers (the second / 3-6 mo size), but where knit-to LENGTHS were mentioned, I used the instructions from the 2-4 yr size.
Pretty soon I had an adorable little vest for my darling! It made for a perfect Christmas day ‘dress up’ outfit, and is also ideal as formal wear, as I discovered last month when I polished him up for a family wedding. Of course I also had to make him a little kilt in a Fraser tartan to match his dad’s! And what will be next up? Wee kilt socks I imagine….
other excellent gauge hacks
Here are some other great projects that knitters have adapted for a different yarn weight than the pattern originally called for. My friend Rosie (she’s an epic sweater knitter… read more about that here) knit a beautiful North Shore pullover at 20 sts / 4″ rather than the 22 sts / 4″ called for in the pattern.
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Simple Patterns just begging to be ‘hacked’