Today, we’re launching a new blog series on working with knitting patterns to help you get through what might seem like a jungle of information, especially if it’s your first time using a knitting pattern. Based on our knitting patterns, we’ll walk you through every step of the process, and you’re more than welcome to let us know in the comments if there’s anything you’d like us to cover. There’s no such thing as a silly question!
So let’s assume you’ve been browsing through Ravelry for a while, or maybe you found exactly what you were looking for on Pinterest. You bought a copy of the pattern and downloaded it, and now you’re ready and eager to start your new knitting project. But where exactly do we begin, what are important decisions to make before casting on, and how do we make those decisions?
Since it’s the first day of our #IceFlowersKAL (you’re warmly invited to join!), we’ll use this pullover design of ours to take a closer look at the pattern notes today. The pattern notes will be included in every well-written pattern and are a knitting pattern’s fact sheet, if you will. It might be prefaced with a different headline, such as “About the design”, “Details”, or “Pattern info”, but it should always include a few key details about the pattern. Here’s what it looks like in our Sustainablist patterns:
Let’s take a look at all those details step by step, shall we? Sizing is a topic we’ll cover in a couple of days to give it the space we think it needs, so for today, a very brief look at it will do: we’re told that the pattern includes 8 different sizes, we learn about each size’s finished bust circumference, and about how much ease the pullover is recommended to be worn with and shown in the photos. For now, we’ll only need to have a rough idea of what size we’ll want to make in order to be able to determine how much yarn we’ll need. If you’re uncertain, we recommend measuring a favourite pullover’s bust circumference, ideally one that fits similarly to what you’re hoping to make, and going with the size that comes closest for now.
The vast majority of knitting patterns will indicate a specific yarn (or in some cases more than one) they’re designed for. There are countless varieties of knitting yarns, and what yarn we use makes all the difference for our knitting experience as well as for our finished project. Yarns are differentiated by their weight, fibre content, yardage, and other factors, such as the way they are spun. Our pattern notes page tells us the following:
Semilla Melange (DK-weight; 100% wool; 175 metres / 191 yards per 50 g)
What we learn from the example above is that Ice Flowers is designed for BC Garn’s Semilla Melange, which is classified as a DK-weight yarn, made from 100% wool fibres, and comes with a length of 175 metres per 50 g of yarn. When we take a look at the yarn producer’s website or yarn shops that sell it, we’ll also learn that Semilla Melange is GOTS certified and woolen-spun (as opposed to worsted-spun).
Now you can of course use a different yarn than the one the pattern is designed for, there are just a few things you need to keep in mind! Sometimes, you might want to work with a yarn that’s very different than the original yarn to purposefully create a specific effect, such as more or less drape, but for now, we’re gonna keep assuming that what we’re looking for is a yarn that’s similar to the original one.
First of all, you should know that yarns behave very differently in terms of drape and show off design elements such as colourwork, texture, cables and others very differently, too. It might be easy to think “Semilla Melange is a DK-weight yarn, so I can use any other DK-weight yarn and will end up with basically the same pullover”, right? Far from it. When substituting yarns, what we’d argue is most important is 1) fibre content and 2) making sure that you’ll get the correct gauge (more on that in a minute!), and the gauges you’ll be able to get with different yarns within the same weight or roughly the same yardage can be quite different. So the weight alone certainly doesn’t cut it.
For a finished piece that’s similar to the sample on the design photos in terms of drape, you’ll want to pick a yarn with a fibre composition that’s similar to the original yarn. In this case, this would be a wool yarn or a yarn with a high wool content, which is less drapey than, say, alpaca or silk, less fluffy than mohair, and less heavy than cotton. In terms of what the fabric will look and feel like, the difference between woolen-spun, which, in a nutshell feel more light, airy and rustic, and worsted-spun yarns, which typically feel rounder and denser, is not to be ignored (Sue from Blacker Yarns has a great article on it!). And what about colours? Knitting something, rather than buying a piece of clothing, is a wonderful opportunity to use your favourite colour(s), and we’d encourage you to really use it! What you might wanna keep in mind is that darker-coloured yarns typically don’t show texture and cables the way lighter colours do, and that different methods of creating colourways will give you different results, too: some yarns are dyed on a grey base, which typically gives a bit more depth than a white base, some yarns are heathered, which means there are little flecks of various colours, and hand-dyed yarns go from solid to speckled and variegated.
A quick recap: To make a project that’s as similar to the original sample as possible, you’ll want to choose a yarn that’s close to the original yarn in terms of various aspects, an important one of which is gauge. Which brings us to:
There’s so much to be said about gauge, a lot of which we included in a recent in-depth blog post on the thing with gauge. It doesn’t sound like the most exciting aspect of knitting, but it’s certainly worth taking a closer look at!
“Gauge is typically indicated over 10 x 10 cm or 4 x 4“, and specifies how many stitches and how many rows (for pieces worked flat) or rounds (for pieces worked in the round) are in a knitted square of 10 x 10 cm or 4 x 4”. […] From a knitter’s perspective, you can see gauge as an if-statement. To go back to our original example: If you have 20 stitches and 28 rows over 10 x 10 cm, then, and only then, your finished piece will measure what the pattern tells you it’ll measure. […] Over a pullover’s bust or hip circumference for instance, a difference of as little as 1 or 2 stitches per 10 cm can add up quickly and cause your sweater to measure several cm more or less than the measurements of the size you were aiming for.”
Gauge most importantly affects your finished project’s measurements, but it also affects what your handknit looks and feels like, and how it drapes when worn. At the risk of sounding like a broken record: don’t ignore it! You won’t regret learning a bit more about it, promise.
Without a doubt, the most important part of the Needles section is “(or needle size to obtain gauge)”. From the way you hold and tension your yarn, the style you knit to the needle size and material you use, there are many factors that affect your gauge, and as long as you get the correct gauge, it really doesn’t matter what needle size you’re using. If you’ve been knitting for a while already, you might have a feel for the way you knit and, for instance, know if you typically need to go up or down from the needle size the pattern suggests (though keep in mind that this varies from designer to designer, too!), and if you don’t, we’d recommend trying the needle size the pattern specifies first and experimenting with different size until you get gauge.
For most knitting projects, you’ll need a few things besides yarn and needles. Those could be blocking tools, a cable needle, a darning needle for weaving in ends or seaming parts of your project, scrap yarn or stitch holders for projects where parts of your knitting are being held while you work on other parts, stitch markers to indicate parts such as body and sleeves or repeats of a motif, a tape measure to determine for how long to continue working specific sections. Not all of them are crucial, and there are DIY or alternative options for many: using a spare double-pointed needle instead of a cable needle, scrap yarn instead of stitch holders, using safety pins instead of stitch markers or making them from scrap yarn.
This isn’t always included, but we like to specify the stitch patterns that will be used later on in the pattern notes so you can refer to them for swatching and in case you want to practice a little.
As part of our #IceFlowersKAL, we’ll be taking a closer look at choosing colour combinations for colourwork projects, alternative yarn suggestions and swatching next. Our series on working with a knitting pattern will continue with selecting the size that’s the best fit for what you want out of your knitting project, using the schematic drawing and indicated measurements. If you have any questions on any of the above, do let us know, and we’ll try to cover as many of them as possible!