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Understanding the Sizing and Materials Section of a Knitting Pattern

October 8, 2020

Before you can cast on, you need to gather yarn and needles. The sizing and materials section of a knitting pattern will tell you everything you need.

Straight wooden knitting needles.

This post is part of our How to Read a Knitting Pattern tutorial. Follow the links below to read the other topics.

Sizing and materials section

The sizing and materials section of a knitting pattern contains a lot of information presented in a compact format. In most patterns, this section contains several key parts, which we’ll look at in detail below.

Sizing

The sizing section uses either text or a table of values to provide the finished measurements of the item or the body measurement the item is designed to fit. In either case, it’s critical that you knit the project to the design gauge; this will ensure accurate dimensions and a good fit. The specifics of how these dimensions are measured may be noted on an accompanying schematic diagram or sketch.

Yarn

The yarn section lists how much yarn you’ll need and approximately what weight of yarn you’ll need. (For more information on yarn, check out our tutorial here.) Our patterns also list the specific yarn we used for our sample, along with a link to more information about it.

Gauge

The gauge section tells you the tension you must achieve for your knit to come out the right size. Tension or gauge is listed as the number of stitches and rows to achieve over four inches in a given stitch pattern, and it will vary from person to person. We hold our needles and yarn slightly differently; we are more tense or relaxed as we work. When it comes to tension, every knitter is unique! For a more detailed explanation, read our tutorial on the importance of gauge in knitting.

Suggested needles

This section lists the the needle sizes (i.e., the diameters), types, and lengths that are suggested to complete the project in your chosen size. However, the needle sizes are only suggestions. To achieve the finished dimensions for the size you want to make, you must knit with whatever needle size YOU require to achieve the design gauge. Read more about knitting needles here.

Notions

Some projects require a few extra materials or tools, for example the buttons needed for a cardigan, the cable needle required for a cabled hat, stitch markers, or darning needles. Notions are all the extra tools and materials you may need to complete your project.

This may be all you need to read in order to understand the sizing and materials section of a pattern, but we have included two detailed examples below, if needed.

Example A: Barley hat

The free Barley hat pattern has a sizing and materials section and a construction diagram that acts a bit like a schematic.

Illustration of Barley Hat pattern page with sizing and materials section highlighted

Sizing: Baby (Toddler, Child, Adult S, M, L)
Fits head 16 (17.5, 19, 20.5, 22, 23)” around

The Barley hat includes six sizes; they are listed in order from smallest to largest. Throughout the pattern, the sizes will be listed in this order consistently with round brackets, commas, and bolded adult sizes. For more about these conventions, check out Reading Multi-Size Knitting-Pattern Instructions.

The Barley hat pattern lists to-fit dimensions for each of the hat sizes underneath the size names. For example, the baby size is designed to fit a head 16″ in circumference. The adult M fits a 22″ head. It’s important to note that the pattern will fit these sizes only if you achieve the pattern gauge – more details on that in a minute.

Next up, the materials section contains four parts: yarn, gauge, suggested needles, and notions. Let’s look at how to interpret each section in detail.

Yarn: 70 (80, 90, 110, 150, 170) yards worsted / aran weight yarn (samples shown in Madelinetosh Tosh Vintage in ‘badlands,’ ‘thoreau,’ ‘twig,’ and ‘winter wheat’)

The yarn section indicates the amount and approximate weight of yarn needed. It also provides the specific yarn brand, type, and colourway used to make the design samples. Six amounts are given: 70 (80, 90, 110, 150, 170) yards. These amounts correspond to the six pattern sizes: Baby (Toddler, Child, Adult S, M, L). This means that for an Adult S size, you will need 110 yards of worsted or aran weight yarn.

Worsted weight and aran weight yarn are two weights of yarn, each of which will work in this project. (Learn the basics of knitting yarn here.) In this pattern example, Madelinetosh is a yarn brand; Tosh Vintage is a yarn type produced by that brand; and badlands,, thoreau,’ twig,’ and winter wheat are the names of the specific colourways used to knit the design samples. To convert yards to metres, multiply yards by 0.914, e.g., 110 yds is approximately 100m (110 x 0.914 = 100.54).

Gauge: 18 sts & 22 rounds / 4” in stockinette
14 sts & 28 rounds / 4” in garter stitch
(both gauges given on larger needles)

The gauge section indicates the design gauge you’ll need to achieve for your finished knit to come out in the size expected (i.e., to the finished dimensions listed in the size section).

This gauge means that you’ll need to select a needle size that will result in a finished knit gauge of 18 stitches and 22 rounds in a 4″ square of stockinette stitch, and 14 stitches and 28 rounds in a 4″ square of garter stitch. In Tin Can Knits patterns, the gauge listed first is generally the more important one to achieve, if you cannot achieve both numbers using the same needle size.

Gauge is an important topic, so we have created a separate in-depth tutorial to explain just what it is, how to swatch for it, and how to measure it. Other posts on gauge include the following:

The beginning of a small tube knit on double pointed needles (DPNs).

Suggested Needles: US #6 / 4mm 16” circular needle,
US #8 / 5mm 16” circular needle and DPNs*
(or as required to meet gauge)
*Alternatively, you can use the
magic loop technique to knit in the round using a single long circular needle.

Knitting needles, which come in many types and sizes for different uses, are a fairly complex topic, and we have an Introduction to Knitting Needles post here. The needles suggested for the Barley hat are:

  • US #6 / 4mm 16″ long circular needle
  • US #8 / 5mm diameter 16″ long circular needle
  • US #8 / 5mm diameter double pointed needles (DPNs) or a long circular needle to use with the magic loop technique

What this means, in practice, is that you’ll need a smaller diameter needle for the brim ribbing and a larger diameter needle for the body. You’ll also need a set of DPNs, or a long circular in the larger diameter, in order to decrease at the crown.

It’s very important to recognize the line that says:

(or as required to meet gauge)

You may start with a US #8 / 5mm needle to make your gauge swatch; however, if you cannot achieve the tension stated in the gauge section, you’ll need to try again with a smaller or larger needle size, until you determine the needle diameter that allows you to achieve the design gauge.

For example, I might use a US #7 / 4.5mm needle to achieve the gauge of 18 sts / 4″ in stockinette. In this case, I would likely select a US #5 / 3.75mm needle as my ‘smaller needle’ with which to work the brim ribbing.

Notions: Stitch markers, darning needle

The notions section is a simple list of extra tools or materials you’ll need to complete the project. In this case, only stitch markers and a needle are required for the Barley hat.

Example B: Flax sweater

The free Flax sweater pattern, with seven child sizes and 12 adult sizes, uses a table, along with a schematic diagram to communicate the sizing information.

Diagram of Flax Pattern Page highlighting Materials, Schematic, and Sizing sections.

The sizing table lists finished garment measurements. This means that the dimensions listed for each size are the dimensions that the sweater will measure, assuming you follow that size’s instructions and knit to the design gauge. They are the dimensions of the garment itself. The pattern says to:

Choose a size based upon your chest measurement plus desired ease.

This means that, when knitting this sweater for yourself, you should consider your own body measurements and how much ease you prefer your sweaters to have – and then choose a size that will allow that much ease from your body. Learn about choosing your sweater size here.

The schematic works with the sizing table to visually indicate where the various dimension are measured. You can see that ‘d‘ is the key for the upper sleeve circumference, and then make sure that size XXL, which has a finished upper sleeve measurement of 17″, will work for you.

Four children in sweaters with rainbow stripes on the shore of a calm lake.
The Flax sweater is an excellent project for adding cute details! Read all about Alexa’s unreasonable September sweaters here.

Next up, the materials section in the Flax pattern contains four parts: yarn, gauge, suggested needles, and notions – same as for the Barley hat pattern. Here we’ll briefly touch on the ways that this sweater pattern is different from the hat pattern.

Yarn: Worsted / aran weight yarn – see table for yardage
(samples shown in SweetGeorgia Superwash Worsted ‘deep olive,’ ‘hush,’ and ‘tumbled stone’)

The yarn section refers you to the sizing table, which has a column that lists yardage for each size alongside that size’s finished dimensions.

Gauge: 18 sts & 22 rounds / 4” in stockinette using larger needles

Because a sweater will take between 12 and 60 hours to knit, it’s incredibly important to ensure that you’re achieving the correct gauge. Not sure why? Check out our post, Gauge in Knitting, to be convinced!

Suggested Needles: US #6 / 4mm & US #8 / 5mm
(or as required to meet gauge)

0-6 mo – 4 yrs: 16” circulars and DPNs in each size*
4 yrs – XS: 16” circulars, 24” circulars, and DPNs in each size*
S – XXL: 16” circulars, 32” circulars, and DPNs in each size*
3XL – 6XL: 16” circulars, 48” circulars, and DPNs in each size*

*Alternatively, you can use the magic loop technique to knit in the round using a single long circular needle.

Because there’s such a wide size range in the Flax sweater pattern, you need to look at the needle lengths and types suggested for your size. If you’re knitting an XXL for example, you’ll need a 16″ circular needle, a 32″ circular needle, and a set of DPNs (or a long circular) in each of the two needle sizes, larger and smaller.

Summary

The sizing and materials section of a pattern contains loads of information, and now that you’ve learned how to interpret it, you can take the next step and learn about abbreviations and charts. Then you’ll be ready to cast on!

~ Emily and Alexa

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